Shockingly Poor Start For The Red Sox

Not what you expected to happen, right? The Sox played four meaningful games in March, one last night, and now it’s April 2nd. The team lost 3 of 4 in Seattle and were shut out last night in Oakland. To say the least, 2019 has been a shockingly poor start for the Red Sox.

The starting pitching has been horrific. Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez,shockingly poor start Rick Porcello, and David Price have now all pitched. The results are ugly: 26 earned runs and eleven home runs allowed in 21 innings. The bullpen has not been much better. The club’s eight relievers have all been used, and in 20 innings, have surrendered 20 hits, 7 earned runs, 4 home runs, and eight walks. Matt Barnes has collected the team’s lone save.

In regards to hitting, reigning MVP Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi, who bat one-and-two in the lineup, both have on-base percentages (OBP) of .250. Only Mitch Moreland, Xander Bogaerts, and J.D. Martinez own an on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) over .800. In comparison to other teams, Boston ranks in the top-5 in all hitting categories, but in the bottom-5 in most pitching ranks.

Now that we know all of that, we must address the key question, which is: what is going on with the Red Sox and why have they come out “flat” after winning the World Series last year?

Pitching is the problem

The starting pitching, besides Price’s performance last night, have not given the offense a chance to get going. 7 runs were allowed in the first 3 innings of game-1, 3 runs through two innings in game-2, 2 runs in the first inning of game-3, and 9 runs through 3 innings of game-4.

In 2018, the Red Sox were the only team that qualified for the postseason to have four hitters (with at least 500 plate appearances) record an OPS of at least .830: Betts, Benintendi, Martinez, and Bogaerts. First baseman Steve Pearce, who played in just 50 regular season games with the team down the stretch, recorded a .901 OPS. One could attribute Betts’s .598 OPS, Benintendi’s .375 OPS, and Pearce’s absence (calf injury) to the poor start for the Red Sox.

Also in 2018, Boston was the only team (postseason eligible) to have a player save more than 40 games with a WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) less than 1.00. That player? Craig Kimbrel – he is not back with the club this year. Kimbrel’s presence in the bullpen could factor in nicely moving forward and take some pressure off relievers.

Poor attitude

One factor to the shockingly poor start for the Red Sox that cannot be measured by statistics is their attitude. Their leader, manager Alex Cora, was asked during postgame if there was any concern following the team’s loss last night.

“Not really. It’s five games. When you go through stretches like this, it (stinks) that it’s early in the season, but yeah, we have to pick it up.”

Cora’s nonchalant demeanor is not changing the way the team is approaching games. The top of the lineup needs to get going. Cora announced today on MLB Network that Betts will move back to the leadoff spot. The starting pitching now starts its second turn. So far this season, Sox pitchers have allowed the most runs in the American League. They rank second-to-last in earned run average (ERA) and batting average against (BAA). In addition, Boston is the only AL team to not record a quality start.

Tonight’s first pitch is at 10:07 PM/ET. We’ll see if things start to change this evening in what has been a shockingly poor start for the Red Sox.

On Base Is Key to Success

on base

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Getting on base is key for this team this year, and there are plenty of guys that can make that happen. The other important step toward greatness is playing as a team. The kind of camaraderie that we saw back in 2004 is what made the difference and got us to the World Series. The latter is a club house culture issue, while the former revolves around filling the bases and getting players in position to score. What makes the difference? Runs. Just runs. Not home runs. Even walks would be fine. Fans love the excitement of a home run, but better than that is seeing a player cross home plate. Home runs do not translate to game wins. They do translate into ticket sales. The “Bash Brothers” era of the late 1990s is a perfect example of that phenomenon. No longer is that the shape of the game.

on base

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As my father says, the Red Sox can learn a lot from high school or college level girls’ fast pitch softball. Make contact with the ball, any way you can, bunt if you wish, and then get on base. Obviously this is far more easily said then done, but it is food for thought as John Farrell starts to sculpt his roster. Two rounds of cuts have been made so far. As a result of the last round of cuts, Alex Hassan will go back to Pawtucket to gain more experience and knuckleballer Steven Wright will throw more pitches in Rhode Island. This takes one more person out of the running for an outfield position. Will this further open the door for Jackie Bradley Jr’s hot bat and defensive prowess, who knows? I believe Bradley Jr. will not be able to come up any sooner than mid-June, while they aim to get Will Middlebrooks, Pedro Ciriaco, among others, ready for major league play.

During yesterday’s game against the Minnesota Twins, Jacoby Ellsbury and Ciriaco got on base. In fact, Ellsbury was on base three times with a hit, RBI, and a walk. Others were able to follow suit, setting up scoring opportunities.  Middlebrooks came up with the movement around the bases that we needed, making contact with the ball for a double.

Thursday’s roster hit, got on base, played as a team, and it ended in a 7-3 win. I hope the Red Sox coaches and players see what is possible if these trends continue.