After enduring a season with the worst-hitting outfield in baseball, the Red Sox have an embarrassment of riches: Hanley Ramirez, Rusney Castillo, Mookie Betts, Shane Victorino, Allen Craig, Daniel Nava, and Jackie Bradley Jr. All seven are bonafide starting Major Leaguers, but only two are guaranteed left-hand hitters: Nava and Bradley. Victorino has resumed hitting from the left side, but his jury is still out.
Given that Bradley has not proven he can hit Major League pitching, Daniel Nava has virtue as a back-up outfielder. Nava has shown some of the flair he wielded at the plate in 2013, and he is stronger from the left side of the plate. The fickle hand of fate points to Nava.
Allen Craig and Shane Victorino pose the most delicate of dilemmas. What to do with two once-been All-Stars who can not keep their bodies intact for half a season at a time? “Clutch” comes to mind when we think of both of these journeymen. Late innings and the fireballing reliever comes in to polish off the bottom of the line-up: who do you call? Craig from right and Victorino from the left. They manufacture hits against the worst odds and revive the sagging hopes of Red Sox fans. Would Nava or Bradley rise to that occasion? Doubt it.
Ultimately one of these players will be expendable because another team wants them, a team with an extra third or fourth slot starting pitcher. Package a minor league pitcher with one outfielder and you could have another arm in the rotation, someone to pick up if Joe Kelly or Clay Bucholz go down with arm problems. This is an unkind fate for a veteran like Craig or Victorino, but fate favors the young in baseball.
Fate also favors the left-hand bat, because the Red Sox are set from the right side. The projected starting line-up has two from the left side–Ortiz and Sandoval. Not enough to face the likes of Masahiro Tanaka and Corey Kluber. This favors Nava, Bradley, and Victorino as the reserve outfielder. One of these is guaranteed a spot on the Beantown squad.
In the next two weeks fate will gather up two of these brilliant candidates and toss them into oblivion or even a starting role on another stage. The Red Sox have seen this coming. Maybe their best move is yet to happen.
The Red Sox pitching staff generally looks deep and ready, but the hitting looks sick, especially in the outfield. A lot of undercutting and lazy fly balls, with the exception of Jackie Bradley who is not even making contact. Probably an issue of timing, because the hitters with the long swings are struggling, like David Ortiz, Johnny Gomes and Mike Napoli. Daniel Nava is not having the spring he did last year, either.
From a fans’ view it seems like Dave Middlebrooks has learned something that all the big swingers could study–hit where it’s pitched and let the ball travel to the opposite field when necessary. You see the same measured swings from Grady Sizemore and A J Pierczinski, just trying to put the ball in play. If you can get two-thirds of your line-up swinging this way, you have an offense. Even David Ortiz has shown he can take the ball to right, befuddling the over-shift. So why can’t the whole line-up take this approach, as they work on their timing?
I’ve always thought the Yankees were better at moving base-runners a base or two at a time. Since the big boppers like Alex Rodriguez and Mark Texeira have been sidelined, their offense has produced by consistency, more than power. But they had big run-scoring innings even with this incremental offense. They show patience at the plate with their swings, as well as their takes. This year they have stocked up with Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann and with Texiera returning, but I doubt you will see the over-swinging that some teams depend on to score runs.
Mike Napoli is the only Red Sox player who relies on the big swing to create offense. He is going to strike out a lot and hit his share of homers. He may try to strike out less this year, but he will undoubtedly lead the team in K’s and homers at the same time. What you see is what you get with Napoli.
But the rest of the line-up, especially David Ortiz, are adaptable to what they are thrown. They are professional hitters, and it’s what made them World Champions. Maybe we will see more of that when the season begins. But it will be sad if they continue to flail and pop out or strike out, when they could be producing like a team. It would be exciting to see Sizemore and Pedroia on base and Ortiz driving them in with an opposite field hit. The home runs can come later.
The Red Sox pitching is poised to have a spring of quality outings. It would great if the hitting would support them, even with three or four hard-earned runs.
It has come to pass that the Red Sox need to fret about hitting more than pitching. The sidelining of Cliff Bucholz is worrisome, but it is also clear that John Farrell understands his fragility and intends to keep him healthy with rest. The bullpen has been a little unpredictable, but it is still deep in both left and right-handers.
The big worry is the bottom of the batting order, which is a rally-killer. There should be no day that Stephen Drew, Will Middlebrooks and Dave Ross, the .200 club, are in the line-up together. They each have something to offer the team, but, as a unit, they are they are a yawning burial ground where rallies go to die. As a group they prefer the strikeout, rather than putting the ball in play.
I make the case for Jose Iglesias as an every-day player, because he puts the ball in play and more frequently makes hits out of mere contact. No one disputes his defensive prowess, and I have argued he makes the rest of the infield better. To consider him now as an offensive player requires an altered appreciation for his talent.
It is also inspiring to see Jonny Gomes making better contact on the recent road trip. Everyone wants him to succeed, and he clearly has talent and a good eye at the plate. However, any day when Daniel Nava sits, the Sox are a weaker team. Nava, along with Pedroia and Ortiz, is one player I like to see with men on base. He also brings a decent glove to the outfield. Having four decent outfielders is a problem I like to have, especially when you have two suicidal performers like Victorino and Ellsbury crashing into fences and throwing themselves around the bases. But, please, let Nava play with as little rest as he needs.
Admittedly it is a delight to talk about the Red Sox as though they were pennant contenders, urging line-up fixes, instead of trades and siphoning reinforcements from Pawtucket. When you are talking about securing the lower third of the line-up, you are talking about competing with the best teams in the league, like Baltimore and Texas.
To say there is a grave pit at the bottom of the line-up, is to say we have a problem we can fix. So, please, don’t let the .200 club populate the lower third. Iglesias forever and Ross on the weekends!