As the All Star Break ends, we will take this time to look back on the 2014 season so far ( oh, c'mon take your hands away from your eyes) and look forward to the remaining 41% of the campaign. Yes, 41%, even though the All Star Break is often referred to as the halfway mark of any baseball calendar, this year's Boston team has all ready played 95 games, leaving only 67.
First as we look back, lets identify what has gone wrong in 2014. ( Yes, I know that I could shorten the post by just typing "everything" and stopping right there.) Here are the five things I think have most adversely affected the '14 Sox.
1. Shane Victorino's injuries and absence from the lineup.
Some other observer's might actually entitle this as missing Jacoby Ellsbury at the top of the order. I felt that Victorino was the best chance the Sox had to internally fill in for the Yankee #3 hitter. But due to a series of hamstring and back woes, Shane has appeared in only 21 games. Even though the Sox by late May found their leadoff man, (Hello, Brock Holt), Shane would have lengthened the lineup, and along with Jackie Bradley,Jr. would have created the best defensive outfield in baseball. A quick return to the lineup (and the ability to stay in it for the rest of 2014) is one thing needed for this Sox team to make any miracle run in '14.
2. Dustin Pedroia's offensive "decline"
It is very likely Pedey played all of 2013 injured after hurting his thumb on a headfirst slide in first on Opening Day. And since Pedroia underwent another hand MRI in April of this year, he may be playing hurt again. But the numbers clearly show Dustin is in a 4-5 year decline in his power numbers.
2014 4 (YTD)
2010 .493 ( 75 games injury shortened year)
2014 .381 (YTD)
In the first five years of Pedey's career his OPS exceeded .800 each year, since 2012 his annual OPS is .797, .787, and so far in '14 .729.
Pedroia has seven years to go on his contract. Will he play out the deal as a great defensive second sacker, who can only slap singles and doubles? At this point, Pedroia should not be hitting third, in a better lineup he maybe should be down around seventh.
3. Clay Buchholz's "malaise".
After missing the last 60% or so of 2013 and barely helping out any in the championship postseason, Clay was handled with kid gloves this spring by the Sox. And he flopped. He pitched in the rotation from Opening Day to Memorial Day, and after a May 26 start vs. Atlanta, in which he lasted three innings, Buch's ERA was 7.02 ( and all of his other numbers were just as bad). At that point the Red Sox came up with some leg injury for Buch and put him on the DL. After his return Clay had strung together a few good starts. In the final game before the break in Houston, Clay looked like the Buch of early 2013 ( when he was 9-0 with an ERA of 1.71 through June 8) by spinning a complete game three hit shutout , with 12 strikeouts with no base on balls. This will be the Buchholz needed from here on out. ( Yeah, I know it was only Houston, but still, it's a start).
4. AJ Pierzynski's failure to hit enough to overcome his poisonous clubhouse presence.
Look, everyone knew going in, AJ was not a cuddly character. But he had hit (although he drew walks at a next to none pace) throughout his long big league stint. These were his numbers for the previous two seasons.
2013 Texas 17 HR 70 RBI .272 BA .297 OBP .722 OPS
2012 Chi WS 27 HR 77 RBI .278 BA .326 0BP .827 OPS
But for Boston in 72 games his line was 4-31-.254-.286-.633
There was nothing wrong with gambling AJP could give you one more year like the previous, but the Sox lost the gamble, plus it was time to see what Christian Vazquez can do behind the dish in the big leagues. This could be a classic case of addition by subtraction.
5. Failures by the "young vets".
Specifically I am thinking of Felix Doubront, Will Middlebrooks, and Daniel Nava (not so young in age, but in big league experience). Nava was hitting so far under the Mendoza Line in April, that he was unexpectedly sent to AAA. If the Grady Sizemore experiment had taken root, Nava might still be in Rhode Island. Nava has hit better of late, since returning, and hopefully will help coming down the stretch ( if he can find playing time in the crowded outfield). In 2013 from May into August, Doubie had finally seemed to put it together with sixteen straight quality starts. But 2014 brought more of his inconsistency and in ten starts his record is 2-4 with an ERA of 5.17. He now resides in the bullpen( or the doghouse) and has lost his rotation spot to Rubby De la Rosa, Brandon Workman, or some other young pitcher to arrive later. For the third year in a row, Will Middlebrooks has had his campaign derailed by injury. The tantalizing right handed power still seems to be there, but you cannot hit the long ball if you cannot stay in the lineup. In 2014, Will has played only 21 games (same number as Victorino) and in 82 PA he has a line of 2-9-.197-.305( and one of those homers came in the home opener). With a flood of young infielders arriving in (or knocking on the door to) Boston, Will's Boston tenure is teetering on the edge.
