Holt has been the Red Sox’ unsung hero in 2014
Until recently, one of the major issues facing the Red Sox’ lineup was getting production out of the leadoff spot following Jacoby Ellsbury’s defection to the Bronx. Several players have been thrown into the mix throughout the course of the 2104 season, including Daniel Nava, Grady Sizemore, and Dustin Pedroia. None of those players provided much of a spark at the top of the order, and it was becoming clear that an upgrade was necessary if the offense hoped to gain any kind of potency for the rest of the season. Enter injury replacement call-up Brock Holt. Holt has been one of the hottest hitters in the game since he was called back to Boston on April 18th, and he deserves a permanent spot on the Red Sox roster.
Holt has so far provided a spark that the top of the Red Sox lineup had been lacking before his placement there. He has only been hitting out of the leadoff spot for about a week, but Holt has put up a very respectable .305/.352/.427 triple-slash, with a couple stolen bases mixed in. The Red Sox feature several hitters that have good on-base ability and can set the table for the rest of the lineup, but so far none of them have been able to consistently do it from atop the lineup as Holt has done this season. Holt has been the prototypical leadoff type of hitter this season: one that hits for a high average, can get on base, and is athletic enough to at least put pressure on the defense from the basepaths. The Red Sox need to make every effort to keep Holt atop the lineup as much as possible.
After the Red Sox lost ten games in a row, a winning streak was in order right? Well tonight the Sox have a chance to sweep a home and home interleague series with the Atlanta Braves. Losing ten games in a row has to deflate a team and the Sunday afternoon happenings in Tampa Bay seemed to be an example. The benches cleared after Yunel Escobar stole third base up 5 runs in the 7th inning. Escobar began yelling into the Red Sox dugout, even taking off his helmet and walking towards the dugout. Jonny Gomes came in from left field and shoved Escobar, both were ejected. The Red Sox needed something to take their losing streak out on; maybe Escobar stealing third sparked the team.
Clay Buchholz might be missing an extended period of time.
Monday’s afternoon game in Atlanta, Clay Buchholz had no command of the strike zone. He walked 8 in just 3 innings of work and rumors began to swirl that he was injured during the game. Manager John Farrell even went as far to say that Buchholz lost seven pounds during the start. Yesterday afternoon Buchholz was played on the disabled list with a hyperextended knee. If Red Sox fans know Buchholz expect him to miss more than 15 days, as every June Buchholz seems to spend an extended time on the disabled list. The team might do better without him as he has a 7.02 ERA. The offense came back from a five run deficit, behind David Ortiz’s 4 RBI and went onto win the game 8-6.
Tuesday’s game was something Jon Lester did not enjoy on the mound, but ended up coming out on top. Lester was seen barking at the home plate umpire on multiple occasions yet not getting tossed or even reprimanded. Lester, who has had many problems with home plate umpires strike zones, fought through a strike zone to which he thought he was getting squeezed and the Sox prevailed yet again 6-3. Jackie Bradley Jr. had a huge two run single in the top of the 7th that put the Sox up by 3. Bradley had been really struggling at the plate as of late, so him contributing in a big spot will do wonders for his confidence.
Manny Ramirez emerged again from the Green Monster prior to last night’s game.
Before last night’s game the Sox welcomed back the 2004 World Series team for a 10 year reunion and all the familiar faces were there. Pedro, Varitek, Wakefield, Damon, even Manny Ramirez made the return to Fenway. The current day team won yet again behind great pitching from John Lackey who went 6 and 1/3 shutout innings striking out 9. Young players Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley lead the offense with 3 and 2 hits respectively. Bogaerts has really come on offensively of late and is now batting in the two hole ahead of Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. The Sox need those three to carry the lineup Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli are out.
Last night was the first time the Sox won three in a row all year. They were the last team to accomplish that feat. They jumped over the Rays into fourth place in the division but they still have a lot of work to do. Losing ten games in a row puts you in a real rut. They are still 6 games under .500 which seems like they just do not want to go over this year. The Blue Jays lead the division and are ten games over .500, 8 games up on the Sox. If the Sox want to really catch up quickly they will need to avenge last weekend’s sweep in Tampa and return the favor at Fenway starting tomorrow night. Three in a row is nice, but this team still has a long way to go.
The Red Sox are not playing good baseball right now. There is no other way to put it. Yesterday put an exclamation point on a team that has now lost 7 games in a row and was just swept in two series at home. The Sox were down 2-0 just 10 pitches into the game after left gave up back to back solo homeruns to Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista. The Sox got one back in the bottom of the first, but then Lester gave up 5 more runs in the top of the second. The first two innings for Sox starters this season have been a real problem. The offense is left coming back from 4 and 5 run deficits early in the game.
Jon Lester surrendered seven runs in yesterday’s start against the Blue Jays.
The lineup has been somewhat in a state of flux all season. Shane Victorino missed much of the first month leaving the Sox trying to get creative at the top of the order besides Dustin Pedroia. Will Middlebrooks has been in and out of the lineup with already two DL trips under his belt. This year was supposed to be Middlebrooks make or break season, his third in the big leagues, and so far he has struggled. The Sox even brought back Stephen Drew which Brendan posted about this afternoon. Yesterday’s lineup had A.J. Pierzynski hitting fifth. Pierzynski would not hit fifth on the Minnesota Twins, why is he hitting fifth on the Boston Red Sox? It is obvious the Sox need another bat in this lineup.
