Devers, Nunez Look to Solve Red Sox Depth Problem

There is no question that the offense is struggling, partly because of the Red Sox depthproblem. As of 7/25, Mitch Moreland was batting .067, Benintendi .145, Bogaerts .164, and Jackie Bradley.114.

Woof.

Red Sox Depth Problem

In the last 18, the Red Sox are 7-11, and averaging only 3.3 runs per game.

 

Woof again.

Despite this, they’re still in the thick of the AL East division race and only a half game out of first. And with the Yankees seemingly getting better with the additions of David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Todd Frazier, there was only one solution in their minds to stay ahead.

Calling up 20-year-old infield prospect Rafael Devers.

In 86 minor league games this season, Devers hit .311 with 20 home runs and 60 RBI. But his bat was never in question, for it was his defense that drew criticism from some advanced analysts and scouts. Though from what I’ve seen personally, watching Devers in the majority of home games in Portland, he has the physical and mental makeup to succeed in the big leagues. He also hit a bomb to center field for his first MLB hit.

So based on that, seems like he’d be the sole answer this season, right?

Wrong.

Tuesday, the Red Sox acquired Eduardo Nunez for minor league pitchers Gregory Santos and Shaun Anderson. Nunez was previously a member of the San Francisco Giants and Minnesota Twins. Based on his current .308 average, I’m not surprised San Fran’ was selling on him, but I would’ve thought the Red Sox would stand pat unless they were able to get a bona fide middle-of-the-order bat. No disrespect to Nunez, but he is basically here for depth.

A Red Sox Depth Problem

A lot of their infield depth is either injured or underperforming. Marco Hernandez and Josh Rutledge haven’t played at all since summer began. Tzu-Wei Lin was productive in late June and early July, but was sent back to the minors. Deven Marrero is a great defender, but can’t seem to hit consistently. He was sent down Friday. And if the top of the order is already struggling, the Sox cannot withstand that either.

To keep up with such deficiencies, Boston has added Devers and Nunez to the roster on this road trip. The latter of which will join the team Friday.

Whether this will solve the Red Sox on the field problems remains to be seen. But with the Yankees and Rays closely behind, something needed to be done.

And in fact, Dombrowski could still be trying to make a deal up until Monday’s deadline.

Red Sox Learning To Take The Lead In Late Innings

One of the things that frustrated Red Sox Nation last year was the team’s inability to come from behind. An opposing team would outscore them, and the Red Sox couldn’t catch up. They’d load the bases but their hitter would strike out. Or they’d leave runners in scoring position inning after inning. In fact, they led the American League last year in runners left on base. With the Red Sox learning how to take the offensive in later inningRed Sox learnings fans are finally seeing a different tone.

Four of their eight wins as of April 17th were come-from-behind victories. Red Sox found themselves behind the Pittsburg Pirates during their makeup game on the 13th. Down 3-1 going into the 8th, Hanley Ramirez’s doubled home the winning run. The Red Sox did it again on Easter Sunday three days later against Tampa Bay. Down 5-4 in the seventh, the Red Sox rallied to pull ahead 7-5 by the ninth inning.

Even in instances where they didn’t win, they still showed strong effort. In an April 12th game against the Orioles, the Red Sox were down 9-0 going into the third. Despite losing the game, they finished the game 12-5. Win or lose, this was an issue the Red Sox sorely needed to work on from last season.

“The one thing that’s starting to show is that we’ve come from behind a number of games already,” manager John Farrell said in an article posted to Full Count on Weei.com.

With The Red Sox Learning To Come From Behind, Pitching Remains a Problem

I don’t think anyone anticipated the problems that the Red Sox rotation would have going into the 2017 season. We expected to see David Price at this point but he’s still down and out. Rick Porcello and Steve Wrignt have already taken their fair share of devastating losses. The Matt Barnes fiasco with Manny Machado isn’t helping things either.

Last year’s pitching was strong. Price dominated with strikeouts and Porcello became a 20-game winner. It was the offense that struggled at times. Now that the offense is heating up. it’s the pitching that’s struggling. If Farrell can find that balance the team needs, the Red Sox will be able to capture and hold onto first place.

Where Did it All Go Wrong for the Red Sox?

The irony was painful. After a summer of blowout wins and offensive fireworks, the Red Sox succumbed weakly in the fall, unable to locate the big hit when it mattered most. A vaunted lineup, unrivaled in the Majors this season, was stifled by a resilient Cleveland Indians team, as old friend Terry Francona masterminded a Division Series sweep of Boston.

Red Sox

Before the series, few people took the Indians seriously. Three of their best players – Michael Brantley, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar – were missing due to injury. Another star, Corey Kluber, saw his start pushed back due to another ailment. By most measures, the Red Sox were far superior. Most fans predicted a swift sweep. That’s exactly what they got, but of an entirely different flavor.

