The Red Sox enter Tuesday night’s game, the first in a three-game series with the Rays and the first of an eight-game homestand, with a record of 12-14, in fourth place in the American League East, 3 ˝ games behind the Yankees, ahead of only the Rays.
It’s a far different scenario than it was a year ago at this point. After 26 games in 2013, the Sox were 18-8, representing a swing of six games. There are several reasons for that.
As a team, the Sox are batting .251, better than just three other teams in the AL – Cleveland, Seattle, and Houston. Their .329 on-base percentage is seventh-best in the league, while their .379 slugging percentage is 11th.
Their team ERA is a respectable 3.90, fifth in the league. But their .271 batting average allowed is third-highest in the league, while their 1.39 WHIP is sixth-highest and .744 OPS allowed is seventh-highest.
They have committed 20 errors, fourth highest in the league, and their .980 fielding percentage is better than just five other teams.
The Sox turned over several key positions to young players -- shortstop Xander Bogaerts and center fielder Jackie Bradley, with another young player at third base in Will Middlebrooks, who is still getting comfortable – and brought in veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski.
“Every year is different, going to take on a different set of circumstances,” Farrell said. “We’ve got three young players that we didn’t have a year ago, and I put Will in that category maybe to a lesser extent. But we changed three of the four guys in the backbone of the team, between behind the plate, shortstop, and center field. So there’s going to get familiarity and continuity from the defensive side particularly, to allow that to play out.
“And where our position comes into play, that takes into account the abilities of all three guys. I can’t say it’s more difficult. It’s just a different set of personnel and we’re getting familiar with that. That’s why, with the change in defensive side of it, it still comes down to the consistency on the mound. That’s the one thing we’d like to even out a little more.”
Perhaps, though, there is reason to be optimistic, with the full roster of players with whom they expected to start the season finally healthy and active. With Middlebrooks and right fielder Shane Victorino finally available to manager John Farrell simultaneously for the first time this season, the Sox went 2-1 in Toronto.
“The most important thing is our lineup gets lengthened out,” Farrell said. “To have Will in that bottom third that presents a threat, a power threat. [Middlebrooks, who missed 19 games on the disabled list with a right calf strain before being activated Friday,] was swinging the bat well before the injury. He came back and swung the bat well in the series up in Toronto. I think more than anything it doesn’t allow for that potential breather by a starting pitcher once they get thru or into that bottom third of the order. So we’ve done a better job of late with quality at-bats up and down the lineup and looking for that to continue.
“It’s hard to get a full read on what our team is going to be when it’s incomplete. Now that we have everyone back at full strength – we’re still getting Vic [who started the season on the DL with a right hamstring strain before being activated Thursday] up to full speed in terms of his timing at the plate – but to me the overriding thing is the quality of at-bats up and down the lineup. That’s going to give us opportunities if we do find ourselves behind in games to come back to mount innings, as we’ve seen this team last year do time and time again. There’s no shortage of competitiveness in this group, and…with Will, Xander and Jackie, becoming more comfortable and settling in, that’s gong to lend into this overall [team] identity.