Red Sox need a lot more out of their current group

SEATTLE, WA - JULY 24: Mookie Betts
SEATTLE, WA - JULY 24: Mookie Betts /

On paper, the Boston Red Sox are loaded with talent. It’s time for them to start living up to that.

On July 4, the Red Sox had won six straight games to take a four-game lead over the New York Yankees in the American League East. On that day, I published an article describing the Red Sox as a team ready to run away with the division. I was wrong, that’s no longer the case.

For the first time all year, the Red Sox were hitting their stride and went on a real run. The Yankees were in the middle of folding and everyone in baseball thought the Rays were punching above their weight, staying this close this late in the season. But since July 4, the Red Sox have seen their four-game lead evaporate and stand just a game above the Yankees (the Yankees are actually first in the loss column but have played four more games). Boston’s gone 7-12 over that span, the 27th worst record in baseball. It’s almost hard to believe that they’re still in first place, really.

What’s stood out the most as the club slides back down to the pack has undoubtedly been the offense, or lack there of it. Since they peaked with a four game lead at the beginning of the month, they’ve hit just .221 with a .616 OPS, both of which are dead last in the major leagues.

For most of the year, we heard that the lineup was fine without power. They were a group that would kill you with a high on-base percentage and doubles, not the long ball. At times, that’s been true. But for a team that even when hot isn’t hitting a lot of home runs, they can’t afford to go as cold as they have lately.

The Red Sox need offensive help, ergo the call-up of Rafael Devers and acquisition of infielder Eduardo Nunez. Both are improvements to the roster, but neither can be reasonably expected to turn around the club’s struggles individually. With management’s attention now turned toward improving the bullpen, they had better hope the current group of players can do it themselves.

Over the past 14 days, only Dustin Pedroia has a wRC+ above 100. He’s actually been tearing the cover off the ball lately, with a .345/.400/.509 slash line, 143 wRC+, two home runs, and 13 RBIs in his last 13 games. But aside from him, the Red Sox are struggling to come up with anything offensively.

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Sorted by games played, here’s how the other regulars in the line up have fared over the past two weeks.

How about Mitch Moreland and Xander Bogaerts creating 130% and 106% fewer runs than league average over the past two weeks. To be fair, they’re both playing through injury – a broken toe for Moreland and strained ligament in Bogaerts’ hand – but still, if they’re going to be on the field they need to be better than that. Hanley’s come the closest to being a productive player – if you look at his home runs he probably has been. But the guys that really need to get going are Benintendi, Bradley, and Betts.

On paper, this outfield is the best in baseball. On the field, they’re far from it right now. All three are fully healthy as far as we know, and fill out three of the top five spots in the lineup. Being the best player on the team, the offense goes through Mookie – which explains why it hasn’t been going lately. For the Red Sox to get back to a comfortable lead in the division, these three need to be the ones to get them there.

On the flip side, there are so many players struggling right now that it’s hard to imagine this lasting much longer. Too many of them are just too good to slump for this long. If Bogaerts and Moreland can get healthy, that along with a hot streak from Betts and Benintendi would be enough to put them back in a dominant position. Add in some consistency from Ramirez and Bradley and they’re rolling.

For that reason, it’s understandable why management is content with the lineup they have and are focusing their attention on acquiring a late inning reliever. The bullpen lacks a single reliable arm ahead of Craig Kimbrel while Joe Kelly and Carson Smith remain on the disabled list.

To add a more positive outlook on the rest of the season, they still have one of the deeper and more talented rotations in baseball with Chris Sale, Drew Pomeranz, David Price, Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez. Sale pitched another dominant game to conclude an otherwise disappointing road trip on Wednesday and is running away with the Cy Young Award. Meanwhile, Pomeranz has been lights out over his past 12 starts, while Price has flashed the type of stuff that brought him to Boston. If Porcello can continue turning things around as well, the rotation alone should be enough to carry them into the postseason.

Next: Watch Rafael Devers go deep for his first major league hit

For now, though, the Red Sox absolutely need more out of their lineup. Some fans are probably frustrated to learn that the front office is content with the group they have, but we wouldn’t opine about their lack of production so much if we didn’t know they could do better.