Clinton, S.C., Thursday, July 10, 2014, 10:27 p.m.
I’m no sabermetrician, and I don’t have to be. It doesn’t take mathematics to see what’s wrong with the Boston Red Sox. Last year they scored runs. This year they don’t.
This is much easier to accept since the Red Sox are the reigning world champions. Never mind that the team’s record at the moment is worse, at this point, than when Rear Admiral Bobby Valentine ran it aground in 2012. At that point, I thought he’d relegated the Red Sox to Davy Jones’ Locker for the foreseeable future. Then, in an act of charity second only to the Jimmy Fund, the Los Angeles Dodgers took care of Boston’s payroll surfeit, thus enabling the Red Sox to rebuild rapidly. As 2013 began, I wasn’t expecting a World Series. I would have been happy with a winning record (as would I right now). I thought the Red Sox had reinvigorated their lineup with some quick fixes, which was true, and that’s part of the reason the fixes aren’t still working.
Here it is 2014, and everyone is a year older. Shane Victorino has barely played. Jake Peavy is a highly competitive bundle of nothing on the mound. Jonny Gomes staggers around left field like he’s on stilts.
Only Koji Uehara remains the same, though I fear John Farrell is using him too much, particularly when the game requires no saving.
In general, the pitching staff is still good enough to win, particularly the bullpen. Jon Lester and John Lackey are workhorses. The rest of the rotation is erratic, but Clay Buchholz might be okay the second half, and the young arms attached to Brandon Workman and Rubby de la Rosa are finding their range.
David Ortiz is fine. His batting average is down, but I chalk that up to the pure burden of being all four branches of the military for a good part of the year. Ortiz has lost innumerable hits hammering the ball into the teeth of the shift that greets him most at-bats, and I think the urgent need for runs has prompted him to try to pull the ball too much. Lately he’s been peppering the Green Monster again, and I think a healthier team is going to make his batting average healthier. Dustin Pedroia seems to be recovering from the same siege mentality, and I expect he’ll wind up hitting .300 again once the shock of the season to date diminishes.
Having been caught up in the type of front-office frenzy normally associated with the New York Yankees, the Red Sox have tried to be sensible, in general refusing to sign players for longer than their plausible usefulness. That cost them Jacoby Ellsbury, who performed roughly the same function in their offense as the spark in an internal-combustion engine. The Red Sox have a great farm system and committed themselves to using it.
This year, and I mean just this year, the club is a dysfunctional hybrid of too many players too old and too many too young. The only great success story is the excitable Mr. Fixit otherwise named Brock Holt. Jackie Bradley Jr. may be the best center fielder in the game, the position being narrowly defined as the time he’s actually tending that garden. He is so good in the field – so was Ellsbury, but Bradley’s arm is far superior — that it will be fine if he can learn to hit .250 reliably, but that hasn’t happened yet. Xander Bogaerts has been in a tailspin ever since they moved him from short back to third. It seems to be getting back in synch now. Daniel Nava is hitting again. Mike Carp drove in the winning run tonight, Holt last night, and Mike Napoli seems healthy, which in turn takes the pressure off Ortiz.
The only offseason move I hated was the signing of A.J. Pierzynski, to which I can now say good (and expensive) riddance. The bright young catcher, Christian Vazquez, has been handed the mitt. To borrow the archaic term, he dons the tools of ignorance.
Finally, there is Mookie Betts, who is supposed to be an infielder but has been refitted as an outfielder, not without some complications. He injects life into the offense, not yet like Ellsbury, but it’s coming.
In what I’m likely to remember as a wretched campaign, Betts made the play I’ll probably most remember on Tuesday night, when the Red Sox came from four runs down in the eighth inning to defeat the Chicago White Sox. Betts executed the rare infield double. Safe on a close play at first base, he took off for second because he happened to notice that no Chicagoans were in the vicinity. It was the best moment since Ellsbury beat the Yankees stealing home off Andy Pettite in, I think, 2011.
I’m not sure the Red Sox will finish above .500 this year, but I do think they’ll win more than they lose the rest of the way and be contenders again in 2015.
It’s my preference that the front office remain calm. They’ve got a plan. Stick to it. Stay the course. I don’t want the next American League powerhouse to look like the Red Sox with different uniforms.
You know. Like the Oakland Athletics.
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