It’s official: the infield of the future has arrived.
Jose Iglesias and Will Middlebrooks have been called up to the Boston Red Sox, and the two budding young stars will rightfully take their place on the left side of the Sox infield every game for the rest of the season.
Or will they?
While it looks like Middlebrooks will at least be starting for the next week or so, the players’ position on the roster for the rest of 2012 is tenuous at best. Iglesias will be back to Pawtucket as soon as one of the many injured Sox hitters returns, with Middlebrooks likely not far behind him.
And, just like that, it will be back to the same old story for this listless veteran group. With the demotion of these talented players, gone will be the spark that youth and positional battles can provide.
We have already seen the effect this kind of competition can have; with his strong spring, Iglesias managed to coax out of Mike Aviles the best start the infielder has ever had. While Aviles certainly deserves to have his bat in the lineup every day, his versatility gives the Sox many options as to how to best utilize him.
The reality that Sox fans must comes to grips with is that this team just isn’t very good. Despite the fact that their 11-13 record is exactly the same as their record at this time last year, the 2012 edition has many more problems.
Through 24 games, the 2011 Sox were merely underachievers; this current group has already endured several huge, long-term injuries as well as abysmal performances by several key contributors.
Though they have righted the ship to a degree, the team continues to struggle on the field. Much of this can be attributed to the pitching staff, which ranks 29th in MLB in ERA (5.45), 28th in OPS (.797) and 28th in home runs allowed (31).
The offense has been erratic, too. The latest example is the series they just completed against Oakland, where after an 11 run barrage on Monday the team followed up by combining for five runs over the next two games. While some of this discrepancy can be attributed to the Oakland pitchers, the fact remains that this is a team built around its offense, and the hitters have been unable to produce consistent results.
While it may be difficult or unpleasant to imagine, GM Ben Cherington may actually have foreseen all of these problems as he built this team over the offseason. It’s possible that he saw Iglesias, Middlebrooks, Ryan Lavarnway and Ryan Kalish as key pieces to the future of the offense, and so he went out and picked up a bunch of spare parts to keep the team reasonably competitive until the young guys are ready. He likely believes that even though Daniel Bard may struggle now, he’ll be far more comfortable next year when the team is ready to compete again.
The problem, of course, is that it’s 2012 and not 2013. When the team stinks and appears as sluggish as they do right now, it reflects poorly on the entire organization. Not a group to normally stand idly by as the product on the field erodes, the ownership and front office have been too focused on grape juice toasts to offer up any remedies for the team’s poor performance.
Meanwhile, the Sox continue to play .500 baseball. Middlebrooks and Iglesias will get sporadic chances before being sent back down to Pawtucket so that Aviles and the oft-injured, resident sourpuss Kevin Youkilis can get more at-bats.
The Sox of September 2011 were a detestable bunch, but at least we knew what they were. This group is just spinning its wheels, sinking further down into the bottom of the division all the while.