Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Red Sox Offense has been Offensive

July has not been kind to the previously formidable Red Sox offense

Though the Red Sox remain fourth in the AL in runs scored, it's truly hard to believe right now. For the past month, the Sox offense has looked positively anemic. It says a lot about their pre-July production.

Throughout the Red Sox order, there is a glaring deficiency; most of these guys simply aren't hitting right now. At .261, the Red Sox team batting average has fallen into the bottom half of the AL.

Players generally expected to perform at a high level are doing anything but. Eight Red Sox players are hitting below .260, including Jason Bay (.252), JD Drew (.233) and David Ortiz (.228).

Bay's slump is hard to figure. A lifetime .279 hitter, the All Star has 20 homers and 72 RBI so far this season. But Bay has suddenly hit the skids. The left fielder has just one homer in the past month, covering 23 games. In that same period he has just three RBI and four extra-base hits. It's been one very ugly month for the Canadian native.

But, in his case, it's probably just a typical midseason slump that he will soon snap out of. Bay has a strong track record and it's a good bet he is poised to breakout. Over the past five seasons Bay has averaged 29 HR and 95 RBI, while batting .282.

JD Drew, on the other hand, is another story altogether. Since coming to Boston as a free agent three years ago, Drew has been a huge disappointment.

The Red Sox signed Drew to be a middle-of-the-order hitter, based on his "sweet swing" and lots of perceived promise. But in the ten previous seasons, Drew had hit .300 twice, hit 30 homers once, and drove in 100 runs once. None of that warranted paying him $14 million per season, especially since no other team was stepping up to do so. The Sox are now paying for their ill-advised decision, both literally and figuratively.

In his 2 1/2 years in Boston, Drew has 42 HR, 166 RBI, 213 runs, 10 SB, and a .261 average. The Sox' $75 million investment hasn't gotten them much. Even when the Sox signed him three years ago, Drew was a whole lot more hype than hope. Julio Lugo was a bust indeed, but Drew cost the Sox a whole lot more. And Lugo didn't come with all the same hype and hoopla as Drew. The expectations of Drew have been a lot higher and he has failed miserably to live up to them.

Over his first five seasons in Boston, David Ortiz became a folk hero. He came to Boston as a Minnesota castaway, with no hype and no expectations whatsoever. In that time he became known as the "greatest clutch hitter in Red Sox history, and in 2006 set the team's single-season home run record with 54 moon shots.

But last year his season was cut short due to wrist surgery. Truthfully, he's never been the same since 2007. More than ever, Ortiz looks overweight, slow-swinging, and old. Could he really be just 33?

Despite the widespread hope that Ortiz was coming out of his early season slump, he isn't. It's late July and this is simply the new reality for Ortiz. In three of his six previous seasons with the Sox, Ortiz hit at least .300. That now seems like a long time ago. Sadly, Ortiz's career seems to have suddenly gone over a cliff. It's hard to get excited about his 12 homers when he has a .315 OBP and isn't even batting his hefty weight.

We love David Ortiz for all he's done for the Red Sox. He was a key part of two World Series championships and helped make the Red Sox a powerhouse. He brought life and excitement to the team and was always fun to watch. But those days are long since over.

Though he's hit an improbable 13 home runs – matching his total from all of last year – Jason Varitek is hitting 30 points below his career average. And it's important to note that his .261 carer average was pulled down by batting .220 last year. At this point, Varitek is no longer overpaid. But he isn't much of an offensive threat either.

With just 288 career at-bats, Jed Lowrie is still a work in progress, and perhaps just an inexpensive, low-expectation experiment. Though he's had just 28 at-bats this season, he is batting a mere .107 and is 2 for 10 since his return from the DL.

George Kottras, though only playing every five days, makes us grateful for that. So far he hitting just .213 with 1 HR and 9 RBI in 33 games this season. At this point, it seems clear that he is not Jason Varitek's successor, nor the long term solution to the Sox' catching quandary.

After a hot start, Nick Green has fallen back to earth, and is now hitting .250. But considering his solid defensive play, and how little was expected of the non-roster Spring Training invitee, Green has been a blessing in the absence of Jed Lowrie and the continued demise of Julio Lugo.

Rounding out this group of tepid Red Sox hitters is Mark Kotsay, who is currently batting .257, 24 points below his career average. Having hit a combined total of 15 homers over the past four seasons, he is not a deep threat or a prototypical first baseman or corner infielder. That's because the natural center fielder has been playing out of position since coming to the Sox last August. The true team player has done an admirable job of filling in wherever and whenever Terry Francona has asked him.

Though he plays solid defense and by all accounts is well-liked by his teammates and coaches, Kotsay looks like the odd man out in a pending numbers game. The Sox will have to trim their 25-man roster by one to make room for the newly acquired Adam LaRoche, a true first baseman and power hitter. It seems that Kotsay's time in a Sox uniform may be running out.

It's obvious that LaRoche is not the sole answer to the Red Sox offensive struggles, but they hope he can provide a bit of thump to a lackluster lineup.

The Red Sox offensive malaise has spread throughout the clubhouse like a contagion, and hopefully a couple of hitters will come around soon. But as the numbers dictate, the Sox offense is not bolstered by enough good hitters, and the club still seems to be at least one potent bat short of being the team to beat in the highly competitive AL East.

That's why the next week could be eventful and even fruitful for the Sox. The funk they're presently mired in makes it highly unlikely that Theo Epstein is done dealing.

Copyright © 2009 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

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