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The Red Sox need more from the bottom of their lineup

It’s been a rally killer so far this season.

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Minnesota Twins Vs. Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Red Sox in 2022 were and are supposed to be a team that can get good pitching from time to time, but really needs to lean on their offense on a consistent basis if they are going to make room in the American League, and especially in this loaded American League East. Early on in the season, though, they’ve been mediocre at best at the plate, ranking right in the middle of the league in terms of run scored and on the edge of the bottom third in OPS, while sitting close to the bottom of OBP. One of their problems, as Jen McCaffrey recently pointed out over at The Athletic, is that they have been an all-or-nothing groups, either scoring in bunches or pushing nothing across the plate. Some of that is, of course, small sample size noise and players like Trevor Story who have not yet gotten going will hit more, but there’s more to it than that.

A big part of these frustrating blown chances is that the top of the order is largely doing their job in setting the table for rallies, but there’s also a roster construction issue at play here. We knew the Red Sox were going to have some questions after their top hitters in the lineup, with guys like Alex Verdugo, Christian Vázquez, and Jackie Bradley Jr. trying to bounce back from relatively down years — Verdugo’s 2021 was the least concerning of this group, and he has come out of the gates blazing hot — while Bobby Dalbec was looking to show his second half production can carry over to some extent into the 2022 season. Throw in a bench that does not inspire much confidence, and the Red Sox need a lot to go right for this group to produce.

Well, 11 games into the season and the bottom of the order has been among the worst groups in all of baseball. That’s not an exaggeration, either. Using Baseball-Reference’s Stathead tool, we can compare the bottom third of Boston’s lineup to every other group around the league, and collectively they have the second worst OPS in all of baseball. Only the Diamondbacks have been worse in the seven through nine spots in their lineup, and it’s an Arizona team that is frankly not really trying to win baseball games. Baseball-Reference also has a metric called tOPS+, which compares a given split to the overall numbers of a player or team, and in this case the bottom third of the Red Sox lineup is the absolute worst in all of baseball relative to the rest of their lineup.

Again, we’re talking about 11 games so all of this is still very much under the small sample size umbrella, but when there was some expectation this could happen before any games were played, some worry has to exist. And it’s not hard to see where this issue could rear its ugly head. One through six, the Red Sox are among the best teams in baseball, ranking eighth by OPS for both the one and two spots as well as the three through six spots in the lineup.

But eventually those rallies run into those final three spots, and get killed like they did on Tuesday night. Collectively, the bottom third of the lineup in the win over the Blue Jays went 0-8, leaving nine runners on base. Hell, even in the eighth inning when that group single-handedly put the Red Sox ahead, they did so largely thanks to an error from Bo Bichette to put Dalbec, the leadoff hitter in the inning, on second. He was brought home after two productive outs moved him up a base each time. Now, credit where it’s due to Bradley and Connor Wong putting the ball in play and hitting it to the right spots to move the runners along, but that’s not exactly a sustainable run scoring strategy.

So, what’s the fix for this? In the short-term, it’s simply to hope this is mostly small sample size noise that will even out as the season goes along, and there is at least some optimism for this. Dalbec isn’t walking, but he’s doing a decent job at laying off pitches out of the zone, at least in comparison to the first half of last season. Bradley is actually putting up some good at bats and is slightly above-average on the season. He’s going the other way a lot, which is typically a sign that he is feeling good at the plate. Vázquez hit a home run right before hitting the COVID IL, hopefully a sign he’s ready to turn things around with the bat.

Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

But really, it’s the bench that looks like the biggest issue, and the fix seems to be shuffling things around and hoping they can weather this storm until some potentially impact players can come up from Worcester. Triston Casas should be up this summer, replacing Travis Shaw’s spot and potentially taking a lot of at bats away from Dalbec. The latter is a bench upgrade over Shaw, and the hope is that Casas will be ready to upgrade the starting lineup from the jump. If Bradley gets into another cold streak, hopefully Jarren Duran will show his offseason adjustments are bearing fruit and be ready for another crack in the majors, replacing someone like Rob Refsnyder (who has yet to play in the majors but was hitting well in Triple-A) or Jonathan Araúz. We’re seeing two young catchers on the roster right now amid the team’s COVID issues, and perhaps one of Connor Wong or Ronaldo Hernández will force their way up to a bench role at some point this summer and lengthen that bench.

Whatever the case may be, the Red Sox need something to change here, whether it’s simply by improvement from the guys already here or new faces making an impact. The top two-thirds of this lineup is good enough to put runs on the board and give this team a puncher’s chance against any team, but only if the bottom third is doing enough to at least not kill all of their rallies. That hasn’t quite happened yet, and it’s showing in the team’s overall offensive numbers.