Kevin Youkilis and Jason Bay know the numbers. No one in Red Sox Nation has to spit them back in their faces.
But for perspective on just why and how the Red Sox offense has, for the most part, been dormant since the All-Star break, take a look at both and you see two middle-of-the-order batters struggling mightily.
Youkilis has seen his average, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS all fall in every month of the season this year.
For instance, Youkilis batted .395 in April, .327 in May, .244 in June and now just .240 in July. Youkilis has struggled to pick up the ball down and in, with two-seam fastballs from righties and sliders from lefties getting him out.
In Wednesday’s 8-6 loss to the Athletics (recap), his frustration peaked when he fanned a season-high four times, three times on sliders, and finished 0-for-4, with a walk. His average stands now at .292.
“We’ve seen Youk leave the strike zone a little bit more than we’re used to and that’s probably because he’s just not seeing it good enough,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said.
Then there’s Jason Bay. He was also 0-for-4 Wednesday and has just 14 hits in 73 at-bats for a .192 average this month. He has one homer and five RBIs. Aside from a slight uptick in his OBP this month, he, like Youkilis, has seen across-the-board drops in his numbers from month-to-month this year.
“I thought Jason Bay actually took a couple of good swings, just missed, then (Brett) Anderson had that ability to throw that breaking ball and have some deception there,” Francona said. “He started out early in the game, like a lot of good pitchers as you get into the game, the velocity picked up and it became a lot more difficult for us.”
When the heart of your order is not producing and you are without David Ortiz (limited to a pinch-hitting appearance Wednesday), you begin to experience the power outage troubling the Red Sox since the break.
“We’ve just got to get guys going at the same time,” Francona added.
“Usually, there’s one guy that’s kind of scuffling and if the offense is kind of doing its job, you can kind of pick that guy up,” added Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, who did his best in that regard with five RBIs on Wednesday. “But when you get two or three guys that aren’t swinging a great bat, it’s kind of glaring in your face. When they break out, I think our whole offense will pick up, definitely.
“Both of them are too good not to break out but we all go through it,” Lowell added. “But just with the little streak we’re going on offensively as a team, it’s a little bit of an exclamation point because a couple of guys are going through it at the same time.”
Here are four other lessons from a day that saw the Sox slip 3½ games behind the Yankees in the A.L. East:
THE RED SOX NEED MORE FROM BRAD PENNY
Brad Penny has been a bit of a pleasant surprise for the Red Sox this season. Many expected him to be pushed to the side when John Smoltz returned in mid-season. He actually became a stalwart of the rotation in May and June.
But if the Red Sox are going to stabilize a rotation that is without Tim Wakefield and Daisuke Matsuzaka and has a struggling John Smoltz in it, then they’re going to need more from the hard-throwing righthander than they got on Wednesday.
He threw 37 pitches in the first inning. The result: a homer to Adam Kennedy on his first pitch, five runs and a big hole from which the Red Sox couldn’t dig themselves.
“You could tell from the first pitch of the game, they were hunting fastball,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “A couple he tried to get in there wandered back in there. He was basically using his fastball and when he didn’t locate it, they were ready to hit it.
“Tonight he had a really bad first inning. I actually think he’s been pretty consistent. He’s had a couple of really tough outings but other than that, he’s actually been very consistent. He’s thrown strikes and he’s kept us in there the vast majority of games,” Francona added.
Penny had his own read on things, like the four walks he allowed, including two in the first.
“The walks killed me,” Penny said. “I didn’t have great location in the first inning but what are the chances of the guy hitting the first pitch out of the park? Second ball’s a ground ball, got the ground ball I want for a double play but it’s not hit hard enough, so it’s bad luck and walking the guys that killed me.”
Penny allowed seven earned runs, his most since yielding eight on April 17 vs. Baltimore. He had given up three runs or less in each of his previous five starts at Fenway. He matched a team season-high for first-inning runs allowed. Daisuke Matsuzaka allowed five on April 14 at Oakland.
THE RED SOX NEED MORE THAN BRAD PENNY
The reason the first inning was so alarming was that it came just hours after Francona said the Sox needed a good start from Penny because their bullpen was shot from the night before.
“I was talking before the game about how the last thing we needed was an early exit and we’re starting a disastrous inning in the first inning,” Francona said. “Because of the first inning, we’re fighting back the whole game and pushed and pushed and pushed but came up short.”
Now, the responsibility of getting the team back on track falls on the capable shoulders of Jon Lester on Thursday. Lester and Josh Beckett have become stoppers at each end of the rotation and Lester needs to be that on Thursday if the Red Sox are to salvage a split heading out on a key three-city, 10-game road trip through Baltimore, Tampa Bay and New York.
“I think it still rests on our starting pitching, first and foremost,” Varitek said after Wednesday’s game. “We have quality starts, we have a chance. Offense will eventually come around. But if we don’t come up with quality starts, day-in and day-out, it’s tough for offenses to take over.”
MIKE LOWELL IS A BEACON IN THE MIDDLE OF STORMY SEAS
Lowell has hit safely in all eight games since coming off the disabled list on July 17. He is 12-for-28 in that stretch for a .429 average. He has one homer, three doubles and eight RBIs, including five RBIs in the 8-6 loss Wednesday seven in the last two games.
“I’m seeing the ball well,” Lowell said. “I feel comfortable, whether I have two strikes or if it’s a favorable count. I think that’s the key for me. I feel like when I’m seeing the ball well I feel my swing is where it should be. I don’t really take any different approach based on the count.”
“We talked about it before the game, the couple days he took off, he used it to his benefit and he’s swinging the bat really well,” skipper Terry Francona added.
Captain Jason Varitek was asked if Lowell’s hot bat since the All-Star break and his last two games are a good sign of things to come.
“Last couple? How about all year?” Varitek asked rhetorically. “Mike’s swung the bat well all year for us, he’s been one of our guys, our RBI guy and he continues to do so.”
NO PANICKING, PLEASE
Tuesday’s ninth-inning meltdown turned a sure-fire win into a loss. The only comparable loss this year was Baltimore’s comeback from a 10-1 deficit on June 30. But the Red Sox came back the next day with a comeback from a 5-1 ninth-inning hole and won, 6-5. There was no such magic on Wednesday as the Red Sox fell behind 5-0 and couldn’t make it all the way back.
“We’re frustrated, absolutely,” Lowell said. “The last two series, not to take away anything from those two teams, but we feel like going in there, if you win the first two against Baltimore, you want to sweep the series and here, after winning the first game and where we were (in the ninth), you’re looking to hopefully take three of four. Now, we’re salvaging a split (Thursday), hopefully. I think there’s definite frustration for sure but there’s no panic. We definitely want to play better as a team.”
Now, with Friday’s trade deadline looming and back-to-back losses to the re-tooling Oakland A’s, the question begs to be asked – do the Red Sox need to make a big trade to re-energize the team like the Nomar deal in 2004 and the Manny trade of 2008? Would that be enough?
“Right now we’re not firing on all cylinders. It’s not one thing. There’s no quick fix or magic pill. We just have to keep grinding,” said Bay. “I don’t think we’re going to base an entire season on the last week or week and a half. We’re a lot better ballclub than we’ve played. We’re still in a pretty good spot. We just have to play better.”