If the Boston Red Sox offense were one of those old-fashioned Lady Liberty scales, one dish would be embedded in the dirt, and the contents of the other would be launched over the Mass. Pike.
To say the attack has become top-heavy doesn't begin to describe the disparity between the sluggers and the scufflers. The first group consists of Alex Verdugo, Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and J.D. Martinez, with second baseman Christian Arroyo pushing for membership. The latter is populated by Franchy Cordero, Bobby Dalbec, Hunter Renfroe, and Marwin Gonzalez, with Kiké Hernández and Christian Vazquez in danger of joining their ranks.
If the first group is locked in and someone delivers multiple hits, the Red Sox win. If anyone from the second group makes a meaningful contribution, the Red Sox win.
But when the first group returns to earth and the second burrows deep beneath it, the Red Sox struggle to score.
In other words, welcome to their last nine games. Since shelling Chicago White Sox ace candidate Lucas Giolito in an 11-4 victory on Marathon Monday, the bats have gone silent. They've topped four runs just twice and have been limited to four runs total in their last three games.
It just so happens that they won two of them because of outstanding pitching and the offensive ineptitude of the New York Mets, but after impressing early in the season with a throwback all-fields approach, they've entered an extended rut that isn't tenable long-term.
"Overall it's been a grind the last week, to be honest with you," said manager Alex Cora after Thursday's 4-1 loss to the Texas Rangers. "We haven't been able to do too much, but as you guys know, this is a good offense. It's just a matter of, get back and start doing the things we do best. Compete out there, hit the ball the other way, and when we do that we become a good, good offense."
The danger with the current incarnation of the offense is that it can be navigated by opponents. The Red Sox proved during the 2018 American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros that a lineup built around a handful of standouts can be beaten. They treaded very lightly around Alex Bregman, George Springer, and Carlos Correa and took their chances with everyone else. Gonzalez burned them with a pair of home runs, but otherwise, a struggling Jose Altuve, Josh Reddick, Yuli Gurriel, and Martin Maldonado provided enough outs to limit the Astros to four runs a game and the Red Sox took the series in five.
The top four names in the lineup have combined to hit .318 with 19 homers and 61 RBIs. The bottom four are batting .194 with three homers and 24 RBIs.
Their struggles are varied. Cordero is completely lost, swinging at fastballs above the zone and curves in the dirt and taking pitches over the plate. Once the minor league season begins, he's a prime candidate to be demoted. Gonzalez is struggling to catch up to fastballs and his swing has gotten bigger as a result. Renfroe pulls the ball nearly half the time, and yet his only hit to the dead pull side is an infield chopper with English to third against the White Sox. Dalbec hit two more line drives on Thursday with nothing to show for either of them, and is probably the closest of the bunch to contributing.
The travails at least partly extend to Hernández and Vazquez, too. The former will not be a viable leadoff hitter for much longer if his on base percentage remains in the .270 range, while the latter is repeating a pattern of following home run binges with extended runs of fruitlessly swinging for the fences -- the exception being his game-winning double off Mets ace Jacob deGrom on Wednesday, when he shot an elevated 100 mph fastball to the right-center gap.
Their travails puts the pressure on Martinez, Bogaerts, and Co. to carry the offense, and when any of them slumps -- or when Martinez leaves a game with a migraine, like he did on Thursday -- it just increases the pressure on everyone else to deliver.
For the last couple of weeks, that hasn't been happening. Until it does, the Red Sox will be left trying to win a bunch of 3-2 and 2-1 games, and that's not a viable recipe for contention.