The Red Sox Must Begin to Deliver

Red Sox

It’s time for the Red Sox to deliver. John Henry likely said as much, when, on Tuesday, he met with General Manager Ben Cherington, Manager John Farrell and the entire Front Office in search of solutions to another disappointing start.

Whilst optimistic overall, the principal owner told Jon Miller of WBZ that “we made a lot of moves this winter to shore up our pitching and our hitting, but we haven’t seen results yet.”Red Sox

Indeed, this lack of results is in danger of becoming a recurring theme of Cherington’s tenure. Aside from 2013, when the Sox caught lightning in a bottle and rode a crest of immense civic emotion to a sublime championship, the Olde Towne Team has been fairly mediocre throughout his premiership. In fact, since Cherington was promoted to General Manager before the 2012 season, Boston is just 250-263, despite spending more than $659 million in payroll. Needless to say, that represents by far the worst cost-per-win ratio of any GM presently working in the Major Leagues.

In three full seasons as head of the Fenway think-tank, Cherington has delivered just one admittedly glorious postseason berth, sandwiched between last place finishes where the team finished 25 and 26 games behind the division winner, respectively. A poor start this season, with the Sox under .500 at the time of writing, has many people wondering whether 2013 was truly an aberration and the continued flirtation with cellar-dweller status is a more accurate representation of Cherington’s skills.

I don’t mean to lead an anti-Cherington crusade. Far from it. I actually like the man, and think he has all the attributes to be a sharp and perceptive, big-market GM. But, at this point, I’m more than a little worried about the core philosophy which lies at the bedrock of Boston baseball. Just who are the Red Sox anymore, and where are they headed?

The failure to pay Jon Lester, coupled with a thorough negligence of elite starting pitching, has led to discomfort in Red Sox Nation. That discomfort turned to disquiet last week, as the Sox dipped below .500 and sunk to the bottom of a weak AL East. It’s incredibly frustrating, because, in my opinion, there is a major opportunity to contend right now, but the Red Sox don’t seem ready, or able, to take advantage.

We hear so much about the starting rotation, but, oftentimes, the severity of the situation doesn’t become apparent until you stop and actually contemplate what is happening. Why does the Front Office persist with Clay Buchholz, let alone consider him an ace? Why do we accept Wade Miley and Joe Kelly as anything other than back-of-the-rotation starters? Why are we messing around here? This is Boston, not Minnesota. The Red Sox fans who so loyally fill Fenway Park deserve so much better.

 

Boston Red SoxIt’s not that ownership isn’t spending money, because it is. Rather, the way it is spending, with an unbalanced investment in offense at the obvious detriment of pitching, is hard to understand. Right now, I think people are becoming fatigued by the way this $173 million team needs to make such a high-stakes drama out of grinding each and every win. Nothing is coming easy, because the team is lopsided and askew in its fundamental makeup.

Thus, following a strange few years and another disappointing start, we’re reaching a critical juncture for Red Sox management and the team it constructs. It’s time this ball club showed it’s true face. It’s time to begin setting high standards again. It’s time to deliver, plain and simple.

Red Sox Drop Fourth Straight; Hanley Ramirez Hurt

Hanley Ramirez hurt

Not only did the Red Sox lose for the fourth straight time last night, but even worse is the news that their best hitter, Hanley Ramirez, was hurt and left the game before he even had a chance to bat. The left fielder was injured when he slammed into a padded wall adjacent to the Green Monster while sprinting after a line drive in the first inning of a game they would eventually lose, 5-1, to the Tampa Bay Rays.

After the game, news spread that Ramirez had a sprained left shoulder, news that is not particularly encouraging given the fact that he has already had two operations on this Hanley Ramirez hurtshoulder in the past 8 years. How the team will fill this void appears to be a monumental task. Entering the game, Ramirez led the Sox in home runs with 10, RBIs with 22 and OPS at .949. His .283 batting average was fourth on the team.

Last night’s game came on the heels of being swept at home over the weekend by the New York Yankees. That marked the first time the Bronx Bombers have swept the Sox at Fenway Park since August of 2006, when they did it under Joe Torre.

Sunday night was not without the usual New York-Boston drama. In the bottom of the sixth inning, Yankees starter Adam Warren plunked Hanley Ramirez, and the Red Sox responded two innings later when Edward Mujica hit Jacoby Ellsbury with a 3-0 pitch after the center fielder had singled in each of his first four at-bats. Homeplate umpire Jeff Nelson then issued a warning to both benches as CC Sabathia waddled out of the Yankees’ third-base dugout to stare at Mujica, and the Yankees’ bullpen acted with false machismo as though they would enter the action if it escalated. (Why can’t bullpens just fight in the outfield?  Why bother running all the way to the infield?)

