Brief Run Ends with new Losing Streak
After a less than stellar, but still important, 8-2 run, the Sox began some games that really could have counted in the division. They promptly fell back to the offense challenged team they have been all season. There are a lot of theories as to why this has been the case. Poor veteran performance. Too many rookies. Too many injuries. But the answer, I think, is a lot more subtle than it might appear. Almost all the teams in MLB are very close talent wise, and it takes very little pushing to get to the top or the bottom of the heap.
Last year, the sox had great health up and down their lineup, and had injuries in all the places they had depth. They were a tough team mentally, but they caught some breaks. By the time the season wound up, they were good enough to win it all. But no one confused them with the powerhouse teams of 2004 and 2007. They simply weren't that much better than everyone else, and when the ball bounced the other way, they ended up on the short end of the stick.
Want proof? Well, the Blue Jays did very little different this year than last, and have had a much better season. The Red Sox brought back most of the same pieces and are in the bottom, and the Orioles are hardly a different team, and yet have lead the division for most of the season. Tampa Bay, atop the division with the Sox last year, had until recently found themselves at the bottom. All this flip-flopping with very few off-season moves suggests the teams are very close - on paper - and injuries and luck are what separate them.
This is good news for the Sox. For all the talk that they should be "sellers" looking to pick up prospects for the future, the truth is the team is very close to getting back on top of the division. I'll be the first to admit, it doesn't really look that way, but the evidence is there - if you look.
Veterans being pitched Around
One of the things I look at is not just who's in the line up, but the LENGTH of the quality hitters in the lineup. Pitchers aren't dumb. They work around good hitters. If everyone is a tough out, than they are hard to pitch around, and produce the kind of offense the Sox had in 2013. A different hero every nite. Pitchers get forced into having to get the big guns out because guys are already on base. How do we know that not's the case this year? Well, beyond the obvious, (JBJ having a brutal season, Brock Holt being celebrated as a player), we can look at the big guns. Ortiz last year hit .310, but this year is hitting just .255. Why the drop? Well, we see his OBP is about the same - in the .390s. That means he's seeing the ball just as well, but getting far fewer to hit. If he's not getting hits, he's less dangerous. Pedroia also is seeing fewer strikes. I think it might even be in his head a little, as he's trying to get hits at the plate, but with fewer strikes is causing more damage than help.
Napoli is a bit of an outlier - he's having a better season - but the season he had last year was not very good average-wise, and this is more of a return to the mean. With weak players in the lineup, pitchers are working around the hitters, leading to a lot of men left on base, and that oh-so-close feeling in so many innings.
More proof? Well OBP is the best predictor of runs, and the Sox are near the bottom in the AL for runs, yet their OBP is 5th in the AL - still in the mix competitively. They just need one or two more bats, and things will be fixed. Will it be Boegarts? Certainly could be. Victorino? They have obviously missed him terribly. That's two bats right there - if they perform - and if Pedroia can reverse the decline, well, you can really have something. Vasquez should improve offensively. Even JBJ could be a tougher out in the future.
Giving Credit where Credit is DUe
I bashed the Yankees this year, predicting they wouldn't be a factor in the division. Remarkably, they are. I don't know how they are stringing together the victories. Their best two pitchers are now hurt, they have no offense to speak of. And yet, here they are, sitting second in the division. I don't think they'll stay there, but a great job to hang in the way they have.
But how long can they keep this up? And I'm not talking about 2014 either. Even if they finish third this year, next year looks pretty grim too. At some point, you need to put talent on the field, and I don't see that the Yanks are going to have the health, or the age, or the prospects to do that. The always seem to do more with less, so we'll see, but if I had to choose a team, I'd pick the Sox in 2015 easy.
It's a good time to make some predictions about the burning questions of the Sox. Let's see how well I can read the tea leaves.
A) Lester leaves. I think the bidding war for Lester is going to be intense. I think someone is going to offer a silly Robbie Cano type deal, and he'll take it. I think the Sox will end up offering 5 years and $110 million, with a six year option. But someone is going to offer 7 years at $150, and he'll take that. Worse, I think it'll be the Yankees. That's a bad deal for the "winning" team, but it won't be bad for 3-4 years, and it'll hurt.
B) Lackey Stays. They re-work his deal for 2 years at $12 million per season.
C) Vasquez is #1 catcher. He's ready. Is his bat ready? Probably. Enough to hold his own. You only need a .700 OPS there with that defense, and he could be better than that.
D) JBJ improves. There have been signs that he's finding how to make the adjustments. I think he does.
E) Boegarts finds his power stroke. And stays at third. I think 2015 is going to be a big year for the kid. And will make the Sox worth watching in September, perhaps.
F) Lester doesn't get traded.
G) Middlebrooks does get traded. Unless than plan to keep him in AAA as Mike Napoli's backup. I think he's too good to be a 1B/3B utility player, and his cheap dollars and potential power could make him worth a lot. But he'll have to show something in September.
H) Bye, Drew. I did call that the signing wouldn't help offensively. It didn't. They can do better, in lots of ways, than Drew.