The Red Sox’ offense is part of the problem, too

Red Sox hitters have failed to deliver too often in critical moments.

Chris Owings failing to deliver in the eighth on Wednesday was almost expected. His high-profile teammates failing to has been less so.
Chris Owings failing to deliver in the eighth on Wednesday was almost expected. His high-profile teammates failing to has been less so. –Jim Davis/Globe Staff

COMMENTARY

Sometimes, losses sneak up on you, but Wednesday against Philadelphia was not one of those. It was three and a half hours of missed opportunities folded into six months of same.

The Red Sox opened with back-to-back doubles, yet scored just once. In the second, Marco Hernandez was caught trying to steal second in an at-bat Jackie Bradley Jr. ended with a home run. Bradley Jr. came up in the fourth with the bases loaded and one out, struck out, and the Red Sox didn’t score.

After Bryce Harper made Rick Porcello pay for an awful two-strike pitch with a three-run homer in the fifth, it largely felt a matter of playing out the string because, well, it’s the 2019 Red Sox. They did get one last chance, of course, Christian Vazquez doubling in the eighth to bring up the No. 8 spot with two in scoring position and two out. Alex Cora plugged in pinch hitter Chris Owings for Hernandez, hoping he’d get the two-RBI double Owings produced last Friday and get the game tied.

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On Wednesday, offseason Philly acquisition Jose Alvarez got ahead 0-2, painted the outside corner, and essentially put a two-game sweep to bed.

“We felt the matchup was good,” Cora said after the 5-2 loss, that Friday double Owings’s only hit in 14 Red Sox plate appearances. “He got some changeups, he swung and missed.”

We won’t remember a quad-A guy like Owings even played for the team five years from now, much like we won’t remember Wednesday specifically. For one, it wasn’t even the worst game of the two-game series.

Down 3-2 in the ninth on Tuesday, the Red Sox sent up 3-4-5 in the batting order. No. 3, Xander Bogaerts, doubled. And on the very next pitch, he made a Little League-level mistake, breaking for third on a ground ball in front of him and getting thrown out.

“We were kind of on second base a lot [Tuesday],” Bogaerts said after the 3-2 loss. “We kind of got stranded the whole game, and it’s just a risk that I took.”

“He knows. That ball was right in front of him. It’s a big mistake right there,” said Cora, no doubt aware it was also a big mistake on July 14, when Jackie Bradley Jr. did the exact same thing in a loss to the Dodgers.

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That it all came after Tampa walked off a winner for the third time in five days feels beside the point. The story of the 2019 Red Sox will be about no one but the 2019 Red Sox, and it will center on a lack of pitching so profound, Cora would be rolling out Kyle Weiland in the same desperation Terry Francona did during the September 2011 collapse if only he had the chance.

The focus on bullpen insufficiencies, Chris Sale’s elbow, and David Price’s cyst will ignore the vast overarching nature of this failure, one that permeates the whole roster and certainly involves the offense too.

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Yes, even though Boston is No. 3 in runs scored, with a potential second-place MVP finisher (Rafael Devers), three likely 30-homer guys (J.D. Martinez, Bogaerts, and Devers), and four likely 40-double guys (Devers, Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, and Betts). None of that, however, accounts for situational hitting, in which this group is shockingly weak.

Now, I’ll admit to sometimes wondering how to value all this data. The Red Sox are somehow both tops in the majors in OPS with two outs and runners in scoring position, and 27th (fourth from the bottom) with a man on third and less than two out. Seems hard to make heads or tails of.

So I went a more blunt route and directly revisited some of the 61 losses we’ve shared to this point.

March 30 at Seattle: Down 6-2 in the ninth, Boston gets to its 2-5 hitters with two on and two out. All four bat, but none of them get a hit: Betts, Devers, and Martinez all reach on errors to make it 6-5, but Bogaerts strikes out looking on three pitches.

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April 2 at Oakland: Down 1-0 in the ninth, Bogaerts doubles with one out. A night after Ramon Laureano threw him out at home plate in a loss, he challenges him again and gets thrown out again. “The next time,” Bogaerts said after the 1-0 loss, “I won’t run.”

June 18 at Minnesota: In what became a 17-inning loss, Boston sent its 3-5 hitters up in the ninth of a 1-1 game. They were retired on 15 pitches, and went 2 for 15 the rest of the game.

June 22 vs. Toronto: Down 8-6 at home to Toronto, the Red Sox get Devers, Betts, Benintendi, Bogaerts, and Martinez to the plate. They get a Betts walk and a defensive miscue on a Bogaerts fly ball to pull within one, but the rest all strike out against Ken Giles.

July 14 vs. Dodgers: Devers and Bogaerts come up in the ninth inning of a 4-4 game, winning run on second. Neither delivers it. In the 11th, Martinez comes up with the bases loaded and grounds out. Los Angeles wins it with three runs in the 12th.

July 24 at Tampa: Down 3-2 in the ninth, Red Sox send Nos. 3-5 to the plate. Bogaerts, Martinez, and Benintendi see a combined 11 pitches and don’t get a ball out of the infield.

July 30 vs. Tampa: Down 6-5 in the ninth, Red Sox send Nos. 3-5 to the plate. Bogaerts and Martinez are retired, Benintendi produces a bloop single, and the Red Sox ultimately lose.

Seven games behind the Rays, you say? There’s seven on top of Tuesday, and that’s hardly an exhaustive list.

To be fair, the heart of the order has pulled games out. But all told, per Baseball Reference, Boston’s 2-5 hitters have gotten 55 plate appearances in the ninth inning of games that were either tied or that the Red Sox trailed by one. They have a .653 OPS (.196/.327/.326) in those situations.

In 2018, in 46 such spots, they hit .405/.435/.643 (1.078 OPS).

In late and close situations, defined as “any plate appearance from the seventh inning on in which the batting team is either in a tie game, ahead by one run or has the potential tying run on deck,” Benintendi is hitting .183/.272/.239 this season and Martinez (.225/.345/.352) isn’t much better. In all situations with a runner on third and two out, Bogaerts is hitting .172/.273/.276. Betts has a respectable .832 OPS with runners in scoring position, but that’s down from three straight years better than 1.000, including an otherworldly 1.210 a year ago.

Know that 10th inning they’re going to play against Kansas City on Thursday? It’s happening because on Aug. 7, with the game tied 4-4 and the Royals rolling out a man wearing No. 68 named Jake Newberry who’s on his fifth recall/demote cycle from Triple-A just this season, Betts, Devers, Bogaerts, and Martinez totaled one single. Even if the Sox end up winning it, it feels like it belongs in the above pile.

I can’t complain too loudly. This resumption two weeks later means my 3-year-old’s first Fenway trip is going to cost us $10, we’ll probably have a row or two of seats to ourselves, and he’s going to get to run the bases afterward to boot.

Heck, if things drag on long enough, maybe they’ll let his dad pitch, too.