Red Sox lineup continues to struggle in one specific area

BOSTON, MA - MAY 6: Xander Bogaerts #2 of the Boston Red Sox looks on during a game against the Detroit Tigers at Fenway Park on May 6, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 6: Xander Bogaerts #2 of the Boston Red Sox looks on during a game against the Detroit Tigers at Fenway Park on May 6, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

The powerful Boston Red Sox lineup has one notable flaw

When there’s a runner on third base with fewer than two outs, the hitter at the plate has one job – get that run home. It doesn’t necessarily require a base hit, although that would be preferred. A sacrifice fly would suffice. A ground ball might work as long as the infield isn’t playing in and it isn’t hit hard enough for the defense to turn two. If you must make an out, at least make it a productive one. As dominant as the Boston Red Sox lineup has been this season, this has been one area in dire need of improvement.

Those struggles proved costly in Tuesday’s loss to the Atlanta Braves. Boston had Charlie Morton on the ropes in the first inning, loading the bases with nobody out. They managed to squeeze out one run but it took an error and a hit by pitch just to earn that. The outcome was a disappointment considering how the inning started.

Xander Bogaerts doesn’t strike out often and he’s one of the game’s best two-strike hitters but he went down swinging with the bases loaded for the first out of the inning. This was the seventh time this season that Bogaerts stepped to the plate with a runner on third and less than two outs. He’s 1-for-6 with a sac fly and four strikeouts. Bogaerts is now 1-for-9 with the bases loaded this season, which is wildly uncharacteristic for a hitter who owns a career .317 average in that situation.

Christian Vazquez made solid contact on a ball that unfortunately was lined directly to the shortstop who flipped the ball to second to double-up J.D. Martinez, ending a promising inning in frustrating fashion.

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The bottom of the second inning began with a leadoff triple by Danny Santana followed by a Hunter Renfroe walk to put runners on the corners. Bobby Dalbec struck out – no surprise there considering his 35.0 K% is among the worst in the majors. Kike Hernandez followed by grounding into a double play to end the inning.

Boston had several chances to break the game open in the first two innings but they let Morton off the hook by scoring only one run. The Braves starter wouldn’t give them another opportunity, retiring 15 of the final 16 batters he faced. The Red Sox failed to advance a runner beyond first base for the remainder of the game.

As discouraging as the lack of production was over the final seven frames, the blame for this loss can be pinned on an inability to deliver on those early-inning opportunities. Boston’s bats allowed Morton to settle in after a rocky start when they could have knocked him out of the game early.

This continues a frustrating trend that we’ve seen from the Red Sox this season. Their offense has been among the best in the league in most areas but their biggest flaw is hitting with a runner on third base and less than two outs. The Red Sox are 27th in the majors with a collective .233 average and 29th with a .548 OPS in those situations.

It would be one thing if the Red Sox countered that lack of production by driving in the runner from third without the benefit of a hit but that hasn’t happened nearly enough. They were 0-for-4 in those situations against the Braves and Rafael Devers getting hit by a pitch is the only way they managed to score.

Boston ranks 19th in the majors with 53 runs scored when they have a runner on third with fewer than two outs. The results are more discouraging when you factor in that Boston faces those opportunities more frequently than most teams, ranking 9th with 73 opportunities.

It’s baffling that a team that leads the majors in OPS and is second in batting average can struggle this much in one specific area. They hit well in general with runners on base and runners in scoring position. They thrive under the pressure of runners in scoring position with two outs. But place a runner on third with fewer than two outs and it all falls apart? That’s bizarre.

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We’re still early enough in the season that this trend could eventually be looked at as small sample-sized noise but it’s a concern worth monitoring. There are plenty of talented hitters on this roster with a history of delivering in these situations so we should expect that some positive regression is in order. There better be improvement, otherwise the Red Sox risk giving away games that they should have taken control of, as they did against the Braves.