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Red Sox Defense Hurting: Time to Start Missing Stephen Drew?

In their 14-5 thrashing Thursday night at Fenway Park at the hands of the Yankees, the Red Sox displayed flaws in every aspect of the game – pitching, hitting, fielding, mental, physical

Left-hander Felix Doubront gave an overall poor performance, including an inability to go deep into a game, lack of attention to baserunners as demonstrated by three stolen bases in one inning, a lack of control evident by two wild pitches, and leaving his team with a seven-rule hole.

The offense could muster just four hits, tying a season low for the third time. The Sox were hitless against CC Sabathia until a third inning double by Shane Victorino, fresh off the disabled list. The offense was unable to find timely hits, going just 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

But it was the abysmal defensive performance that was on display Thursday night that was particularly shocking. The Sox committed five errors leading to five unearned runs, along with a passed ball, Doubront’s two wild pitches, and a couple of defensive miscues.

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“I think the sooner we move past this one the better,” said manager John Farrell. “We need to execute at a higher level, without question. Defensively sloppy night, and you’d think that’s the one area you do have some control over, and yet we didn’t put forth a very good defensive effort here tonight.

“Once again, spotting the opponent a number of runs to get behind early. Felix was erratic with his command. We contributed with some plays defensively to extend a couple of those innings. And like I said, the sooner we move past this one the better."

“That’s as bad as we can play. That’s a terrible game to be a part of,” said catcher David Ross, who was charged with a passed ball. “That’s not big league baseball. That’s not Red Sox baseball.”

Where art thou, Stephen Drew?

And while we know Drew would not be the cure-all for the defensive woes besetting his former team, it is obvious that his caliber of defense is certainly missed. The current brand of defense bears a large portion of responsibility for the Sox’s current 10-13 record and last-place standing in the American League East, now 3 ˝ games behind the division-leading Yankees.

The Sox have a .652 defensive efficiency rating, better than only one other major league team, the Indians at .649. Last season, their .694 mark was fifth in the AL, 13th overall.

The Sox finished 2013 with a .987 fielding percentage, behind only six other major league teams. Their .978 mark this season is better than just nine other big league teams, only three others in the American League.

Their 19 errors -- better than just two teams in the American League – have led to 17 unearned runs. In their two losses to the Yankees in the just-completed three-game series, the Sox committed a combined seven errors leading to 10 unearned runs. The five errors they committed on Thursday were the most since also committing five on April 28, 2001, against the Royals.

The last time the Sox committed as many errors against the Yankees was Sept. 8, 1978 – which fans of a certain age will remember as part of the Boston Massacre four-game series at Fenway – when the Sox made seven errors in the game, losing 13-2.

Farrell said he would address his team and its performance before the start of the three-game series in Toronto on Friday.

“I wouldn’t say it’s effort related whatsoever,” Farrell said. “There’s ability here, the effort is there. Their work ethic is consistent. And yet an error has not only extended innings but then, where typically a pitching staff or individual pitcher could pick up a defensive player, that hasn’t happened. And it’s led to some situations where we’ve gotten behind early in the game.

“[Errors are] going to happen. They’re more physical in nature rather than mental, where you’d say that might – while we’ve had some mental errors – I wouldn’t say that the shortcomings that we’ve shown have been effort related.”

Rookie shortstop Xander Bogaerts leads the Sox in errors, getting charged with his third on Thursday night. In the latest loss to the Yankees he was joined by Dustin Pedroia, Jackie Bradley, Doubront, and Brock Holt. On Tuesday, it was veterans A. J. Pierzynski and Mike Napoli, with an error each leading to five unearned runs.

The Sox turned over several key positions this season with newcomer Pierzynski as the primary catcher, and rookies Bogaerts at short and Bradley in center field.

“You’re taking guys that are gaining experience at the major league level, which is going to be different than any minor league setting that they’ve ever been involved in,” Farrell said earlier this week of Bogaerts and Bradley. “The talent is there, the work ethic is there. And yet we’ve got to ride the ebb and flow a little bit, because of the inexperience.”

That could also refer to Grady Sizemore, who at 31 is returning from more than two years out of baseball because of injuries and is learning new positions in left field and right field after being solely a center fielder in his eight-season major league career.

“He’s not as comfortable as he would be in center field and we recognize that,” Farrell said earlier this week. “He played a deep right field [Tuesday] night so the ball ends up in front of him [and] he comes up just a little bit short.

“So we’re doing what we can to shorten down that [learning] curve to be more efficient.”

The Sox have also had some instability at third base, where Jonathan Herrera and Brock Holt have taken over while Will Middlebrooks has been on the DL since April 5 with a right calf strain.

Before Thursday’s game Farrell said he hoped the return of Victorino from the disabled list, where he had been all season since straining his right hamstring in the final spring training game, would provide some stability to the defense and the lineup. Victorino had the Sox’ first hit in the game, and was the only position player not charged with an error or committing a defensive miscue.

Holt was optioned back to Triple-A Pawtucket after Thursday’s game to make room on the roster for Middlebrooks, who should be activated from the DL for the weekend series in Toronto.

Will the additions of Victorino and Middlebrooks be enough to right the defense? The Sox hope so. It doesn’t appear Drew will be walking through that door with them.