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Massarotti: Sox Stalling In Standings Despite Recent String Of Solid Pitching

BOSTON (CBS) -- Remember that this entire season was effectively built on offense, the Red Sox having invested a minimum of $183 million in Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. The idea was to win the large majority of games in which the Red Sox got decent pitching.

Instead, chew on this:

When allowing three runs or fewer, the Red Sox now have the worst record in the American League.

Everything in baseball is relative, of course, which is to say that statistics don't mean as much as rankings – and never have. In 2001, with the second-highest total of his career, former Red Sox outfielder Trot Nixon hit 27 home runs, which sounds like a pretty good number. As it turns out, Nixon ranked tied for 47th in home runs that season. The major league leader, Barry Bonds, hit 73.

And so, with last night's 3-1 defeat to the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park, the Red Sox dropped to 12-5 this season when allowing three runs or fewer, which, again, sounds decent. But the team's winning percentage of .706 in those games is tied with the Baltimore Orioles for dead last in the American League, a rather disturbing reality given how the club was constructed, how it must win.

By contrast, the Minnesota Twins are 16-3 when they allow three runs or fewer – that ranks first in the league – and the Tampa Bay Rays (fourth) are 21-5.

Did anyone really expect the Red Sox to be trailing both of those teams in any standings?

"Nope, no answers," David Ortiz is quoted as saying in the Boston Globe today when asked about the club's offensive malaise.

Well, the Red Sox had better find them – and fast. In the last week, the Sox have lost games by scores of 2-1 to Seattle, 2-1 and now 3-1 to Texas. By merely flipping the outcomes of those affairs, Boston's overall record goes from 19-22 to 22-19, a figure which would place them tied with both Tampa Bay and New York in the loss column atop the American League East. And their record in games in which they allowed three runs or fewer would go from 12-5 to 15-2.

That might not sound like a huge difference, but in a watered-down American League, it is. With just that simple swap, Boston would go from worst to first in the American League when allowing three runs or fewer.

Here's the point: no matter the World Series odds in Las Vegas to start the year, the Red Sox don't have much margin for error with this club. They have to score to win. And that is especially true now that the Sox are getting respectable pitching, particularly over an 11-game stretch during which the team has posted a 2.92 ERA.

The club's record during that span: 6-5.

Not good enough.

How do the Sox fix that? Good question. The Red Sox were supposed to be as good as anyone in the game from Nos. 2-6 in the batting order this season, and yet the numbers look rather pedestrian if not downright poor. Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval and Mike Napoli are batting, in order, .270, .241, .259, .268 and .178. At those respective positions – second base, designated hitter, left field, third base and first base – the Red Sox rank sixth, seventh, second, ninth and 15th among the 15 AL clubs, which doesn't sound terrible until you consider the following.

The Red Sox aren't paying Pedroia, Ortiz, Sandoval and Napoli to be average at their positions. (Ramirez ranks second among left fielders but is having a terrible month.) The Sox are paying those players to be in roughly the top 20 percent at their respective positions – at least offensively – and Ramirez is really the only one who has qualified. Combined, based on average annual value, Pedroia, Ortiz, are making $87 million this year, accounting for more than 40 percent of the team's payroll.

Under this ownership group, the Red Sox generally have operated with a simple formula when it comes to lineup-building: for the most part, they want above-average, offensive performers at every position. Given the composition of this year's pitching staff, that was truer in 2015 than perhaps at any other time. But now the Sox are faced with an underachieving offense to go with a transitional pitching staff, which raises some very disturbing bigger picture questions about the team.

What if Pedroia simply isn't the same player anymore? What if the same is true of Ortiz? What if the right-handed struggles of Sandoval – now 2-for-41 with 12 strikeouts, one walk, one RBI and zero extra-base hits – are permanent? And what if Napoli has regressed back to the .227 hitter (or worse) he was during his final year in Texas?

Of course, there is a still a lot of baseball to be played this season, and the general mediocrity of the American League suggests no one will run away with anything. But the first quarter of the 2015 baseball season is now in the books, and the Red Sox simply cannot afford to be losing games in which their pitching holds the opposition to three runs or fewer.

To quote Yogi Berra, among others, it's getting late early this year.

Tony Massarotti co-hosts the Felger and Massarotti Show on 98.5 The Sports Hub weekdays from 2-6 p.m. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti. You can read more from Tony by clicking here.

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