Now onto a look to the immediate future and five things to watch for in the remainder of 2014. If all five of these factors succeed to their maximum, the Sox may just have one last kick in them to try to climb into the playoff picture.
1. The best starting rotation in the AL East ( with only the Tigers and maybe the A's better in the whole AL).
The Red Sox all ready hold this distinction based on the first 95 games. Here is what they need to be even better ( and perhaps carry the offense if needed).
* Jon Lester to match his All Star beginning to 2014.
*Clay Buchholz to pitch similarly to his start of 2013.
* John Lackey to continue to perform like he has in '13 and '14 since his TJ surgery.
* Rubby De La Rosa to continue to develop and have sometimes dominating starts(as he has)
*Brandon Workman and/or Anthony Ranaudo and Allen Webster to grab the fifth spot after Jake Peavy is traded this month.
2. Continued progression of the kids.
And this includes the pitchers mentioned above. First and foremost, find a way to get Xander Bogaerts back to his hitting ways of April and May (not to mention last October). Let Jackie Bradley, Jr. play every day in center field, and watch his bating average rise as it has since June. Plenty of playing time is needed for Christian Vazquez (as well as plenty of "classroom" with David Ross and the veteran pitchers). Lots of outfield repetitions for Mookie Betts, along with playing time (if not in Boston, then back to AAA). Somehow figure out a way to get some big league time for Will Middlebrooks and Bryce Brentz, if either power hitter can get healthy enough.
3. David Ortiz' pursuit of 500 career home runs.
No not this season, but the second half of 2014 may determine how easily Big Papi can reach the still magic mark. Ortiz with twenty bombs before the break sits at 451(one behind Yaz). He will be 39 in November. His pace for 2014 would place him at 34, or 465 total. In other words if he hits 34 this year, his 2015 year would have to be the same ( he would need 35.) If Big Papi could hit another 20 this year, putting him at 471, he would have a more reasonable chance to get 500 in 2015. Of course, there is always 2016.
4. The alignment of the infield/outfield.
I listed the position of infield/outfield as one because so many players are being used in both. The only set spots are first(Mike Napoli), second (Pedroia), and probably CF (JBJ). When (if??) Shane Victorino returns, that may leave only left, short, and third in flux. The nominees for those spots are Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Brock Holt ( who sure as hell plays somewhere), Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, Nava, and Will Middlebrooks ( not to mention Garin Cecchini, Bryce Brentz, Alex Hassan, Deven Marrero, et al). This will be fascinating and may be intertwined with #5.
5. The trade deadline.
With two weeks from today to go, the Sox status as sellers/buyers (both??) is unclear. A few vets are likely to be moved just to make room for the gluts referenced above. This includes Jake Peavy( a lock to go), Johnny Gomes, and maybe (hopefully) Stephen Drew. If the Sox collapse further in the next two weeks, all bets are off and damned near anyone could go. RSM will have much more on the deadline in a upcoming post very soon.
To wrap up let's take a look at the remaining schedule. The Sox are 43-52, 9 1/2 games out in the AL East. The Sox are also 8 games out of the second wild card spot, but they are behind every team in the AL except Houston and Texas in that wild card hunt. Here is a list of games left with each team.
Toronto 13 (6 H, 7 A)
Tampa Bay 10 (3/7)
New York 9 (6/3)
Kansas City 7 (3/4)
LAA 7 (4/3)
Baltimore 6 (3/3)
Houston 4 (4/0)
Seattle 3 (3/0)
St. Louis 3 (0/3)
Pittsburgh 3 (0/3)
Cincy 2 (0/2)
A few quick thoughts:
* Only six left with the currently first place Orioles, could make it hard to catch them with a lack of head to head meetings.
* All eight remaining inter league games are on the road.
* A 32 home/35 away split
* 38 of the last 67 are versus the AL East, 13 of these coming up after opening the post break at Fenway against KC. And then besides six with KC and the Pirates, the rest of September is all AL East games.
52 of the last 67 are against the AL East, KC, and the Angels, all teams the Sox would need to pass for a post season spot.
Red Sox Nation certainly did not enjoy the pre- All Star Break portion ( damn, "the first half" sure rolls of the keyboard much easier) of 2014. But with a little luck, one way or another (a revival and pennant push, or instead watching the kids and an early start to 2015) the remainder of the World Championship defense campaign should bring some interesting scenarios to the Hub.