The Boston Red Sox lineup has hit a lull lately due to an uncharacteristic lack of hitting with runners in scoring position.
It’s the bottom of the 10th inning, two outs with the bases loaded. The opposing pitcher has no margin for error after walking two of the last three batters and Xander Bogaerts knows it. He takes a patient approach, watching a couple of pitches cross over the middle of the plate. Now behind in the count, he’s forced to swing at the toughest pitch he’ll see during the at-bat, a slider down and away. Bogaerts hits it off the end of the bat, lining out to center to end the threat. The Boston Red Sox leave ’em loaded and would let the game slip away one inning later.
This one plate appearance from Monday night’s loss to the Texas Rangers exemplifies a troubling trend that has plagued the Red Sox lineup of late. Boston’s bats have struggled to hit with runners in scoring position.
The Red Sox managed only three runs in last night’s extra-innings affair but they had plenty of opportunities for more. A brutal 1-for-8 performance with runners in scoring position squandered any chances they had to break the game wide open.
This comes on the heels of a frustrating series against the Tampa Bay Rays in which the Red Sox went 5-for-36 (.138) with RISP while dropping three out of four at Fenway. Even in their lone win that salvaged the series, Boston went 2-for-10 with RISP.
It’s been a tough week for clutch hitting. Since June 3, the Red Sox are tied for 19th in the majors with a collective .232 average with RISP. They rank 22nd with a .288 wOBA and 24th with a 77 wRC+ over that span.
Small sample sizes can be misleading and Boston clearly hasn’t been this bad all year but they haven’t come close to expectations either. The Red Sox own a fairly respectable .260 batting average with RISP this season, tied for fifth in the league and 12th in the majors. However, their .324 wOBA and 98 wRC+ in those situations put them below average.
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The Red Sox have 10 hitters on the roster with 35+ at-bats with RISP position this season. Seven of them are hitting south of .275 in those situations. Three of them are at .250 or below.
The silver lining is that these results should see some positive regression, at least in some cases. Mookie Betts is a career .333 hitter with RISP, making his current .273 mark seem like an anomaly. J.D. Martinez has been solid with RISP but his .283 average and .865 OPS lag far behind his career rates (.299 AVG, .939 OPS). Bogaerts and Rafael Devers are the top two hitters on the team in RBI this season. They have a proven knack for driving in runs so we should expect them to hit better than .270 in those situations.
These team ratings will look much better when the heart of the order starts producing with RISP. There’s no guarantee that will happen yet it’s hard to believe they will all continue to fall below expectations. This is essentially the same lineup that led the majors in runs scored last season while finishing in the top two in batting average, wOBA, and wRC+ with runners in scoring position. A lineup that retains all of its key bats doesn’t suddenly go from elite to mediocre.
The slumping Sox need to rediscover their timely hitting in order to get back on track. We know what they are capable of but they still need to show it on the field.