A Shock for Red Sox Nation

The way it happened was stunning. Boston didn’t play great to close the regular season, but a refreshed approach was expected once the playoffs began. Instead, Red Sox Nation was left waiting, and waiting, and waiting some more, for a team that never showed up. Almost from the first pitch in Cleveland, there was a sense of brewing melodrama. There was a sense that this team had run its course, quite incredibly. The Indians finished the job with shocking rapidity.

Perhaps plain old complacency is to blame. Did the Red Sox simply believe their own hype? That’s difficult to confirm, but it would at least explain the way Boston was caught like a deer in the headlights. When the games really mattered, when the wheat was separated from the chaff, this team wasn’t good enough. It just never got going. And now we’re left to contemplate through the bitter months ahead.

As people digest this loss around the hot stoves of New England, one topic will inspire more debate that any other: the choking offense. So powerful during the regular season, the Red Sox lineup froze on the biggest stage of all.

How Did the Red Sox Get Swept?

While it’s unfair to pinpoint any one guy for criticism, it is worth noting the performance of these praised hitters to paint a collective picture. Dustin Pedroia managed two hits in twelve ALDS at-bats. Mookie Betts, by all consensus an MVP candidate, collected just two in ten. That was better than Jackie Bradley, who produced just one hit, while Xander Bogaerts and Hanley Ramirez combined to go 6-for-24. It just wasn’t good enough.

Even David Ortiz, the master of October baseball, found little magic left in his wand. Papi added just one more hit to his postseason ledger before riding off into the cold night. For once, he couldn’t muster the big blow, and neither could his teammates. The Red Sox left 41 runners on base during this three-game series. They scored just seven runs. In the end, after all the worrying, that ridiculed rotation kept Boston in these games for the most part. The offense just couldn’t deliver.

And so, what now? The Red Sox will seek a replacement for Ortiz, as weird as that sounds. Perhaps John Farrell will see his position as manager reviewed. Maybe Dave Dombrowski will try to address some weaknesses throughout the offseason.

This young core will return to the postseason on plenty of occasions moving forward. But, right now, this was just a step too far for Mookie, Xander, Jackie and the rest. They should learn from the experience, and come back stronger for it. That may not help Red Sox fans deal with the present shock, but it should assist these players in preparing for future assaults on a World Series championship.

Boston’s Bats Saved the Day

The Red Sox won a wild game on Thursday afternoon, edging the White Sox 8-7 in a see-saw affair. As has often been the case this year, they won because Boston’s bats saved the day.

For much of Thursday’s tilt, it looked like the White Sox were going to sweep a four-game series from the Red Sox (and at Fenway Park, no less) Boston's Bats Saved the Day. Chicago took a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the sixth, as Boston’s bats had once again gone into hibernation. After scoring once in each of the series’ first two games, the Red Sox offense remained eerily silent.

Until the sixth inning, at which point Boston erupted for four runs to take the lead. The lead was short-lived, however, as Jose Abreu immediately put the White Sox back on top with a three-run homer. Abreu’s long ball was a classic Fenway homer, finding the Monster seats when it probably would have been caught elsewhere.

And just like that, the Red Sox were down again, but not for long. They got a run back in their half of the seventh to trim the deficit to one. They scored again in the eighth to tie the game at 7-7.

Neither side scored in the ninth, so the game went to extra innings. Craig Kimbrel, who had pitched a clean ninth inning, came back out for the top of the tenth. After loading the bases with nobody out, he buckled down. By some miracle, Chicago failed to score.

After watching the White Sox squander a golden scoring opportunity, Boston’s bats saved the day in the bottom of the frame. With two on and one out, Xander Bogaerts delivered, rifling a single up the middle to plate Mookie Betts and win the game. The Red Sox mobbed their star shortstop near first base, celebrating their first walk-off win in over a month and second all season.

New Approach Brings Success for Red Sox Offense

Right now, the Red Sox offense is incredible. On any given night, it’s actually a pleasure to watch this team hit, which is very refreshing after some pretty down years. Guys are finally healthy and reaching their full potential, as opposing teams struggle to contain a dynamic lineup that can win games in many different ways, at home or on the road.

Red Sox offense

Boston currently leads the American League in nine main offensive categories, ranging from runs scored and overall hits to on-base percentage and slugging. However, while the Red Sox offense was once too reliant on the home run, a new approach under hitting coach Chili Davis appears to have transformed this lineup into a relentless unit that hates to make outs. Quite simply, facing the Red Sox must be a terrifying proposition for opposing pitchers, because there is no obvious way of stopping those bats.

