207 days ago, the Boston Red Sox were on top of the world. They had just defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 of the World Series to clinch their third World Series in the past 10 seasons. Very impressive, especially for a team that battled “The Curse of the Bambino” for 86 years. What is even more impressive is how they turned it around after the disastrous 2012 season. Does anyone even remember that season? The team that finished dead last in the AL East with the 3rd worst record in the American League? Bobby Valentine anyone? Well now, the Red Sox are 21-29, dead last in the loaded AL East, having lost ten straight games in eleven days from May 15 through May 25. Just an ugly reminder on how cruel baseball can be. I received my handy-dandy ESPN update texts the past two days to inform me that OF Shane Victorino and 1B Mike Napoli were placed on the 15-day DL. Another hit for the beloved Red Sox. So, what is going on?
Let’s look at numbers. Numbers are great. Numbers don’t tell the whole story but they give us a pretty good idea of what’s going on. The Red Sox are 19th in the league in runs scored, 20th in HR, 21st in total bases, 19th in RBI, 24th in batting average, and 24th in slugging. These numbers tell us they don’t hit well. How about pitching? They are 17th in ERA, 7th in quality starts, 12th in walks, 9th in strikeouts, and 27th in batting average against. What does this tell us? Their pitching isn’t great, though it isn’t as bad as their hitting. An okay team ERA but an ugly batting average against is not a good recipe for success.
Okay class, time for more numbers. Jackie Bradley Jr. is batting .197 with zero HRs and 47 K’s in 142 ABs (a strikeout every 3.02 ABs). He’s only hitting .085 in day games over 47 ABs. Jonny Gomes is batting .243 with 33 K’s in 103 ABs (a strikeout every 3.12 ABs). Grady Sizemore is batting .220. Shane Victorino is only batting .242. and in 19 day game ABs doesn’t even have a hit. No one in their starting lineup is batting .300. No one is even close. The best batting average on their team among the starters is Xander Bogaerts at .284. Remember when Will Middlebrooks was suppose to be the man in Boston? Well, he has been the exact opposite. Before landing on the DL with a fractured right index finger, he was batting .197 in 71 AB with only 2 HR, 9 RBI, and 3 doubles to go along with 23 Ks (a strikeout every 3.08 AB).
Aside from Jon Lester, the Sox’s staff is eh, not good. Lackey has been alright, Peavy hasn’t been what he should be, Felix Doubront is Felix Doubront (and hurt now), and Clay Buchholz has gone all Tim Lincecum on us. I mean, seriously. Buchholz is 2-4 with a 6.32 ERA and a 1.85 WHIP. In 47 innings, he has given up 71 hits. He has only pitched more than six innings twice, and hasn’t pitched more than seven innings once this year. Yesterday against the Braves he went three innings, giving up four hits and eight runs on EIGHT WALKS. That is ugly. A very bad start for a guy who went 12-1 last year with a 1.74 ERA. But hey, that’s baseball for you. It’s pretty damn hard to predict. I must say the Red Sox bullpen, minus Edward Mujica (who got the streak-breaking win) and Craig Breslow, is pretty solid. They also have, in my opinion, a top three closer in the league in Koji Uehara, with Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman probably being 1-2.
Anyone that saw last weekend’s series against Tampa Bay could see that it was ugly. The Sox lost via a walk-off double on Friday by Cole Figueroa and on a throwing error by P Andrew Miller in the 15th on Saturday It got even uglier on Sunday with the Rays putting a pounding on the Red Sox. After Tampa Bay went up 8-3 on Boston in the 7th by a Yunel Escobar two-run double, Escobar took third on a defensive indifference. Some players on the Red Sox bench (who were on the third base side) weren’t too happy about it. They jawed at Escobar who of course jawed back. That led to a dugout-clearing “brawl” that got Escobar and Jonny Gomes ejected. Let’s not forget, the Rays had an 8-2 lead on Boston in the 8th inning during last year’s playoffs and eventually blew it. I can’t stand when teams whine and cry about running up the score. Do something about it. If you don’t want to lose by 50, then don’t lose by 50. Don’t sit around and blame the other team. But in Boston’s sense, it seems it was frustration boiling over as they were on track to lose their 10th straight game.
What must happen to this Red Sox team for them to extend their season past the All-Star Break? They better start hitting. Yesterday they put up eight runs, but that came against a struggling Ervin Santana. They need to start hitting good pitching. Big Papi and Dustin Pedroia also have to carry this team offensively. Ortiz has done a pretty solid job at the plate this season hitting .270 with 12 HR and 29 RBI. But Pedroia has been slow out the gate, hitting .268 with only 2 HR and 16 RBI. While Ortiz is only batting two points higher than Pedroia, he has a .365 OBP and a .517 slugging percentage compared to Pedroia’s .348 OBP and .380 slugging percentage. If Pedroia can get going, I think the Sox can turn their offense around. He is a catalyst at the top of the order, and when those types of players are playing well, the whole offense plays well. They will also need to get healthy and get back Napoli and Victorino. Their outfield is pretty bad without Victorino. If and when he comes back, and if he can hit like he did last year, they should come around.
Their pitching staff will also need a shot in the arm. Lester is fine but the other four starters need to step up their game, especially Buchholz. Yesterday was a very bad day for him. I don’t know what has happened, but he needs to get it together for the Red Sox to compete. Boston may explore the idea of acquiring Jeff Samardzija, who will cost an arm and a leg the way he has been throwing, but the Red Sox still have a good chance at getting him. They have some very solid minor league arms in Henry Owens, Allen Webster, Matt Barnes, and Anthony Ranaudo. They also would be dealing with Theo Epstein, who knows the Sox farm system top to bottom. While I think the Blue Jays and Dodgers are front-runners right now for Samardzija, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Red Sox go hard after him.
The Red Sox aren’t done, yet. But they are pretty damn close. In a division that is absolutely stacked top to bottom, it will be hard to get their way back into the chase. Luckily for them, it’s still fairly early. I don’t think the Blue Jays are THIS good. The Orioles have some serious rotation issues. The Yankees have rotation issues. The Rays have struggled all season to get it going. It isn’t over, but the Red Sox better figure it out soon.