McAdam: Sox struggles continue vs. quality arms

McAdam: Sox struggles continue vs. quality arms
September 3, 2013, 10:30 am
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Coming into yesterday, the Red Sox had scored nearly 700 runs this season, good enough for second in all of baseball, topped only by the team they were playing on Labor Day afternoon, the Detroit Tigers.

When the opener of the three-game series was done, the Red Sox had still scored almost 700 runs, since they failed to add to that total Monday, shutout by Doug Fister and three relievers, 3-0.

That marked the 11th time the Red Sox were shutout this season, and to put that into perspective, only the woeful Houston Astros (12) have been blanked more this season.

So, how is it, Jarrod Saltalamacchia was asked, that a team this good can appear so punchless, so often?

"It's hard to explain," said the catcher. "It just kind of happens. Can't put a finger on it. We still had a good approach, we just couldn't get any runs. That's just the way it goes sometimes."

Perhaps the Red Sox would be wise to figure this out over the next 3 1/2 weeks, since they don't figure to hang around the post-season for long if they can't solve quality pitching.

In a month, assuming they hold on to their division lead, they'll be in a short series, and facing the prospect of trying to beat, say, David Price, Matt More and Alex Cobb (Tampa Bay). Or Fister, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander. Or Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Matt Garza.

Quality starter after quality starter.

If there's any consolation, the Red Sox gave a better accounting of themselves in losing Monday. They didn't allow Fister to get ahead early and dictate at-bats. Indeed, they made Fister work, pushing him to 112 pitches in seven innings while working four walks, tying his season high.

And they certainly had their chances. On three occasions -- including each of the first two innings -- the Red Sox put the first two runners on base, but failed to generate anything from their chances.

The team was a woeful 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position.

"A big part of our game is to grind out at-bats and drive up pitch counts," said John Farrell. "We did it again today. We created those opportunities and it didn't come into play or get a key base hit, but there's been other games we've shown a willingness to swing the bat earlier in the count when a pitcher dictates that he's been in command right from the first pitch of the given at-bat.

"I think we're well aware of the type of team we are and what our strengths are."

In the seventh inning, Farrell even opted to go against type and order a sacrifice bunt from Saltalamacchia with runners at first and second. But the catcher got on top of the bunt attempt, bouncing it in front of the plate. Catcher Al Avila seized the bunt and fired to third to cut down Daniel Nava, the lead runner.

The Red Sox are tied for last in the American League with 18 sacrifices. Farrell isn't a believer in giving up an out with a team which is either first or second in runs scored, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and extra-base hits.

Some may have wished that the Sox would have utilized the bunt in the first inning when the Sox had a similar opportunity after Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino reached.

But bunting with Dustin Pedroia or David Ortiz, two of the league's best hitters, hardly sounds like a sound strategy, especially in the first inning of an American League game.

"I think we've shown certain games where we've (bunted) a little bit more," said Farrell. "I don't think that's a style of play we've used much of the year. We've shown what we are throughout the course of the year that if (a bunt) is in a guy's repertoire, or even in a game like today, we're not hesitant to call upon that."

Still, it's clear that Farrell and the Sox view the bunt not as a primary weapon, but more like a last resort. Early in the game, they're not about to give up outs. Later, when all else has failed, it remains an option.

This would be worse, Farrell acknowledged, if the Sox weren't getting baserunners. They got them; they just couldn't take advantage.

"Missed opportunities are that," he said. "We create them and we've seen them many times throughout the course of the year, where we do a a very good job putting ourselves in position by putting multiple men on base and unfortunately we didn't get a timely hit."

At-bat after at-bat, inning after inning. It cost them Monday.

They have to hope that a similar failing doesn't lead to an early playoff exit when the opposing pitching gets tougher and the games become more low-scoring.