By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
The Red Sox' troubles, it now seems obvious, go beyond trying to find ways to find at-bats for David Ortiz on the upcoming nine-game tour of National League ballparks.
In the bigger picture, the offense has sputtered in recent days. The Sox managed just five runs in the final two games of their interleague series with the San Diego
Padres, and even when they struck for 14 runs in the opener Monday, much of that was the result of the Padres' bullpen largesse and not anything the Sox were doing with the bats.
And the issues, which pre-date the whole dilemma surrounding the DH for the next week a a half, are likely to remain for the forseeable future.
The loss of outfielder Carl Crawford is a significant one. Sidelined with a hamstring pull on the first night of the recent homestand, Crawford had emerged from his April
slump as a big contribtor who had helped provide length to the Boston lineup.
From May 1 until he was injured last weekend, Crawford hit .295 with a slugging percentage of .476, piling up 16 extra-base hits over a span of 43 games.
Gone, too, is shortstop Jed Lowrie, who was limited by a sore shoulder for the last few weeks, but still offered some pop in the seventh hole of the batting order.
Suddenly, the Red Sox face the prospect of playing most of their games with the likes of Darnell McDonald, J.D. Drew and Marco Scutaro hitting fifth, sixth and seventh rather than the trio of Ortiz, Crawford and Lowrie.
And the same lineup which seemed to routinely be scoring double figures in runs only a while ago, now feature a dramatic falloff after the cleanup position.
The prospect of a sputtering offense highlights how unproductive the bench has been since the start of the season. McDonald, a valuable role player a year ago, has contributed almost nothing this season. His paltry OPS of .364 is less than half of his .766 OPS a year ago and he has just one extra-base hit in 40 plate appearances this season.
Then there's Mike Cameron, whose .161.227.287 line speaks volumes. At 38, less than a year removed from abdominal surgery, Cameron appears, frankly, to be done.
Moreover, the unavailability of Lowrie has further depleted the team's reserves. Instead of having Marco Scutaro serving as a quality and experienced utility man, the team is left with Drew Sutton, a journeyman 4A player whose limitations are
increasingly evident the more he plays.
None of this would matter as much if the Sox were getting somethinganything from J.D. Drew, who has been both unproductive and disinterested for much of the season.
Drew's .656 OPS is more than 200 points below his career figure of .878. and his play continues a pattern of general decline that began last season.
"I don't get it,'' said a talent evaluator from an American League team when recently asked about Drew. "There doesn't seem to be anything physically wrong with him and I don't see anything has changed in terms of his bat speed. But he's clearly not the same player he was.''
All of which puts greater pressure on the top four hitters in the lineup -- Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis -- to continue carrying the offense for the forseeable future.
Ellsbury and Gonzalez have been locked in almost from the beginning, while Pedroia and Youkilis have ramped up of late. Since getting confirmation that his knee was structurally sound (and receiving an injection of Synvisc), Pedroia has been streaking, scoring 11 runs over those 12 games while compiling a line of .413.525.696.
In roughly that same stretch, Youkilis has been equally hot, taking full advantage of Pedroia being on base more and driving in runs at nearly 1.5 per game (17 in the last 12) while fashioning an OPS of 1.123.
If there's any consolation, it's two-fold.
First, the Red Sox have built the best record in the American League since May 11, going a blistering 27-10 in that span, and, as such, have something of a cushion to protect against a mid-season slump.
Second, the competition isn't exactly daunting. Other than a three-game visit with the Phillies the next week, the Red Sox face the Pirates, Astros and Orioles in 10 of their next 16 games leading up to the All-Star break.
Just as the hitting carried the team in its recent five-week stretch, it's time for the pitching to chip in and get the Sox to the break in one piece.