To provide some more depressing news, the last time the Red Sox have led in a game was in the fourth inning of Friday night’s game. Without the offense of Ramirez, they have an uphill climb in front of them.

Situational Hitting Not Part of Red Sox Arsenal So Far This Season

red sox hitting

The Boston Red Sox have scored the seventh most runs in all of baseball through 25 games after Sunday’s night contest against the New York Yankees with 122 runners touching home plate. This also ranks sixth in the American League behind the Toronto Blue Jays, Kansas City Royals, Oakland Athletics, Houston Astros and now the New York Yankees.

However, the Red Sox have scored some of these runs due to other team’s mistakes (unearned runs) and thanks to 29 long balls on the season. Red Sox hittingThe team has not hit well with runners on base, especially with runners in scoring position, and that could be a concern if the trend continues.

As a whole the Red Sox are hitting .228 with runners in scoring position. That number goes up a tick to .239 with two outs, but that still is rather pathetic for a team that is in the top 10 in runs scored in all of baseball.

The team does have some players hitting well in these positions as Daniel Nava (.333), Mookie Betts (.304), Xander Bogaerts (.300) and Brock Holt (.300) are the only batters with 10 or more at-bats with runners in scoring position with an average above .263.

Players not hitting well in these situations include Pablo Sandoval (.263 in 19 chances), Hanley Ramirez (.227 in 22 chances), David Ortiz (.211 in 19 chances), Mike Napoli (.158 in 19 chances) and Dustin Pedroia (.124 in 24 chances). Now, yes, it is a small sample size for all of these batters and Napoli is hitting less than .170 on the season, but this could be a real concern for this team in its ability to tack on those extra runs in order to win games throughout the season.

The Red Sox have had a grand total of 109 at-bats with runners in scoring position and two outs and at least 14 apiece for Betts and Pedroia should mean a lot of runs. But both hitters have hit less than .150 with a combined four hits and just one extra-base hit for the centerfielder.

With all these numbers showing the Red Sox still haven’t found those timely hits, the team still has a 12-13 record and show that they can contend in the AL East as long as their pitching doesn’t fall off the table once every third or fourth start. Sure home runs help score runs, but timely hitting is what really makes an offense lethal.

Brock Holt Making Case to Play on a More Consistent Basis

Brock Holt

Through seven games and 24 at-bats entering Monday’s contest, Brock Holt has been off to a blazing start with a .500 average to go along with five RBI and a pair of doubles. Not only is the 26-year-old hitting absolutely everything thrown at him, but he has also played four different position in the field, including three of the four infield positions (aside from pitcher and catcher).

After being a staple at the top of the lineup for the Boston Red Sox in 2014, Holt hadBrock Holt no clue what his role on the Red Sox this season would be with the acquisitions of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval during the off-season. He finished with a respectable .281/.331/..712 stat line while hitting 31 extra-base hits in 449 at-bats. He drove in 23 runs while scoring 68 times and stealing 12 bases on 14 attempts. What really makes the Texas native valuable is his versatility. He played all three outfield positions in 2014 and all four infield spots while committing only seven errors (six at third and one at first).

The way Holt has started has shown that he deserves at least four starts each week and can give the veterans one night off a week, which gives them time to rest. Not only can he rake at the plate and field with extreme consistency, but the former Pittsburgh Pirate can also work the pitcher at the top of the lineup. Sure, he has yet to walk in 2015, but he knows how to fight off tough pitches and layoff pitches in the dirt. The power may be lacking, but he provides another tablesetter at the top of the lineup to go alongside center fielder Mookie Betts.

The 26-year-old has earned playing time thanks especially to his ability to stay hot as he has now hit in six straight games after not playing in five of the first 10 games. He has started in four of the last five contests and will likely be in there for the near future until he cools off.

Holt has only three strikeouts on the season and has only struck out 119 times in 592 at-bats. The next thing on his to-do list has to be pitching and catching in order to check off every position on the field.

4 Questions as Red Sox Head to Spring Training

spring training

While New Englanders will be braving the cold weather this February, the Boston Red Sox will be preparing for the start of spring training. Red Sox pitchers and catchers have to report to Fort Myers, Fla by February 20.

Boston has added a number of new faces to its roster over the off-season. While it appears the team has improved, there are a number of questions the team needs to answer if they are expected to contend in the American League East. Here are four key questions for the Red Sox as they enter spring training.

