Red Sox needed Kyle Schwarber’s bat to avoid sweep against Yankees

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - AUGUST 15: Kyle Schwarber #18 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after scoring a run against the Baltimore Orioles during the sixth inning at Fenway Park on August 15, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - AUGUST 15: Kyle Schwarber #18 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after scoring a run against the Baltimore Orioles during the sixth inning at Fenway Park on August 15, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

Kyle Schwarber was mysteriously absent from the latest Red Sox loss

While Anthony Rizzo was driving in a pair of runs to open up the lead for the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox had their own trade deadline acquisition watching from the bench. Granted, Kyle Schwarber has been utilized exclusively as a designated hitter since his arrival – he would have been on the bench at that moment anyway. It’s still noteworthy that the hitter brought in to save this sputtering offense was absent from a game Boston desperately needed to avoid a sweep in the Bronx.

Schwarber received a day off after starting in both games of Tuesday’s doubleheader. Apparently, being a DH for 14 innings is exhausting. The Red Sox are understandably being cautious with a player who was recently activated after missing a month with a hamstring injury. Schwarber was working out in the outfield and at first base prior to Wednesday’s game though so it’s clear there wasn’t any concern about a setback or lingering soreness that would keep him out of the lineup.

In a pivotal game against a division rival that had overtaken them in the standings, Boston benched Schwarber in order to reserve the DH spot for… Kevin Plawecki? No disrespect to Plawecki, who is batting an impressive .302 in limited time this season, but he’s a career backup catcher for a reason. He has been excellent for what the Red Sox have needed him for but he’s not an All-Star slugger who the team highlighted as their prize of the trade deadline.

If Schwarber isn’t going to be your DH then J.D. Martinez absolutely must be. The Red Sox put Martinez in right field to accommodate their two-catcher lineup and it cost them in the second inning. Martinez made a valiant effort at a sliding catch only for the ball to pop out of his glove. Rougned Odor was a sitting duck after initially retreating to first but Martinez one-hopped the throw, giving Odor the split second he needed to slide into second safely and load the bases.

The Yankees got on the board immediately after and took control with a four-run inning. Hunter Renfroe probably makes that catch. Even if he doesn’t, his cannon of an arm undoubtedly gets the ball to second on a line to force out Odor. Nick Pivetta was clearly gassed from a strenuous inning as the game got away from him but he wouldn’t have been forced to throw as many pitches if the Red Sox had recorded an out there.

Did the Red Sox want Schwarber to avoid lefties?

The Yankees sending a lefty to the mound to start the game may have influenced the decision to bench Schwarber. His left-handed bat doesn’t have extreme splits (.247/.374/.370 vs LHP) but he’s clearly been better this season against right-handers (.262/.335/.651). Plawecki has thrived against lefties this season (.321/.390/.415). The numbers seem to dictate starting him over Schwarber was a sound strategy.

Andrew Heaney isn’t exactly a southpaw to be feared though. The struggling Red Sox lineup made him appear to be an ace but Heaney has been brutal this year with a 5.51 ERA. He’s also been a reverse-splits pitcher who gives up a higher average to his fellow lefties and a nearly identical OPS to both sides of the plate.

Heaney owns an alarming 1.9 HR/9 and has coughed up a staggering nine home runs in 22 innings since joining the Yankees. He wouldn’t have the platoon advantage but I still like Schwarber’s chances of doing damage more than Plawecki and his .376 slugging percentage.

Alex Cora had his reasons for leaving Schwarber out of the starting lineup but that doesn’t mean he needed to sit the entire game. According to MassLive’s Chris Cotillo, the manager confirmed Scwharber was available off the bench. Did he simply forget that he had one of the league’s best power threats as an option to pinch-hit when his team was trailing late in the game?

The Red Sox rallied in the ninth inning with a Renfroe home run trimming the lead to three followed by a walk and a base hit. That brought Plawecki to the plate representing the tying run with two outs. Is that really who you want for the potential final out of the game?

New York had lefty reliever Lucas Luetge on the mound to close out the ninth. Unlike Heaney, Luetge has been tough on lefties, holding them to a .215 average and .570 OPS. That would certainly make any  manager think twice about pinch-hitting with a lefty. However, down to their final out in a spot where a home run ties the game, I’ll take my chances with Schwarber over the guy who has only one home run this year.

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If Cora was sitting Schwarber in order to avoid the lefty starter then there wasn’t another ideal opportunity to use him considering Heaney tossed seven innings. The only other opportunity where it could be considered came in the eighth against another lefty reliever, Zack Britton, who has been even tougher on left-handed hitters (.188 AVG).

You aren’t removing Bobby Dalbec against a lefty. The Red Sox could have pinch-hit for Christian Vazquez and moved Plawecki to catcher but it might not have been enough of an upgrade considering the reliever’s success against lefties. Vazquez is also one of only two current Red Sox hitters with a career hit against Britton.

The Red Sox could have used Schwarber’s potent bat to extend their rally but they never found an opportune situation to bring him in with the Yankees rolling with an all-lefty pitching staff in this game. Schwarber’s power predominately comes against right-handed pitchers.

Still, Scwharber is a star who was brought here to boost the lineup. Getting swept by the Yankees is enough of a gut-punch before realizing it was partially self-inflicted by leaving one of their best bats out of the lineup in favor of their pair of punchless catchers.

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