BOSTON (CBS) -- The formula for success for the 2015 Boston Red Sox was simple. The pitching staff was going to be somewhere between mediocre and poor, and the offense was going to be near the top of the league in every category.
So far, through 10 percent of the season, only one of those groups has lived up to expectations. And it hasn't been the offense.
Boston's offensive woes shined brightly on Thursday night in Tampa Bay, when the vaunted Sox offense mustered just three hits against Jake Odorizzi and zero hits over 2 1/3 innings against the Rays bullpen. Tampa Bay's bullpen ranks dead last in the American League with a 4.77 ERA, and they rank 10th out of 15 teams with a 1.28 WHIP. Yet the Sox couldn't so much as get a man to first base without the help of an error.
But it hardly was just a one-night struggle. Though the Sox have scored 77 runs (fifth in AL/sixth in MLB) and have hit 15 homers (sixth in AL/10th in MLB), the accolades essentially end there. They're hitting just .230 as a team with a .325 on-base percentage, putting them squarely in the middle of the pack in the AL.
Despite the much-hyped meat of the order -- Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Mike Napoli -- the Sox have hardly been a slugging team. They are tied for 14th in the AL with just 32 extra-base hits, better than only the Minnesota Twins, a team with a roster that costs about $70 million less than Boston's.
And the struggles are widespread. Xander Bogaerts, on the strength of a number of bloop hits, is the only regular starter with a batting average better than .265. (I'm the last person in the world to bang the BABIP drum, but Xander's is currently .372. He hasn't been scorching the ball by any means, so that .302 average is bound to come down in the coming weeks and months. In fact, it's already dropped 131 points in the past seven games.)
Pablo Sandoval ranks second among starters with a .263 batting average, having hit 13 singles and two doubles thus far. Hanley Ramirez is also hitting .263, and he's been an all-or-nothing guy at the plate. He has 10 singles, five home runs, and nothing else. Dustin Pedroia's been OK, with a .254 average and .816 OPS, but the picture of the rest of the starting lineup is downright grisly.
David Ortiz is batting .192. Mike Napoli is hitting .157. Mookie Betts, the young man tapped to be the best player on the team, is hitting .194. Shane Victorino and Allen Craig are hitting a combined .143. The Sox are actually getting some of their best hitting out of the catching duo of Ryan Hanigan and Sandy Leon, who together are batting .208.
Having the Hanigan-Leon combo hitting better than the starting DH, center fielder and first baseman is not exactly how Ben Cherington and Co. drew it up over the offseason.
Of course, the Sox are still winning -- generally speaking. Granted, if the Washington Nationals had practiced defense during spring training, Boston's 9-7 record could easily be flipped, and their spot tied atop the AL East would in turn be replaced with a seat at the bottom of the division.
But we need not play the "If" game, because the reality is bad enough as it is. Gordon Edes noted that the Sox' team batting average of .230 is the worst the team has had through 16 games since 1992. Those Sox went 73-89 and finished in last place in the AL East.
Admittedly, the prospects in 2015 look much, much better. Mike Napoli is going to improve on that .157 average. David Ortiz will bat better than .192. Even the Sox' better hitters -- Ramirez, Sandoval, Pedroia -- are due to improve, based on their career numbers.
Still, they'd be best-suited to start that movement as soon as possible.
Whenever a team isn't hitting in April, the easiest place to point the finger is the weather. But save for a couple of cold nights in Philadelphia, the Sox have played in some unseasonably warm temperatures as well as the indoor confines of Tropicana Field thus far. These players have played in nastier Aprils and have come out with some much shinier numbers.
And worse yet, when the Sox do get hits, they tend to not come at the most opportune times. As Tony Massarotti noted today, that .230 team batting average drops to .196 when runners are in scoring position, and it drops to .176 with runners in scoring position and two outs.
Simply put, the Red Sox are a team built on having a potent offense that currently can't hit. And if it doesn't change, it's bound to catch up to them.
This is all not to paint a gloomy picture of the 2015 season or suggest that all is lost after three weeks of baseball. Hardly. It is, however, a note that the pitching staff as it is currently constituted is unlikely to get a lot better as the year wears on. In the midst of a 22-game stretch against AL East opponents, the offense has to improve -- sooner than later -- in order for the season to go anywhere near the projected path laid out by the decision-makers over the winter.
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