Aug 25, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox left fielder Yoenis Cespedes (52) hits the winning RBI single in the 10th inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Boston defeated Toronto 4-3. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Reasons for optimism with the 2015 Red Sox lineup

In the wake of the Emmys, which may as well have been titled the “Breaking Bad Lovefest” this year, I want to briefly discuss another entertainment awards show. Every year, the Golden Raspberry Awards (Razzies) honor the worst of the worst in film, with such categories as Worst Actor/Actress and Worst Picture. This past year, Movie 43 edged out Grown Ups 2 and After Earth for Worst Picture. The Razzies are an absurd and brutal way to critique film, but they seem relevant to this Red Sox season. The 2014 Sox may not quite win the award for worst anything, but if there were a category for biggest disappointment, the 2014 Sox are right up there with the fourth Indiana Jones movie.

There is no question that the 2013 Red Sox exceeded offensive expectations immensely. They outscored the rest of the league by 57 runs without a single superstar in the lineup. They did so with tremendous situational hitting, including 11 walk-off wins and a .278 team batting average with runners in scoring position (this year’s team is hitting .235, good for 28th in the league). Furthermore, the 2013 Red Sox lineup, top-to-bottom, was solid. Apart from third base, every lineup slot consistently contained someone hitting above .250 (averaging the Nava/Gomes platoon in left).

The 2014 Sox, on the other hand, are lucky to have four guys hitting .250 on any given night. A number of individual disappointments (Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr, Daniel Nava’s first half, Shane Victorino’s injuries) have added up to a frustrating whole. Nevertheless, I’m optimistic about the 2015 lineup’s prospects, and Tuesday’s 11-run showing against the Blue Jays was an encouraging prelude to next year. With the acquisitions of Yoenis Cespedes, Allen Craig, and now Rusney Castillo, the Sox are poised to regain some of the firepower of the 2013 Magic Beards. I’ll explain a few of my reasons for hope in detail:

  1. It all starts with the leadoff hitter, and while Brock Holt has been unexpectedly admirable in that role this year, the Sox could have a five-tool sparkplug in Castillo. Holt just stole his tenth base on Monday, a mark that Ellsbury reached in April last season. Castillo is no Rickey Henderson, but with 68 steals from 2011 to 2013 in Cuba, he has the potential to swipe 20-30 bases next season and reestablish that dynamic to the Red Sox offense. And if the 20 pounds that he gained since last year slows him down at all (let’s hope not), it will provide a boost for his own power and the measly Red Sox home run total.
  2. Speaking of power, Yoenis Cespedes has performed as advertised during his first month in Boston. He’s slugging .478 with four home runs, already passing powerhouses like Holt, Daniel Nava, and Jackie Bradley Jr. for home runs among Red Sox outfielders. Perhaps more importantly, he provides protection in the lineup behind David Ortiz. Pitchers are now far less likely to pitch around Papi, and he’s taken advantage by hitting .361 with five homers in just 19 games. Throw in Napoli and a rejuvenated Allen Craig (13 homers last year and 22 in 2012), and the middle of that order should have far more pop next year.
  3. Xander Bogaerts has been incredibly frustrating this year. But give the 21-year-old a break. There’s a reason that Mike Trout is Mike Trout: very few young players begin their careers with that kind of production. With tremendous foresight on the struggles of Mr. Bogaerts (as well as other rookies like Oscar Taveras), Dayn Perry of CBSSports compiled a statistical list back in March of mediocre rookie seasons for Hall of Famers. Roberto Clemente, a career .317 hitter, hit just .255 as a 20-year-old rookie. Red Sox legend Bobby Doerr hit just .224. With a stronger lineup around him and less pressure next season, let’s see if Xander can be more like that heir to Nomar we’ve been waiting for.

Without major changes, here’s how the 2015 Red Sox lineup is shaping up (with career average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage in parentheses):

CF Rusney Castillo (.315/.383/.512 in Cuba)

2B Dustin Pedroia (.300/.366/.445)

DH David Ortiz (.265/.362/.524)

LF Yoenis Cespedes (.283/.299/.478)

1B Mike Napoli (.259/.360/.495)

RF Allen Craig (.289/.342/.459)

3B Brock Holt (.291/.343/.391 this season)

SS Xander Bogaerts (.223/.293/.333 and let’s hope those go way up)

C Christian Vasquez (.225/.287/275 but more importantly, dude’s got a cannon)

Now, best case scenario, imagine that Ben Cherington pulls off some magic and acquires Giancarlo Stanton (.296/.404/.966 this season) without giving up Cespedes? Stanton, Ortiz, and Cespedes in the middle of that order? That’s an Oscar-worthy, not Razzie-worthy, lineup. With or without Stanton, the 2015 Sox lineup should be far more formidable. Castillo is a bit of a question mark, as is Xander’s progression, but at least there is far more hope. That’s all we can ask for, as the promise of “next year” has sustained generations of Red Sox fans.

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Tags: Boston Red Sox Rusney Castillo Xander Bogaerts Yoenis Cespedes

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