The Red Sox have a host of problems as they head into the stretch drive of the 2006 season. Two of their opening day starters are on the DL, and a designated third just got his first win of the season on Friday night.
The inability of the starters to get past six innings with any regularity has worn out a bullpen full of young and inexperienced relievers, old and tired relievers, and generally ineffective relievers.
All of that has been well-documented. What hasn't been as well recognized is just how much the Red Sox rely on just two players for a disproportionate amount of their offense.
Consider the following:
David Ortiz - 41 HR, 110 RBI
Manny Ramirez - 32 HR, 93 RBI
Pair's Total = 73 HR, 203 RBI
Team Total - 152 HR, 608 RBI
Ortiz and Ramirez, the most potent offensive paring since the the immortal Ruth / Gehrig combo, are responsible for nearly half the team's home runs and a third of its RBI. That's two players from a nine man batting order. Not good.
The next best offensive output has come from Mike Lowell, who has 13 HR and 55 RBI. That's a third of Ortiz's home run total and half of his RBI total. This makes the Red Sox essentially a two-dimensional team. If they're to get into the playoffs, and to advance to the World Series, they'll need to get more offense from other hitters as well.
To that end, there has been a positive development as of late. Some of that much-needed offense could well come from the club's current right fielder Wily Mo Peña, whose recent power surge could be a good omen.
Peña homered, tripled, and doubled today, coming up a single short of the cycle. The blast was Peña's third homer in five games, putting him on pace for a 27 homer campaign if he played the entire season. That's just exactly what the Red Sox have been lacking the last couple of years -- a third power hitter who is vital and dangerous.
Although Peña has played in only 54 games this season, the 24-year-old Dominican is hitting .314 with 9 home runs and 34 RBI. Trot Nixon, on the other hand, has just seven homers and 47 RBI in 92 games. Peña has a .365 on-base percentage and a .550 slugging percentage, resulting in an OPS of .915 -- Nixon's is .822. Surprisingly, the righthanded-hitting strongman is performing better against righthanders (.371, 8 home runs) than lefthanders (.219, 1 HR).
But Peña entered Thursday's game with 54 strikeouts in 169 at-bats (Nixon has struck out 41 times in 310 at-bats), signaling the work that needs to be done in order for him to master the strike zone.
As for the corner infielders, Mike Lowell has bounced back nicely from last year's .236 debacle, but he'll be lucky to total 20 homers this season, and Kevin Youkilis has certainly hit quite well but isn't a true power threat. And though Alex Gonzalez and Alex Cora have hit better than anyone should have expected, the pair of middle infielders won't strike fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers.
The Sox will need to get some power output from someone else.
Nixon was hitting well for most of the season, then came an ugly July and his current injury. But even prior that, the veteran's power drop-off had been disturbing. Considering his injury history -- time on the DL in each of the last three seasons -- it's hard to imagine the Sox bringing him back next year. In fact, the Sox tried to move Nixon before the deadline and could find no takers.
Though the Sox shopped Peña too, it's a good bet he'll get the nod over Nixon next season. And, at present, the Sox will be counting on Pena to deliver on the promise they had for him when they shipped Bronson Arroyo to Cincinnati to acquire his services. Consistency at the plate is the main thing they'll be looking for.
At this point, the Sox can only hope Peña will live up to his enormous potential. To be a successful playoff team, they'll truly need it.
Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.