Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Red Sox Below .500 at the Quarter Mark, yet Still in Hunt



The Red Sox have now played just over a quarter of the 2014 season and find themselves at 20-22. That's something that most of us didn't anticipate when the season began.

At some point, the Red Sox record will reflect who they truly are, but that time may not yet have arrived.

The American League is presently a bastion of mediocrity — at best. Only seven of the 15 AL clubs have records over .500, and they're now playing National League clubs on a fairly regular basis.

This leaves the defending World Series Champions poised to strike and to eventually separate themselves from the pack.

Sure, there is reason for concern right now. But this season is a long way from over.

On the bright side, the Sox are still just 3 games out of first place in the rather weak, or highly competitive — depending on how you view it — AL East.

The first-place Yankees are just four games over .500, and the division is in a daily state of flux. As of yesterday, just six AL teams had a winning record.

The truth is, this division and, in fact, the whole league remain wide open. But the Sox need to stop flailing, continually taking one step forward, followed by one step backward. The Sox have lost four of their last five games, dropping back-to-back series in the process.

The Red Sox' lineup features three players who are 25 years old or younger: Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks and Jackie Bradley Jr. The problem is, all three players are struggling mightily.

Here's a look at how the three players are faring this season:

XANDER BOGAERTS

Season: .254 average, .360 OBP, .348 slugging, 1 homer, 5 RBIs

JACKIE BRADLEY JR.

Season: .200 average, .301 OBP, .296 slugging, 0 homers, 13 RBI

WILL MIDDLEBROOKS

Season: .197 average, .305 OBP, .324 slugging, 2 homers, 9 RBIs

But the Sox' struggles go well beyond their youthful trio.

David Ortiz is the only Sox player with more than 27 at-bats that is batting at least .300. Big Papi also leads the team with 11 homers. The next closest player is Mike Napoli, who has five.

Ortiz, currently slugging .572, is the only Sox player slugging over .400.

Amongst Red Sox' regulars, Shane Victorino is third in on-base percentage at .316, which is alarming.

The team's offensive ineptitude has been on display over the last two games against Detroit, in which the Sox have scored a grand total of one run.

Here's how the Sox rank offensively among the 15 AL clubs:

Runs: 173, 10th

Home runs: 34, 11th

Slugging: .379, 11th

Total bases: 540, 12th

Batting average: .244, 12th

While Red Sox' pitching has been better, it hasn't been exceptional. Even on the mound, there have been struggles.

Amongst AL teams, the Sox starters are:

12th in batting average against, at .268
10th in ERA, at 4.12
9th in wins, with 14
4th in innings, at 251
6th in walks, at 86
2nd in K's, with 232

So, while there are some clear issues with the rotation, the team's struggles can clearly be laid at the feet of its offense, or lack thereof.

Given that last season the Sox were first in the majors in runs (853), on-base percentage (.349) and slugging percentage (.446), while posting the second highest batting average (.277), it's reasonable to expect this team to get hotter along with the weather.

Yes, the Sox lost Jacoby Ellsbury, but he has a rather pedestrian slash line of .278/.357/.404 so far this season. Moreover, the Yankees' center fielder has just 1 homer and 14 RBI. Based on the numbers so far, Ellsbury isn't yet a huge loss for the Sox, or the reason for their offensive woes.

How about the absence of Stephen Drew? Well, considering that last season he posted a stat line of .253/.333/.443, it's also hard to argue that his loss has been a big blow to the Sox offense.

The problem is not with the guys that are gone; the trouble lies with the guys that are still here. They're just not getting it done.

Yes, the Sox took some risks by going with three young, relatively unproven players at key positions around the diamond: third base, shortstop, and center field.

But given the minor league track records of Bogaerts and Bradley, and the fact that Middlebrooks hit 32 homers in 615 major league at-bats (essentially a full season's worth) over his fist two seasons, you have to think that they are all going through the typical travails of young players trying to adjust to the rigors of the major leagues.

Pitchers have made their adjustments to each of them. Now it's time for each of them to make their own adjustments.

Given that it's mid-April, there's still time for that to happen. But it would be really beneficial to the Red Sox' fortunes if it happened sooner than later.

For now, the Sox will have to rely on their veterans, as they should. But for that to happen, guys like team-leader Dustin Pedroia will have to give them more than his .277/.349/.399 slash line, along with his 2 homers and 13 RBI.

That isn't cutting it. And we all know he's better than that.

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