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Red Sox Season Hits a Speed Bump

The Red Sox have dropped six out of their last eight games, were swept over the weekend by the lowly Tampa Bay Rays, and have lost 4 ½ games off their AL East lead in the past eight days.  Is it time to panic, Red Sox Nation?  All this, and more, in this week’s BSoT Red Sox Column to be Named Later.

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Natural Correction

Did we really think the Red Sox were going to play .700 ball for the entire season?  While they have been played at that lofty pace prior to this past week, the team still had glaring weaknesses which, if left unaddressed over the course of a 162 game season, would certain to be exposed at some point.  When looking at the lower third of the lineup, the back end of the rotation, and the middle relief corps, it was clear that the Red Sox have been fortunate to be where they are, and it was only a matter of time before the bounces started to go against them.

It is one thing to lose to a good team, as the Red Sox did earlier this week in the first two games against the Indians.  It is another thing to lose to a bad team (albeit one who is on a roll at the moment) in the Tampa Bay Rays.  And it is yet another thing to get spanked in three straight games by a team that was 22 ½ games behind you coming into the weekend.

With Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez still on the disabled list, the Red Sox lack of depth at starting pitcher has suddenly been exposed.  Nathan Eovaldi, lights out in his first two starts in a Red Sox uniform, has suddenly become Joe Kelly 2.0.  Rick Porcello continues to show occasional flashes of his Cy Young form from two years ago, but recently has been bitten by the home run at inopportune moments.  Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez turned in quality performance when pressed into spot starts earlier in the season, but the clock has struck midnight on both of them as well.  Who would have thought earlier this season that David Price would be looked upon as the Red Sox ace?  That’s how crazy this game can be at times.

With starting pitching (other than Price) unable to go deep into games, it was inevitable that a weak bullpen would be exposed at some point.  The Red Sox bullpen has been unable to keep the score close in games in which the starters have exited early during this recent slide, and still no one in the bullpen has separated himself from an otherwise underwhelming bunch.  Right now the most reliable contributor has been journeyman Ryan Brasier, which should give some indication on the overall state of the bullpen.

Of course, the offense is not without their shame of the blame pie.  Despite the weaknesses at the end of the lineup (Bradley, the catchers and second basemen), the Red Sox are at or near the top of the league in virtually all offensive categories.  The offense has made up for the faltering pitching staff more often than not this season, and is one of the primary reasons the Red Sox have already reached 90 wins before the calendar hits September.

The offense has been led by the dynamic duo of Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez.  Betts has been electric in the leadoff role and Martinez has been everything he was advertised to be, and more, when signed in the offseason.  Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts and Mitch Moreland have each been major contributors, but it has been the Mookie and J.D. show all season.  While Martinez has not endured anything remotely resembling a slump since the beginning of the regular season, Betts has cooled off considerably in the second half.  It is no coincidence that the Red Sox offensive woes have coincided with Betts struggles at the plate.

Betts has not been getting on base leading off games since the All-Star Break, which has led to the Red Sox not putting instant pressure on opponents right from the start.  His power numbers have also declined significantly as the season wears on.  Without Betts wreaking havoc on the basepaths, the offense has gone flat, and, similar to the bullpen, the weaknesses in other parts of the lineup have been exposed.

Despite the doom and gloom of the past week, there are some bright spots on the horizon.  Sale will begin a throwing program which should return him to the rotation for the stretch drive.  Rodriguez will also soon be headed out on a rehab assignment with the goal of returning him to the rotation.  If both are fully healthy by the playoffs, and Price remains healthy and pitching effectively, the dynamic of the pitching staff changes drastically.  The Red Sox simply need to weather this storm so they can get their house in order for October.

Sticking to the Plan

Manager Alex Cora made an interesting decision to rest both J.D. Martinez and Andrew Benintendi in Sunday’s finale against the Rays, despite the team having lost the first two games of the series and facing lefty ace Blake Snell.  Though the timing was suspect given the circumstances, this is not a surprise given the Red Sox off day on Monday.  Cora has routinely rested players in the final games of series before off days, thus giving them two full days rest.  The theory is to keep players fresh for the long season and beyond, and it has generally worked so far.  Give Cora credit for not panicking after two losses to the Rays and staying with his approach.

Between Martinez and Benintendi, you may have thought it made sense to sit Benintendi, but wondered why Martinez didn’t play against the tough lefthander.  Surprising, Benintendi has far better numbers against Snell, despite the left on left matchup.  Benintendi has a career slash line of .333/.364/.333 against Snell, while Martinez checks in with only .143/.250/.286.  It’s doubtful either would have made a difference Sunday, as Snell was on top of his game, limiting the rest of the Red Sox lineup to only two hits over six innings.

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Clothes Don’t Make the Man

If the MLB holds Player’s Weekend again next year, the Red Sox should decide to opt out.  Last year, the Sox were swept by the Orioles in the inaugural event.  After getting swept by the Rays over the weekend, the Sox are now 0-6 Player’s Weekends and have been outscored by a whopping 49-9.  When next year’s jerseys get delivered, Chris Sale needs to get out his best pair of scissors and have a field day.

Who’s Trending Up

J.D. Martinez continued his assault on the Triple Crown, batting .440 over the past week, though he did fail to homer over that stretch and has fallen behind Oakland's Khris Davis for the AL lead.

Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley, Jr. also had productive weeks with slash lines of .323/.323/.581 and .318/.318/.455 respectively.

David Price was the lone real bright spot on the pitching staff, going eight strong innings and allowing no earned runs in a crucial series finale win over the Indians.

Who’s Trending Down

Mookie Betts (.222/.290/.259) was not the only member of the Red Sox offense to hit on tough times last week.  Andrew Benintendi (.208/.321/.292) was not able to offset Betts drop in production, which contributed to Martinez pedestrian total of four RBI for the week.  And bringing up the rear once again this week is Sandy Leon (.071 – one hit in 14 AB).  Leon also has issues with passed balls behind the plate, putting even more pressure on Red Sox pitching.

The Red Sox bullpen as a whole allowed 19 hits, walked 12, and allowed four home runs in 23 2/3 innings pitched last week.

A Look Ahead

After a much needed day off Monday to regroup, the Red Sox come home to Fenway for a quick two game set against the NL East cellar dwelling Miami Marlins, before heading to Chicago for a four game set against the White Sox.  While neither of these teams may get much interest, there is one intriguing matchup to look to over the weekend.

The White Sox have recently called up former Red Sox farmhand Michael Kopech from the minors and have inserted him into their starting rotation.  In two starts, Kopech has allowed only one run in two starts (eight innings pitched), logging eight strikeouts against zero walks.  Kopech, acquired by the White Sox as part of the Chris Sale deal, is part of the continuing trend of starting pitchers who routinely touch 100 on the radar gun.  With his last start coming yesterday against Detroit, Kopech is on track to face his former team over the weekend.

Follow Bill on Twitter @BTravers_BSoT. 

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