Where have all the homers gone for the Red Sox?
During a month when the Red Sox’ march to an AL East title has carried an air of inevitability, September has featured less intrigue about whether or even when the team will clinch the division than what it will do next month. The bullpen’s struggles and potential playoff vulnerability have assumed the spotlight, save for Chris Sale’s appearances on the mound every five days — leaving a strange development largely unnoticed in the shadows.
The Red Sox offense has stopped hitting for power. Through 14 games this month, the team has 11 homers — tied for the fewest in the majors in September. The dinger deficiency represents a continuation of a pattern rather than the start of one, as the Red Sox have just 55 homers since the All-Star break, tied for third fewest in the American League.
While J.D. Martinez has remained a steady source of power (12 homers in the second half — tied for 7th in the AL and 16th in the majors – along with a .596 slugging mark and 1.004 OPS), no one else on the Sox has gone deep more than six times.
Mookie Betts has “merely” been great (.302/.404/.505 with six homers in 51 games) in the second half rather than otherworldly. Andrew Benintendi has two homers in 48 games since the break, along with a modest .268/.330/.376 line.
The result has been a steady decline in the power and offensive production that helped the Red Sox forge the best record in baseball. The Sox’ run-scoring has taken a modest hit in the second half (down about 4 percent from 5.41 runs per game to 5.17), and a more significant one this month (the team’s 4.36 runs per game in September are down by more than 19 percent from the first-half average).
|Category||First half||Second half||September|
|Average||.272 (1)||.259 (3)||.248 (7)|
|OBP||.339 (1)||.333 (4)||.324 (6)|
|Slugging||.462 (2)||.427 (5)||.376 (13)|
|HR||134 (2)||55 (T-12)||11 (15)|
|HR/Game||1.37 (3)||1.06 (12)||0.79 (15)|
In some ways, the team’s offensive decline has been even more pronounced than the number of runs scored suggests. The team is experiencing pronounced drops in its average, OBP, and slugging percentages. However, the Sox have avoided a true offensive tailspin because while they haven’t been hitting for power, they’ve been extraordinary when they do have the opportunity to score.
The team leads the majors with a .300 average and .397 OBP with runners in scoring position since the break and ranks third in slugging (.488) in that time. And, though the Sox frequently have done little in the early innings, they’ve been remarkably efficient in their late-innings rallies, compiling a .348/.428/.549 line from the seventh inning on.
Even without power, the team has made the most of its opportunities, typically clustering hits in the late innings to forge narrow victories. Of the Red Sox’ 10 wins this month, four have been by one run, with the decisive run scored in the eighth or ninth inning in three of those contests en route to a 10-4 record in September.
That record suggests that the Red Sox’ drop in power is not so much a concern as it raises a question: If the Red Sox do not start launching homers again, can they navigate October in a fashion reminiscent of the 2015 Royals, winning not so much with long balls as with deliberately forged rallies against elite opposing pitching staffs?
That question can’t be answered until next month — if it needs to be answered at all. After all, it’s also entirely possible that a team that shows little power down the stretch can erupt in the postseason.
If, for instance, Betts goes on a home run binge or some of Mitch Moreland’s second-half warning track fly balls hug the lines and start flying over fences, the September offensive decline might come to seem like a blip. Moreover, it’s worth acknowledging that the offense clearly isn’t the Red Sox’ foremost concern in a year where the lineup has been the best in the game.
All of that said, if the Red Sox’ late-season offensive downtick does persist into October, it will amplify the responsibility that the pitching staff must shoulder. So, as much as the state of the bullpen has been under a microscope, the modest production of the offense has created enough close games to magnify the examination.