The Red Sox offense is in a strange spot as we head into Monday’s Game Four, another win-or-go-home contest for this Boston team. They were mostly bad for the final week of the regular season, mostly bad (or at least mediocre) over the course of the entire regular season, and have been mostly bad in this series. Of course, they were much better on Sunday in putting a big number on the scoreboard in a game that was the first in which they did not face a legitimate ace. That’s not a coincidence. Still, there are some question marks around this unit and as they head into Game Four. To me, the biggest question is how you write out the lineup itself in a do-or-die game, and specifically how much you play into the hot hand.
The good news for John Farrell and the Red Sox is, after Sunday’s game, there are a few different guys who could be described as having a hot hand and thus candidates to move up in the lineup. Hanley Ramirez had a monster game on Sunday and is hitting .600 for the series. After hitting sixth in that game, it would seem to make sense to move him up. Mitch Moreland also had a strong game in the last one and had a solid Game One before sitting for Game Two. Mookie Betts, Rafael Devers and Jackie Bradley have also been good-to-solid with at least one big hit in this series. At the very least, they aren’t looking like disasters at the plate.
On the other side of the coin, there are a few Red Sox hitters who have looked mostly dreadful at the plate in this series. Unfortunately, they all hit in the same cluster, and that cluster happens to come at the very start of the lineup. Xander Bogaerts, Dustin Pedroia and Andrew Benintendi all look completely lost at the plate right now, and it’s hard to ignore considering they collectively make up arguably the most important group of three hitters in the lineup. It’s up to Farrell to decide how to play this out.
It’s really, really easy to say things need to be shuffled around. It might be the right call, too. In a do-or-die game, though, you want to do everything you can to put the team in the best position to win even if it’s a drastic change. These three hitters look horrible over the last three games and frankly it’s getting hard to watch. This isn’t like the strategy you can employ with a pitcher where you can simply remove him from the game early on if/when it’s clear he doesn’t have it. When you choose a spot for someone like Bogaerts, he’s locked there all year. Playing the hot-hand would suggest the shortstop especially needs to be removed from the leadoff spot, as you don’t want to risk that futility continuing to lead off the game.
On the other hand, the sample is obviously incredibly small and just because someone has had a few bad games doesn’t mean it’s going to continue. This is particularly true for Bogaerts, who started hitting leadoff in September and was playing extremely well in the role. Even towards the end of the regular season when much of the lineup was stumbling to the finish line, Bogaerts was hitting fairly well. So, that stretch was a larger sample and likely more representative of his recent performance, but it’s also getting further and further away with every game. How do you balance it?
This is the part of the show where I would normally tell you the answer, wrap it up and call it a day. I don’t have an answer here. Instead, this is one of those situations where I realize how much harder it is to manage than we give it credit for. Granted, it’s Farrell’s job to figure this out and put his players and his team in the best position to succeed. I just have no idea how he should do it, and how much of a role the last three games should play into the next lineup. It certainly feels like the top of the lineup needs a jolt, but I’m not sure how it should be done. In the end, I’d like move Bogaerts down and try to get at least one of the hot hitters above in the top-third of the lineup, but I’m not 100 percent certain about it. Everything about these elimination games, even filling out the lineup, is anxiety-inducing.