Monday, May 13, 2013

What's Behind the Red Sox Recent Struggles?

After opening the 2013 season with four weeks of near-perfect baseball, the Boston Red Sox have hit their first rough patch of the year. The stumbling Sox have lost eight of their past ten, falling from first place to third in the American League East.

First, the Sox got swept by the Rangers in Texas. Whatever. The Rangers are a great team. They have the best record in baseball. It happens.

But then Boston dropped three out of four to the Minnesota Twins at home. The Twins are not a great team. Not a bad team (they're .500?!?!), but not a good team either. The Red Sox should have been able to split that series, at the very least.

Things only got worse when the Toronto Blue Jays, who can't seem to do anything right these days, came to town and took two of three from the Red Sox. There's two ways to look at that. On one hand, the Blue Jays are the worst team in the division. They sport a negative-47 run differential and their starting pitching has been atrocious. But on the other hand, Toronto is a dangerous team, one that is simply too good to keep playing sub-.400 ball for much longer. With many of their best players (Jose Bautista, R.A. Dickey, Brett Lawrie) underperforming, it's only a matter of time before they right the ship.

As for the Red Sox, it's not hard to identify what's gone wrong. Offense has been hard to come by recently, with the Sox averaging just 3.27 runs per game over their past 11. David Ortiz and Mike Napoli have cooled off after their hot starts, while Stephen Drew and Will Middlebrooks are still struggling to get in a groove at the plate. Jacoby Ellsbury has slumped lately and isn't getting on base often enough for Boston's big bats. It also didn't help that the team's biggest offensive output in the past two weeks--an eight-run outburst last Wednesday--was wasted when their pitching staff allowed 15 runs to a mediocre Twins offense. Slumps happen and the Red Sox have a good lineup, so I'm not going to worry about it.

However, those offensive woes have coincided with a breakdown in pitching. Boston has allowed 6.2 runs per game over its previous ten. My natural inclination was to assume its starters fell back to earth after their torrid Aprils, but that's hardly the case. Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester (11-0 combined) are still going strong. Ryan Dempster is stabilizing the rotation and keeping his team in the game. Even John Lackey has been effective.

The one eyesore has been Felix Doubront, who has gotten bombed in each of his past two outings. He needs to turn it around soon, or else John Farrell will have to start looking elsewhere (Alfredo Aceves? Allen Webster?) for quality starts.

The bullpen has endured a few lickings lately, but on the whole is still solid even with Joel Hanrahan lost for the season. Luckily Farrell has a proven closer in Andrew Bailey who can step up and fill Hanrahan's shoes, but Bailey's checkered injury history concerns me. He's fine now, but it wouldn't surprise me if Ben Cherington finds himself shopping for a closer in a couple months.

The Red Sox get a day off to lick their wounds before hitting the road. They'll stop in Tampa Bay, Minnesota and Chicago, and if they don't figure things out by the time they come back then it might be time to re-think the idea of this team being a legitimate contender.

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