Everyone had the Red Sox pegged back in March. This was a team that was going to his the ball, and hit it hard. The only question was whether their five, six, even seven runs a night would be enough. After all, this was a staff with no ace, taking risks on reclamation projects like Justin Masterson and, in all honesty, their own Clay Buchholz. If they could keep runs off the board, they'd win 100 games. If they couldn't, they'd struggle to contend.
For a few weeks there, it looked like the baseball world had nailed it. The Red Sox scored runs, and allowed them, and were hanging around in the decent-but-unimpressive territory inhabited by teams that often find their seasons determined by their performance at the trade deadline or the level of competition they faced. It was not the worst case scenario by any means, but the concerns about the rotation had proven valid. The hope was that, with additions from the minor leagues and maybe a trade or two, the Sox would make their way back to October.
It's almost funny to think about all that knowing what we do now. In the past month, the Red Sox have very much gotten their pitching under control. Clay Buchholz and Wade Miley are regularly putting up strong starts, Steven Wright proved reliable in his stint, and Eduardo Rodriguez is fast approaching "revelation" territory. If Joe Kelly and Rick Porcello are still a bit of a mixed bag, the Sox can at least say their rotation is looking a lot more normal, which is very much a positive when you consider that they're coming from train wreck territory.
Had you told any Red Sox fan this is how the rotation would be performing come June, most would guess this team was playoff bound, not in the cellar. But as positive as the trend has been for the pitching, the lineup is an unequivocal disaster. The team that was expected to be the class of the league is instead its shame. Despite playing in one of the most run-friendly environments the game has to offer, they have managed to outscore only three other American League teams: Seattle, Chicago, and Tampa Bay.
The question for the Red Sox is why? Why is this team filled with some of the game's most dangerous bats proving so incapable of scoring runs?
Given what this article is supposed to be about, you might think I'm going to say the reason lies in hitting coach Chili Davis. I'm not. It takes a lot more information than anyone outside the organization is privy to in order to really condemn Davis. Is it a little strange that the one significant instance we have of a player figuring something out--Mike Napoli's mid-May renaissance--was sparked by advice from Dustin Pedroia rather than the hitting coach? Sure, but that's hardly enough evidence to place the blame for an entire team underperforming on one man. Blaming the coach or manager is often the lazy answer, if not always the incorrect one.
In fact, there are more likely answers for many of the players' struggles. Mookie Betts is a rookie, David Ortiz is old, Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez were both performing very well until they ran into injury trouble (Hanley's collision with the wall in left, Sandoval getting drilled in the knee), Blake Swihart is not only a rookie, but one who was promoted to the majors well ahead of schedule due to an emergency situation.
In fact, on a case-by-case basis, there are not many truly surprising performances on this team. Disappointing? Certainly, but none that were entirely unpredictable if we accept that players will get hurt. If there's anything truly strange it's just how much is going wrong at once.
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So why, then, should the Red Sox say goodbye to Chili Davis? Why should they let him go the way of Juan Nieves? Simply put: it can't hurt. It just can't. Oh, sure, there's the tiniest of chances that in Davis' absence the Red Sox see both Xander Bogaerts and Dustin Pedroia--two of the only players having positive seasons--fall off. But it's not like their contributions are saving the Red Sox as is. They need a lot more than just Bogaerts and Pedroia, and there's only a few options left to the team to shake things up. They can't get nine new players, but they can at least get one new coach.
And who knows? Maybe it does prove the difference. Maybe new eyes see something in David Ortiz' at bats against lefties that Davis could not. Maybe a new voice gets the Red Sox into the mindset they need to be to score the way they should. We can't say for sure what will happen with a new coach. All we can say is that the Davis hasn't managed to turn the lineup around, and with the season nearly 60 games old, there's less reason to believe he'll suddenly manage what he hasn't in the weeks to come than that any new coach will make a difference.
It's not necessarily fair, and it's certainly not a pretty part of doing business. But right now the Red Sox lineup is one of the most disappointing groups in recent memory. Perhaps even historically so. And if Boston's chances of turning things around are growing increasingly long, they just can't afford to sit quietly and watch the ship sink without a fight. It's time to move on from Chili Davis. Not necessarily because he's the problem. Not necessarily because a new coach will fix things. But because it's one of the only realistic routes the Red Sox can take to veer away from a status quo that is entirely unacceptable.