MLB Handicapping: Red Sox Struggles
by Trevor Whenham - 7/28/2009
The Boston Red Sox probably would rather pretend that July just never happened. At the start of the month they had the second best record in the majors, and they were 2.5 games up on the Yankees. By July 27 things had turned around - they were 2.5 games behind the Yankees, and they were falling like a rock. It hasn't been pretty. The question of interest for bettors is whether these problems are just a blip in the road, or if they are a sign of bigger problems. This is important to know every time a team hits hard times, but especially in a case like this where the team is so public that the value in the money lines is minimal and the margin for error is very slim. Here's a look:
Hitting - There is little question that the biggest single contributing factor to this slide for the Red Sox has been their hitting. They finally had a big game at the plate on Monday against the A's, but it had been a long time coming. Before that, they had hit a combined .226 in the month of July. That's pitiful - so bad in fact that it's the worst in the entire league.
It's not like there have been many bright spots amidst the gloom, either. Though they had 14 hits on Monday, this was the first year since 1993 that the team had played 20 games in July without once having a dozen or more hits. David Ortiz has had well-documented issues throughout the season at the plate, but he's not the only one who is having troubles. He's still not hitting for average in July, but he leads the team in RBI and home runs in the month. Dustin Pedroia is the only player who has consistently been solid. Every other regular has been truly brutal.
J.D. Drew has hit just .145 in 18 games. Jason Bay was looking like a perfect replacement for Manny until now, but his .190 average isn't very Ramirez-like. Jacoby Ellsbury is the second best starter this month, and he's only at .250. This team quite simply can't win until they rediscover their hitting mojo. Fortunately, we know that sooner or later a lineup this talented is going to get its act together. In June the team had six regular players who hit .292 or better.
Rotation - Coming into the season the Sox had perhaps the best rotation in the league on paper. It hasn't quite worked out that way. Josh Beckett, at 12-4 with a 3.44 ERA and a better than 3-to-1 k/BB ratio, is pitching like a true ace. Beyond that, though, things have been a little rocky. Tim Wakefield has been a pleasant surprise and he earned his first all-star bid, but his ancient body couldn't hold up and he has hit the disabled list. Jon Lester has been solid recently, but he struggled badly with consistency early on. Brad Penny has a winning record, but he gives up too many runs - especially for a team hitting like this one. Dice-K has had a total write-off of a season, and can't be relied upon for the rest of the year. John Smoltz has struggled badly since joining the team, and it's far from a certainty that he will find his form again. There are certainly teams with worse rotations, and the Sox have the benefit of having Clay Buchholz waiting in the wings, but this is not yet a World Series-winning rotation.
Road record - I am a firm believer that a team can't be called great until it can win on the road. By that measure this isn't a great team. They are just 24-25 away from Fenway this year. By contrast, the Yankees are 26-21 away from home. The team is just 1-5 on the road this month. This quite simply must get better if this team wants to be a real threat. This isn't a new problem for the team - it was 39-42 on the road last year.
Player movement - It's hard for a team to focus on what a team needs to focus on when they are surrounded by uncertainty. Between the problems with injuries and the rotation, the trades that have been made to add several new players to team already, and the rumors of further deals the players can't be certain if they will still be on the team and who will be there with them. It's not just tweaking that could be on the horizon, either - ownership came out this week and said that they are in the market to make a blockbuster deal. They could use one, but that won't make it any easier for players to concentrate. Time will solve this problem, but it is certainly a key issue now.
The Yankees - A big part of the issue the team faces right now is one that is totally beyond their control - their hated rival is red hot. The Yankees have gone 16-6 in July, and 9-1 in the last 10. Boston hasn't been great in July, but they were likely going to lose ground to the Yankees this month no matter what given how well New York has played. A team has very little control over how another team plays, but there is at least a little reason for hope for Boston. They play the Yankees seven times in August and 10 times before the season ends. The Red Sox have totally dominated the Yankees this year, beating them all eight times they have met, so they may be able to slow New York down and close the gap significantly in these head-to-head battles.
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