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Time to reshuffle Red Sox lineup

Posted by Nick Cafardo, Globe Staff  May 15, 2013 09:32 AM

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Words with Friends has a “reshuffle” key. The Red Sox need to press that now.

Sure, you’re basically taking the same players and putting them in different spots in the order, but given the Red Sox’ recent offensive malaise, it’s about that time.

One obvious reshuffle should be Dustin Pedroia going from the No. 3 to the No. 2 hole. Pedroia is a No. 2 hitter. He can move runners along, has excellent bat control. This also moves your power hitters up a notch.

There are two other pockets of concern.

One is Jacoby Ellsbury. He’s not having a bad year, and he leads the league with 12 stolen bases, but he’s just been inconsequential. Ellsbury needs to be more of a factor in the Red Sox lineup for the whole lineup to work. Will he ever be the player we saw two years ago, with an abundance of speed and power? He certainly has the speed part still and he makes things happen on the basepaths when he’s on them. But we need to see more.

Then there’s Will Middlebrooks.

The Red Sox counted on Middlebrooks to be one of their righthanded power hitters. He needs to be a threat in the middle of this lineup, but so far this season, save for three home runs in one game against Toronto, that hasn’t been the case.

The Red Sox shouldn’t have lost Tuesday night’s game on a pop up lost in the roof. They lost because they had no offense to speak of after David Ortiz popped his three-run homer in the first inning against Matt Moore.

Ortiz is right when he said that over the last two seasons when things go bad they go bad for everyone. The Red Sox can’t seem to keep two or three guys hot enough to carry the load for a while.

Why is that?

It’s because the lineup is void of another impact hitter, which is why Ellsbury and Middlebrooks need to step up their game. They can both be impact hitters. This just can’t fall on Pedroia, Ortiz and Napoli. Pedroia has been Boston’s most consistent hitter, Ortiz and Napoli are the power sources. Napoli will always have his dips and he’ll always strikeout a lot. That’s when you need someone like Middlebrooks to provide the thump.

As colleague Peter Abraham points out, the Sox have been held to five or fewer hits in eight of 39 games (20 percent) this season. It happened 16 percent of the time last season. Imagine that. With that injury-filled and, at the end, Triple-A lineup in 2012, they were held to fewer than five hits in a game less than this season?

In their last 40 at-bats with runners in scoring position, they have only four hits and over their last 11 games they’re 14 for 83, at .169.

There’s never a whole lot a manager can do in these situations except hope things turn around quickly. As the Yankees keep winning and the Orioles stay so consistent, as the Rays rise and the Blue Jays start to come out of their doldrums, it’s going to be a pretty tough division.

Time to reshuffle. Maybe it won’t do a thing. It just looks like the right thing to try.

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