The Red Sox find themselves in a bit of a rut right now. On the one hand, this is not uncommon. The baseball season is long, and even the best teams will hit a stretch or two where things just aren’t going right. On the other hand, Boston is in a competitive division race, holding just a half-game lead over Tampa Bay after Sunday’s loss in the Bronx. They’ve lost three straight series, all of which started with a win but were followed by two straight losses, and overall they’ve lost six of their last eight games.
So while part of this is certainly the ebb and flow of a season, you also just can’t sit and watch it happen. That’s especially true right now as the Red Sox are in the midst of a long stretch of playing only their main competitors in the AL East, with games exclusively coming against the Yankees, Blue Jays, and Rays through the start of August.
As far as the struggles themselves go, it would be a mistake to say the offense is the only reason the Red Sox are scuffling. Their lack of productivity was entirely too evident over the weekend against the Yankees, however, and they have been sputtering of late. The group that was among the best in baseball for most of this season has been hitting a wall of late, and it’s time for a change. You see it all the time from teams that find themselves in ruts, and shaking up the lineup can be a mixed bag. It’s not a guarantee fix, but it makes sense right now for the Red Sox.
Speaking just generally, shaking up the lineup can happen for a few different reasons. For one thing, it can just wake people up. Part of being in a rut is that you just fall into a routine, which can be dangerous in a long season. It’s not that the players don’t care or aren’t trying anymore, but it’s just human nature to just get a little complacent and lose some juice when you’re doing the same thing day after day. It can also serve as a wake up call for specific players. When we say the Red Sox should shake up the lineup, we’re not suggesting that everyone move to different spots in the lineup, but rather a few key pieces shift around. Struggling players know they’re struggling, but finding a new spot in the lineup can add a spark to that urgency as they try to get back to their previous spot.
Of course, the flips side of all this is that it can backfire, and players can either get angry, or discouraged, or both after being shifted down. That’s where the manager comes in. Alex Cora is good at a lot of things, but communicating things to his players and getting them on board with whatever his plan is on any given day is the biggest in my mind. This is a place where that quality can shine. With his ability to connect to players, he should be able to explain a lineup shakeup in a way that would not alienate anyone on his roster. It’s not something I would necessarily entrust any manager to do with a first-place team, but Cora is on the list of skippers with whom I would place that trust.
So, if we determine that shaking up the lineup can help a struggling team in a vacuum, and we determine that Alex Cora is the kind of manager who can pull it off without too much backlash in the clubhouse, then we go to the next step, which is simply figuring out what it means for the Red Sox. And Boston has two players that are struggling right now in Alex Verdugo and Hunter Renfroe. The former has been struggling to different extents for a few months now, and if we go back to May 23 he is hitting just .246/.323/.359. Renfroe, meanwhile, is hitting just .200/.275/.289 since the start of July.
Renfroe is less of an issue for me, both because of where he hits in the lineup right now and the kind of player he is. Streakiness has always been a part of his game, and it was expected that he’d hit a cold spell after ripping through much of May and June. That’s not to say he’s not costing the Red Sox runs, because he’s failed to come through in some big spots. But with Verdugo, you have one of the core hitters in the lineup who hits in the most important spot in the order providing very little right now. He’s not hitting for power, and lately he’s not even getting on base. The start to the shakeup is with him, and moving him out of that two spot. In turn, you can put one of your best hitters in that important spot, preferably (in my mind) with Rafael Devers.
From there, you can keep things largely stagnant, with Verdugo moving down to the bottom half of the lineup and Renfroe moving down to the bottom third, and perhaps getting more time off than he had been. That’s an easier call to action with Jarren Duran up. And speaking of Duran, there’s an argument to really look for a spark in this lineup by putting him at the top. That said, while I wouldn’t complain if it happened I’m okay sticking with Kiké Hernández there for now, as he’s been hitting better in July with an .814 OPS. If he slows down, then I’d likely turn to Duran. But, all that said, this is how I’d line things up right now:
- Kiké Hernández, 2B
- Rafael Devers, 3B
- J.D. Martinez, DH
- Xander Bogaerts, SS
- Jarren Duran, CF
- Hunter Renfroe, RF
- Alex Verdugo, LF
- Christian Vázquez, C
- Bobby Dalbec, 1B
At first base, you can put whoever you want there between Christian Arroyo, Marwin Gonzalez, or Danny Santana. But generally, this is what I’d like to see. It’s putting a bit of pressure on Duran hitting right behind the big bats in the lineup, but we’ve seen the team’s not worried about putting pressure on the rookie. And, for what it’s worth, Renfroe is only ahead of Verdugo to keep up the righty/lefty splits as much as possible.
I’m not really expecting this to happen, as I think the Red Sox are going to try and let their guys work out of the slump. But the fact is, right now they don’t look poised to do that, and Verdugo especially seems like he needs some sort of shake up. This is too important of a stretch to just hope everything falls into place on its own, and I’d like to see some changes to spark a turnaround.