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If they aren't elite, Sox can hit lefties

Posted by David D'Onofrio  July 31, 2013 01:34 AM

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After a week in which the Red Sox offense was shut down by Matt Moore, David Price, then Price again, the conclusion was easy to reach for those rushing to judgment: The Sox struggle to hit left-handed pitching.

As Joe Saunders helped everyone to see on Tuesday night, however, that generalization was actually missing a word. It should've really said, "The Sox struggle to hit elite left-handed pitching."

Against Saunders and the rest of the southpaws who exist in the vast baseball expanses below the level of guys like Moore and Price, the Red Sox have been just fine this season, really. Monday night they scored six runs -- five earned -- on nine hits over five innings against the Seattle southpaw whose adjusted-ERA for the past three or four years suggests he typifies left-handed mediocrity, and Boston's ability to feast on his type is familiar.

Overall, the Sox are now 21-14 when facing a lefty starter. That ties them with the Indians for the third-best record in baseball, and it speaks to the fact that they're plenty capable of doing the job against the routine, everyday lefty.

When opposing the starters with the 15 best ERAs among left-handers in 2013, or the 2012 Cy Young winner Price, the Red Sox are 5-7. They're batting .210 in those 12 games, with a .256 on-base percentage and a .299 slugging percentage. Accordingly, they've reached those hurlers for an average of 1.7 runs per start.

Here's a game-by-game breakdown, which includes quality starts in 10 of 12, with one of the exceptions being the outing at Tampa that Price left injured:

Copy of 2013 Sox vs LH starters.xlsx

Against all other southpaws, meanwhile, they're 16-7. Their average jumps to .281, their OBP to .359, and their slugging to .476. Against the riffraff (which means any lefty starter who hasn't thrown the requisite number of innings or has an ERA higher than 3.57) they're averaging 6 runs per start.

Those numbers suggest the Red Sox will be good enough against left-handed pitching for the rest of the regular season that they needn't aggressively pursue a right-handed bat before Wednesday's trade deadline. -- and they might be OK for the postseason, too. Several of the NL's top lefties are pitching for contenders, and the Sox could see them in the World Series, but among the AL the only worrisome matchup is Tampa Bay. Other than Price and Moore, Texas' Derek Holland and Boston's own Felix Doubront are the only lefties with an ERA better than 4.10 pitching for a club with realistic playoff aspirations.

So this weekend, when Arizona comes in and Patrick Corbin takes the mound Saturday with his 2.24 ERA, you may well hear it again. The Red Sox struggle to hit left-handed pitching. Just don't believe everything you hear.

BEYOND THE BOX SCORE
Red Sox 8, Mariners 2
Hitters
11-for-34, 6 K, BB, 2 2B, 3 HR
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF 1-for-4, R, RBI, HR, K: After homering once in his first 79 games, Ellsbury has slugged four since the fireworks started on July 4th -- which is as many as Ortiz over that span.
Shane Victorino, RF 3-for-4, 3 R, 2 2B: His sixth game with at least three hits was his first scoring three runs, as well as his first with two doubles, as a member of the Red Sox.
Dustin Pedroia, 2B 2-for-4, 2 R, 3 RBI, HR: We should've known all along it would take a classic Pedroia at-bat to bust him out of his slump. Working Saunders to a ninth pitch, he sent it rocketing over the Green Monster to snap an 0-for-16 skid.
David Ortiz, DH 1-for-4, RBI, K: His run-scoring single was straight out of the textbook, as he stayed on a pitch over the outer half against the lefty, and hit in the vacated shortstop hole, and didn't try to do too much with a man on second.
Mike Napoli, 1B 1-for-4, R, 2 K: Had a single, but he's still 3-for-19 with 10 strikeouts since homering and doubling in the same game against Price.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C 2-for-4, R, 2 RBI, HR: A long blast to center was his first homer since he hit a couple on June 9, a stretch of 32 games in which he had an at-bat.
Jonny Gomes, LF 0-for-3, BB, K: As you can see here, Gomes is now hitting just .218 against left-handed starters, while Mike Carp -- in much more limited action -- has a team-best OPS of 1.021. It'll be interesting to see if Carp doesn't start getting more opportunity over Gomes, who, you'll recall, was in spring training discussed by John Farrell as an option to hit second or third against LHP.
Stephen Drew, SS 0-for-4, K: The best thing that can be said of Drew's night is that he appears to be the team's shortstop for the rest of the year, with Iglesias having been traded to Detroit.
Jose Iglesias, 3B 1-for-3: In his final hit as a Red Sox, he tried turning a double into a single, as the ProJo's Brian MacPherson put it. Over the past four weeks his average dropped 85 points, and his OPS fell 208 points, so the Sox did well to get Jake Peavy in return.
Pitchers
9 IP, 5 ER, 11 H, 2 BB, 5 K
Brandon Workman, SP 6 IP, 6H, ER, BB, 9K: He whiffed nine en route to his first-career win, including a couple with the bases loaded in the sixth -- and, as a reward, then presumably lost his spot in the rotation to the newly acquired Peavy. Nevertheless, that final bear-down sequence bodes well for his ability to help the Sox out of the bullpen.
Craig Breslow, RP IP: He was perfect in the seventh, when he was brought on to face two lefties and a righty.
Matt Thornton, RP 1 IP, 2 K: The eighth inning featured a lefty and two switch-hitters for Seattle, and Thornton was Farrell's choice. The score was 6-2 entering both the seventh and eighth, but in choosing when to use his two veteran lefties, the manager gave Thornton the inning featuring two Mariners hitting from the right side.
Pedro Beato, RP 1 IP, 2 H, ER, BB, K: He allowed his second run of the season while laboring through a ninth that needed 26 pitches.
This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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About the author

Dave D'Onofrio is a sports journalist who focuses on the Red Sox and Patriots, and also writes Boston.com's "Off The Field" blog about what Boston's sportsmen do away from the More »

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