BOSTON -- No, it's not just your imagination -- the Red Sox have been wildly inconsistent, scoring runs in bunches and, then, not at all.
Case in point: Thursday at Fenway, where the Sox were shut out for the fifth time this season, this time by a 29-year journeyman who was making just the fifth major-league start of his career.
It's been like that a lot of late. In the last month, the Red Sox have scored seven or more runs eight times. Unfortunately for them, there have also been 10 games in which they've scored two or fewer.
That's too much of a fluctuation to suit Dave Magadan, the team's hitting coach, and he's tired of it.
"There's no argument there,'' said Magadan after the 5-0 loss to Minnesota Thursday. "There's a lot of inconsistency. A lot of it -- and I know I've harped on this a lot this year -- is the approach at the plate. You're not going to bang out 15 hits every night. You've got to find ways to get on base, work a count, get a guy's pitch count up. Two-and-half months ago, we were fourth in the league in bases on balls; we're at the bottom now.
"And it has nothing to do with going up there looking for a walk. It has to do with having an approach, having an idea of what you want to do at the plate and if the pitcher doesn't give you the pitch you're looking for, you take the walk. When you don't do that, you have what we have: we score 10, we score 7, we score 1, we score 0, we score 10. It's back and forth and it puts a lot of pressure on the pitching staff. And it's been worse on the road.''
Magadan's remarks echoed that of Dustin Pedroia, who fumed that the team had wasted a good outing from Jon Lester (three runs allowed over eight innings).
"Jon pitched great,'' said Pedroia. "We didn't swing the bats at all. That's basically it. We'll come out and play tomorrow, but today we weren't very good. That's basically it - Jon pitched great and the offense stunk. That's it. There's no more expletive questions or anything like that. You don't have to ask anybody else. Jon pitched great; we stunk.''
That was the second time in the last week that Pedroia felt the need to take the offense to task. Last Friday, he charged that the lineup had "given away at-bats'' in the late innings of 10-3 loss to the Yankees.
Magadan didn't see the same deficiencies Thursday night. The Sox did, after all, make rookie Sam Deduno throw 101 pitches in six innings and worked him for four walks.
But it was the Sox did -- or more specifically didn't do -- with Deduno that made Magadan angry.
"I think we got ourselves in good counts,'' he said, "and didn't do much with the pitches we had. We got into plus counts and either fouled pitches off or were late or didn't take good swings. It's the same old story.''
The dropoff in walks for the Sox has been precipitous. Having David Ortiz out of the lineup for the last two weeks hasn't helped and the decline in run scoring reflects that.
But the problems run deeper than missing Ortiz, since they were evident even when Ortiz was the lineup's biggest producer. Adrian Gonzalez, though he's come around over the last month, has become a far less selective hitter this season. After leading all of major-league baseball in walks as recently as 2009, he's twice had stretches this season in which he went weeks between walks -- from May 16 to June 10, and again, from June 25 to July 31.
Once known for grinding out at-bats and driving up pitch counts, this Red Sox lineup has been almost impatient at times.
But as Magadan emphasized, it isn't just the walk totals that are off; it's the team's approach.
"Sometimes it can be as easy as taking a 1-and-0 pitch when you see the guy struggling to throw the ball over the plate,'' he said. "I think Deduno went 2-and-0 to the first four or five hitters of the game. Sometimes it can be as simple as that -- taking a 1-and-0 pitch to build to 2-and-0, instead of swinging at a 1-and-0 pitch out the zone and making an out. You never force him to continue making pitches.''
Magadan's data suggests that the Sox are seeing a lot of pitches, but in a different way.
"We foul pitches off,'' he said. "We chase pitches out of the strike zone to foul pitches off. It's one thing when you're seeing a lot of pitches and you're getting yourself in hitter's counts; but we're 0-and-1, fouling off a ball, then taking a strike, and foul off another ball. You're not really forcing pitchers to make quality pitches. You're chasing balls out of the zone and it makes his job a lot easier. Instead of having to make three quality pitches to get you out, he's only got to make one.''
The season is at the two-thirds marker and Magadan's frustration level is well past that.
"It's not for lack of work or lackof preaching it or talking about it,'' said Magadan. "Thursday night was pretty frustrating. You've got Jon Lester throwing against a rookie. We felt like we should have put up a better fight. We were facing a guy we've never faced before and we're hacking at balls out of the zone.
"It's frustrating because I know we're better than this. We're going to have to get better. We're down to 56 games left and we've got a lot of teams we have to jump over. Getting shut out isn't going to get us to where we want to be.''