'Empty at-bats' plaguing Red Sox in current lull

May 24th, 2023

ANAHEIM -- By the fourth inning on Saturday night, the Red Sox had a three-run lead in San Diego and were on their way to a second straight win to start their West Coast trip.

But since then, the bats have gone into a deep freeze, looking nothing like the offense that was one of the most relentless units in the Majors the first few weeks of the season.

went a career-high seven innings in a stellar performance (two runs, no walks, six strikeouts) on Tuesday night, but it wasn’t enough as the Red Sox lost, 4-0, to the Angels.

The Sox (26-23) have lost three in a row and it’s no mystery why: They’ve stopped hitting.

Starting with the fifth inning of Saturday’s victory, the Sox have scored one run in their last 32 innings, going 14-for-106 (.132 average).

Angels righty Griffin Canning, who came into the night with a 6.14 ERA, was the latest starter to stifle Boston’s bats. The Red Sox had just two hits -- singles by and .

Did Canning do anything special?

“He changed speeds. Got ahead and expanded,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “We saw it yesterday, we saw it with Michael [Wacha] in San Diego. Obviously this is not us, but we have to make adjustments.”

The Red Sox, who play in the ultra-competitive American League East, have to adjust next.

“Yeah, obviously, they are looking at us and what we do, and we’re looking at their guys,” said Red Sox DH . “It’s a constant game of cat and mouse and obviously, we need to do a better job [Wednesday].”

A win on Wednesday would give Boston a 3-3 record on the first two legs of a trip that ends with a three-game series in Phoenix starting on Friday night.

Taking a deeper dive into what has ailed the offense, you can start with a frequency of late in ground-ball rate.

The hardest-hit ball the Sox had in Tuesday’s defeat was a double-play grounder by that had an exit velocity of 107.1 mph, per Statcast.

“Similar to the last few days, we're not getting the ball in the air,” said Cora. “It seems like we didn't make adjustments throughout. We didn’t put pressure on them. There were a few walks here and there, but I think the last three days, obviously, we haven't done much.”

In the disappointing 2022 season, Cora often mentioned empty at-bats or empty fly balls. His team’s solid approach had erased that type of talk from his postgame interviews until Tuesday.

“I think there's a lot of pulled ground balls lately,” said Cora. “A lot of empty at-bats. First time I’ve said that this season -- there's a lot of empty at-bats. Tomorrow, we’ve got [left-hander Tyler Anderson facing us], so it's a different lineup. But when there's a righty, we have to make adjustments.”

The only fly ball that was hit well by the Red Sox on Tuesday was a Turner drive into center (104.5 mph exit velocity, .770 xBA) to lead off the ninth that was caught at the track.

With the Red Sox now 49 games into the season, Cora noted that this is the time the opponent has enough of a scouting report to alter the gameplan.

“They see our numbers and what we've done and they're going to start making adjustments and now, it's time for us to kind of slow it down and break it down,” said Cora. “And I think using the other side of the field, it will help.”

Another issue is that Boston has a sizable group of hitters slumping at the same time.

, the team’s leadoff hitter, has a slash line of .178/.275/.267 in his last 12 games, with one RBI. After starting the road trip with two bombs in San Diego, , the team’s most impactful player, is 1-for-15 in the last four games. He is hitting .249 on the season and hasn’t gotten on one of his patented hot streaks yet.

, one of the most pleasant surprises of the season, is 1-for-19 during his homecoming to Southern California. Rookie first baseman Casas made strides from a rough April during the first half of May but has dipped lately, mustering just three hits in his last 23 at-bats.

Sometimes, it takes just one collective big game for an offense to turn a slump into a hot streak. The Red Sox hope Wednesday will be that day.