Ohtani

The Angels’ dual sensation, Shohei Ohtani, not only shut out the Red Sox on the mound last Thursday, but also got the first hit off Boston starter Rich Hill in the fifth inning as the Halos sent the Red Sox to their 16th defeat in 26 games this season.

When fans filed into Fenway Park last Friday night, some had to be surprised to see the AL East standings on the left-field wall.

There, displayed for all to see, were their Boston Red Sox securely positioned in fourth place in the division, a whopping eight-and-a-half games behind the first-place New York Yankees, and tied for last place with the putrid Baltimore Orioles.

But even that was a bit misleading, because the Red Sox actually have last place all to themselves. In a head-to-head matchup with the O’s, Baltimore has actually taken two of three contests between the two teams, meaning a tiebreaker, even at this early stage in the season, favors the Orioles.

So there you have it: a month into the 2022 MLB season, the Red Sox team that was actually two games from reaching last fall’s World Series was in last place with a 10-16 record (and as of Tuesday, was even worse, at 11-19). In seven of those losses, the Red Sox have lost by at least four runs, and Boston has played in nine series thus far this season and has won just one.

So who’s responsible? Well, you really can’t blame the starting pitching, which to this point is still missing lefty ace Chris Sale. However, during the offseason, Boston mystifyingly added only 42-year-old Rich Hill and 10-year veteran Michael Wacha, 30, to a rotation that was 17th in ERA last season (4.42).

In their past 14 games going into Friday night, Red Sox starters had a 1.81 ERA. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only other time in the past 20 years that Boston starters have posted an ERA that low in a 14-game span was in 2018, the Sox’ last championship season. The ’18 Red Sox won 10 of those 14 games, but the ’22 Red Sox have lost 10 of 14, largely because they keep playing games like Thursday’s, when Hill gave the team five shutout innings, only to see the Boston offense also get blanked, by Angels phenom Shohei Ohtani. As soon as Hill left (after only 68 pitches), reliever Tanner Houck came in and served up seven earned runs in just two-plus innings, and that was that in an ugly 8-0 loss at sunny Fenway.

The bullpen is just five-of-13 in save opportunities this season, and its 4.50 ERA is 25th in baseball after ranking 13th last season (2.99).

We can talk in generalities until the cows come home, but a month into the season and 16 percent into the 2022 Red Sox campaign, it’s not too soon to start pointing fingers and doling out blame to those players who are underperforming. After all, a team that reached the ALCS last season and currently boasts the sixth-highest payroll in the game ($200.8 million) should certainly be better than 10-16 and sit in last place in its division.

Collectively, the Red Sox are hitting just .229 this season, which is 18th in the majors, after being third in all of baseball last season with a .261 average. This season, they are 24th in runs scored, 11th in hits, 17th in hits with runners in scoring position, along with probably the most surprising stat: Boston is 27th in home runs, with just 16 — only the Pirates, Royals, and Tigers are worse. Heck, even the 3-22(!) Cincinnati Reds have 18 homers. Not surprisingly, the Sox are also 27th in on-base percentage, 22nd in slugging, and 26th in OPS.

The only offensive players that no one can complain about this season are free agent-to-be shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who is hitting an astounding .354, free agent-to-be designated hitter JD Martinez (.306), and 2024 free agent-to-be third baseman Rafael Devers (.284 with a team-leading four home runs).

But outfielder Alex Verdugo is only hitting .217 (after hitting .289 last year), catchers Christian Arroyo and Kevin Plawecki are hitting .208 and .154, respectively, prodigal son Jackie Bradley Jr. is hitting just .200 despite hitting primarily against righties, and Kike Hernandez is at .189.

At least we don’t have to see the flailing bat of lefty first baseman Travis Shaw anymore, as he was mercifully cut loose after starting the season 0-for-19. You read that right.

I wish the Red Sox had as much impatience with starting first baseman Bobby Dalbec as they did with Shaw, because a month into the season, Dalbec, at a position known for power hitters, is meekly hitting just .147, with fully one-third of his at-bats resulting in strikeouts. After one of his rare hits this season on Thursday, the ball was thrown back into the infield and then rolled back into the home dugout, and I half-thought that the ball was being saved as a memorable accomplishment — which it kind of was, given his struggles last season in which Dalbec hit .240, but if not for a memorable August, when he hit .339 after Kyle Schwarber was acquired at the trading deadline, the lanky first baseman would have been in the low .200s.

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But cognizant Red Sox fans can’t help but wonder about the wisdom of signing two-time Silver Slugger winner Trevor Story, who signed a six-year, $140 million free-agent contract in the offseason.

Story spent his first six seasons with the Rockies as a shortstop, posting a .272/.340/.523 slash line. He hit 24 home runs last season, but this season he is still waiting for his first round-tripper after 81 at-bats, and overall Story is hitting just .210 with a 36-percent strikeout ratio.

That was never more evident than in Thursday’s matinee against the Angels, when Story, who was still enjoying a honeymoon phase the Fenway faithful despite his offensive struggles, struck out four times against Ohtani, who admittedly had amazing stuff (11 strikeouts for the game, in addition to throwing strikes 85 percent of the time, mostly between 95 and 100 MPH).

Story had men on base twice on Thursday, yet not only did he not put the ball in play, I don’t remember him even fouling a ball off, and all 12 strikes, from what I recall, were swinging strikes.

For the season, Story is hitting just .212 with runners on base. After his fourth strikeout, which came with Bradley on base with two outs in a 2-0 game, Story finally heard boos for the first time, and that marked the final time in the game that the Sox even threatened, as Houck proceeded to cough up those six game-breaking runs to LA in the next inning.

Maybe it is too early to predict gloom-and-doom just a month into the season. After all, last year’s Atlanta Braves were 12-16 on May 2 and went 76-57 the rest of the way en route to a World Series championship.

But those Braves didn’t have the likes of the 21-8 Yankees, the 18-13 Rays, and the underperforming 17-14 Blue Jays on the schedule 19 times, nor did they have a 4-9 home record, a lousy bullpen, and anemic hitting that seems like it may be the norm rather than the exception for the rest of the season.

And it’s hard to see how things are going to get turned around anytime soon, because the bullpen is such a mess right now that it can sabotage and surrender any Red Sox’ lead, and without reliability or clear roles out there, no lead is safe and no victory assured.

Buckle up, Red Sox fans — it could be a bumpy ride the rest of the way.

Chris Young’s column appears in The Sun Chronicle’s Weekend Edition. He can be reached at ballparkfigures@comcast.net.

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