Big hit evades Boston as recent offensive struggles continue

May 11th, 2024

BOSTON -- For the Red Sox, this offensive rut started in Boston, continued on in Minneapolis and Atlanta, and then reared its ugly head back at Fenway Park on Friday night.

It is bound to end soon, because that’s how these things go. But it doesn’t make it any easier for a team to go through.

The offense once again lacked the timely hit in a 5-1 loss to the Nationals that dropped the Sox to 1-6 in their last seven games and back to .500 (19-19) for the first time since April 18.

The lack of firepower is providing diminishing returns for a starting rotation that has the best ERA in the Majors at 2.39.

Tanner Houck (seven innings, three runs) was the latest starter to turn in a quality start that went for naught.

“Baseball is a hard game,” said Houck. “Hitting is hard. We left a lot of guys on base tonight. So those clutch hits will come around. I know those guys in there are working hard each and every day, trying to do the best they can. I have full faith in them that they’ll get it done.”

In this 1-6 stretch, Boston has scored two runs or fewer in all six of its losses.

“We all know that there's ups and downs and we’ve got to ride the waves, but we're staying really neutral,” said Red Sox leadoff man Jarren Duran. “We're staying together in the clubhouse.”

The Red Sox looked primed to take the lead in the first inning when Connor Wong lined a single to right. However, Victor Robles came up firing in his first game since April 3 -- and first in right field since 2019 -- and made a throw that was just off the mark enough for Tyler O’Neill to be out at the plate.

That’s how things go for a team that is struggling.

“We didn’t get the big hit. Wong gets a hit to right field, it's not a great throw, it’s off the line, and it just happens Tyler was right there,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “But the way you come out of this is [to] keep putting good at-bats and have traffic. Obviously at one point we’re going to get that big hit and get in a groove, but it didn’t happen tonight. We walked five times, but we struck out nine times. So just keep working and hopefully tomorrow is the day.”

In this period of futility that started with a 3-1 loss to the Giants on May 2, the Red Sox have hit only two homers, the fewest in the Majors. They’ve scored 16 runs, which is the second fewest. Their .328 slugging percentage is the fourth lowest, while the .623 OPS is fifth worst.

And they are 9-for-70 with runners in scoring position for a .158 average that ranks 28th in the Majors since May 2.

In the last three games -- all losses -- the futility has been particularly glaring with the Sox going an aggregate 2-for-29 with runners in scoring position while scoring just three times and stranding 33 runners.

When Garrett Cooper ripped an RBI double off the scoreboard in left in the fourth to slice Washington’s lead to 3-1, it seemed like maybe the Red Sox had something to build on.

Instead, they didn’t score the rest of the night.

“Any time someone drives a run in, it hopefully gets guys going,” said Cooper. “We didn’t capitalize the rest of the game tonight, but that's part of baseball. There's so many times where everybody’s coming through with guys on. We're in a little bit of a tough stretch right now.”

There are some injury issues that the Red Sox haven’t used as an excuse. Trevor Story (left shoulder) is out for the season. Triston Casas (torn cartilage in left rib cage) is out indefinitely. There is also no timetable for the return of Masataka Yoshida (left thumb sprain), though surgery was ruled out on Friday.

Injuries or not, the Red Sox feel they have more offense than they’ve been showing. And the consensus in the clubhouse is that they will soon prove it.

“You go through a six-month season, 162 games, and you’re gonna go through rough patches like this,” Cooper said. “All it takes is a couple guys with a couple of big hits that can turn the tide pretty quickly. You can't dwell too much on the past. It's something that every team goes through. It’s not just us.”