Mike Aviles is many things, but a leadoff hitter isn't one of them.
Don’t let the hyperbolic headline distract you: the Red Sox just have to get through these two days before breaking through to a good part of the schedule. In the long run, things like today’s order doesn’t matter very much. But in the short term, specifically this short series against the Rangers, detail work can make quite a difference.
The Red Sox went a long way towards righting their listing ship by taking three out of four games from the Rays over the weekend, even if the final, Valentine-designed loss rankled. They now face an even harder test with a quick two-game series at home against the two-time defending pennant winners.
The Rangers are 8-2, but the schedule gods have been kind to them, with series against the White Sox, Mariners, and Twins.
Now they have their first real test of the season, with consecutive series against the Red Sox, Tigers, Yankees, and Rays. If the Rangers are still winning four out of five games at that point, wake the masses because something truly special is going on.
Chances are it won’t happen, but it’s worth noting that the Rangers have a very strong rotation, one in which the heralded Yu Darvish may be the weakest link. It got lost amidst Derek Holland’s strong postseason pitching, but Matt Harrison also had a breakthrough year last year.
Neftali Feliz’s move from the bullpen could save a ton of runs in the long run—180 good innings is more valuable than 60 (sorry closer fanatics). Colby Lewis looks well set to spend another season as a mid-rotation innings-eater.
The bullpen is a bit more of a problem because Joe Nathan has been inconsistent, but his 6.00 ERA is distorted by his bad outing against the Mariners on April 11; remove that and he’s allowed one run in five innings.
The overall unit is deep enough that they can survive a post-peak Nathan if they have to. The point being that this stretch of difficult games will see the Rangers pick up a few more losses than they have to date, but it’s not going to reveal any heretofore unsuspected weaknesses.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, remain a mess. Here is tonight’s lineup against Lewis:
SS Mike Aviles
2B Dustin Pedroia
1B Adrian Gonzalez
DH David Ortiz
3B Kevin Youkilis
RF Ryan Sweeney
LF Cody Ross
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
CF Jason Repko
Yeah, Jason Repko is playing for Jacoby Ellsbury. That’s Repko, the career .225/.296/.348 hitter. Put that together with Aviles, of the .317 career on-base percentage in the leadoff spot, and you have the perfect cycle of death for the Boston offense.
You could lead off Sweeney, you could even lead off Youkilis and his career .390 OBP. You could do almost anything better than putting your worst on-base guys back-to-back in the batting order.
Look, this is a small thing; one bad batting order won’t make or break a season, and the fluctuations between the best and worst orders are pretty small most of the time.
It’s just another example of Sox management taking a bad situation and making it worse. They don’t have the depth to replace Ellsbury, that’s to be expected. MVP candidates don’t grow on trees. Still, you don’t have to use that as an excuse to highlight your weaknesses.
The Sox follow the Rangers with three games at home against the Yankees, but then they are given series against the Twins, White Sox, A’s, Orioles, Royals, Indians and Mariners. There are a lot of winnable games in there, and just as the Rangers look like world-beaters now, the Red Sox are going to look better when they’re done with those 20 or so games.
In that sense, what happens in these two games doesn’t matter much. The Red Sox are going to get better whether they like it or not, whether Valentine writes good batting orders or pushes Daniel Bard to 150 pitches and 12 walks a game. It would just be easier if he didn’t.