Are the Red Sox Better Now Than a Year Ago?

With 41 games played, we are just past the quarter pole of the Major League Baseball season, and what many had envisioned as a season of hope and change is proving to be any but that.

A year ago, after 41 games played, the Red Sox were 20-21, and 2.5 games out of first Hanley Ramirezplace.  This year, they are 19-22 at the 41 game mark, and 3.5 games out of first place. Not much of a difference really, right? WRONG.

Last year the Red Sox had two pitchers on the staff in late May that were capable of winning a game each time out. Jon Lester and John Lackey weren’t going to be confused with Cy Young last year, but they combined for 11 wins through April and May of last year. Lester was 5-5 and Lackey was 6-6.  So far this year, the ace of the staff is Rick Porcello, and right now his 4-2 record looks pretty good.

Many assumed Clay Buchholz would be the new ace, but at 2-5, he has similar numbers to a year ago, when he was 2-4. The one saving grace this year is that his ERA is only 4.58 right now, as opposed to the 7.03 a year ago. As an aside, Buchholz’ next win at Fenway will be his first this season.

The pitching can’t be all to blame, even though only two teams in all of MLB have given up more run than the 199 the Sox have allowed. The hitting is less than stellar, ranking 27th in batting average in the major leagues. Only three teams are hitting worse than the .233 average the Red Sox need to improve on. As hot as Hanley Ramirez was last month, (10 HR, 22 RBI, .293 average) his numbers have been anemic this month (0 HR, 0 RBI, .213.)  Brock Holt hit .358 in April, in May he’s batting .158.

If one looks hard enough, they can find fault and flaws with the performances of virtually all of the players on the roster.  At what point will the scrutiny fall upon the manager?  The team relieved pitching coach Juan Nieves of his duties earlier this month. Who will be next? With a payroll creeping near $200,000,000, that focus is on John Farrell.

Explaining The Boston Red Sox Struggles This Year

Red Sox logoThis year, the Boston Red Sox by no means are having a good season. Sitting at fourth place in the American League East with a 34-40 record, only the Tampa Bay Rays have a worse record at a dismal 29-46. Of course, Tampa Bay was predicted by many to win the division with Boston earning around 87 wins. As of right now, it seems highly unlikely that either team meets their expectations. Putting Tampa Bay aside, why is the home town team struggling so much this year? Let’s take a deeper look at why the Boston Red Sox continue to struggle winning games.

The first thought everyone has when a team is bad is to blame the manager. For Boston, this is definitely not the case. Manager John Farrell led the team to a World Series championship the previous season so he must be doing something right. All the other coaches on the team are the same as in 2013, so there definitely is not a coaching problem in Boston.

A second thought is the Moneyball strategy. General Billy Beane built A playoff contending team on about half what other teams spend by putting emphasis on pitching and OBP. The Boston Red Sox rank 12th out of 30 teams in OBP this year with a .321 mark. This is not terrible, but compare this to the outstanding .349 on base percentage they posted in their magical 2013 season. Regilars in the lineup this season with a sub-.300 OBP include: Jackie Bradley Jr., AJ Pierzynski, and Grady Sizemore who was recently released. In 2012, the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series. They led the league in OBP at .338. To put it this way: getting on base wins ball games.

If a team scores runs, they still need shutdown pitching. Obviously a few guys have put up underwhelming performances in the rotation this year (Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront, Jake Peavy). Of course, who could forget the struggles of Edward Mujica who has been seriously misused this year. The closer has been a back-end of the bullpen guy used in low leverage situations. He has the closer’s mentality which explains his struggles as he pitched well in a pair of save opportunities this year. The rotation definitely raises some questions, and has not been a strength for Boston this year.

The injury bug struck the Red Sox this year and bit them hard. There have been a total of seven trips to the Disabled List this year for the big league club. This hurt the club and obviously replacement players cannot put up the same numbers as a regular except Brock Holt.

Overall, this year has been rough for the Red Sox. It certainly could get better, but being 74 games into the year, they will need to start playing some serious catch up soon.

Farm Report: Pawtucket Red Sox

Pawtucket Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox have the luxury of having a farm system well stocked with talent. The stars of the future are currently honing their skills all across the Red Sox various farm clubs. Heading into their Wednesday games, the four Red Sox minor league clubs, Pawtucket, Portland, Salem, and Greenville are 70-50 overall and owners of the second best combined record for a minor league farm system.

The 19-15 Pawtucket Red Sox will look to get back to their winning ways today when they close out their four-game series with the visiting Toledo Mudhens. The Pawsox have now dropped back-to-back games for the third time this season.

Right-hander Ruby De La Rosa takes the ball tonight looking to rebound on a personal level having dropped his last two decisions while giving up eight runs (six earned) in the process.

