It is a testament to the strength of the Red Sox offense that the team has been held to four or fewer runs just 27 times this year, the fewest in the majors. In a way, however, the infrequency of such offensive outages has masked growing evidence of limitations and even deficiencies when they aren't in slugfests.
On Tuesday night, White Sox lefthander and perennial Cy Young candidate Chris Sale dominated the Red Sox en route to Chicago's 3-1 win over Boston. A loss to Sale is forgivable. Yet the manner in which the Sox lost has become part of a larger pattern.
The Red Sox are a paltry 5-22 when scoring four or fewer runs this year. Since the beginning of May, they are 1-16 when held to four runs of fewer – a development that augurs poorly for a team that is suddenly experiencing offensive outages with considerably more frequency. The Sox have managed four or fewer runs seven times in their last nine games; they are 1-6 in those contests.
Their inability to win low-scoring games is uncharacteristic of a team that is trying to assert itself as one of the best in the game. The Sox' .185 winning percentage when being held to fewer than five runs is the third worst in the majors. The other three teams that have sub-.200 winning percentages when scoring four or fewer runs are the three worst teams in the majors: The Reds (.190 winning percentage when scoring four or fewer runs), the Braves (.163), and the Twins (.049).
To this point, the Red Sox have not been a team that has won low-scoring games. They have not been a team that has won close games (6-9 record in one-run contests, with a .400 winning percentage that is 21st in the majors).
They have held their own in impressive fashion against their better opponents, with a 22-21 record (.512 winning percentage) against teams that are .500 or better, a mark that is tied with the Orioles for the seventh-best in the majors. However, over the last three and a half weeks, they're 8-11 against teams of that caliber, with their only series win coming against a Mariners team (36-35) that is in a downward spiral.
Of course, such stretches are an almost unavoidable occurrence on the baseball calendar, except for juggernauts that conclude the year with wins totals in the vicinity of triple digits. Right now, the Red Sox do not look like such a team. That said, nor does anyone else in the game save for the Cubs and perhaps the Rangers and Giants.
The recent stretch for the Red Sox, then, is a glass-half-full/glass-half-empty proposition. If this 10-14 time of mediocrity represents the lull, and if the pendulum is poised to swing on elements such as one-run outcomes (which tend to follow random patterns within a season), and if the team can start to show an ability to win close, low-scoring games, then as bottom points go, this one would prove fairly shallow.
However, if this represents a time when irreparable cracks to the foundation first are being revealed, then the early months of the season, in which the Red Sox steamrolled a number of teams that were either bad or struggling at the time (the Astros come to mind), may prove a time of false promise. A Red Sox team that is now 39-31, one game out of first place in the AL East, still awaits definition as it tries to prove the legitimacy of its credentials as a power with whom to be reckoned.