On one hand, performances such as the one Kevin Gausman delivered on Thursday afternoon — taking a shutout into the ninth inning in a 3-2 Blue Jays win over the Red Sox — are not shocking. Toronto opened the vault over the winter to sign the righthander to a five-year, $110 million deal because they saw him as a difference-maker in the American League East.
But for the Red Sox, it represented the continuation of a horrendous season-opening stretch from the lineup. Opposing pitchers have had little difficulty carving through the Red Sox in a way that suggests the team is fortunate to be leaving Fenway for a seven-game trip to Tampa Bay and Toronto with a 6-7 record.
There are plenty of markers to highlight how an anticipated team strength has been anything but one.
Over the three games against the Blue Jays, the Sox totaled just five runs, tied for their lowest-scoring three-game series of the last five seasons.
The Sox are averaging 3.8 runs per game, their lowest average over the first 13 games since their last-place 2014 season. That average output ranked 18th in the big leagues.
The Sox have posted a jarring OBP of .284, their worst mark through a season’s first 13 games since 1963, 10 years before the introduction of the designated hitter.
The Sox have shown a woeful absence of plate discipline. They entered Thursday having swung at 35.2 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, the largest chase rate in the big leagues, and ranked second in overall swing rate (50.8 percent of all pitches). That swing-at-everything approach lends itself to swings and misses, bad contact, and low walk rates, all issues for the Red Sox in the early going.
There are plenty of early-season issues. Are they quickly correctable? That question hovers for a team that went through spring training expecting its lineup to be its primary ticket to contention.
“Obviously we know [the offense is] definitely one of our stronger points that we have going for us,” said shortstop Xander Bogaerts (3 for 4, double on Thursday). “We had a short spring training. We don’t want to make any excuses, but it’s tough when you have to try to get your timing back and you have to do it in the big leagues and be quick about it. Hopefully we’ll get hot soon, sooner rather than later.”
Certainly, such a turnaround is possible. After all, in 2021, the Rays scored 50 runs through their first 13 games, then led the majors in runs over the last 149 games of the season. The Giants managed just 42 runs through 13 games (29th in MLB) before emerging as the National League’s best offense over the remaining 92 percent of the season. The usual “it’s early” disclaimer applies even more than usual given the compressed spring training.
And in the two-run rally on Thursday, the Red Sox saw glimpses of hope. Rafael Devers, who has been one of the most aggressive hitters in baseball, resulting in opposing teams no longer throwing him pitches in the strike zone over the last handful of games, worked a five-pitch walk, his second free pass of the season.
In six ninth-inning plate appearances, the Sox attacked pitches in the heart of the strike zone and hit them hard, while generally (save for a Bogaerts double on a slider at the bottom of the zone) dismissing pitches not only off the plate but on the edges of the zone. The two-run rally against Gausman and Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano offered a reminder of the capabilities of the lineup.
“It was nice to see us battle to the end there,” said interim manager Will Venable, who was filling in for Alex Cora after he tested positive for COVID-19. “These guys are grinding. I think it’s obviously an offensive-minded club. We know we have a lot of capable guys and it’s just a matter of time before they get back on track.”
Yet even as they express confidence, the Sox are offering glimpses of a need to jump-start the offense. On Thursday, the team gave a day off to leadoff hitter Kiké Hernández (.157/.246/.333), installing Trevor Story into that slot. Cora, prior to being sent home, didn’t rule out giving someone other than Hernández a longer look in the top spot.
It’s early for those sorts of reconfigurations, but the Sox have limited runway before they must find their offensive footing. With 10 road games on the immediate horizon, the Sox recognize that they can’t ease their way into the season. Though it is just two weeks in, the dormant lineup needs to wake up.
Michael Silverman of the Globe staff contributed to this report.