ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Well, we certainly didn't anticipate Butch Hobson, Bob Zupcic, and Jack Clark entering the conversation.
Then again, we didn't expect the Boston Red Sox, 16 games into the 2015 season, to be hitting a collective .230. That's the lowest average of any Sox team 16 games in since 1992, when the Sons of Butch Hobson also were batting .230. Zupcic led that team with a .276 average [matched by kids named John Valentin and Scott Cooper], Clark was the DH who batted .210, and the team finished last in the AL East.
There were no All-Stars of the magnitude of Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval on that roster [Mo Vaughn was in his first full season], which is why anyone with the least bit of objectivity understands that the current malaise is surely temporary in nature.
Unless, of course, you expect Ortiz (.192), Mike Napoli (.157), Mookie Betts (.194) and Allen Craig (.143) to remain under the Mendoza Line all summer. (Considering Craig batted just .128 after coming over from the Cardinals, maybe he doesn't belong on this list, but the man hit over .300 in each of the previous three seasons.)
Clay Buchholz, for one, knows better.
"Everybody in the league knows what kind of offense we have," said Buchholz, who came away with no-decision in Boston's 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays despite a yield of just a run on two hits in six innings that were punctuated by 10 strikeouts.
"It's been historic since I've been here, and everybody plays good against us. They always seem to get up for a Red Sox series, and I don't think anybody would have it any other way. It's just sometimes you get the short end of the stick and we weren't able to come through in a couple of situations in which they did a good job pitching out of."
The Sox scored six or more runs in six of their first eight games, eight or more runs four times, prompting visions of a team bashing their way through the summer. But then the Orioles came to town last weekend and limited the Sox to three runs or fewer three times in a four-game set, and the Rays proved even stingier, holding the Sox to a single run in two of the three games played in the Trop.
The strong starts by Chris Archer (5 2/3 IP, 0 ER) Tuesday and Jake Odorizzi Thursday (6 2/3 IP, 3 H, 1 ER) were not unexpected. The performance of the Rays' bullpen, minus disabled closer Jake McGee, proved a revelation: They threw 8 2/3 scoreless innings against the Sox in this series, with Brad Boxberger earning the win in each of the last two nights.
Hits with runners in scoring position have been hard to come by for the Sox, and this series was no exception. They were 0-for-4 with RISP Thursday, 1-for-23 in the series, and 4-for-51 in their last seven games. That's dropped the season average to .195, placing them with fellow bottom-feeders Cleveland, Houston and Philadelphia.
The big boppers have come up dry. Pedroia is 1-for-17 with RISP, 0-for-9 when there are two outs. Ortiz and Napoli are both 1-for-13. Newcomer Sandoval, who doubled in the second and scored Boston's only run on Daniel Nava's sacrifice fly, is 2-for-12.
Ramirez has three hits, all home runs, with runners in scoring position, but he came up empty in the seventh, when Craig singled with two out and Xander Bogaerts walked, ending Odorizzi's night.
Rays rookie manager Kevin Cash went to Brandon Gomes. John Farrell countered with Ramirez, who had been given the night off, to pinch hit for catcher Sandy Leon. Gomes froze Ramirez with a front-door slider, and the Rays won it in the bottom of the ninth against Anthony Varvaro, .118-hitting Rene Rivera skidding a ground-ball single down the third-base line after singles by Allan Dykstra and Kevin Kiermaier.
Varvaro had come into the game having held left-handed hitters to one hit in 11 trips, but that success didn't hold up against Dykstra and Kiermaier, who both swing from the left side.
"First guy, changeup, a little up," Varvaro said of Dykstra's ground-ball single through the left side. "Kiermaier, fastball, I thought it was out [of the zone] but he just sort of went with it. Late in the game, batters are just looking to get on base any way, and just go with the pitches. Rewind it an inning or two, maybe he's looking to yank it.
"Maybe an inch here or there. The pitch to Rivera, a curveball, was below the zone. The pitch from my end was executed, but he executed on his end, too. It happens."
And sometimes it happens that the team with 11 players on the disabled list, eight rookies on the roster, and a new guy running the show from the dugout takes a series from the team supposedly bigger and badder. Let Rene Rivera have his night; the suspicion remains strong that the Sox offense will have a few more of their own. So help me Butch.