McAdam: Recent Red Sox slump a group effort

McAdam: Recent Red Sox slump a group effort
May 15, 2013, 12:15 pm
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - In the aftermath of yet another Red Sox loss -- their ninth in the last 11 games -- David Ortiz sat in front of his locker Tuesday night and took questions from reporters.
     
Someone asked about the level of frustration the Red Sox are feeling after building the best record in baseball during the first month of the season, only to come undone in May, sinking to third place in the American League East.
     
"It's funny that you asked that question," said Ortiz, measuring his words carefully. "We've seen, the past couple of years here, when we get into a funk, it's pretty much everybody. You know what I'm saying? It's like when we were playing well -- everybody is performing well at the same time. It's kind of strange.
     
"If you have a couple of guys who stay hot, you wouldn't notice things. But if you look around right now, it's pretty much everybody that is struggling."
     
Ortiz spoke the truth. The same Red Sox offense that averaged more than five runs per game in April is now averaging about 3.5 runs in May. Delivering with runners in scoring position has become a team-wide epidemic -- over the weekend at Fenway, the team was a woeful 4-for-36 with runners in scoring position.
    
On Tuesday afternoon, before the start of the team's nine-game road trip, manager John Farrell chose to highlight the positive -- that the Sox were, at the very least, getting people in scoring position.
     
Indeed, an average of 12 situations with runners on second base (or third) in a three-game span should, over time, yield plenty of offensive support.
     
But then, as if to prove Farrell a liar, the Sox' chances dwindled on Tuesday night against Matt Moore.
     
After Ortiz's hammered a pitch deep into the right field bleachers for a 3-0 lead just four batters into the game, the Red Sox did virtually nothing for the remainder of the night against either Moore or four Tampa Bay relievers.
     
They had just one hit after the first inning -- a one-out double by Stephen Drew in the fifth inning. After the first, they had just two runners in scoring position period, and of course, were hitless in those situations. The Rays bullpen retired the final seven Red Sox hitters on the night, the last four by strikeout.
     
As Ortiz indicated, the Sox are stuck in the "nothing'' phase of their all-or-nothing season.
     
Ortiz himself, nursing a sore left oblique, had been 3-for-25 prior to his first-inning homer. And he wasn't alone:

  • Jacoby Ellsbury, who got on base three times (two walks, hit-by-pitch) is 5-for-32.
  • Jonny Gomes, whom the Sox keep waiting to get hot, is not, mired in  a 1-for-16 funk.
  • Will Middlebrooks, who occasionally has shown signs of life, is just 6-for-27, striking out an alarming rate.

And the problems aren't isolate to the offense. The team has shown a propensity for sloppy play in the field at precisely the worst moment. On Tuesday, a ball got lost in backdrop of the Tropicana Field roof in the fourth inning, falling in between Mike Napoli and Dustin Pedroia.
     
That should have been the final out of the inning, with John Lackey escaping in a 3-3 tie. Instead, Tampa got two runs out of the misdeed, enough to provide the winning margin.
     
Reverse momentum happens in baseball, of course. Just as hot teams seemingly feed off one another, so too do teams that have gone in the other direction.
A domino-like effect has struck the Sox.
     
"Some guys are hitting balls right at people -- that's part of the game," said Pedroia, who could have been referring to Shane Victorino's hard lineout to first baseman James Loney with two on and two out in the seventh. "We'll click, we'll get it going again. We went through a streak early on when everyone was kind of rolling.
     
"Then, when you hit funks, you hope it's one or two guys, things like that. But we'll get it back on track."
     
Together, presumably.