Red Sox: Early inning run drought could be a problem
By Daniel Riggs
The Boston Red Sox always seemed to jump out to an early lead in 2016, but this year they’ve faltered in the early innings. Is scoring late in games sustainable?
On Sunday, the Boston Red Sox did something they had not done often this season– get out to an early lead. While Sunday afternoon’s four first inning runs offered a sign of early-game life, the Baltimore Orioles showed the value of early-inning scoring the previous two nights with their suffocating bullpen.
The O’s have one of the best bullpens in baseball. They shut down the Red Sox in the late innings, even in Sunday’s game.
Last year’s division winning Sox team ranked 2nd in the majors in runs scored in the first inning, 2nd in runs scored in the second inning, and 2nd in runs scored in the third inning. However, it’s been a different story this year. Coming into Sunday’s game, the 2017 Red Sox ranked last in the majors in first inning runs scored, 14th in second inning runs scored and 19th in third inning runs scored.
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At the same time, Boston’s starting pitching staff has been giving up plenty of runs in the early innings. Even when the Red Sox win, they usually have to do so by coming from behind in the late innings. As the trend of shut-down bullpens has risen, Boston must be able to score earlier in games.
Boston’s power outage has been a topic of discussion already among Red Sox fans. In this weekend’s battle for first place, Jackie Bradley hit a two-run home run on Saturday night that was the only offense Boston produced in the first two games of the series combined. While JBJ’s shot was encouraging in his second game back in the lineup, Boston had chances to produce more runs in both losses.
Once Boston acquired Chris Sale (and before David Price‘s ongoing elbow scare), conversation surrounding the roster seemed to shift from a need for pitching to a need to replacing David Ortiz. Ortiz was just one cog of a well-oiled offensive machine last year, as the Red Sox lineup produced from top to bottom and scored more runs than any other MLB club. But it’s important to remember that Ortiz racked up more RBI’s than any other player in baseball last year. That kind of run production was not replaced by the Red Sox this past offseason, with the hope that the offense would be almost as good as it was last year and the pitching would be much improved.
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Not prioritizing offensive production can be risky. Sunday’s early-inning action was a possible sign of a needed turnaround, but that kind of performance has not been the trend for Boston’s lineup yet this year. The Sox offense needs to improve internally or externally if Boston wants to compete in 2017.