Commentary

Farrell: Xander, Will, JBJ 'our guys'

Sox still confident in kids Bogaerts, Middlebrooks, Bradley despite growing pains

Updated: May 16, 2014, 12:51 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- These are our guys.

That's the loudest message resonating these days from Yawkey Way, communicated here by Red Sox manager John Farrell this week in a way that left no room for mistaking the meaning.

It wasn't, "These are our guys for now." Or, "These are our guys until someone better comes along." Or, "How did I get stuck with these guys?"

These are our guys, Farrell said, and he said it more than once, even as the Red Sox were dropping two of three to the Minnesota Twins, both losses coming in walk-off fashion.

[+] EnlargeWill Middlebrooks, Xander Bogaerts
AP Photo/Tom OlmscheidThe Red Sox are counting on youngsters Will Middlebrooks, 25, and Xander Bogaerts, 21, to anchor the left side of the infield.

The Red Sox are a .500 team (20-20) a quarter into the season, and while that places them just three games behind their pace of a year ago (23-17), there's really no comparing the teams. Last year's team already had a seven-game winning streak and two five-game winning streaks by mid-May; this year's team has yet to win three in a row. The 2013 club finished April 10 games over .500 and despite hitting a bump in May was still 10 games over by the end of the month. These Sox have not been more than a game over .500 and would have to go 13-2 the rest of the month to match the '13 team.

Last season's team was unburdened by expectations, at least relative to recent predecessors. Anything positive was viewed through the prism of the Valentine fiasco of 2012.

This season, the Sox are shadow-boxing a team that won 97 games in the regular season, delivered in spectacular fashion in October, and along the way endeared themselves to a fan base that found the bearded-band-of-brothers storyline irresistible.

And they're doing it with a rookie center fielder, a rookie shortstop, a still-unproven third baseman, and a left fielder who has been on forced hiatus for the better part of four seasons.

When Farrell said, "These are our guys," he was alluding primarily to the three kids who have settled like sludge at the bottom of the lineup -- Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks and Jackie Bradley Jr.

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This month, in particular, has been a struggle. Bradley continues to shine defensively, but he struck out three times Thursday and is batting .141 (6-for-44) in May, with 15 strikeouts. Middlebrooks had been 1-for-11 with five strikeouts and a double play here until coming through with a game-tying, two-run single in the ninth inning Thursday. He's batting .143 (7-for-42) with 15 strikeouts in May. Bogaerts had a good series in Target Field, with a triple, double, two singles and an epic 14-pitch at-bat Thursday that did not end in a hit but demonstrated his advanced plate approach. He's batting .217 (10-for-46) with 14 strikeouts in May.

But regardless of how much doubt is expressed on the outside, the Sox's confidence in their evaluation of the kids' talents is holding steady. The team remains committed to giving them the chance to fight their way through the hard times, confident that the experience gained will prove invaluable in the long run.

"I don't know that there's a breaking point," Farrell said. "We fully acknowledge and accept that there were going to be some peaks and valleys with guys along the way. But we still go back to the abilities that each possess and their work ethic. Those are going to be ingredients that are going to allow a guy to perform with some dependability."

[+] EnlargeGrady Sizemore and Jackie Bradley Jr.
Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY SportsGrady Sizemore and Jackie Bradley Jr. have proven to be a formidable defensive duo, but the outfielders haven't really gotten going at the plate.

Are the Sox displaying too much patience? Perhaps it would be useful to mention another young outfielder who is having a horrid May, taking a .149 average, with 16 K's in 47 at-bats, into play Thursday. You might have heard of him. Mike Trout of the Angels.

Performances ebb and flow. Bogaerts, Bradley and Middlebrooks all say it will come. So does Farrell. That doesn't mean there's no statute of limitations on how much failure the Sox will tolerate. Of course there isn't. It just means that in the middle of May, the Sox are not yet pulling any plugs.

The core of a winner is still here. David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia are hitting like the All-Stars that they are. Mike Napoli reached base in 33 straight games, a streak that was just broken Thursday. Shane Victorino is still working his way back. Jonny Gomes is still making diving catches, regardless of how awkward it may look. Jon Lester and John Lackey are stellar anchors at the top of a rotation that has its issues, but has kept the Sox in most games. The bullpen remains deep, built to withstand the hiccups endured by Andrew Miller this week.

Most importantly, the Sox are healthy, especially relative to their rivals in the AL East. They may not look like the equal of the Detroit Tigers, who come to Fenway Park with the league's best record Friday night, but a .500 record through 40 games does not assure mediocrity. The Sox so far have lacked consistency, but that's a fixable issue. They're betting they will, especially as the kids gain more experience.

These are our guys. At times, they may be frustrating to watch, the failures outnumbering the successes. No one is truly a can't-miss, even the greatest of talents. Players have a way of revealing their own timetables to figure it out, or not. The Sox are giving their kids that chance.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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