When the Red Sox go on the road, the broadcasters and fans want to know what happened to the 2013 World Champions. Worst to first to worst again? How could it be?
The old saw about strength up the middle seems to apply. With the departure of Jacoby Ellsbury and Jared Saltalamacchia and the decline of Xander Bogaerts and, till August, of Dustin Pedroia, the Red Sox had a gaping alley where All-Stars used to be.
Everyone talks about the weak hitting outfield, but the Sox did not have a heavy hitting outfield in 2013. Well, Daniel Nava and Shane Victorino finished strong, but Victorino was hurt much of the year and Nava came in under the radar with a strong finish. Ellsbury was really their most consistent hitter and lit up the basepaths, when the hits were fewer and far between. Then Ellsbury and the Red Sox went south.
But think if Pedroia and Bogaerts were hitting as they did in 2013 and if A.J.Pierczinski delivered on his offensive reputation as a catcher. How different that batting order would be. While Jackie Bradley, Jr. has won admirers with his spectacular play in center field, his hitting has been demoralizing. At this point he really can not have all the confidence he claims to have at the plate or we might consider him dissociated. He probably needs what we euphemistically call “seasoning” at Pawtucket.
The Red Sox have made the right moves to repave the pot-holed alley from catcher to center field. They trusted their young talent by returning Bogaerts to shortstop, bringing up Christian Vasquez at catcher, and auditioning a series of players in center field. Bradley Jr. may still be the center fielder of the future, but for the immediate future, they have Brock Holt and Mookie Betts, two infielders who showed amazing versatility in the outfield.
Once you are committed to re-building you can bring up all the ripening talent you can find and see what combination works up the middle. Bogaerts has been making big plays at shortstop and Vasquez has been praised for his work behind the plate. Except for third base, the infield is tightening. And Pedroia is now hitting, proving that going out and working hard everyday has to pay off eventually.
The immediate impact of the Fire Sale of 2104 has brought a solid pitcher (Joe Kelly) and a power outfielder (Yoenis Cespedes) to the Red Sox. Tuesday night they showed what a good investment they will be, as they led the visitors to a 3-2 win over Cincinnati.
But the secondary reinforcements on the Red Sox, the strength up the middle, will be the foundation for the future. Already we see the infield healing its wounds, and center field has candidates to finish the season. This could be the biggest change in the team once headed for worst in 2014.
The latest insult to Pedro Ciriaco is the signing of the fragile Stephen Drew. One Drew drawing disability on the Red Sox payroll was not enough, they had to hire his brother. Yes, J.D. Drew is now only a memory, but how soon we forget! The reputation of the Drews is that they are talented hitters and fielders when they are healthy, but how fragile that health!
I have campaigned for the elevation of Pedro Ciriaco, since his dazzling performance at Spring Training, 2012. He was a terror on the basepaths, a skilled bunter, and a clutch hitter, traits in short supply on the current Red Sox roster. Only Ellsbury can wreak as much havoc on base, and Ellsbury cannot bunt with consistency. So there is much to like in this hustling infielder.
So his numbers tailed off in September. Who on the Red Sox was playing well in September? If there is a curse lingering on the Red Sox, it is sordid September, the month of disappointments. Lift this curse and everyone will be playing better.
If there is a hesitation about Ciriaco, it is his work in the field. The Red Sox have a perfect late-inning replacement with Jose Iglesias, who needs some seasoning as a hitter. Both players could feed on each other’s strengths if they played together. Why the Red Sox will not trust Ciriaco as a starting position player mystifies me.
If the Sox let Ciriaco go, they will live to regret it. He will come back to torment their catchers stealing bases and bedevil their third baseman with his bunts. Give this young man a job! He is an offensive weapon that is scarce on this team. Let him play!