Hey, do you follow the Red Sox? Or another of the American League East’s powerhouse clubs? Or do you check the standings every day, as if they were among the most important things on earth?
If you didn’t answer yes to any of those questions, you might be surprised by the performance of this year’s Red Sox, who last year were World Series champs. The gory details, from the Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham (written before Friday’s 1-0 loss at Tampa):
The Red Sox have lost seven straight and need a series win against the Rays this weekend to avoid falling into last place in the American League East.
It’s easy to make comparisons to 2012. But that situation was hopeless and this one can be fixed. Here is a 10-point plan to immediately improve the Red Sox and return them to contention …
Ten points is a lot! Two of them — well, at least two of them — actually have very little to do with turning Boston’s season around. But I’m going to list Abraham’s 10 points, but through my particular filter …
1. Put Clay Buchholz on the disabled list because he’s given up a bunch of hits and has a 6.32 ERA. Well, except his strikeouts and walks are dead on his career norms, and he’s given up a couple of “extra” home runs. He seems to have lost a tick off his fastball, but a tick doesn’t explain a .381 BABiP. Abraham covers Buchholz every day, and might well have seen signs that Buchholz is mentally defeated. But management’s around him every day, too.
2. Call up Allen Webster and Brandon Workman, and give them Buchholz’s and Felix Doubront’s slots in the rotation. I’m not convinced about Buchholz, but Doubront’s got some issues. Granted, most of the problem is that he’s given up seven homers in 45 2/3 innings. But his strikeout-to-walk ratio (31 to 19) is unacceptable in the Strikeout Era. Granted, Webster has about the same strikeout-to-walk ratio (39 to 23) with Pawtucket … but fewer home runs (two). Meanwhile, Workman’s got a fine ratio (34 to 10) … but he’s given up eight homers in 38 2/3 innings! Seems to me that Doubront’s essentially replacement-level at this point, but Workman’s not much better. Webster might be. He did pitch for the big club last year and was terrible.
3. Dump Grady Sizemore because he’s been terrible. Co-sign. We all wanted him to win Comeback Player of the Year, but that just doesn’t seem realistic.
4. Recall Daniel Nava from the minors. Well, yeah. He was over his head last season, but he’s certainly better than Sizemore at this point. With the bat, anyway. Nava should be platooning with Jonny Gomes. No, that platoon won’t be as good as it was last year. But it’s the best the Sox can do with the talent at hand.
5. Dump utility infielder Jonathan Herrera when Stephen Drew’s ready to join the roster, and retain Brock Holt as primary utility man. Sure, I guess. But I will mention that a) Holt hasn’t played shortstop in the majors, and b) hey, now we’re talking about utility infielders. The absolutely correct decision might mean another win this season. Or none.
6. Promote Double-A second baseman Mookie Betts to Triple-A Pawtucket, and train him as a super utility man. Betts is a really interesting player, but asking him to help out in the outfield this season, in the major leagues, might be asking a bit too much. But he’s fast and if he’s got the ability to learn quickly, he might be the Center Fielder of the Future. So why not get him started now? I just don’t see how that helps this team, this year, win 90 games. Much, anyway.
7. Bat Xander Bogaerts leadoff. Probably couldn’t hurt, since his on-base skills seem real enough.
8. Stick with a set lineup. It really doesn’t matter much who leads off, and it really doesn’t matter much who bats where. As long as you don’t do anything truly stupid, what really matters is getting the right guys in the lineup. Setting the lineup makes sense if moving around is hurting certain hitters, but it doesn’t make sense if you’re giving up real edges.
9. Tell Shane Victorino to start switch-hitting again because he’s making $13 million to be a switch-hitter. Uh, OK. But what about Victorino’s .266/.328/.401 career line against right-handed pitchers, usually while batting left-handed? Last season, Victorino switched to batting right-handed exclusively after suffering a hamstring injury, and thrived. Considering that success and the big gap in his career splits, I believe it’s too early to go back to switch-hitting. Unless he really, really wants to.
10. Sign Jon Lester to a long-term contract extension because … because he’s really good, I guess? Lester’s having the best season of his career, so it’s not like he’s going to start pitching even better with a bit more security.
The people who run the Red Sox are pretty smart. You probably heard about that. I’m guessing they’ve already considered these 10 steps, along with a few dozen more. But taking meaningful steps is hard, because there really aren’t many meaningful steps that are also manageable. Of these, I would say that only Steps 3 and 4 figure to have a meaningful impact on the Red Sox’s projected record.
The sad truth is that once a 40-man roster is assembled during the offseason, there’s just not a lot to be done. Oh, sure: You can tinker here and there around the edges, even make a big trade to shore up a position or two. But if Buchholz’s luck doesn’t turn, Jackie Bradley Jr. doesn’t hit, and Drew doesn’t re-establish himself as one of the best shortstops in the league, the tinkering won’t matter. The Red Sox just need the guys they’ve got to do what they’re supposed to do.
Senior Baseball Editor Rob Neyer isn’t supposed to tweet so much, but he does anyway.