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.

David Ortiz Starting Slow In 2015

With the additions to Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez it was expected the pressure would be taken off David Ortiz to be the main guy in the middle of the Red Sox order. Ortiz has performed up to and even above the standards many have expected the 39 year old to live up to in recent years but this season Ortiz has been struggling in the middle of the Sox order.

Ortiz has been a victim of the shift, obviously not much he can do about it unless he startsDavid Ortiz going the other way more, but easier said than done. With his average now just .221 Ortiz could be quietly having one of his worst seasons in a Red Sox uniform. Obviously no one expected him to hit 50 home runs again, or win a batting title. But, the offense of the Red Sox needs him to perform at a high level. Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval are battling injuries that don’t look to be going away any time soon.

Ortiz is not the only Red Sox hitter struggling, but I feel he is the most important right now. He is the identity of this Red Sox team and the offense will be most successful when he is on. The lineup changes manager John Farrell made over the weekend were small and he seemed to revert back to the usual lineup already after flip flopping Ortiz and Ramirez this weekend. They were back to their normal spots in the lineup Monday. I feel Farrell is too reliant on going right-left in the lineup and should just have the best hitters at the top of the lineup. A hot Xander Bogaerts should not be hitting 7th, and a struggling David Ortiz should not still be hitting 3rd.

Mike Napoli had been struggling with his average dipping as low as .171 last week but with a great weekend series against the Angels he raised it to .211. 40 points in a weekend is a lot to expect but it is time for Ortiz to get on a roll and carry this Red Sox offense like he has the past ten plus years.

If and hopefully when Ortiz comes around with the bat, the Red Sox offense will be what many expected it to be before the season. Expecting the team to score 900 runs and be one of the best offenses in the American League, while stepping up in an American League East that no ones seems to be grabbing a hold of.

Ortiz has been the guy for the Red Sox for so long, admitting that he is struggling at the plate is something many people will refuse to believe, but his stat line is down and so is the Red Sox offense.

The Unfortunate Inconsistency of the Red Sox Offense

Red Sox offense A.J. Pierzynski

The Red Sox offense lit up the Yankees on Sunday night, giving us hopes that it would continue on Monday against the Cubs. Well, that could not have been further from truth. After a night of 12 hits and eight walks, the Red Sox were almost no-hit by Jake Arrieta, ending up with two hits and one walk.

The addition of Mookie Betts to the lineup provided hope for a potential spark to the poor offense, however he has looked a bit shaky in the outfield. With Shane Victorino’s rehab stint shut down, it appears that Betts will have some time to prove himself in the majors both at the plate and in the outfield.

It seems that pretty much every time the Sox start hitting, they can’t carry it over to the next game. There were only two occasions in the month of June where the Sox scored five or more runs in two consecutive games and seven games total. Their 84 runs in 28 games last month equals exactly three runs per game, which is nowhere near where it needs to be.

There are about two weeks left before the All-Star break and the Red Sox have to figure things out in that period. With the Orioles, White Sox, and Astros on their slate, it would be a great time to pick up some wins and gain some more ground in the AL East race.

It has been rumored that some Red Sox might be dealt at the deadline, including big names like Jon Lester and John Lackey. If the Sox work their way back into the thick of things, I don’t see them being moved. There is a chance that A.J. Pierzynski may be moved though, but that all depends on whether he gets the bat going. He has been relatively productive compared to the rest of the team, but with two catching prospects on the rise in Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart, he could be expendable.