Red Sox’ lineup can look to the past for inspiration….with plenty of caution

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Like everything in baseball, it’s probably only a matter of time.

It was only a matter of time before the first Red Sox-Yankees tilt of the season (Thursday, 7:05 p.m.), just like it was only a matter of time before Boston got its first look at former teammate Jacoby Ellsbury in pinstripes. It indeed may only be a matter of time before Ellsbury, off to a nice with the Yankees (.364, .871 OPS) makes the Red Sox regret losing what they once enjoyed in the leadoff spot, where Boston has enjoyed about as much success this season as the Edward Mujica Boston Boosters Club.

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It’s also a matter of time before the Red Sox start looking like the Red Sox again.

Or, is it inevitable?

Is there really any way to sugar coat it? The Red Sox have been dreadful through the first nine games of the 2014 season. They’re 4-5, which isn’t any reason to sound the panic alarm, but it has been a plodding trek to that record, with a frustrating lack of ability to drive in runs (Boston is 17-79, .215 with runners in scoring position), and a laughable knack for hitting into a league-leading 17 double plays. The Sox are on pace to hit into 306 twin killings this season, which would shatter the record the franchise set in 1990 with 174 (current Yankees coach Tony Pena led the team that year with 23. A.J. Pierzynski and Mike Napoli are both currently on pace to hit into 54 this year).


The lineup has been more of a mishmash than one befitting a defending champion. It’s as if John Farrell threw his morning oatmeal on the wall and let the drippings determine who was batting leadoff that day. Jonny Gomes today, maybe Dustin Pedroia tomorrow. Hell, when does David Ortiz get his shot? Boston is hitting .176 from the top spot in the order, scoring only four runs, and Daniel Nava has already replaced JD or Stephen as the face of the fans’ ire.
That aforementioned 1990 team, which won the American League East with 88 wins (…hooking toward the corner, Brunansky…) stole a total of 53 bases, led by a whopping nine from Ellis Burks. Ellsbury, of course, had 52 by himself for the Sox last season. Joe Morgan’s squad wrote the textbook in station-to-station baseball, buoyed by a pitching staff that boasted 21-6 Roger Clemens, 17-8 Mike Boddicker, and Jeff Reardon’s 34 saves. The bullpen even survived Lou Gorman’s decision to bring Rob Murphy aboard. Somehow.
If all that sounds familiar, it could be because it might be indicative of the team that plays on the same grass 24 years later. Neither Wade Boggs nor Jody Reed could be considered your prototypical leadoff hitter, just as neither Nava nor Gomes naturally flow off the cerebrum when building your perfect lineup. Shane Victorino should help enormously when he returns from the disabled list, but ideally Grady Sizemore is the perfect man for the spot, once the Red Sox deem him healthy enough to take on the grueling burden of an extra at-bat each game. Until then, he’ll just run around in center field with wear and tear a concern tossed to the wind. Can anyone tell me where this is making any sense?
The Red Sox have shown their natural ability to get on base, but producing runs has been the major concern over the season’s first 10 days. Boston’s .733 OPS ranks in the top five in the American League, and its 119 total bases are just a stone’s throw from the likes of the Angels, Rays, and Yankees. But the Sox have only scored 35 runs thus far, an average of 3.9 per game. Granted, that’s more runs than the Tigers, Yankees, and A’s have all scored, but last year’s Sox averaged 5.3 runs per game, and Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Stephen Drew are no longer here. It’s a knee-jerk to miss Saltalamacchia after what Sox fans have witnessed thus far from Pierzynski (and you only need to remember the catcher’s defense last October to have such a loss be tempered), and nobody is really crying over Drew being replaced by Xander Bogaerts. Ellsbury? He was never going to be here, but maybe the Sox are just realizing how much he really meant to them. When healthy, of course.
Victorino’s absence certainly hasn’t helped, and nobody seems to know what to expect out of Will Middlebrooks, on the DL with an owie, anymore. Would it really surprise anyone to see Bogaerts back at third at some point with someone else – maybe even Drew – at shortstop? Maybe the Red Sox brass will come to its senses and realize that Jackie Bradley, Jr. deserves to be on the major league roster. If he keeps up what he’s delivered thus far, maybe he’s the candidate for that leadoff spot. How do you like a lineup that goes Bradley-Sizemore-Pedroia-Ortiz-Napoli-Bogaerts-Victorino-Pierzynski-Middlebrooks?
Now we’re talking. It’s only a matter of time.
Surely, it is a non-descript measurement of future possibility or certainty, which both define baseball in the first place. It’s possible that Clay Buchholz will rebound nicely Thursday after his vomit of a start Saturday against the Brewers, just as it’s a relative certainty he’ll see some time on the disabled list at some point this season. It’s possible Bradley could latch onto the leadoff spot, but there’s more certainty in a healthy Sizemore taking the position. The Yankees and Red Sox are tied for last place in the AL East with the Orioles, and while it’s possible one will be there by season’s end, it certainly won’t be all three.
After nine games, that’s about all you can surmise. The Red Sox have looked pedestrian over nine games, carelessly looking both ways before crossing the basepaths between first and third.
If the 1990 Sox have anything to say about it, such an offensive approach can still win a division title. Of course, almost a quarter-century later, 88 wins will probably land you third place.
These Sox are on pace for 72 wins. If you think that’s a reality, then you may fret about the current state of affairs. Otherwise, just put your faith in the slow-moving clock atop your baseball calendar.