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The United States has been knocked out of the World Cup. Finally, we can breathe.
It’s been a wild ride for Team USA over the past three weeks. They’ve captured the hearts of millions of Americans around the world, and set record viewing numbers in the process.
Despite one of the greatest individual performances in World Cup history by Tim Howard, the run has come to an end. While some will keep an eye on the rest of the World Cup, the majority of Americans switch the shift over to our favorite pastime, baseball.
It’s been a while since we’ve checked in on the Sox, but you can bet from here on out there will be a lot of attention paid to this team. While we’ve been caught up in the soccer, NBA finals and free agency, golf majors, etc. you may have missed the slide the Sox have been on over the past month. After concluding a seven-game win streak on June 1, Boston has gone from just two games below .500 to now eight games, leaving them in 4th place in the division, 7.5 games behind leader Toronto.
While we are still 11 games removed from the halfway point of the season, serious questions loom whether the team can remedy the issues that have arose up until this point, especially on offense. Last year’s championship run was fueled by the most powerful offense in baseball, coupled with solid pitching both from starters and the bullpen. This season up until this point has been the complete opposite, as Boston ranks in the bottom 15% in baseball in total runs, batting average, and slugging percentage.
A myriad of injuries has certainly contributed to the lack of firepower, leading to the call-ups of many young prospects earlier than GM Ben Cherington probably would have predicted. However, question marks on offense at the beginning of the season seem to be rearing their ugly head as well, further compounding the issue.
Stephen Drew was brought back to the team to fill a void on defense left by an injured Will Middlebrooks. By holding out during the offseason and spring training, trying to ride the momentum of a World Series victory to land a bigger contract, Drew missed a great deal of time he could have spent training with the Sox and improving on his work at the plate. While known much more for his defense than his offense, he’s never really been considered a liability. Now, amongst a 3-for-42 slump, fans look at Drew like Smalls from the Sandlot when he first stepped up to the plate. It’s impossible to tell, but the argument could certainly be made that his lack of time training before the season is contributing.
Dustin Pedroia, the team’s leader both on the field and in the clubhouse, has always been known as the guys Boston can count on to put up solid numbers regardless of the team’s record. He’s hitting .277 on the season, ranking him second overall on the team, yet it puts him on pace to finish with lowest batting average of his career. Just to put in perspective the trouble we’ve had so far.
Earlier in the year we were excited about the prospects of young talent emerging in the starting lineup for Boston, specifically Jackie Bradey Jr., Xander Boegarts, and Brock Holt.
Boegarts is hitting .245 on the season, not exactly living up to high expectations, yet not underwhelming. He’s been a key defensively on the infield, especially with Middlebrooks’ injury.
Bradley has been nothing short of a dud at the plate. His defensive presences makes it difficult to take him out of the lineup, but at .208 on the year, manager John Farrell is very much looking for him to either emerge offensively, or find a replacement.
The surprise has been Brock Holt, who has solidified himself at the leadoff position. His .317 average ranks atop the team by far, and he ranks 2nd with a .363 on-base percentage. While he shows very little sign of power (2 HR in 205 Abs), he does what leadoff hitters do, he gets on base.
Yet a guy that flew below our radar was a kid named Mookie Betts, a 21-year-old 5th round draft pick straight from high school in 2011. The Tennessee native has been tearing up the minors this season to the tune of .345/.437/.520 split between Double-A and Triple-A. Earlier in the season we outlined potential prospects that could have an impact on the team in 2014. His name wasn’t even mentioned. Why? Because he wasn’t even invited to big league camp this past spring.
Desperate for a spark in the lineup, manager John Farrell called him up to the big leagues for his debut on nationally televised Sunday Night Baseball against heated rival New York in Yankee Stadium. No pressure, right?
It’s tough to imagine someone in his position would have a Daniel Nava-like performance, but 1-for-3 with a walk isn’t too bad given the circumstances. Regardless of the situation, the idea of him being thrown into the lineup has raised discussion.
The approach of the Red Sox over the past decade or more has been power hitting. Guys like Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz back in the early goings of this Red Sox dynasty, and more recently with guys like Adrian Gonzalez and Mike Napoli. But now it seems that strategy isn’t working anymore, and a change is needed. It’s possible that Betts is a key player in that change.
We talked about Brock Holt and the types of numbers he is producing. If Betts’ can carry over his success from the minors, he could very well see himself as the #2 hitter soon behind Holt. As I heard ESPN’s Buster Olney pointing out, catching prospect Christian Vazquez could find himself up in the big leagues in the next month if AJ Pierzynski doesn’t rebound from his slump. The 37-year-old hit .173 with a .200 OBP in the month of June and hasn’t homered since May 24.
The 23-year-old Vazquez, hitting .276 with an OBP of .332 with Triple-A Pawtucket this season, told WEEI he feels he is big league ready and is just waiting for the call.
Not to sound like John Madden here, but he’s given us some obvious yet fantastic advice over a number of years. At the end of the day, the team with the most runs at the end of the game wins. Absent and irrelevant from that advice is how those runs are produced. The days of power hitting in Boston to produce runs could very well be dwindling down, as it hasn’t worked thus far in 2014. A change in offensive approach could be on the horizon for manager John Farrell and this front office from “power hitting” to just plain old “hitting”.
We’re now in the dog days of the baseball summer, with plenty of games to be played. Still 12 days removed from the All-Star break, it certainly isn’t too late to turn the tide around. A surprisingly mediocre American League East is still very much up for grabs.