Print and Go Back ESPN.com: SweetSpot [Print without images]

Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Epstein on LaRoche, etc.


A couple of nuggets from Theo Epstein's press conference Wednesday, via Boston.com: Taking those bullets in reverse order ...

It's been a three-way dead heat for a long time; ever since the Yankees got Alex Rodriguez back and the Rays' record finally started catching up with their run differential. When Epstein talks about "underlying performances," that's mostly what he means: run differential (with appropriate adjustments, of course).

At the All-Star break, the Red Sox had outscored their opponents by 85 runs, the Rays by 76, and the Yankees by 60. Dead heat. Except that doesn't quite tell the whole story. This afternoon, the Red Sox trail the Yankees by one-and-a-half games, but lead the Rays by three-and-a-half games. The run differentials are even closer today than they were a week ago, but the Red Sox's lead over the Rays is significant. How significant, we won't know for a couple of months.

About upgrading the position-player depth, the most obvious need is for a fifth outfielder who can hit. Mark Kotsay's been filling that role, but without the hitting part. He's been kept around mostly because he can play first base, but the presence of LaRoche should make Kotsay almost completely extraneous. If the Sox do add another player soon, Kotsay's probably the odd man out.

As you might guess, the left-hitting LaRoche is pretty good against right-handed pitching, with a .275/.347/.500 career line. That's far from brilliant, particularly for a first baseman. But it's useful. And considering how few deficiencies the Red Sox have, "useful" is about as well as they're going to do.

Update: Well, that didn't take long: according to the Belleville News-Democrat, the Red Sox have traded Julio Lugo to the Cardinals for Chris Duncan. Unless the Sox are sending Duncan to Pawtucket, this has to be bad news for Kotsay, as both he and Duncan are left-handed hitters who play the outfield and first base.

What I can't figure is what Duncan brings to the table that Kotsay doesn't. Due to various ailments, Duncan's line over these last two seasons is just .237/.337/.361, and it's not like he's come around lately; he's just 1 for 31 since late June and hasn't driven in a run in more than a month. Oh, well ... Theo Epstein usually does know what he's doing.