Can Xander Bogaerts live up to expectations?

Spring Training

This is a huge spring training for Xander Bogaerts. Last season, the shortstop came into spring training with lofty expectations after an impressive 2013 postseason where he hit .296 in 12 games.

In 2014, Bogaerts struggled as he batted .240 with 12 home runs and 39 RBI in 144 games. While he is only 23-years-old, the pressure is on Bogaerts.

Boston doesn’t have a backup plan if he continues to struggle. Even with an improved lineup, the Red Sox need Bogaerts to play better this season.

Can any of the pitching prospects earn a spot on the 25-man roster?

While the Red Sox added pitchers Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and Justin Masterson in the off-season, the team still lacks an established No. 1 starting pitcher. Because Boston lacks a true ace, this will be a great opportunity for one of the team’s young prospects to earn a spot in the rotation.

Henry Owens is regarded as the Red Sox best young pitcher in their minor league system.  The left-hander started last season in Double-A before being promoted to Triple-A late last summer.

Owens has to improve his command this spring before he has any chance of being on the opening day roster this April. Other pitchers to keep an eye on this spring are Danny Rosenbaum, Eduardo Rodriguez and Brian Johnson.

How will the Red Sox handle their crowded outfield?

The expected starters in the Red Sox outfield are Hanley Ramirez (left field), Rusney Castillo (center field), and Mookie Betts (right field). That leaves Shane Victornio, Daniel Nava and Allen Craig to battle for the remaining outfield bench spots.

In 2013, Victornio was a key member of the Red Sox World Series Championship team. Last season, he was limited to only 30 games. It wouldn’t be surprising if Victornio were to beat out Betts for the starting right field spot if he can remain healthy throughout spring training.

The more interesting decision for manager John Farrell is who will he choose to be the fifth outfielder? Craig was an All-Star in 2013, but he only hit .215 and eight home runs a season ago.

Nava is a switch-hitter that batted .270 last season in 113 games. Given his previous role off the bench and his production on the left side of the plate (hit .293 when batting left-handed in 2014), Nava is probably the better fit as a fifth outfielder

How much longer can David Ortiz produce at a high-level?

David Ortiz had another All-Star season in 2014 as he hit .263 with 35 home runs and 104 RBI. Now at age 39, how much longer can the designated hitter produce at a high-level?

While no one knows how much longer Ortiz can continue to hit over 30 home runs and 100 RBI, you can’t rely on his spring training numbers to answer that question. Last spring, he batted .054, but he hit five home runs and 14 RBI in the first month of the regular season. Ortiz probably has another season or two left in him, but we truly won’t know until April or May.

Don’t Forget About Quintin Berry

quintin berry

As Spring Training approaches, the Boston Red Sox already appear to have a major problem—way too many outfielders and a suspect, at best, starting rotation. Questions lurk around the five guys who will be starting on a regular basis in Boston. Where is the ace? How long before they tank? Why did they pay Justin Masterson $9.5 million? What about the outfield?
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The Red Sox have a plethora of outfielders—too many in fact. It is clear that one outfielder in particular (likely Allen Craig) will have to be dealt as the team condenses down to 25 men in April for Opening Day, but it is unclear what Boston will receive in return as they seem to have their heart set on going into the year with a hand-picked rotation.

Even when an outfielder is dealt, the team will still have plenty of depth at the position. Not only will they have three guys on the bench who can play all three positions (including Brock Holt), but they will also have talent down in Pawtucket.
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quintin berryThe three starting outfielders projected for the Paw Sox this season are Jackie Bradley Jr., Bryce Brentz and Quintin Berry. While Bradley is an excellent defender, Brentz is a powerful hitter who clobbers lefties and Berry is a serious stolen base threat; the team’s three viable call-up options and Boston will have choices depending on the scenario.

Back in 2013, Berry, who is a perfect 25-for-25 in MLB stolen base attempts from 2012-2014, helped the Boston Red Sox win a World Series as a pinch runner on the post-season roster. Despite only being used once the rosters expanded, he found his way onto the playoff roster as the team no longer needed to carry five starting pitchers.

Currently, Berry is not on the 40-man roster and has no options remaining. If the team does in fact turn to his services—they will need to do so wisely. If they need to call him up and send him back down, they are out of luck and he will be exposed to the waiver wire where someone will surely bite.
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September will roll around eventually and if Boston finds themselves in a similar situation as they were in back in 2013, do not be surprised to see his number called once again—whatever it may be.