After more than five weeks of fighting to do so, the Red Sox finally got their heads above water on Sunday afternoon, taking a 5-2 decision in Texas. Their second straight win, it earned them the series over the Rangers while improving the team's record to 19-18 on the year.
And it should come as no surprise that both of those wins came in games when the Sox were opposed by a left-handed starting pitcher. In such contests this season Boston is 10-4. But if they're going to continue a roll that's now seen them win six of eight, the Sox had better start hitting better against righties.
During the series that starts Tuesday night in Minnesota, the Twins are expected to throw Ricky Nolasco, Kevin Correia, and Phil Hughes. Then, when the Sox return home for their ALCS rematch with the Tigers this weekend, Detroit is lined up to start Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello in two of the three tilts. All of those hurlers are right-handed.
And that's not a good thing for the Sox, at least based on how they've hit so far.
After failing to put any of their first 20 batters on base, and managing only
two one hit s in 8.2 shutout innings against Yu Darvish last Friday, the Red Sox are 9-14 when opposed by right-handed starting pitchers -- the third-worst record in the American League, and the sixth-worst in the majors.
It's been every bit as much of a struggle as the record suggests, too, with the Sox hitting just .232 against righty starters. That ranks 13th of the 15 AL clubs, as does a .669 OPS. In terms of slugging alone they're dead last, at .354.
Last year the Red Sox led the AL in OPS (.803) and slugging (.450) against right-handed starters, and were second in the league with a .279 average. As a result, they finished with an AL-best record of 65-43 against that brand of competition and, given the frequency with which clubs typically face pitching from that side, each of the nine best big-league teams by that measure made the playoffs.
In fact, no team has made the postseason with a losing record against righty starters since the Dodgers did in 2008, so it's important that the Sox pick up the performance there -- and it behoove them to begin that process this week if they're hopeful that this current roll can turn into a full-fledged launch point as they attempt to escape the mediocrity they've been mired in since coming North from Fort Myers.
Individually, the pressure to be better is on David Ortiz, who is hitting just .241 against righty starters, despite a career average of .289. It's also on A.J. Pierzynski and Grady Sizemore, veteran lefties like Ortiz, who are respectively hitting .224 and .210. And it's on the youth, too, as Jackie Bradley is batting .164 in that split, and Will Middlebrooks is hitting just .114.
Only Mike Napoli is clearly outperforming his career numbers, as you can see below, which shows the batting average/OBP/slugging percentage against right-handed starters for each Red Sox hitter with at least 20 such plate appearances this season.
Against guys like Darvish, it's excusable. And if the lineup looks similarly overmatched against Scherzer this coming Friday, so be it. But if the Red Sox are going to begin making their move in a wide-open division, it can't be bad nights against the Nolascos, Correias, and Hugheses of the league that keep holding them back.
They're in a good position now. But in order to take advantage, they've got to get right against righties.