Players to watch

Brock Holt

In early April, infielder Brock Holt became the first PawSox player to get promoted to the big club. Holt spent a day with the Red Sox before being returned to Pawtucket the following day. Two weeks later, following the reassignment of infielder Ryan Roberts, Holt officially made his 2014 Red Sox debut and batted .348 over seven games with four RBI, three runs scored and a stolen base in 28-plate appearances. For the PawSox, Holt is batting .318 with a home run, five RBI and 19 runs scored over his first 85-at bats. Currently blocked at third base by Will Middlebrooks and the likely odd man out with the presence of Xander Bogaerts and the emergence of Garin Cecchini, Holt does not appear to have a long-term future with the Boston Red Sox. Holt, however, has value as a short-term option should Will Middlebrooks lose time due to injury or a bout of ineffectiveness.

Garin Cecchini

Drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the fourth round of the 2010 MLB June Amateur Draft, Cecchini begins his first full season at Triple-A Pawtucket. Cecchini is widely considered as the number two overall prospects in the Red Sox organization and is likely at least another year or two away from making a legitimate impact at the major league level. Cecchini was added to the 40-man roster over the offseason and is viewed as the third baseman of the future. In 2013, Cecchini batted .322 with seven homers, 61 RBIs, 23 stolen bases and a .443 on-base percentage over 129 games between Single-A and Double-A ball. Cecchini, who is currently riding a 17-game on base streak, is batting .307 with one home run, 16 RBI and 15 runs scored over 97 at-bats for the PawSox.

Matt Barnes

Drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the first round of the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft, the right-handed Connecticut native has allowed just five hits and three runs over his last two starts, but has only a no-decision and a loss to show for it. On the season, Barnes is 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 12 strikeouts over 16 innings pitched. The 91 pitches thrown on Tuesday versus the Mudhens were a season-high and a good sign that the shoulder inflammation that caused him to miss most of the month of April is no longer a concern.

Notes

Catcher Ryan Lavarnway has played 19 games at first base.

Outfielder Daniel Nava is batting .263 (10-for-38) and has reached base in eight of the eleven games he has played with the PawSox since his demotion.

20 of the 34 games played this season have been decided by two runs or less.

PawSox batters are hitting just .212, over 22 home games, with just 10 home runs.

PawSox manager Kevin Boles has used a different line-up in each of the team’s 33 games played this season.

The PawSox had a seven-game errorless stretch before reliever Drake Britton committed an error on Tuesday night. The errorless stretch was the club’s longest since 2011, also seven games.

The PawSox have yet to use a pinch-hitter this season.

The PawSox are picking up where the 2013 Boston Red Sox left off with 10 come-from- behind wins on the season, seven wins in their last at-bat, and two wins via the walk-off.

The PawSox are currently third in the International League with a .981 fielding pct. (23 errors in 1208 total chances).

PawSox pitchers have allowed just two home runs on the road this season, the fewest in the IL.

Comparing 2014 Red Sox to 2013 after 32 games

Red Sox 2014 Ortiz

After 32 games last season, the Boston Red Sox were 21-11 and on top of the AL East. This season through 32 games, the Red Sox are in third place in the AL East with a 15-17 record. Let’s compare the differences between this year’s Red Sox team and the 2013 team.

In the team’s first 32 games in 2013, the Red Sox were hitting .302 with runners in scoring position, and ranked third in the majors at the time. This season, the Red Sox are hitting .222 (with a .669 OPS) with runners in scoring position. Only the Cleveland Indians and the Houston Astros are hitting worse in the American League. 

Having a .244 batting average also doesn’t help the Red Sox. While designated hitter David Ortiz has six home runs, he has a .241 batting average. Outfielders Grady Sizemore and Jackie Bradley Jr. have also struggled, as both are hitting .224 and .215 respectively.

So far in 2014, the Red Sox have failed to drive in runs in a number of their games, including their 3-2 loss Sunday against the Oakland Athletics. During that game, Boston left a total of 25 runners on base.

The Red Sox have had more opportunities than most to score runs. The problem has been moving runners over in scoring position and/or scoring them at all.

The big reason for the success of the Red Sox a season ago was their ability to win close games. During their first 32 games in 2013, they were 4-2 in one-run games and had three walk-off victories. So far in 32 games in 2014, the Red Sox are 3-8 in one-run games.

The bright side for Sox fans so far has been their starting pitching. After 32 games, Boston has a 3.68 ERA, which ranks third in the American League. Jon Lester and Jake Peavy have been the team’s best starting pitchers by far as they both have an ERA under three.

While the bullpen hasn’t been as lights out as a year ago, it still ranks among the best in the majors. Koji Uehara and Junich Tazawa have been great in the bullpen, but Edward Mujica has been a huge disappointment. In 11 games the 2013 All-Star has played, he has given up a total of 10 runs.

There’s no point of mentioning the players who were on the Red Sox last year, because it’s pointless. They aren’t coming back to Boston and this 2014 version of the Red Sox needs to play more consistently. So far Boston doesn’t have that ‘It factor’ it had last season, but that doesn’t mean this team can’t be as special.