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Got runs?

Red Sox get what they asked for: a weaker offense

Posted: Tuesday May 2, 2006 1:02PM; Updated: Tuesday May 2, 2006 5:07PM
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More so than ever, it's up to David Ortiz, above, and Manny Ramirez to carry the Red Sox lineup.
More so than ever, it's up to David Ortiz, above, and Manny Ramirez to carry the Red Sox lineup.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
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Do the Red Sox have enough offense? These days that question ranks right up there in carrying unexpected doubt with whether Matt Leinart will be a star, Tom Cruise still has box office appeal and Anna Nicole Smith is fully endowed (financially speaking, of course). Playing in a hitter's park with David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, two of the greatest power hitters of this generation, anchoring the lineup, Boston should be a sure thing when it comes to offense.

That is no longer the case with the Sox, who have sacrificed run-scoring in favor of pitching and defense -- as the world champion White Sox did last year. Whether the formula works as well in Boston as it did in Chicago will remain in doubt for now, mostly because the Red Sox carry much more age than did the 2005 White Sox.

You know something is up in Boston when the Red Sox get outscored in April -- a month in which they played 22 of their 25 games against teams that had losing records last year. The last time Boston was outscored in April was a decade ago, in 1996, when Jeff Frye, Tim Naehring and Lee Tinsley were getting regular at-bats. After leading the league in runs for three consecutive seasons -- and finishing second the year before that three-peat -- Boston ended April ranked ninth in runs. The Red Sox' runs per game for April dropped 17 percent from last year.

To be clear, the Red Sox expected a decline in runs this year, but not to this extent. And yes, Coco Crisp has played in only five games because of an injury to a finger. But come on, this is Coco Crisp, not Stan Musial. He is a very good offensive player, but not a 17-percent difference-maker.

Asked if the drop in runs was expected, manager Terry Francona said, "Yes, that's right. But I like the kind of baseball we've been playing.''

Translation: If Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett and Jonathan Papelbon eat up 500 innings (about 35 percent of the team's season total) with a sub-3.00 ERA, Boston can afford to slim down offensively.

Francona, meanwhile, may have to swallow some organizational sabermetric pride and pull a few more strings to squeeze the most out of this offense. We're not talking a conversion to little ball, only the occasional acknowledgement that the three-run homer might not be coming. Last season, for instance, among the 26 managers who managed the entire season, Francona ranked 26th in hit-and-run attempts, 25th in stolen base attempts and 25th in sacrifice bunt attempts. Basically, your local barista could have run the game from the dugout. It fit the profile of the team.

Over the previous four seasons, few, if any, teams caused the attrition that the Red Sox hitters did. They wore down pitching staffs with the depth of their lineup, leaving no breathing room and never having to wait for the lineup to turn over to start trouble. Such is no longer the case. Oddly enough, the Red Sox saw more pitches per plate appearance in April than they did over the same period last season, but did not present the same kind of threat because of a reduction in power.