The loss of Jacoby Ellsbury has been huge for the Sox yet no one is talking about it. The money he got was crazy but they could have done better to find an ample replacement especially a replacement in the leadoff spot. Center field has not been the best position for the Sox this season. Jackie Bradley Jr., is hovering around the Mendoza line hitting just .201. Grady Sizemore, who had not played a game in over two years, was brought in and has been all over the place in the lineup and on the field maybe he just cannot find his role. The Sox are sticking with Bradley believing he will play out of his funk at the plate but he is leaving runners on base seemingly in every at bat. His defense has been stellar but is that enough?
Xander Bogaerts needs to start hitting towards to the top of the lineup. He has been the Sox hottest hitter, hitting sixth and seventh in the lineup. It is understandable that Farrell wants to lengthen the lineup but why is he not hitting second? Last season Pedroia hit third for much of the year with Ortiz and Napoli behind him. Would a lineup starting with Victorino, Bogaerts, Pedroia, Ortiz, and Napoli solve the offense’s problem with scoring runs? Well it is worth a shot.
John Lackey looks to stop the losing steak tonight against Tampa Bay.
The panic button has not been pressed yet but this weekend series with Tampa Bay could push it over the edge. Tampa Bay has struggled all season with pitching problems. The Sox are only one game ahead of the Rays in the AL East and a Sox loss would pull them even for last place. John Lackey will be on the mound tonight trying to stop the losing streak opposite Chris Archer. If the Sox have a good weekend in Tampa they should start to climb up the standings as no one has stepped out in the division, but a bad weekend and they will likely continue to trend downward.
2014 has not been kind to Middlebrooks at the plate
It is widely agreed upon between fans and analysts alike that for the Red Sox to start producing runs on a consistent basis, the entire lineup is going to have to gel into a complete unit. This has not come close to happening to this point in 2014, and much of the offensive struggles can be attributed to the young guns at the bottom of the lineup. In particular, Will Middlebrooks, Jackie Bradley Jr., and even Xander Bogaerts -to some extent- are not living up to expectations, and have vastly underperformed the reasonable standards the team has for them. That trio alone went a combined 0-for-7 in last night’s loss to the Tigers, and at times has looked completely lost at the plate.
Ever since that fateful day back in 2012, Will Middlebrooks has been a complete enigma to the Red Sox. From DL trips to demotions to go-ahead hits, every day Middlebrooks seems to be a different player. Recently however, he has been almost an automatic out at the plate, despite a strong start to the season and an improved approach at the plate that had many feeling optimistic about a bounce-back year. Middlebrooks’s numbers are down across the board, whether its his .197/.305/.324 triple-slash (.248/.296/.448 career), his 28% strikeout rate (25.7% career), or his .127 Isolated Power (.200 career). The most concerning aspect of this whole mess though is the power numbers (or lack thereof).
Middlebrooks was supposed to be one of the few bats in the Red Sox’ lineup with legitimate power, who could produce runs even if the hits were not coming in bunches. The hits have not come for Middlebrooks so far, but unfortunately neither has the power, which at this point the Red Sox lineup is sorely lacking. There is hope for Will in the sense that his Batting Average on Balls In Play currently resides at just .261, so progression to the mean and some better luck should bring about overall improvement. Despite the spike in his On-Base Percentage, Middlebrooks has been a far worse hitter than even his career averages, and it is seriously eating at the Red Sox’ lineup depth.
Middlebrooks has been a force at the bottom of the lineup
One of the most significant contributors to Will Middlebrooks’ lost 2013 season was his plate approach. The Red Sox pride themselves on being disciplined hitters who take pitches and put up a professional at bat, even when they are not getting results at the plate. Part of the reason Will was sent to AAA Pawtucket was his reluctance to take a few pitches and see the ball well. His minor league stint seemed to help for the rest of the season, and the improved approach has carried over with very promising results so far in the 2014 season. If Middlebrooks can continue his solid approach at the plate through the majority of the regular season, he significantly lengthen the Red Sox’ lineup and make them a terror to face for opposing pitchers.
Power hitters like Middlebrooks tend to swing a lot (and miss a lot), which tends to lead to high strikeout rates. This was a problem last season because Middlebrooks kept hacking and hacking and hacking while barely slowing down to take a few pitches. His strikeout rate in 2013 (26.2%) was just about in line with his career rate (25.4%), and even this season his strikeout rate (25%) is just about unchanged. Middlebrooks is the type of hitter who will swing and miss a good deal, but the Red Sox will usually be happy taking the whiffs as long as the power production remains (.210 career ISO, .250 so far this season). The Red Sox lineup is deep and disciplined, but it is a bit short on legitimate power, which is a strength of Middlebrooks’s game and a valuable asset to the Red Sox lineup.
Teams in large markets (like Boston) tend to feature at least several players who can swing the bat, and don’t always place a high premium on run prevention. Despite their impressive stable of young pitching, the Red Sox will never be confused for a pitching-and-defense type of team. However, run prevention played just as much a role in the Red Sox’ 2013 World Series run as their league-leading offense. The Red Sox are strongest in the infield, where they feature multiple players who can seriously flash the leather.
If there is any weakness in the Red Sox infield defense, it is at the corners. While the eye test generally yields positive reviews (last year’s controversial World Series ending notwithstanding), Will Middlebrooks does not feature impressive defensive numbers over his career at third base: -11 Defensive Runs Saved, -3.1 Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games played. Middlebrooks takes pride in his defense and puts in a lot of work to make himself better, so an optimistic evaluator could see him improve to at least a statistically average third baseman this season. The same could not really be said for Mike Napoli. Despite a reputation as a defensive liability, Napoli was great under the guidance of third base coach and infield instructor Brian Butterfield with the Red Sox in 2013. Napoli (and his beard) earned very impressive 10 DRS and 13.3 UZR/150 for his work at first base. Napoli has turned himself into at the very least a good defensive first baseman, and probably should have gotten more serious Gold Glove consideration.