Red Sox lineup: Are Mookie Betts or Hanley Ramirez back?

Mar 14, 2017; Fort Myers, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts (50) looks on from the dugout against the Toronto Blue Jays at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 14, 2017; Fort Myers, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts (50) looks on from the dugout against the Toronto Blue Jays at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The flu bug that has rampaged its way through the Boston Red Sox clubhouse continues to have ill effects on the lineup. Here’s who is available today.

The first thing that many of us did once the Boston Red Sox released today’s lineup was scan the list looking for the names of Mookie Betts or Hanley Ramirez.

Neither of them will be found on today’s lineup card. Betts could miss his third consecutive game, while Ramirez will miss his second, as each continues to battle flu-like symptoms.

Betts has made enough progress to rejoin the team today and it’s possible he could be available off the bench. Ramirez remains in Boston and is likely out for the rest of this series.

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The Red Sox are also without Xander Bogaerts, which was expected after he was put on bereavement leave and won’t be eligible to rejoin the team before Monday. That leaves Boston with a skeleton lineup and dangerously thin bench.

The team will roll out a lineup similar to yesterday’s order that failed to put up any runs against Detroit Tigers starter Michael Fulmer. The Boston bats finally broke out in the 8th inning against a woeful Tigers bullpen, only for their own bullpen to give the lead right back to hand the Red Sox their first loss of the season.

One notable change is that Pablo Sandoval moves up in the order to fifth after his three-run homer nearly made him the hero of yesterday’s game. Putting the Panda that high in the order is as much a reward for his promising start to the season as it is a reflection on how depleted the Red Sox lineup is at the moment.

The other significant change is that Christian Vazquez gets his first start of the season. It was only a matter of time before  he was given an opportunity to play and it’s not as if Sandy Leon can catch everyday. Still, removing the team’s hottest hitter from a lineup already missing so many key pieces only magnifies their problems.

Here’s what today’s lineup will look like.

You’ll notice that the Red Sox have stacked four lefties in the middle of the order, from the No. 3-6 spots. Sure, Sandoval is technically a switch-hitter, but have you watched his bat flail from the right side of the plate lately? He’s hitting below the Mendoza Line against southpaws since 2014 and remains without a hit against a lefty this season.

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Stacking lefties against a right-handed pitcher can be a wise strategy, although Tigers starter Jordan Zimmermann actually had better numbers against left-handed hitters last season. It may also prove problematic if the Tigers turn to lefties Blaine Hardy or Justin Wilson out of the bullpen late in the game.

Maybe Betts makes it in time to be available for that situation, although we can’t count on it. Leon smashes lefties, but using him to pinch-hit is risky given that it would leave the team without a backup catcher. That leaves Steve Selsky as potentially their only realistic option off the bench. He was 5-for-10 against lefties last season, but take that small sample size with a grain of salt.

The potential return of Betts provides reason for optimism, even if it’s in a limited role. It’s a promising sign that he’ll be back in the lineup tomorrow. Even with their superstar right fielder, this remains an underwhelming lineup with so many players either out or still working their way back from illness.

Next: Final thoughts from series opener vs Tigers

If you’re looking for a powerhouse lineup that Red Sox fans are accustomed to, you might have to wait until next week.