2014 Boston Red Sox: Biggest Early-Season Surprises and Disappointments
Two weeks into the defense of their 2013 World Series title, the Boston Red Sox find themselves in a similar position compared to recent years.
Katie Sharp and Justin Havens of ESPN Stats and Information pointed out that Boston’s record through 12 games is below .500. That’s also happened at the start of the 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons—all of which saw Boston miss the playoffs.
Is there reason to panic? It’s truly too early to tell.
Injuries and ineffective play from certain position players have prevented Boston from getting off to a better start. Once they’re able to get healthier as a unit, the wins should begin coming more frequently.
Let’s take a look at which early-season performances have surprised Red Sox Nation and those that have disappointed thus far.
All statistics from RedSox.com and are current as of April 13.
Surprise: Jackie Bradley Jr.
The emergence of Grady Sizemore during the spring spurred manager John Farrell to name him the Opening Day center fielder. That left Jackie Bradley Jr. out of the picture, and in Triple-A.
His .158/.213/.263 line with 17 strikeouts in 57 at-bats during Grapefruit League action was part of the reason, as well.
However, the injury to Shane Victorino and his eventual trip to the 15-day disabled list opened up a roster spot for Bradley, and he was recalled from Pawtucket on March 31.
A few hitless efforts in recent days have brought his triple slash back to a normal-looking .286/.394/.357 heading into Sunday’s matchup with the New York Yankees. At the height of his hot streak, his batting average was hovering .400.
Looking for someone to take the reins of the leadoff spot, Farrell has been penciling Bradley in regularly due to his recent hot streak.
Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald feels he should play every day until Victorino returns:
Point is, Bradley could go 0-for-4 tonight and still help the Red Sox win a game, which doesn't make him Willie Mays but sounds a lot like the compliments Victorino used to get in his early years with the Phillies.
Bradley has a successful minor league track record and put himself on the map last spring with a .419/.507/.613 line in 62 at-bats. However, it’s surprising to see him make a complete 180-degree turn from an awful spring to a solid regular season.
It says a lot about his self-confidence and mental toughness after a lackluster performance in camp.
Disappointment: Daniel Nava
With Victorino on the DL to start the season, Farrell was expecting the combination of Daniel Nava and Sizemore to handle the leadoff duties.
So far, the Red Sox have received underwhelming results.
In 134 games played and 458 at-bats last season, Nava had a breakout campaign while sharing time with Jonny Gomes in the outfield. The switch-hitter posted a .303/.385/.445 line with 12 home runs and 66 RBI.
Through his first 40 at-bats in 2014, Nava is hitting a disappointing .150/.227/.250.
His slow start has been compounded by Victorino’s absence and similar levels of ineffectiveness from Gomes.
Boston was fortunate to have this platoon work very well last season, but is now forced to ask whether or not this success will continue. Obviously, results after just two weeks likely won’t reflect how it will be all year, but a contingency plan must be in place in case these struggles continue.
There are a lot of moving parts to Farrell’s lineup. In order for the Red Sox to be successful, he needs to push the right buttons. Last season, it seemed like every time he called Nava’s name, it was the correct move.
Hopefully, he’ll be able to make this slow start become a thing of the past very soon.
Surprise: Brandon Workman
After posting a 4.97 ERA in 20 appearances down the stretch last season, Brandon Workman was an integral part of Boston’s championship run. He threw 8.2 innings in relief while allowing just one unearned run to score.
He was given an Opening Day spot in the bullpen despite giving up nine runs and 17 hits over 15.2 innings of work during his time in Fort Myers, Fla.
Thankfully, he was a bright spot for Farrell and the pitching staff by getting off to a quick start, allowing one run on four hits, one walk and seven strikeouts in 6.1 innings pitched.
It was like he flipped a switch once the regular season was under way. Being able to block out some of his struggles from the spring and buckle down when it really counted was impressive to watch.
Despite his solid showing, the return of Craig Breslow off the DL forced him back to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he will be inserted into the starting rotation.
The goal is to not have him continuing to switch between starting and relieving, but it’s possible he could be back in the big league bullpen depending on the status of Koji Uehara's shoulder. Uehara's set to be examined in Boston on Monday.
Disappointment: Will Middlebrooks
Will Middlebrooks is poised to have a bounce-back season after a disappointing one. He went from being part of the Red Sox's future plans in 2012 to a big question mark after getting benched in the playoffs in favor of Xander Bogaerts last year.
A strong .353/.389/.667 line with four homers and nine RBI during Grapefruit League action gave Farrell the confidence needed to hand back the starting third base job to Middlebrooks.
He was off to a decent start through his first 13 at-bats, hitting .231/.333/.538, with two of his three hits going for extra bases.
I mean, it’s one thing if something happens in a game. But when you’re out warming up, just getting ready for a game, it’s kind of a freak accident. It was out of the blue, it was random. I was frustrated for a couple days, but I’m passed it. I’m just trying to get healthy now and stay positive.
His absence leaves a hole in the middle of the lineup that Boston desperately needs filled. So far, no one has stepped up to take his place.
As of right now, he’s expected to be back on the field by the end of April, but hasn’t been cleared to run yet. Until he does, Boston must do what it can to keep its head above water.
Surprise: Chris Capuano
Chris Capuano joined the Red Sox after Ryan Dempster announced he would not be playing in 2014.
Boston took a gamble by putting the veteran into the bullpen, even though he’d only appeared in 29 games as a reliever in his big league career entering this season.
This experiment has brought back huge dividends through his first four appearances. The southpaw has allowed just three hits, no walks and five strikeouts in five shutout innings this year, prior to Sunday’s game.
It probably goes back to his veteran status. He knows what’s needed to get ready to come into a game when he’s not starting. He’s an extremely intelligent guy and in getting to know him in spring training, he reads swings very well. His pitch selection has been pretty spot-on in terms of disrupting hitters’ timing. He’s not just a multi-inning guy, evident by matching up (Monday) night in the eighth inning.
Boston has plenty of bullpen depth in Triple-A, but if Uehara has to miss more time with his shoulder issue, Capuano's versatility will continue to be an asset for the coaching staff.
Disappointment: Dustin Pedroia
Dustin Pedroia is best suited in the second spot of the order and has been feeling the effects of losing Jacoby Ellsbury as the team’s leadoff hitter.
He’s currently hitting .236/.236/.291 with no home runs and one RBI.
To add injury to insult, he was scratched from Sunday’s series finale against the Yankees because of a sore left wrist, which will be examined on Monday, according to ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes.
As long as he’s deemed healthy and doesn’t miss a significant chunk of time, there shouldn’t be any panic. He’s a .301 career hitter over his nine-year MLB career—the hits will come.
Outside of Ellsbury’s absence, the lineup as a whole isn’t nearly as deep as it was last year. Stephen Drew not being around is important to point out, even though Bogaerts is holding his own at shortstop.
Nava and Gomes are also not hitting. With Victorino and Middlebrooks on the DL, there is a lot of pressure on Pedroia, Mike Napoli and David Ortiz to produce.
Farrell tried moving Pedroia to the leadoff spot on Saturday to help him relax and focus on just reaching base by not expanding his strike zone too much.
NESN.com’s Ricky Doyle captured part of what Farrell is thinking:
There’s an aggressiveness that maybe we typically don’t see from (Pedroia). So again the focus would be just, ‘Don’t worry about driving the baseball. Just go up and take your normal at-bat.’
Pedroia went 1-for-5 with one strikeout in a 7-4 loss.
Before he can get back on track, he’ll have to find out whether he’s healthy enough to keep getting put into the lineup.
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