SEATTLE — One Red Sox official answered “probably not” when asked about the possibility the team could go after Troy Tulowitzki as an answer to its offensive problems.
Which leads one to believe there are few answers when it comes to the questions of when and how the Red Sox are going to start living up to their billing entering the season of the best offensive team in baseball.
The Red Sox can’t break out of the .500 malaise they’ve been in most of the season. After Sunday’s 5-0 loss to the Mariners, the road trip was 5-5 despite the fact that they beat Sonny Gray and Felix Hernandez.
There were improvements in the starting rotation.
Firing the pitching coach seemed to work.
So that has created great optimism.
But besides the upswing by Shane Victorino (6 for 17 on the trip) and David Ortiz, the offense continues to struggle.
Rusney Castillo is waiting in the wings, but this is a high-priced lineup that also includes young players — Mookie Betts, Blake Swihart, and Xander Bogaerts — the team doesn’t want to move.
They’re not going to replace Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, or Betts. If Victorino is coming on, he’s safe. So there aren’t many places the Red Sox can upgrade the lineup, except for first base. Mike Napoli makes $16 million so he’ll get an opportunity to come out of his doldrums.
Napoli ended the road trip 4 for 27 and is now batting .162 with only three homers and 11 RBIs. The veteran power hitter just hasn’t been able to get untracked and his backup, Daniel Nava, also has struggled, likely because of sporadic playing time.
The Sox remain dreadful with runners in scoring position, 29th overall with a .204 average. And while we keep hearing they’ll bust out of it any moment, it’s 38 games in and we’re still waiting.
“I don’t have an answer,” Victorino said. “I’m not surprised because that’s baseball. That’s how the game is. Hopefully we can all find a groove. We have to trust in each other. If I don’t do it, maybe Pedey will do it. Hopefully we can find a groove as a team. I’m not worried. There’s a lot of games left. Can we be more productive? I definitely think we can.
“Should we be better? Yes. Can we be better and will we be better? Yes. I think we’ll be fine. We’re 3½ games back. I mean, I totally understand the reaction because we can be better . . . we will be better, people.”
The Red Sox likely would not commit to Tulowitzki and the six years at $113 million they would owe him, because it would mean giving up on Bogaerts, a 22-year-old they believe could emerge as a top offensive shortstop in time.
“I can’t believe how bad we’ve been against lefthanded pitching,” Ortiz said about the Sox, who are hitting .194 vs. lefties, 29th in baseball. “We’ve got to turn that around. I was looking at those numbers today. I couldn’t believe it.”
The good turn in the rotation provided a more positive feeling, for sure, which makes the offense the elephant in the room.
There was more music in the clubhouse on the trip, happier faces. The Red Sox even won the night after manager John Farrell’s brain cramp of pitching to Nelson Cruz. But on Sunday, the Red Sox couldn’t touch lefty James Paxton, while knuckleballer Steven Wright proved he could be the No. 5 starter but that he also needs to be more consistent.
A 5-5 road trip with most of the games on the West Coast would be cause for satisfaction normally. Especially when the starting staff had a good turn and went from last to 27th with five quality starts in the last eight games.
Farrell said that Clay Buchholz’s outing Friday “may have been the best of his career.” Joe Kelly was better, too, throwing at 96-97 miles per hour rather than 98-100. And Wade Miley pitched out of jams, taking advantage of an Oakland team that went 0 for 14 with runners in scoring position.
And normally it’s great to come home.
But the Red Sox return to Fenway 18-20, the same record they had at this point in 2012, when they finished last. They were 19-19 in their last-place finish in 2014. When they won it in 2013, they were 22-16.
They are 7-9 at Fenway. They were 34-47 at home last season with a run differential of minus 50. So far this season they’ve scored 69 runs at Fenway and allowed 78. But again, that’s a product of their poor starting pitching.
Farrell said that all the lineup changes and combinations he’s tried aren’t going to work as long as there’s a collective malaise in the offense. He said, “These are our guys” when asked if there was anything else he could do. He said he continues to believe in them and that they’ll bust out at some point. But the wait is a killer.
The strange part is the Red Sox are third overall hitting with two outs, scoring 71 two-out runs, hitting .262, second only to Kansas City. Sunday they were 0 for 2 with runners in scoring position and couldn’t get a two-out hit when they had two runners on in the third and seventh innings.
The Red Sox believe the answers will come from the 25 men on the roster. For as much as the starting rotation has improved, they wait for the day when the offense turns it around as well.
So far, it’s been a long wait.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com.