A Change of Approach

Just watching games this year, I can sense a different philosophy when it comes to the Red Sox offense. Boston is still a club that values on-base percentage immensely, and the Sox lead the league in that category, but that success is derived from a new offensive plan rather than being the sole cornerstone of it. This year, Red Sox hitters aren’t just taking pitches for the sake of it, or drawing walks because that’s what the front office ordains as the best strategy. Instead, it looks like the Red Sox offense is more focused on finding the pitch it likes then hammering it aggressively. That has led to greater offensive efficiency and, ultimately, more men on base coming around to score.

The fact that Boston leads the American League in slugging percentage but is only sixth in home runs speaks to that refined approach. These hitters aren’t trying to do too much. They’re happy to take the ball where it’s pitched and drive it for a run-scoring single or double. No American League team has a higher opposite field hit percentage than the Red Sox, which illustrates the new altruistic style even further. Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez and Xander Bogaerts exemplify that ethos, in that they’re not swinging for the fences as much as last season. They’re just focused on doing whatever it takes to score runs and help this team win.

Stolen Bases Make Red Sox Offense More Dynamic

A major part of that effort has been the stolen base. Only Houston has swiped more bags than Boston in the big leagues, to the surprise of veteran fans who acquaint the Red Sox offense more with sluggers than speedsters. However, the Sox stolen base success rate of 92% is even more astounding. Statisticians suggest that anywhere in the 75% range is a break-even point for stolen base success, but the Red Sox are demolishing that notion. They’ve only been caught stealing twice all season! That’s exciting to watch and a recipe for glory when coupled with the team-first approach in the batter’s box.

Of course, it’s still early, and the dominance of this Red Sox offense can largely be attributed to a small sample size. But, in all honesty, rival fans would be delighted to see their team top so many different categories at any point in the season. In simple terms, the Red Sox have altered their offensive approach without sacrificing the identity for which this team is so renowned. The home runs will likely arrive as the weather heats up, but fans need not worry if they don’t. With help from a terrific hitting coach, this Red Sox offense is scary. It may even be strong enough to carry Boston into October.

The Red Sox Struggle with Making Solid Contact

The Red Sox’ relative inability to score runs has been well-documented this season. After all, through the first 59 games, Boston scored just 221 runs, the 4th-worst total in the entire American League. Such offensive wastefulness has impacted negatively on the pitching staff, which, despite a stellar 2.41 collective ERA in June, still finds itself in the loss column all too frequently. Yet, aside from the bigger problem of scoring runs, the Red Sox just don’t seem to make solid contact, which is a recipe for disaster as the season progresses.

Purely from a fan’s perspective, this Red Sox team looks persistently off-balance at the Red Soxplate, with hitters constantly chopping the ball foul or popping it meekly back into the crowd. Each game feels similar; when the Sox desperately need somebody to produce a quality at-bat and square the ball up, it just never materializes. And frustration is now reaching boiling point.

 

The statistics support this notion of poor contact by Red Sox hitters. Thus far, the Sox have a .374 team slugging-percentage, which ranks 26th in the Majors and second-worst of all American League teams. Moreover, according to Fangraphs, Red Sox batters have hit the ball hard just 27.5% of the time, placing them 23rd in the big leagues, while Boston’s 20.7% soft-hit rate is the worst in all of baseball.

The correlation between these stats and actual team wins is fairly obscure, however. For instance, the Brewers have the highest percentage of hard-hit balls, but the second-worst record in the Majors; and the Royals have less hard-hit balls than the Red Sox, but have won six more games. But, in theory, a team needs to hit the ball hard if it has any hopes of scoring enough runs to compete. A team that hits continuously for power is obviously far more dangerous, and therefore more daunting for an opposing pitcher, than a team that routinely gets itself out with soft groundballs and pop flies. That’s just logic.

Of course, the great Red Sox teams of 2003, 2004 and 2007 were built with a slugging blueprint in mind. Theo Epstein regarded OPS (on-base-plus-slugging) as the single most important statistic when constructing a team and, to that effect, great hitters such as Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, Mike Lowell and even J.D. Drew helped set the tone of a potent offense.

Now, those glorious days are long gone, both for the Red Sox and for baseball. We live in a pitching-dominant age, where the aces keep getting better and the strike zone keeps expanding. In the new baseball world, there is very little reward for the kind of offensive patience ingrained in the Red Sox philosophy. Now, working the count and seeing plenty of pitches is more likely to result in a strikeout, due to more pitcher-friendly umpiring. Likewise, previous Boston clubs would feast on weak bullpens, but that opportunity no longer exists. From the sixth inning on, relief pitchers tend to get better, not worse, meaning a change of focus is needed.

Red Sox

Ultimately, the Red Sox must adopt the new style of contemporary baseball, where it pays to be more aggressive and force the issue early in games. If this team has any October aspirations, it will have to cease making feeble contact and rolling over weakly on pitches, in favor of a rigorous, consistent and altogether more dangerous approach. Whether hitting coach Chili Davis is capable of implementing that change remains to be seen, but time is fast running out for these Red Sox, who must simply do better.