Why the Boston Red Sox Are Still a Legitimate Playoff Contender

Heath Clary@hc3onthediamondCorrespondent IIIMay 24, 2015

BOSTON, MA - MAY 23: Mike Napoli #12 of the Boston Red Sox celebrates his second home run of the game with Hanley Ramirez #13 against the Los Angeles Angels in the sixth inning at Fenway Park on May 23, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

It has simply been a weird year for the Boston Red Sox so far in 2015.

They started the season strong due to a powerful offense led by offseason acquisition Hanley Ramirez, but their pitching was too ineffective to give the club a realistic chance to make the postseason. 

How bad was the pitching? Horrible.

They fired pitching coach Juan Nieves after the starting rotation posted a horrendous 5.75 ERA in the month of April. 

However, the organization was confident that the pitching woes would stop sooner rather than later.

"We knew we needed good pitching coming into the year to win games," Boston general manager Ben Cherington said via Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald back on May 12. "I believe we'll pitch better, and I believe we have a lot of the solutions here already."

That seemed like a brash statement at the time, but sure enough the Sox pitching did turn it around. Through May 21 games, the Boston starting rotation had a 3.29 ERA since May 10. The quartet of Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and Joe Kelly have all improved significantly over the course of a month, and they should be able to be at least a decent rotation for the remainder of the season.

Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com wrote an article on May 12 outlining a few statistics that proved that the Red Sox pitching had actually been better than the stats showed, so it was only a matter of time before everything evened out.

And now, as the pitching rotation has started to turn it on of late, the offense has gone punchless.

Apr 24, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA;  Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz (34) hits a three-run home run during the fifth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The lineup has struggled to score runs almost as much as the starters struggled to prevent them early in the season, as the Sox have scored two or fewer runs in 13 of 19 games in May.

However, when you dig a little deeper you see that the offensive woes might be a result of bad luck more so than poor hitting.

Time after time, the Red Sox have hit balls hard and haven't been rewarded. According to Alex Speier of the Boston Globe, Boston owns the lowest batting average on balls in play (BABIP) with a .259 clip. That number is nearly 40 points below league average, which has to give the organization hope that prosperous times lie ahead.

They don't strike out, either. The Red Sox have been the hardest team to strike out in the MLB so far this season—and they have the highest walk rate in the American League—so it's not like they aren't putting the ball in play on a regular basis.

The players and coaches certainly understand what is going on.

"There's no frustration," Mike Napoli told Tim Britton of the Providence Journal. "We're hitting balls hard. You can't control where the ball goes."

John Farrell echoed a similar tune. "There were a number of times we squared the ball up and someone's running it down in the gap or someone's right there," the Boston manager said via Britton. "We're getting a number of good at-bats, but the ball's not falling right now. You can't steer it after you hit it."

David Ortiz, the veteran DH and the team leader, was a little more blunt about the whole topic.

"It's getting ridiculous," Ortiz said via Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe. "We've been seeing that stuff all season. Our pitching has been outstanding lately. But even when we put a good swing on the ball, you see what happens. Not good."

All three of those quotes are right on point when describing the Red Sox this season. They don't have anything to worry about. Baseball is a funny game, but in the end it always evens out. If they continue hitting the ball like they are, the hits and runs will eventually come in bunches.

GAIL BURTON/Associated Press

Hanley Ramirez started the season on fire, hitting home runs and driving in runs, but he has been physically beaten up a bit recently. He has dealt with a variety of nagging injuries, and his production has suffered.

However, Farrell and Cherington remain optomistic.

"Physically he hasn't said anything yet," Cherington told Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald. "He's had some days where he's swung the bat really well and has hit some balls hard. I'm not worried about Hanley. He'll get going again."

The Red Sox manager stressed to Lauber that Ramirez is still a vital part of the lineup.

You watch him take B.P, you watch the swings in the game, you watch the impact and the way the ball comes off the bat, it's still strong, it's still powerful. He's hit into some hard luck, and yet there's been times where his swing might have gotten big for the want of trying to impact the game in one swing. His presence in the lineup is needed. Ninety percent of Hanley Ramirez is still better than a lot of guys.

The organization stayed positive about the pitching staff when it was struggling, and that turned out to be the right move. Now, with the offense struggling in a similar manner, they are choosing to stay positive and I think that philosophy will reap rewards down the road.

Nobody is really separating themselves in the AL East, and the Red Sox are currently only 4.5 games back in the division. 

They are going to get it straightened out—eventually the offense and pitching are going to fire on all cylinders at the same time—and when that time comes, watch out, American League.

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