CLEVELAND — The Red Sox are the fourth-highest scoring team in baseball, their offense comparable to those of the first-place Rangers, Rays, Braves, and Diamondbacks.
But the Sox have allowed the seventh-most runs, their pitching grouped with four fellow last-place teams: the Athletics, Rockies, Royals, and Nationals.
It was suggested to Alex Cora before Wednesday night’s game against the Guardians that it must be a challenge to manage such an unbalanced team.
Cora laughed, which was his polite way of saying, “Gee, you think so?”
The Sox are averaging 5.04 runs and allowing 4.94. They have scored five or more runs 32 times and allowed five or more runs 34 times.
But Cora believes improving the defense will improve that ratio.
“We’ve got to be better in certain areas,” he said. “I’ll repeat myself again: Defense has a lot to do with giving up runs. In that aspect we’re going to be better. We’re going to keep improving.
“Everything goes hand in hand. You play good defense [and] you have a good pitching staff. If you don’t play good defense, your pitching staff is going to suffer. That’s the area I’m pushing.”
Then it pushed back once the game started. The Sox took a 2-1 lead before committing three errors in the fourth inning that led to two earned runs and eventually a 5-2 loss, the seventh in 10 games.
This is who the Red Sox are, a team with little margin for error that commits too many errors.
“We kept talking about it but we’ve got to get better,” Cora said after the game.
In the short term, getting shortstop Yu Chang off the injured list next week would help. He was excellent defensively before breaking a bone in his left wrist in late April.
Over the long term, Trevor Story’s return will aid that cause, too. He was a strong defensive shortstop with the Rockies even when he was playing with a sore elbow in 2021.
Adam Duvall, who is likely to be activated from the injured list on Friday, also is a plus defender in the outfield.
Getting Chang and Duvall back will allow Kiké Hernández to play second base more often.
Improved defense would certainly be helpful. But with Chris Sale on the injured list with a shoulder injury and unlikely to return any time soon, the pitching staff is not going to be a strength. There are too many holes to fill and not enough good arms to fill them.
Chaim Bloom’s offseason goal of getting more strike-throwers on the staff has seen mixed results. The Sox have thrown a slightly higher percentage of strikes when compared with the same point of last season but also have a slightly higher walk rate.
Even if the defense improves, the only way the last-place Sox can make this season an interesting one is to hit their way up the standings and get to September close enough to chase a wild-card spot.
It’s a bad way to play, but it’s the only way they have given the pitching staff.
Duvall will need some days off early on after not playing for two months because of a broken left wrist, but his presence in the middle of the order will make a good lineup even better.
Story’s return, which could initially come as a designated hitter, also will be a plus. His career offensive numbers were inflated by playing at Coors Field for six years, but Story also should provide a boost.
It’s also reasonable to think first baseman Triston Casas will be more productive assuming his actual production catches up with the quality of his at-bats.
Adding Duvall and Story to a lineup that already includes Rafael Devers, Justin Turner, Alex Verdugo, and Masataka Yoshida and the Sox should score runs in bunches.
Cora compared it with the 2021 team that won 92 games and advanced to the ALCS. That team didn’t pitch particularly well, either, but it found a way.
This team would do well to finish .500 and that may require scoring 800-plus runs. It’s a hard way to play and nobody is laughing about that.