While the Red Sox were struggling so badly earlier in the season that fans were already calling for Bobby Valentine’s head, the Boys from Beantown have managed to turn things around of late. Fresh off a four-game win streak, Boston is managing to reinsert itself into the conversation in the AL East.
That said, a three-run loss to the White Sox on Sunday reminded Boston that they’re still stuck in the cement of the division basement. They managed only one run in that game—and one other in their victory in a 1-0 pitchers’ duel on Saturday—and if they’re going to make a serious run at the title, their offense will need to get more consistent. This is a team that’s in second place in the majors in run production; shouldn’t they be able to score more than twice in an entire weekend?
With an outstanding pitching staff to rely on—Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are all proven performers—the one thing the Red Sox really need in order to flip the switch is for their uneven offense to steady itself. These are the five key hitters that the BoSox will need to play big this year if the team hopes to truly compete in the rough AL East.
Big Papi is back, and in a big way. With an outstanding OPS of 1.115 to date this year, Ortiz is crushing the ball in a way he hasn’t since the Sox’s World Series-winning season of 2007. He’s on pace to finish with well over 100 runs and 100 RBIs, and his .403 batting average is leading the AL.
One of the brightest spots of the Red Sox’s nascent year, Ortiz—especially with the offseason retirement of fan favorite and longtime captain Jason Varitek—will need to continue to lead by example at the plate and in the clubhouse for this young Sox team to start climbing the division ladder.
Dustin Pedroia is the best 5’9” player in baseball. If, of course, he really even is as tall as his listed height. Regardless, Pedroia’s been the heart of this Red Sox infield since his first full year on the team, taking Rookie of the Year honors in 2007 and then the MVP award in 2008. Moved now to the third slot in the lineup in deference to his .300 average, Pedroia is, along with Big Papi and pleasant surprise Ryan Sweeney, one of the brightest spots in the Boston Red Sox lineup.
If he can continue to produce at this pace, the rest of the division should take note: When Pedroia stays healthy, the Sox tend to end up playoff-bound.
Adrian Gonzalez is hitting .284, which is fine—at least, that is, until you remember that last year, he hit .338. A 50-plus point drop-off in batting average is not what you want out of your everyday first baseman. It’s bad for the scoreboard.
Gonzalez has made a career out of hitting for both average and power day in and day out. Right now, though, he’s out: He’s posting an OPS of .764, over a hundred points below his career mark. Gonzalez needs to turn things around at the plate and go from being mediocre to being the star that he once was. If he can’t do that, it could be a long season for the Red Sox.
Youk! What is up with the Youk?
Famously feted as “the Greek God of Walks” in Moneyball (the book, not the movie), Youkilis used to be good for a sure base-runner when one was needed. Now he’s slipping, with career lows in both batting average and on-base percentage, and that’s just not going to cut it.
Youkilis has been known throughout his career for being very disciplined at the plate. Suddenly, though, he seems to be losing mastery of that skill set. If Kevin Youkilis can’t be counted on to get aboard the basepaths and spark rallies, how are the Red Sox going to be able to reliably chalk runs upon the scoreboard?
Jacoby Ellsbury has been out since mid-April with a shoulder injury. Rotoworld believes an early-to-mid June return for the Red Sox’s speedy leadoff man is "realistic."
Though the aging Marlon Byrd has filled in ably in centerfield, there’s no question that Ellsbury’s comeback will have a sizeable impact on this team’s offense. By leading the squad last year in many offensive categories—119 runs, 46 doubles, 32 homers and 39 steals, all partnered with a .321 average and 105 RBI—Ellsbury established that he is a force to be reckoned with at the plate. There will be joy in Fenway when the mighty Ellsbury returns.