5 Signs the Boston Red Sox Are Ready to Go on a Long Run of Success
If one looked at the stretch of baseball the Boston Red Sox played between May 15 and 25, he or she could easily assume the Red Sox had all but floundered out of contention within the American League East.
During that horrid stretch, Boston lost 10 games in a row—going from 1.5 games back within the division all the way to trailing by eight games.
These are the type of streaks that thwart teams' chances to compete for a playoff berth. They are often too difficult to overcome. Even though there is plenty of baseball left to be played, the difficulty lays not within making up games, but overtaking all the teams ahead in the standings.
Buried in last place in the AL East by the end of that forgettable stretch, it would take a seemingly impossible task to resuscitate Boston's chances.
Fortunately, such thing has already happened.
Starting on May 26, the Red Sox have righted the ship. The team has won seven games in a row, including a three-game sweep of its division rivals—the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Red Sox 7-game win streak is tied for the longest in MLB history by a team coming off a double-digit losing streak— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 2, 2014
Streaks like this are paramount when it comes to gaining headway within the division. In spite of the difficulties Boston has endured over the course of the 2014 season so far, signs are pointing in the right direction.
We have to remind ourselves that a baseball season is a marathon and not a sprint. The Red Sox's 2014 season could be a perfect indication of this.
While concerns remain, there are also plenty of signs that good times are awaiting Boston in the very near future.
Let's take a look at five reasons why the Red Sox could get hot in the coming weeks.
It's not so much as who you play, but when you play them.
The month of June could prove to be very favorable to the Red Sox as they eyeball the calendar moving forward. Boston enters on a nine-game road trip on June 2 starting with a three-game series against the Cleveland Indians.
The Indians are coming off a 3-4 stretch and while they own a 18-11 record at home this season, Cleveland will be without Nick Swisher, Carlos Santana and Zach McAllister—all recent additions to the disabled list.
More importantly, the Indians starting pitching has not been up to par over the course of the season. Out of the five members of the rotation, only two—Corey Kluber and Josh Tomlin—own an ERA under 5.00.
Can Boston feast on this?
Red Sox are favored (-116) in tonight's series opener at Progressive Field vs Indians, John Lackey faces former Red Sox Justin Masterson— Richard Slate (@RichSlate) June 2, 2014
After the series against the Indians, Boston will take on the vaunted Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Detroit will be no easy task, but if the Red Sox can figure out a way to simply avoid a three-game sweep against the Tigers, the rest of the road trip should prove to be that much easier.
Boston closes this nine-game road trip against the Baltimore Orioles—the team the Red Sox are looking at directly above them in the divisional standings.
Like Cleveland, the Orioles' rotation has not been stellar thus far into 2014. Each of the five members of the starting rotation owns a plus-4.00 ERA and, while the bullpen has been solid, Baltimore's starters are vulnerable if the Red Sox lineup can take advantage of it.
The Red Sox will then play host to the Indians and Minnesota Twins for a seven-game homestand before closing out almost the rest of June on the road.
There are some tough challenges ahead for the Red Sox, but aside from Detroit, Boston should be able to match up well enough.
If the Red Sox can shoot for a .500-or-better average during the team's road trips, combined with an excellent homestand, Boston will better its chances for retaining its current momentum.
David Ortiz Will Snap out of the Funk
Over his last 51 plate appearances, designated hitter David Ortiz is batting a mere .122 with a .195 slugging percentage.
Let those numbers marinate for a second.
It is more than safe to say that Boston's most prolific hitter is doing almost nothing at the plate aside from stirring controversy with Rays pitcher David Price.
During that series, Ortiz mustered a mere one hit and has had just one extra-base hit—a home run—in his last 15 games, per WEEI.com (h/t Larry Hartstein of CBS Sports).
Those numbers are pretty bad when one considers the importance of Ortiz within Boston's lineup.
Yet as we all know, baseball is a game of streaks and slumps. They can affect a single player or an entire team.
Even though Ortiz is 38 years old, we should by no means assume his abilities are slowing down. He is still a force in spite of the recent funk.
The only question is how soon it will be until he comes out of it.
For this, we should look at the lineup surrounding Ortiz. Much of the pitches a prolific hitter faces are based on how the hitters surrounding him are faring.
With some of the injuries Boston has incurred over the course of this season—more on that later—the lineup has not exactly seen that much stability.
Shane Victorino (hamstring) and Mike Napoli (finger) are both on the disabled list. Given their added depth and protection of Ortiz, and subsequent absence, it makes sense why Ortiz has not been able to produce at the levels we have become so used to.
Both Victorino and Napoli will soon return from their stints. This should provide the necessary protection that hitters like Ortiz need.
Back End of the Rotation Should Get Better
Before finding his way onto the 15-day disabled list on May 27, right-hander Clay Buchholz 2014 campaign had been extremely disappointing.
Through 50.0 innings pitched, Buchholz owns a 7.02 ERA and a 1.980 WHIP.
Those numbers are bad—really bad.
Manager John Farrell hinted the reasons behind Buchholz's season struggles, via Alex Speier of WEEI.com:
[His confidence is] not at its peak. I think that goes without saying. Those are some of the things that we continually work with him on, both in terms of the approach that we take with other starters here and dealing with the mental side of the game, as well as other resources. … Bottom line, [his struggles come down to] in-game adjustments and execution that it boils down to.
Directly behind him is the 26-year-old Felix Doubront (5.12 ERA), who has also endured a similarly unimpressive start to the 2014 season.
With the back end of Boston's rotation not looking as sharp as it should, how can we predict this aspect of the Red Sox being due for a hot streak in coming weeks?
