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Time for bats to swing into action

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By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / August 6, 2011

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Do the Red Sox have a hitting problem? Of course not.

Over the last four games they have scored only 12 runs, and they’ve lost three of their last five games at Fenway Park against two teams with playoff aspirations, Cleveland and New York. They have faced good pitching, and as the adage goes, good pitching beats good hitting.

The Red Sox dropped into second place by virtue of their 3-2 loss to the Yankees. It’s a race we felt would go down to the wire. These will be the AL East and wild-card winners barring a collapse by one or the other. Many of us predicted long ago that it would come down to these two teams, except for a few Rays fans disagreeing, and that’s exactly what’s happened.

These are two prolific offenses and both teams pitch well enough to win the World Series. Betting on either one to win it all would likely be money well spent. It doesn’t mean there aren’t a few ups and downs along the way. While the Red Sox had their way with the Yankees in winning eight of the first nine meetings this season, the Yankees picked a nice time to start to turn that around.

Last night’s win gave them eight straight overall without Alex Rodriguez. Their much-maligned starting rotation has been excellent, except for an occasional misstep by A.J. Burnett.

The Red Sox have solidified their pitching with the addition of Erik Bedard, and based on one five-inning start in which he allowed three runs, it appears he may be able to vie for the No. 3 spot in the rotation that’s vacated by Clay Buchholz.

The one thing the Red Sox didn’t address before the trade deadline was a righthanded bat off the bench. They likely consider Mike Aviles that, but in the grand scheme of things they probably had an outfielder in mind. It should help the offense that Jed Lowrie, a switch-hitter who is better righthanded, will rejoin the team Monday in Minnesota. We’ll see if he goes right back into the lineup at shortstop or whether the Sox use him as a super utility player, as they planned to use Aviles.

The Red Sox still have time to address obtaining another bat with a lot of players passing through waivers over the next couple of weeks. The Sox already have placed a lot of their roster through trade waivers for procedural purposes, and there will be some intriguing names on the wire for them to consider, especially some high-priced players that teams are willing to let go.

Do they need another bat or are they merely in a small slump? It’s awfully tough to be critical because the Red Sox lead the majors with 604 runs.

The Sox did well to ramp up Bartolo Colon’s pitch count to 94 last night, and Colon came out with two outs in the fifth. That wasn’t necessarily a good thing. While Colon was throwing some pitches at 96 miles per hour, the Sox did score two runs against him. They expected to raise some havoc against lefthander Boone Logan, but he struck out Adrian Gonzalez with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth.

The moment was made for Gonzalez, who started the game with the best home batting average in baseball at .393. There’s not much to be down about concerning Gonzalez, who is the front-runner for AL MVP with a league-leading 91 RBIs and a .353 average. The one thing fans point to is the fact that Gonzalez hasn’t been the Fenway power hitter everyone thought he would be. He’s hit 18 homers, and eight have come at Fenway, where he has a 1.030 OPS. He’s hit only three home runs in his last 40 games.

But, boy, is this nitpicking.

However, in that situation against Logan, even though it was lefty-on-lefty, everyone thought Gonzalez had a great chance to break the game open. It was certainly a missed opportunity, the biggest of the game because the Sox didn’t come close to scoring against David Robertson, Rafael Soriano, and Mariano Rivera.

With CC Sabathia matching up against John Lackey this afternoon, the Yankees have a chance to take the series and keep the momentum.

Certainly, no one in the Red Sox clubhouse was too concerned about the loss, chocking it up to a good pitching performance by the Yankees. The Red Sox have had good success against Sabathia the last two seasons. The big lefthander, the only true ace on the Yankee staff, is 1-3 with a 4.91 ERA in his last seven starts against the Sox. He lost, 8-3, to the Sox June 9, Boston completing a sweep. But the Yankees have the best record in the majors since.

Sabathia, who is 16-5 with a 2.55 ERA, has allowed only seven earned runs in his last eight starts, going 7-1 with a 1.01 ERA since June 25. He’s pitched at least seven innings and allowed two or fewer runs in all of those starts. Is this a good time or a bad time for the Sox lineup to be facing him?

“He’s a great pitcher and we’re going to go out and do our best against him,’’ said Dustin Pedroia. “We have to swing the bats better than we have.’’

The game is a complete mismatch on paper, but mismatches don’t always turn out the way they’re supposed to. You could argue that Sabathia is due for a stinker, and if it’s going to happen then why not against a team that’s had his number? You can argue the Red Sox offense is ready to break out, scoring double-figure runs only once in the last nine games.

But like we said, this is not a hitting problem. A little slump, maybe.

But the last thing the Red Sox want is for the Yankees to begin their payback for being humiliated in the first nine meetings. They won last night, and now the Sox need their bats to do what they normally do - beat up on opponents.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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