Commentary

Telling signs for thin Red Sox lineup

Updated: May 20, 2014, 9:14 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- I suppose I should have cleared this first with Dahkil Hausif, whose name you might not recognize but whose voice you surely know if you've ever seen a promo for ESPN's 30 for 30 documentaries.

Here, take a listen.

OK, now that we've established who Hausif is, let me shamelessly steal his signature line:

What if I told you ...

[+] EnlargeWill Middlebrooks
AP Photo/Jim CowsertWith Will Middlebrooks back on the DL, the Red Sox could look to add a veteran infielder.

• That just because the Red Sox are giving rookies Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. and young third baseman Will Middlebrooks every chance to prove themselves, that doesn't mean general manager Ben Cherington intends to just sit on his hands and passively accept whatever the outcome might be. For that, you have the word of Cherington himself.

"I'm not sure staying the course with a commitment to young players and looking for ways to improve are mutually exclusive,'' Cherington said Monday, "so I guess I think we are doing both -- and have been.''

This being the middle of May, well before teams usually start exploring trades in earnest, the Sox probably aren't close to doing anything. But this was a team that prided itself on its "deep depth" last season, and the left side of the infield, as presently constituted, is dangerously thin, which has been the fear all along. Bogaerts has had a tougher-than-anticipated transition to the big leagues, where the demands of playing shortstop extract a toll both mentally and physically. It's still possible that he'll grow out of the position and eventually be a much better fit at third.

Bogaerts has held his own at the plate and might be close to busting out, but the Sox, especially with Middlebrooks hurt again, could use an experienced shortstop-third baseman type to share the load with Bogie and Middlebrooks. Stephen Drew? Not totally out of the question, but nothing is happening on that front now, and Drew likely will have a choice of options after the MLB draft, when teams won't have to surrender a pick to sign him. But the Sox are definitely looking around, so he can't be ruled out entirely.

There is no depth in center field, either, not after the Sox evidently decided it was asking too much of Grady Sizemore defensively to return to the position where he was an All-Star in Cleveland. Bradley is a confident kid, but the lack of results at the plate have chiseled away at that confidence, and he no doubt is feeling the pressure. Shane Victorino's ongoing leg issues would seem to make him an unlikely alternative in center, so that's another potential position requiring a short-term upgrade.

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With Will Middlebrooks hurt and Xander Bogaerts struggling, should the Red Sox sign Stephen Drew?

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While winning the World Series last season bought the Red Sox a grace period, there is no obvious bridge-year mentality guiding the team, especially with the AL East so obviously wide open this season, made even more so by the injuries that have struck the Yankees and Rays. Depth might play an even more critical role this season than last, so it is well within reason to expect the Sox to look to add on.

What if I told you ...

• That while the Sox have been held to three runs or fewer 16 times this season, and are 1-15 in those games (0-8 at Fenway), the 2013 team on the same date had been held to three runs or fewer 17 times. The difference is that last year the Sox won some of those low-scoring games (5-12).

• That the Sox have offensive issues beyond the kids. You could probably start with Sizemore, who has not hit a home run since April 11 off CC Sabathia. His slash line in 24 games since then is .188/.263/.259/.522, and of his 16 hits in that span, only five have been for extra bases (four doubles and one triple). No team can thrive with that kind of production out of the No. 5 hole, an issue that illustrates the downside of batting Dustin Pedroia leadoff: It shortens the lineup. Opponents are attacking the Sox lineup knowing that once they get past Mike Napoli, who is batting cleanup instead of fifth, the odds swing strongly in their favor.

If Sizemore continues to struggle, it would seem to be in the team's best interests to bring back Daniel Nava, who is batting just .265 (9-for-34) with a double and home run in his past 10 games in Pawtucket but has posted a .280/.393/.480/.873 slash line against right-handed pitchers. Those are the kind of numbers that would look great in the 5-hole, paired with Jonny Gomes, who has 10 hits this season, seven for extra bases, in limited time.

What if I told you ...

[+] EnlargeMike Napoli
AP Photo/Kathy WillensCleanup hitter Mike Napoli's slugging percentage is .304 in the 21 games since his last home run.

• That Napoli hasn't homered in almost a month, since taking the Yankees' Masahiro Tanaka deep on April 22. In 21 games since then, Napoli's slugging percentage is only .304 -- that's singles hitter territory -- as he has just five doubles in his past 69 at-bats. What's telling is that Napoli has a .411 on-base average, which just underscores opposing teams' willingness to pitch around Napoli and walk him. Napoli is a streaky hitter, so the home runs are likely to return, but taking a walk makes infinitely more sense when you have a reasonable expectation that it will lead to a run.

• That while the Sox can no longer depend on the stolen base as a weapon, the way they did last season, the home run has been an absent component from the offense this month as well. David Ortiz has six home runs in May (four in two games last week in Minnesota), Pedroia two, and the rest of the team four. The Sox have 34 home runs so far this season; last year at this time, the number was 49. Boston's next opponent, Toronto, comes into Fenway Park having hit 27 home runs just this month and 59 in all, only three fewer than the Colorado Rockies, who lead the majors. The Sox mixing in a few long balls, especially at home, where they've hit just 15 in 24 games, wouldn't hurt.

What if I told you ...

• That the ex-Sox aren't doing so hot these days, either. Jacoby Ellsbury is batting .220 this month, and his .756 OPS on the season is lower than the .775 Pedroia has posted in the 21 games since he became the Sox leadoff man. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, meanwhile, had a terrific April, but he also is batting .220 this month with just one home run and 16 strikeouts in 50 at-bats.

• That with a little better defensive efficiency (the Sox rank 13th) and better hitting with RISP (1-for-15 in losing three straight to the Tigers this weekend, .240 overall), they probably could easily flip that 5-10 record they have in one-run games. Make it 10-5 and they'd be 25-18. Then you wouldn't have to put up with me saying, "What if I told you ..."

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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