Despite 'traffic,' Sox can't cash in on offense

October 20th, 2021

BOSTON -- Considering how the previous two games of the American League Championship Series played out, the way started Tuesday's contest felt like the setup to yet another high-powered offensive performance for the Red Sox.

Much like Kyle Schwarber’s history-making grand slam did the night before, Bogaerts sent a sellout crowd at Fenway Park into a frenzy by providing an early jolt in the form of a two-run home run off Astros starter Zack Greinke in the first inning. However, those runs ended up being all Boston could muster in a 9-2 loss to the Astros in Game 4 of the ALCS.

With the Red Sox limited to just five hits, Tuesday’s loss snapped a streak of six consecutive games in which they collected 10 or more hits, which is the longest streak over a single postseason in MLB history.

After Bogaerts homered in the first, the Red Sox were held to just two hits from the second through the eighth inning in what was a tightly contested matchup. They collected a pair of singles in the ninth after the game had already been broken open by a seven-run ninth put together by Houston.

Even with the low-hit output, the Red Sox still had their chances, they just couldn’t cash in, which is uncommon for them this October. They left a total of 11 runners on base, and their 0-for-9 performance with runners in scoring position in Game 4 was their most at-bats going hitless in such situations in the playoffs since Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, when they also went 0-for-9.

“We had traffic on the bases. We had opportunities,” Boston manager Alex Cora said. “You have to give [Houston’s] bullpen credit. They made big outs when they needed to.”

One positive that remained was the impressive plate discipline by Red Sox hitters. They worked seven walks against Houston, contributing to Greinke’s early exit in the second inning. Boston drew three walks in its first eight plate appearances against the veteran right-hander.

“We had chances early in the game, too,” said Cora. “We've been so good for so long that you are going to have games like that. But approach-wise, seven walks is great. We grind some at-bats. J.D. [Martinez] got two 3-2 counts. He got called out on a fastball away, and then he swung at a slider, but he ground out the at-bats.

“I think [about] the chances we had early on. They did an outstanding job with the bullpen. We didn't do enough offensively, and now we go to Game 5.”

It’s clear Cora isn't sounding the alarm on his offense, and he shouldn’t be. One look at the numbers the Sox have produced this postseason shows just how potent that offense can be. For instance, Bogaerts’ homer was Boston's 21st of the playoffs, the second most by a team through nine games of a postseason run behind the 2004 Astros (22).

The Red Sox also have the hottest hitter on the planet in Kiké Hernández, who, despite going 1-for-5 on Tuesday, maintains a gaudy .463/.477/.927 slash line through nine playoff games.

So, yes, the entirety of Game 4 was a disappointment. With the late-inning collapse that transpired, the ALCS is now tied up 2-2, meaning the Red Sox can no longer clinch on their home field. But from an offensive perspective, they seem confident that this game was an outlier.

“Overall, we didn't get hits,” Cora said. “We didn't produce too much. But I think the approach was [still] good.”