The Red Sox are reeling, which is not a great thing to say on May 9, and is especially not a good thing to say on May 9 in a season that started late. It’s early, but we’re rapidly approaching the end of the time where we’re allowed to say that, and this team is off to quite literally one of its worst starts in the history of the franchise. You don’t get off to this kind of start with only one issue, but it’s certainly hard to look at anything other than the offense for the bulk of the blame, even if it’s not the whole pie.
I’m going to rattle off some depressing facts here for a second, just as a fair warning. The Red Sox have lost five in a row. They have not scored more than two runs since last Wednesday. They have not scored more than five runs since April 27. Only three teams in all of baseball have scored fewer runs, and only two have a lower OBP. There’s also only two teams who have hit fewer home runs. Four Red Sox players are among the bottom 20 qualified hitters by wRC+. I could go on, but I have some shred of self-respect remaining so I’m going to pass on that opportunity.
Amid all of these issues, Chaim Bloom sat down with the media over the weekend to answer some questions, understandably revolving around these struggles and what the team will do. He preached that they will not panic, and that there is a difference between urgency and panic. Fine. I’m not really interested in getting pedantic about those words. Whatever you want to call it, we need to see some action, and it can’t wait. It needs to happen now.
I think it can be tempting to just respond to any slump by shouting that a shakeup is needed, and maybe I’m falling into that trap. But this certainly feels like a spot where those calls are warranted. I invite you to check out this second paragraph if you are still wondering why. I also know that when people hear shakeup firing coaches is the first place the mind goes, and in this case that would be hitting coach Peter Faste. I’ll say at the top that it’s not what I have in mind at this point. Personally, it’s not something I ever feel comfortable doing, not because it’s never warranted — it may even be in this case! — but because it feels like a position where you really need to be around the team to have a feel for just how much impact that position is having on the on-field play. I’m not around the team, and so I’ll leave those determinations to those who are.
That said, I do have some other player-centric shake ups I want to see.
Send Bobby Dalbec to Triple-A
I’m certainly not the first to suggest this, and it’s not something I suggest lightly because this is no small thing for the team to do, but it feels like the only solution. Dalbec is as lost as I’ve ever seen him in the majors, and the problems are just snowballing. Early in the year he was at least making a decent amount of contact, but as the slump has continued he’s striking out more and the at bats are just generally getting worse. You generally don’t want to send a player like him down for fear of what it could mean for his confidence, but I can’t imagine that could be any worse than going out and putting up a 31 wRC+.
As far as replacing him, there’s the whole Triston Casas thing, which we’ll get to in a second. But even if they’re not ready to do that, they have to try something else. That probably means giving Franchy Cordero more run, and then from the right side giving Christian Arroyo a chance with Rob Refsnyder or Jaylin Davis coming up for a right-handed outfielder (Refsnyder would require a 40-man move, but that could be made by designating Davis or moving Taylor to the 60-day). They could even call up one of Connor Wong or Ronaldo Hernández, giving someone like Kevin Plawecki some run. None of these options get me particularly excited, but Dalbec isn’t working, and maybe he can get back on track by mashing Triple-A pitching for a few weeks then coming back up.
Stack the top of the lineup
The only three players in this Red Sox lineup that are hitting right now are Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and J.D. Martinez. They hit third, fourth, and fifth, respectively, in Sunday’s loss. I understand wanting to give those guys opportunities with runners on base, but that only works when players are, ya know, getting on base. It’s not happening right now, and now you’re just giving more at bats to guys like Trevor Story and Enrique Hernández. It’s not single-handedly losing games, but it’s not helping either.
This obviously requires some okay from the players, some of whom can get comfortable in certain roster spots, but Alex Cora’s biggest strength is supposed to be connecting to players. He needs to find a way to get those three in the top three spots, most likely with Bogaerts leading off, Devers hitting second, and Martinez third. It’s not the most statistically sound lineup — you’d typically want one of them in the cleanup spot, at least — but lineup optimization is never a one-size-fits-all solution. The hope is that these three can combine to get some early offense, and at least knock a pitcher off his game early instead of the recent trend of opponents immediately settling into a rhythm to start every game. Maybe that injects some spark and momentum into the hitters that follow, and you go from there. It can’t possibly be any worse than what we’ve seen thus far.
Give Trevor Story a couple days off
Generally speaking, when I see a player struggling the best antidote in my mind is to just keep playing them as normal and not changing up their routine and their mindset. Showing confidence in them should result in their own self-confidence. I don’t think that’s going to work with Story. I’m going to write more specifically about him a bit later in the week so I’ll be brief here, but the short version is that he clearly looks like he’s pressing right now and his at bats have been atrocious. He’s swinging at terrible pitches and watching hittable ones go by for strike three. Maybe there’s some injury issues going on as some have mentioned. In that case, put him on the IL. If not, just give him a day or two, and then put him in the bottom half of the lineup when he comes back until he hits his way back up.
Go back to a four-man bench
Teams are allowed to carry 14 pitchers right now, which the Red Sox are doing while carrying a three-man bench. I get why; they have a lot of starting pitchers who can’t go deep into games, and the extra arms keep everyone fresh. Especially now that you can only option a player five times a year, it makes that calculus tougher. But they need more options to cycle in and out, both on a game-to-game basis and in-game. Not to keep picking on Dalbec, but they were put in a situation over the weekend where they were down by a run with a runner on third and less than two outs with Dalbec at the plate. They had no other options to turn to on the bench. With his contact issues, that can’t happen.
Call up a spark or two from Worcester
This kind of dovetails with the bench, but if/when they do send down a pitcher, they need to call up a legitimate spark. Duran was one of those guys. To be honest, I’m not clear whether or not he has to wait 10 days to come back up since he was a COVID replacement, but if he does that’s just another reason it was asinine to call him up for just one day. He should be up as soon as possible, and if playing time for the other outfielders needs to be sacrificed, so be it. Ryan Fitzgerald could be another option. I’m not entirely convinced he’s really a good major-league player, but we saw what he did in spring and he’s doing it in Worcester as well. And then there’s Casas, for whom there are legitimate reasons to not call him up, but he’s also the best option they have at first base, full stop. They need to decide if this year is still a priority. I’m honestly not sure whether or not it should be, but if they say it is, then Casas needs to be here.
I recognize that none of these are going to solve the lineup question on their own, and that really they just need their players to be better. Story, Hernández, and Alex Verdugo in particular just can’t keep hitting like this or nothing they do can to solve this. But at the same time, they can’t just sit on their hands. Bloom preached the difference between urgency and panic. Let’s see it.