It has been an up and down season for the 2015 Boston Red Sox. Coming into the season much had been made about the lack of moves made by general manager Ben Cherington and his team to bolster the starting rotation These claims were not unfounded. After trading four of their five starters in 2014 and losing Jon Lester to free agency, the team appeared to concentrate on offensive signings. Players like Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval highlighted the team’s offseason priorities.
Conversely, the pitching staff came together with less-proven names. On Opening Day the Red Sox rotation consisted of Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson, Wade Miley and Joe Kelly. Despite not having a “certified” ace this did not appear to be an issue early on. The Red Sox were off to a great start winning their first three series and scoring plenty of runs.
This early success was short lived. Before they knew it, the Fenway Faithful were looking at a sub-.500 record and last place in the American League East. One month into the season, the Red Sox pitching had turned into the front office’s worst nightmare. At the time, Boston starters had a 5.54 ERA, good for dead last in the American League. These results were unacceptable for majority owner John Henry, who paid a visit to manager John Farrell on May 5th. Two days later the Red Sox fired pitching coach Juan Nieves.
Interestingly enough, in recent days the pitching rotation appears to have turned it around. With new pitching coach Carl Willis at the helm Miley, Buchholz and Porcello combined have allowed just three runs in their last outings. So all is well in Boston, right? Not quite.
Unfortunately for the Red Sox, when the pitching appears to be righting itself the offense has taken a nose dive. Red Sox batters are currently batting a league worst .190. To put this into perspective, no team has ever finished the season with such a low batting average. Right field specifically has been the worst producing position for the Red Sox. This should come as a surprise, considering this was a team that had “too many” outfielders at the beginning of the season.
To make matters worse the Red Sox’s performance with runners in scoring position has been amazingly awful. The Red Sox return to Fenway after a 10-game road trip in which opposing pitchers held the Sox to two or fewer runs seven times. This should come as no surprise considering Boston has the lowest BA with RISP of any American League team; they went a measly 10-for-57 during this road trip w/RISP.
The good news is it should get better at some point. Proven players like David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez and Mike Napoli are all batting below .200 with runners in scoring position. All signs point to this being a blip in the radar that will sort itself out.
Perhaps a more troubling trend is the lineup’s inability to hit left handed pitching. More alarmingly for the front office at Yawkee Way is the fact that other ballclubs have caught on. Boston wrapped up its West Coast trip with a four-game series against the Seattle Mariners. In preparation for the series the Mariners shuffled their rotation to ensure they had three lefties going up against Boston. The strategy appeared to work. Surprisingly the only starter the Red Sox were able to do some damage on was Felix Hernandez while the trio of Roenis Elias, J.A. Happ and James Paxton gave up just two runs in three games.
This latest trend must be particularly unsettling for Red Sox management. After all, offense was supposed to be this team’s strength and there isn’t any lack of right-handed bats in the lineup either. Napoli, Pedroia, Ramirez, Betts, Bogaerts and the switch hitting Sandoval all hit from the right side. Sandoval is of particular interest here. Hitting coach Chili Davis has reiterated that Sandoval is not abandoning batting from the right side despite being utterly ineffective against lefties. Remarkably, Sandoval’s batting average is still at .269 despite his .049 BA against lefties. Teams are aware of this discrepancy and are exploiting it.
While it is clear that the pitching issue has the biggest problem for the Red Sox, it is by no means their only issue. The Red Sox should consider themselves lucky. Despite their woeful pitching and lack of timely hitting, the Red Sox are only 3.5 games behind the first place Yankees. Moving forward the A.L. East will be extremely exciting to watch. Only 4.5 games separate first form last place in the division and there are no signs of any team running away with it either.
As far as the Red Sox are concerned, the offense should improve. It is hard to remember the last time an entire lineup was going through a slump; but at this point, this is all it appears to be. Most of these batters are seasoned veterans with years of experience. Their career batting averages are no fluke. If this newfound pitching resurgence were to hold up the Red Sox should be just fine. However, up until now something has always been wrong with this team.