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The bottom of the lineup is starting to get going

It’s good news for the Red Sox

Miami Marlins v Boston Red Sox Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The Red Sox are scuffling right now, at least relative to the rest of their season. These struggles are probably overblown by some for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that a number of teams are scuffling in these dog days of the season, but to totally dismiss the way has played of late is also a mistake. There’s a middle ground, and that’s where Boston is at the moment. Still, even amid the struggles they possess the best record in baseball and the second-best team is still 8.5 games back. That is bananas. It’s just that the Red Sox don’t look like the juggernaut they were for the majority of the summer.

That being said, it doesn’t mean that every aspect of their roster is starting to trend down. There have been a lot of inconsistencies everywhere, but one place that has been a weakness for the majority of the season is starting to carry the team through some of their other struggles. The bottom of the lineup is picking up life, and if this can continue for another month-plus, the Red Sox could have something special brewing.

Like I said, the bottom half of the lineup has actually been one of the few blemishes on the Red Sox roster for the majority of the year. In fact, it was something we discussed way back in April and it took a long, long time for things to turn around. Looking at the entire year as a whole, the bottom three hitters in the Red Sox lineup — for NL teams this is just 7 and 8 hitters, as pitchers are not included — have posted the ninth-worst OPS in baseball, which seems crazy for the best team in baseball. Even when you throw in the number six spot — which ranks 17th in OPS — you have more than half the lineup posting below-average numbers. It hasn’t really mattered much because the top of Boston’s lineup is bananas, but with the top half scuffling relative to their early-season pace, the bottom of the lineup’s struggles become a lot more noticeable.

Boston Red Sox v Chicago White Sox Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Well, they would if not for the fact that this group has begun to turn it around. It’s a group effort, but Eduardo Núñez has certainly been the most noticeable of this trend. As Phil wrote on Monday, the infielder has always been at his best in the final month of the year, and he got started a little early in 2018. Over the last 14 days, the infielder is hitting .304/.313/.565 for a 129 wRC+. Obviously, he’s still not walking very much but that’s never the expectation with Núñez. His aggression is paying off now, as he’s putting the ball in play and doing so with authority. Really, he looks a lot like he did after coming to Boston at last year’s trade deadline. The righty is hitting a ton of line drives and hitting the ball hard almost 40 percent of the time. On top of that, he’s using the whole field and taking what the pitchers give him. His current .261 Isolated Power is probably a little high, but if he keeps swinging like he is now he will continue to serve as an effective bridge between the top and bottom halves of the lineup.

The other big contributor to the Red Sox resurgence in the bottom half has been Ian Kinsler. Somewhat ironically, Kinsler was such a great acquisition because he was going to replace Núñez in the lineup. Since then, Rafael Devers has been hurt and bad and Núñez has obviously turned things around. When he first arrived, however, Kinsler was scuffling at the plate. Granted, his upgrade defensively made his presence worth it on his own, but the poor offensive performance wasn’t ideal. Well, he’s gotten settled in Boston and it’s starting to show at the plate. Over the last 14 days, including a big day leading the offense on Monday, the veteran is hitting .341/.356/.477 for a 124 wRC+. Like Núñez, he isn’t walking much but he’s doing the most with his balls in play. This performance doesn’t seem quite as sustainable as Núñez’ because it’s almost all driven by batting average on balls in play, but the track record of Kinsler as someone who can provide some quiet pop suggests that he can counteract the BABIP regression that will come for him. It’s hard not to feel good about Núñez and Kinsler as 7/8 hitters of late.

Then, there’s the number nine hitter in Jackie Bradley Jr., but really he’s been doing this for a while. His numbers have looked bad for most of the year, but that’s been misleading. The Red Sox center fielder has been smoking the ball since about June and the numbers have started to reflect in the second half. Expanding the sample to the last 30 days, Bradley is hitting .301/.337/.566 with a 137 wRC+. We’ve seen these kind of power streaks before, of course, and we know by now that he can go cold at the blink of an eye. That being said, he’s showing no signs of slowing down right now and he’s been a tremendous number nine hitter to do damage ahead of the top of the lineup.

Boston Red Sox v Chicago White Sox Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Those are the big three in terms of the bottom of the order’s turnaround, but the Red Sox have gotten other contributions as well. Brock Holt isn’t quite an everyday player, but when he has gotten in the lineup he’s been hitting lately. Blake Swihart, meanwhile, isn’t quite the star hitter some are making him out to be but he’s certainly giving the Red Sox the best offense they’ve seen from the position this year.

At some point, you have to think that the top of the Red Sox order will get back to crushing it. Mookie Betts has still been largely awesome, but he’s struggling in the first inning and his numbers look merely very good instead of otherworldly. J.D. Martinez is trending similarly, and Andrew Benintendi has actually been below-average (barely) over the last 30 days. These are talented hitters and we know what they can do. When they turn it around, and if the bottom of the order can keep up their current producton, well, the offense could somehow reach another level. And that’s something that should terrify the rest of baseball.