Red Sox lineup shows they are mailing in the rest of this season
By Sean Penney
The Boston Red Sox are hopelessly out of the playoff hunt and it shows by the lineup they are trotting out for the series finale against the Giants.
The Boston Red Sox will try to avoid getting swept by the San Francisco Giants this afternoon. Well, “try” might be a generous term. Based on the lineup they are rolling out Thursday afternoon, it hardly seems as if they care.
It certainly doesn’t help that the Red Sox are limping to the finish line of a lost season with injuries to key players. Mookie Betts remains sidelined with a sore foot and J.D. Martinez is dealing with groin tightness. Remove those big bats from the equation and any lineup would be forced to do some significant shuffling.
Still, this lineup looks like one the club would use during spring training.
Andrew Benintendi has moved back into the leadoff spot with Betts out of action. There’s a reason why the team wanted to try him in that role to begin the season and while it didn’t pan out, he’s a reasonable choice to fill the void left by Betts’ absence.
The dynamic duo of Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts typically follows but with Martinez sitting out again, manager Alex Cora has pushed the 30-homer hitters closer to the middle of the order. Batting Devers third and Bogaerts in the cleanup spot is fine, it’s the ripple effect this move has on the rest of the order that’s concerning.
Christian Vazquez is having a fine breakout season. The power he’s displayed is beyond anything we could have hoped for based on his track record. However, the No. 2 hole in the lineup isn’t designed for a player struggling to keep his on-base percentage above .300 for the season. His .271 batting average is solid enough but Vazquez rarely walks, making him a poor fit for hitting this high in the order.
A better option for that spot would have been Brock Holt, who is second on the team with a .386 OBP. Instead, Holt is batting fifth. You usually find a bit more power in that spot and Holt’s three homers and .418 slugging percentage don’t fit the bill. His on-base skills would warrant batting near the top of an order that wasn’t as stacked as a healthy Red Sox lineup but his lack of power isn’t ideal for where he’s hitting today.
He’ll be followed by Gorkys Hernandez, a laughable concept considering he’s 2-for-15 without an extra-base hit since joining the Red Sox. That’s not a small sample size fluke either. Hernandez is a career .233 hitter with a .646 OPS.
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Jackie Bradley Jr. is usually at the bottom of the order but in this watered-down lineup, he gets bumped up to seventh. It’s only the 32nd time this season that he’s started a game batting higher than eighth. At least he appears to be at the beginning of one of his hot streaks, with a home run and multiple hits in each of his last two games.
Many teams have weak links near the bottom of their order. Few are weaker than Chris Owings, who is simply not a major league hitter. He’s 2-for-26 (.077) since the Red Sox scooped him up following his release from the Kansas City Royals. Yes, one of the worst offensive teams in baseball didn’t think Owings was good enough to keep around.
We wrap up the order with Marco Hernandez, a solid utility player who happens to be struggling at the moment. Hernandez was a great story when he got off to a hot start after battling his way back from several injury-plagued seasons but he’s batting .167 in 30 at-bats this month.
I get it, the Red Sox are 10 games out of a playoff spot and September is a time for non-contenders to tinker with their lineups. Cora is limited by a pair of star players who are injured and he wants to give certain guys a day off. It’s also an opportunity to test unique lineups to get a look at what may help the team in the future. This isn’t a knock on Cora, it’s a reluctant acceptance of the current state of affairs.
These games no longer matter with the Red Sox so far out of the playoff race so they are treating them like exhibition games. It’s smart in terms of what’s best for the future. After seeing this team get no-hit by Jeff Samardzija into the sixth inning last night and sitting on the verge of getting swept at Fenway by a Giants team with a losing record, this indifference toward winning is also hard to watch.