The Boston Red Sox have plenty of star power near the top of their lineup so why are they struggling to score runs in the first inning?
They say it’s not about how you start but how you finish. The slow and steady philosophy may have worked for the tortoise against the hare but the Boston Red Sox would prefer to see their lineup get going earlier in games.
Manager Alex Cora essentially said as much when he referred to the team’s glaring issues scoring runs in the first inning. Boston has scored a mere 33 first-inning runs in 80 games this season, ranking a pitiful 26th in the majors.
That’s a shocking level of futility for a lineup that often sends Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, and J.D. Martinez to the plate in the first inning. It’s one thing for the bottom of the order to stall but the stars at the top should be counted on to spark the offense.
The Red Sox rank 29th in the majors with a .192 batting average, .272 on-base percentage, and .592 OPS in the first inning. The only team worse than Boston in the first inning is the Miami Marlins, who own the worst offense in baseball. How many fans can name three batters in the Marlins lineup, let alone their top three? We won’t bother figuring out how many fans in Miami can answer that since the Marlins have very few fans in the wake of their latest firesale.
Monday night’s game against the Chicago White Sox was the latest example of the Red Sox failing to break out early. They had the chance to jump on Lucas Giolito in the first inning to get an early advantage against one of the league’s top starters. Benintendi’s one-out double would go to waste when Martinez weakly grounded out to shortstop and Rafael Devers struck out to end the threat.
Boston would go on to win when Marco Hernandez beat out an infield single with the bases loaded for a thrilling walk-off. As exciting as the late-inning heroics can be, the Red Sox can’t count on their lineup to come through in the clutch consistently. They need to put up numbers on the scoreboard before they fall behind so that they don’t need a late rally. It worked out against Chicago but that tactic won’t pan out often against playoff caliber competition.
Sputtering out of the gate has led to the Red Sox often playing from behind. Boston has tallied 1042 at-bats this season when playing from behind, 11th most in the majors. Every team ahead of them on that list has a losing record, including a handful of last-place clubs.
More from Red Sox News
- Red Sox Nation deserves far more from Fenway Sports Group
- Bizarre trade deadline comes back to haunt Red Sox after Nathan Eovaldi departure
- Red Sox’ Moneyball-style offseason continues with Corey Kluber contract
- Rich Hill’s Red Sox departure puts him within striking distance of unique MLB record
- Red Sox offseason takes another nasty hit with Nathan Eovaldi departure
Cora has attempted to make adjustments to rectify this issue. He swapped the top two hitters in the lineup to put Betts back in the leadoff spot he thrived in last year. Nine different players have spent time in the No. 3 spot, led by Martinez’ 38 games. Boston has produced a .249 average and .826 OPS from the third hitter in their lineup this season, both well below league average.
Boston has plenty of talent at the top of their order. The problem is their best players aren’t living up to their star status. Betts and Martinez will almost certainly be selected for the All-Star team but neither is producing anywhere near the level that they did last year. There isn’t much Cora can do when his best hitters aren’t performing to expectations.
The Red Sox didn’t have this same problem last year when they steamrolled the competition on their way to a franchise record 108 wins and a World Series title. Boston ranked in the top-five in the American League in runs scored, batting average and OPS in the first inning of games last year with essentially the same trio of players dominating the early at-bats.
It’s up to these players to shake off their sluggish starts. We saw last year how good this lineup can be when the top of the order is clicking so the key to salvaging Boston’s chances in the division race rests on these players generating an offensive spark to lead off the game before they fall behind.