With a 10-12 record going into Thursday and in the cellar of the American League East standings, there is no denying things haven’t started the way the Red Sox wanted them to this season.
They’ve averaged just 3.82 runs per game, 12th in the American League through 22 games -- this after leading all of baseball last year, averaging 5.27 runs per game. While a number of things can be pointed to for the drastic drop off, one of the major issues has their plate approach this season compared to last year’s with the team not driving up opposition pitch counts as much as they did last season.
The Sox showed flashes of their former selves when they won four out of five games last week, but that certainly wasn’t the case Tuesday night against Yankees starter Mashahiro Tanaka, as the right-hander pitched into the eighth inning, throwing 105 pitches in the Yankees’ 9-3 rout.
Last week the Sox forced White Sox starter Chris Sale into 127 pitches through seven innings and won the game late. The next night against the Orioles, they forced starter Chris Tillman to throw 122 pitches in five innings. Sunday they took advantage of a tiring Ubaldo Jimenez in the sixth inning for a three-run homer, forcing him from the game after 107 pitches and eventually winning it against the Orioles bullpen.
“I can’t say it’s exactly like it was last October when, seemingly, we were getting no-hit through five innings and we found a way to get into a bullpen in that seventh, eighth inning range," Sox manager John Farrell said. "We’re just putting up more consistent, tougher at-bats to drive that pitch count up."
Although the Sox still have a few players, such as Mike Napoli (second in AL, pitches per at-bat), and Xander Bogaerts (13th) grinding out at bats, it isn’t as team-wide as it was last season. After being 13th in the entire AL last season, seeing 4.11 pitches per at-bat, Daniel Nava has seen 3.4 pitches per at-bat in his last two games, possibly trying to do too much as he’s currently hitting just .149 with an on-base percentage of .240 this season and was sent down to Triple-A Pawtucket.
In signing catcher A.J. Pierzynski, the Red Sox knew they were getting the antithesis of their patient plate approach - but the thought was that he might strike a balance, seeing the team first-hand. The catcher has averaged 3.08 pitches per at-bat, has seen just three three ball counts all year and has walked twice.
For the Red Sox to get back to their winning ways they will need to improve on a number of matters, but getting back to last season’s plate approach might be the most important matter at hand.
Follow Metro Red Sox beat writer Ryan Hannable on Twitter @Hannable84