I’m through second-guessing John Farrell. The man has “gut” intimations that defy numbers or logic, and they mostly have worked magic in the 2013 World Series.
Choose the players with the lowest averages on the Red Sox and place them in critical roles, and you have Farrell’s formula for success. Bat Jonny Gomes against right-handed pitchers, and he makes the difference in Game Four with a three-run homer. Start the defensive-back-up catcher, David Ross, in three out of five games, and the dude bats in the winning run in Game Five. Start the woeful Steven Drew at shortstop and watch him plug up the infield and execute miraculous double-plays. Start the youthful rookie Xander Bogarts at third and watch him work pitchers for walks and take pitches to right field, when they venture into the strike zone.
Meanwhile you bench players with proven talent during the regular season: Mike Napoli, Jarrod Saltalamachia, and Daniel Nava. They have all started a couple of games, and they produced long at-bats and extra-base hits, when they did. (Except for Saltalamachia, who has slumped in the post-season). But they had to wait their turn, while the .220 hitters led the way.
Farrell deserves credit for his management of the middle innings pitchers as well. The starters and closers are no-brain decisions, but who to bring in for the fourth, fifth and sixth innings? So far Brandon Workman and Felix Dubront have proved nearly invincible in those roles. Probably they are logical choices for middle innings, but give him credit for seeing the vulnerability of Morales and Dempster and removing them from critical positions in the bullpen.
Bringing young talent like Bogarts and Workman along has been a specialty of the Farrell administration. Previous managers would never trust Pawtucket recruits in roles like this, but Farrell and his staff have hand-picked these rookies and turned them into Major Leaguers in a few short months. It shows not just an eye for talent, but for courage and maturity as well. For every Bogarts and Workman, there were several that did not make the cut this year.
So second-guessing is out of season for October. The World Series is not finished, but the record after five games is superb. Whatever hunches Farrell has left to play will be my hunches, too.
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!