BALTIMORE -- A few years ago, when Don Orsillo was still doing play-by-play of Boston Red Sox games on television, he often got good-natured grief from wisecracking second baseman Dustin Pedroia for not having a signature, over-the-top home run call.
This season, Orsillo wouldn’t need one.
Through 16 games, the Red Sox have hit a grand total of seven home runs -- or as many as Houston’s George Springer and Oakland’s Khris Davis and one fewer than Milwaukee’s Eric Thames have produced on their own. No other team in the majors has fewer than 10 homers, and 21 teams have at least 15. A Red Sox team hasn’t gone deep so infrequently this far into a season since 1993.
As iconic slugger David Ortiz might say if he took a break from his retirement to notice, the offense is lacking “thunder.”
But the Sox also have a 10-6 record, in part because they have scored 69 runs, tied for fifth in the American League. They are averaging 4.31 runs per game, better than league average. They lead the AL in doubles (34) and the majors in hits (156). They’re opportunistic on the bases, and they make consistent contact, having struck out fewer times (104) than any AL team. All of which suggests they are finding new and different ways to score in the post-Ortiz era.
“I mean, the guy who’s supposed to hit the homers is not here anymore: Papi,” designated hitter Hanley Ramirez said, referring to Ortiz. “Just have to score one way or the other.”
Of course, the Red Sox still have plenty of power threats. Mookie Betts belted 31 homers last season en route to finishing as runner-up for AL MVP. Ramirez hit 30. Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. launched a career-high 26, while shortstop Xander Bogaerts added 21.
But that group has thus far combined for only one homer, a solo shot by Betts in the seventh inning of Tuesday night’s 8-7 victory in Toronto.
There are several possible explanations for the drought. Start here: The lineup hasn’t been whole since Opening Day. Betts and Ramirez missed time with the flu; Bogaerts was away from the team for four games to mourn the death of his grandmother in Aruba; Bradley is expected to be reinstated from the disabled list Friday night in Baltimore after missing 12 games with a sprained right knee.
Manager John Farrell notes the weather hasn’t been particularly conducive to hitting the long ball, either, with mostly chilly temperatures at Fenway Park. It wouldn’t be the first season that it has taken the sluggers a while to muscle up. Last year, the Sox hit only 19 homers in 24 games in April compared to 46 in 28 games in May.
(It is worth mentioning, though, that the Sox hit only one homer in three games this week under the climate-controlled dome at Rogers Centre in Toronto.)
“I mean, it’s April. It’s not easy to hit home runs,” Bogaerts said. “You’re playing in Boston. I know the wall is right there [in left field], but it’s pretty hard to hit in the cold, in general. We’ll hit some home runs, especially when it starts warming up. Looking forward to a lot of home runs from a lot of guys.”
Added Farrell: “We’re not worried about it. We like the total number of doubles that we’ve hit. That’s the way this team is kind of built. That was the case last year. I’m not concerned about that.”
There is, however, the matter of not having Ortiz in the middle of the order. He was known as Big Papi for a reason, and without his constant home run threat to preoccupy them, opposing pitchers would seem to be able to approach Betts and Ramirez differently by not giving them as much to hit or even pitching around them.
Ramirez is a legitimate power source in the cleanup spot, having averaged 27 homers per 162 games over the past 12 seasons. But the middle of the order is otherwise filled with hitters who are unaccustomed to batting in those spots. Bogaerts has been primarily a No. 2 hitter, while Bradley and first baseman Mitch Moreland have typically batted lower in the order.
Clearly, then, these aren’t your father’s Red Sox. A team that has won over the years by mashing balls over the Green Monster might be content to put a few dents in it and scurry around the bases.
“The game is not determined by homers,” said Moreland, who leads the majors with 11 doubles in 61 at-bats. “You’ve got to have more runs than the other team, and if we have more runs than the other team, we did our job. I don’t think anybody’s too worried about the lack of homers right now. It’s still really early. If they happen, they happen. But there’s been plenty of games where homers have been hit and we’ve lost. The home run is not the end result. Winning the game is the end result.”