First pitch: Silent nights (and days) for Red Sox

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First pitch: Silent nights (and days) for Red Sox

MIAMI -- For so long this season, the Red Sox have had such difficulties with their pitching staff -- first the bullpen, later the starting rotation -- that it was nearly unthinkable to consider the offense as bearing any blame for their struggles.

Yet, with the team reeling after its fourth straight loss, that's exactly where it belongs.

Until recently, in fact, the offense had been so dependable that not even the players themselves seemed capable of recognizing the problem.

Over the weekend, when the Sox were being swept by the Washington Nationals, the Boston clubhouse was divided between criticizing the umpires and crediting the Washington pitching staff.

To be sure, the Sox ran into a tough string of starters at Fenway (Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman). And facing Josh Johnson Monday night in Miami didn't make things any easier.

But there's a limit to how much praise should go the opposition when the lineup is sputtering. Johnson, after all, came into Monday night with a 4.56 ERA. Yet he limited the Sox to four hits and one run over seven innings, with seven strikeouts, as Boston once again went down meekly, 4-1.

"With our offense,'' said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, "we should be able to come up and score some runs . . . We're facing some really good pitching, but this is the big leagues. We need to step it up, get some guys over, get some guys in. That includes everybody.''

Indeed, the downturn has been from top to bottom in the lineup. For a team that was second in the league in runs scored only 10 days ago, the last eight games (1-7) have seen the Red Sox average 3.1 runs per game and hit just .221 collectively.

In that eight-game stretch, the Sox have lost games by two runs twice, one run two other times, and three runs on two other occasions.

"You get that one hit that continues the inning and you get two or three to follow . . . '' said Bobby Valentine wistfully. ''But we're just not getting that one to continue the inning. It seems the other team is getting it against us.''

Among the regulars, only David Ortiz has been a consistent performer. Dustin Pedroia's double Monday night was just his second since May 13, sure evidence that the infielder is being hampered by his right thumb injury.

Meanwhile, the brief hot spurt by Adrian Gonzalez last week seems to be over as quickly as it began.

The long-term losses of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford -- to say nothing of Cody Ross, who was second on the team in homers and slugging percentage when he broke a bone in his foot last month -- seem to become more acute with each passing day.

"We don't have a lot of options with the lineup,'' acknowledged Valentine ruefully, "so we're trying just get guys in motion once in a while. We need that homer, we need that bloop -- one of the two.''

"There's a lot of frustration,'' said Saltalamacchia. "We know we're better than this. We know we can put some runs on the board. It just seems like right now, guys are pitching us really well and we're not hitting any mistakes. When you miss the mistakes, it's tough to do much.''

Merloni: Pablo Sandoval is the key to the bottom of Red Sox order

Merloni: Pablo Sandoval is the key to the bottom of Red Sox order

The guys on The Baseball Show discuss Pablo Sandoval lighting it up in spring training and if he could continue that in the regular season.

Sale hurls five shutout innings, Sandoval has two hits as Sox romp, 7-2

Sale hurls five shutout innings, Sandoval has two hits as Sox romp, 7-2

Chris Sale threw five shutout innings and Pablo Sandoval continued his torrid spring with two more hits as the Red Sox routed the Twins, 7-2, Sunday at the Twins' Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers.

Red Sox-Twins box score

Sale allowed six hits, with one walk and six strikeouts, in his 91-pitch outing. Manager John Farrell had told reporters before the game that Sale was scheduled to throw between 95 and 100 pitches. He has 26 strikeouts and 2 walks in 21 spring-training innings.

Sandoval lifted his exhibition average to .370 with a 2-for-3 performance, which included a double.

The Red Sox also got home runs from Christian Vazquez, Andrew Benintendi and Steve Selsky as they rallied from a 1-0 deficit with three runs in the seventh inning and four in the eighth.