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Red Sox eager to improve in game of RISP

With lineup back to full strength, Boston ready to hit at full potential

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BOSTON -- Perhaps pitching will ultimately decide how far the Red Sox go this season. After all, that is usually the case in baseball -- no matter what level you are talking about.

But if you look at why the defending World Series champions are off to a disappointing 15-17 start, the inability of the offense to consistently cash in on scoring opportunities is the top culprit.

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The good news for the Red Sox is that situational offense can usually be fixed, particularly with a roster like this one that has so many established veterans.

As they had a day of rest on Monday in advance of a two-game series with the Reds at Fenway, there was one thing the Sox could definitely feel good about. Despite a start to the season that has been disjointed and frustrating, Boston was only two games behind the Yankees for first place in the American League East.

Here is how close the Red Sox are to improving their position: They are 3-8 in one-run games.

"How many times have we had a chance in the last six games with a potential to break a game open? We haven't been able to get that big hit," said right fielder Shane Victorino.

And even if the starting rotation hasn't completely clicked yet either, the pitching has generally been good enough to keep manager John Farrell's team in games. With a 3.68 ERA, the Red Sox are third in the AL, trailing fellow contenders Detroit and Oakland.

In other words, if they start hitting up to their capabilities, Boston should again be a very dangerous team -- one that should soon top the .500 mark and get well above it at some point.

"We've got to execute, that's it," said Victorino. "That's the bottom line. I don't think there's anything else. Collectively, we haven't been able to do it. Sometimes it's part of the game. It's not like we're going up there with the wrong mentality."

But they've often gotten the wrong result. For a team that led the AL in most key offensive categories in 2013, they are leading in the wrong categories at this early juncture of the season.

Boston has the dubious distinction of leading the AL in grounding into double plays with runners in scoring position.

"There are constant reminders of what the approach is. Inevitably, I would [liken] it to a pitcher who thinks he's got to execute a pitch in a given moment," said Farrell. "When that thought starts to creep into someone's mind, it may cause someone to overthrow the baseball, muscle up as I mentioned, where you don't get the same relaxation and reaction to a given pitch.

"The same calmness has got to take place with guys in the box. Guys are grinding away. I think the most important thing is we're doing a very good job of creating opportunities initially."

Yet the Red Sox have been mediocre so far in categories they usually excel in such as OPS (eighth), runs (eighth), home runs (eighth) and batting average (12th).

The loss of Jacoby Ellsbury has been made obvious by the fact that Boston is 12th out of 15 AL teams in stolen bases. The Sox are still drawing their walks, ranking third in that category. But the value of the walks is being lessened by the ability to get those runners home.

With runners in scoring position, the Red Sox are hitting .222, which ranks 13th in the league. Their OPS in those situations is .669 for a ranking of 12th.

"Of course you press and you want to get the job done," said Victorino. "It's just one of those things, sometimes you just have to act like nobody is out there. It's easier said than done. As I said, when it's not happening, it's amplified so it looks worse than it really is."

Now that the lineup is back at full strength -- both Victorino and Will Middlebrooks recently came off the disabled list -- it should start functioning better as a unit.

Catcher A.J. Pierzynski has recently warmed up at the plate as well, giving the lineup another weapon in the middle to lower portion of the order.

Jackie Bradley Jr. has been elite with his defense in center field, but he is still making strides offensively. As Bradley continues to gain experience, he could become a consistent presence in the No. 9 spot in the order.

Shortstop Xander Bogaerts has been inconsistent at times on defense, but he has been a constant on-base threat. If Bogaerts starts adding some power into the mix, something he's definitely capable of, that would be yet another weapon that could improve Boston's offense.

Staying within the overall approach is something Farrell and hitting coaches Greg Colbrunn and Victor Rodriguez will continue to instill during advance meetings and other less formal discussions.

"What we're trying to get back to is to pass the baton on to the next guy, even in those at-bats with runners in scoring position," said Farrell. "That doesn't mean we're less aggressive. That means we're staying with the same level of assertiveness and not muscling up in certain cases."

For the Red Sox, it might only be a matter of time before they start hitting like themselves again.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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