Red Sox continue to struggle in big spots in loss to Blue Jays

Amin Touri
June 23, 2019 - 5:09 pm

Whether or not “clutch” hitting is worth any stock is up for debate, but one thing is fairly clear: these Red Sox have trouble bringing home runners in the biggest spots.

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In Sunday’s 6-1 loss to the Blue Jays, leaving Boston 1-2 for the series with a team that’s 21 games back in the division, the Red Sox were flat at the plate to begin with, only managing five hits while getting shutout — but in the few chances they had to produce runs, they went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position. (For a complete recap, click here.)

Even the sole hit in that situation, a single through the left side from Jackie Bradley Jr., only led to Brock Holt getting thrown out with time to spare at home on a great throw from Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

"Like I was saying in Minnesota, we still have to get better," said manager Alex Cora. "I know everybody was excited about that (road trip) but as a team, there's a lot of things we need to keep improving on. You look at this weekend and it showed. We stole one on Friday, we had a lead on Saturday, and today we didn't show up. It's disappointing, we expect better things out of the group, and today, I think all-around, it wasn't a good game."

To look very broadly at their performance in important moments, the Red Sox have slashed .270/.364/.430 this season with runners in scoring position — the resulting .794 OPS leaves them 14th in the majors in 2019.

It’s not as terrible as it may seem, but Boston is firmly in the middle of the pack, a league-average team with runners in scoring position. It often seems worse than it is, probably because the 2018 version of this team was so consistently good when it mattered.

In 2018, the Red Sox finished the year with a .872 OPS with runners in scoring position, the very best mark in the league. So while the Red Sox aren’t terrible when it matters, they’re significantly worse than they were a year ago.

"I don't know, it's weird,” J.D. Martinez said. “It's one of those things where — I think it's a combination of everything. I think it's a combination of not executing and just putting that pressure on us. We've been putting up runs, I think we're in the top of runs scored and stuff like that, but it's just one of those things really."

Martinez has caught a decent portion of that ire, and he found himself in spot again on Sunday — with runners on second and third and two outs in the bottom of the third in a 2-0 game, with a chance to get the Red Sox back into it, Martinez could only muster a ground out to third.

On Saturday evening, once Boston had blown a 6-0 lead to trail 8-7 in the ninth, Martinez stepped to the plate with two outs and Bogaerts on second with a chance to win it or tie it, and he went down swinging.

In Martinez’s case, it’s a lot of the same: he hasn’t been terrible, just not as productive as last season. In 2018, Martinez’s slash line was .386/.480/.671, with an excellent 1.151 OPS with runners in scoring position, fourth in the majors behind only Mookie Betts, Mike Trout and Alex Bregman, who finished first, second and fifth in MVP voting, respectively.

In 2019, that line is down to .294/.405/.485 — certainly not terrible, above-average even, but not close to the level of production he showed so consistently last season.

In Sunday’s loss to the Blue Jays, the clutch hitting wasn’t the big problem, as overall plate struggles and some poor pitching meant the Red Sox weren’t really in the game anyways, but it’s been a problem throughout the season. Not every series is like that awful weekend against the Rays when Boston went 5-for-36 with runners in scoring position, but if guys keep getting stranded at the rate they have been, the eight-game deficit in the AL East won’t be getting any smaller.