Boston Red Sox first baseman Mitch Moreland has been struggling in the second half, much as he did after the break last season.
Mitch Moreland was the hero in Sunday night’s win over the Houston Astros, delivering a walk-off base hit to prevent the Boston Red Sox from being swept in the series. As exciting as the moment was, one clutch at-bat doesn’t overshadow Moreland’s troubling second half slump.
Moreland came off the bench to pinch-hit for Steve Pearce in the 8th inning on Sunday and picked up a base hit in each of his two plate appearances. It was Moreland’s first multi-hit game since August 22 and only the fourth game this month in which he’s reached base safely.
The 33-year old has been struggling for several weeks. Moreland is hitting .193/.258/.345 over his last 119 at-bats in the second half. A strong first half sent Moreland to the All-Star Game to represent his team for the American League squad but he’s been far from All-Star caliber since the break.
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The second half slump is reminiscent of last year when a toe injury sent Moreland’s production into a tailspin. He pulled out of his funk late in the season once his toe healed sufficiently and was one of Boston’s best bats in the playoffs. Moreland battled knee soreness last month which may partially explain his current slump. The way he bounced back last year offers a sliver of hope that he can do the same again.
The Red Sox had better hope so because they don’t have a solid contingency plan. Pearce has proven to be a solid mid-season acquisition but the shine on the former Toronto Blue Jay has faded a bit since his hot start with Boston. While he managed to blast five homers and post a strong .960 OPS in August, Pearce also hit a meager .214 for the month.
Pearce also isn’t the defender that Moreland is. He’s been about average in the field in his limited time at first base since joining the Red Sox but when you have the erratic Rafael Devers making throws from across the diamond, wouldn’t you prefer to have a Gold Glove winner like Moreland on the receiving end?
The trade-off of an inferior defender is worthwhile when the opposition sends a lefty to the mound. Pearce is still mashing lefties to the tune of a .337 average and .1.007 OPS this season. Unfortunately, he’s hitting only .242 with a .793 OPS against right-handed pitching, suggesting he’s best suited in a platoon with the lefty Moreland.
The Red Sox need Moreland to start hitting against right-handers. His glove should be enough to warrant playing time through a slump but Boston is already using the anemic bats of Sandy Leon and Jackie Bradley at the bottom of the order. How many players can they afford to start based on their defense alone?
Sunday’s walk-off base hit could be the confidence boost Moreland needs to get going down the stretch. As long as the knee soreness is behind him, we could see a revival at the plate similar to what Moreland provided last fall.