Rubby De La Rosa was summoned from Triple-A Pawtucket to take the place of Buchholz in the rotation, per Speier. De La Rosa has been inconsistent at times, yet his efforts at Pawtucket this season have been impressive enough to warrant the nod from Farrell.
De La Rosa did that a ton in 1st four starts and last 2. Says this year in AAA has been best stretch of his career. http://t.co/ah3qIi1Y1F— Alex Speier (@alexspeier) May 31, 2014
Without reading too much into this, De La Rosa's efforts have to be better than the 7.02 ERA that Buchholz has posted thus far. In this case, addition by subtraction may be the name of the game.
Doubront's stead in the rotation may be slightly safer than Buchholz's hold when he returns from the DL, although Farrell may want to consider inserting pitchers like Brandon Workman (3.24 ERA) or former starter, turned reliever Chris Capuano (1.95 ERA) into the rotation if necessary.
There are plenty of options for Farrell moving forward at this point. Options are good.
The sample size of Boston's Nos. 4 and 5 starters should have already given plenty of indication on which direction Farrell should move.
As far as the back end of the rotation is concerned, the only direction it can move is up.
The Return of Stephen Drew
So the Red Sox needed shortstop Stephen Drew more than they initially thought entering the 2014 season.
At the outset of the year, Boston's intentions seemed poised to move on from Drew at shortstop. The Red Sox were intent on giving Xander Bogaerts the starting job at the position and letting Will Middlebrooks prove his worth one more season at third base.
Drew appeared to be the odd-man out.
But from the start, Boston's infield on the left side showed its cracks. First, Bogaerts' defensive woes at shortstop were a significant concern—six errors in 204 chances.
Then there is the durability of Middlebrooks, who has again found himself on the disabled list with a broken finger, per Julian Benbow of The Boston Globe.
While the Red Sox do have a plethora of depth available—including players like Garin Cecchini and Brock Holt—the need to add some stability on the infield was clear.
Thus, a reunion with Drew seemed all but inevitable.
Drew is scheduled to return to the Red Sox lineup on June 2, per Ian Browne of MLB.com, and will shore up some of the issues Boston has had on the infield, both offensively and defensively.
Bogaerts will likely shift over to third base—the position he was most comfortable at when he made his 2013 debut and one that requires much less range.
On the other hand, Middlebrooks may wind up being the odd-man out at the end of the day.
Joon Lee of SB Nation elaborates on this further by writing:
The impact of Drew's signing may have most directly impacted the status of Bogaerts in the short term, but moving forward, the signing's largest impact will be on Middlebrooks, who now has a big red flag in regards to his future status with the organization.
At any rate, the Red Sox get the defensive upgrade at shortstop they so desperately need. Additionally, Middlebrooks' offensive problems will not be a major factor moving forward considering Bogaerts' bat will not be taken out of the lineup.
It was a necessary move for Boston and one that should pay dividends in coming weeks.
Riding out the Storm
As we have mentioned before, baseball is a game of streaks and slumps. Each team, no matter how talented, endures tough stretches where it appears as if everything has gone wrong.
The latter half of May is a perfect indication of the storm Boston has endured, combined with the hot streak the Red Sox have been on as of late.
But the storm Boston has endured goes much further than just slumps—both individually and as a team.
Injuries, perhaps above all other factors, have been at the heart of the Red Sox's problems for much of the season so far.
Look at Boston's roster and count all the players that have spent time on the disabled list so far. Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Will Middlebrooks, Mike Carp and Clay Buchholz are just some of the names that pop up.
There have been others who have missed time due to injury but avoided DL stints, such as Dustin Pedroia and Koji Uehara, per Ian Browne of MLB.com.
When one stops to think about the aforementioned names and their respective roles on this team, it is hard to wonder how the Red Sox still remain in contention thus far into the 2014 season.
Thankfully, Boston has called upon its organizational depth as well as some key moves by manager John Farrell and general manager Ben Cherington in recent weeks.
Let us put all the pieces together for a moment.
In the case of Victorino's injuries, Boston has been able to rely on timely production from players like Jackie Bradley Jr. and Grady Sizemore—perhaps not equally in terms of offensive contributions but filling the void nonetheless.
Middlebrooks' absence has opened up the door for Boston to re-sign Stephen Drew, which shores up the defense while adding some offensive prowess on the left side of the infield. Brock Holt has also filled in amicably as well.
The bullpen—such an integral part of Boston's 2013 success—and the back end of the rotation has reinforcements in players like Rubby De La Rosa, Brandon Workman and Chris Capuano.
While not perfect, all these elements have combined to put Boston in much better shape moving forward. It is a storm of circumstance and chance, and the Red Sox obviously wished to have avoided the 10-game skid they recently endured.
Still, getting over these sorts of humps during the season can prove to be valuable to a team's character over the course of the season. This Red Sox team is far too talented to wallow in the folds of the division cellar.
It is all but impossible to state the Red Sox will overcome the many troubles they have faced in 2014 thus far.
Yet we must keep in mind that there is still plenty of baseball left to be played and that good signs are on the horizon. With two months remaining before the July 31 trade deadline, Boston has plenty of time to determine whether or not they will be buyers or sellers at that point.
Looking at the standings alone, the Red Sox can shift their focus on overtaking the Baltimore Orioles (ahead by 1.5 games) and the New York Yankees (ahead by 2.5 games) within the American League East.
This, combined with some of the listed aspects of Boston's current situation, lends credence to the fact that the Red Sox have an excellent shot at hitting their stride at the right time.
Now we just have to wait and see how they accomplish this.
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the Boston Red Sox. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.