The Red Sox need to let their lineup sort itself out a bit, and really, need to see how one core player in particular fares: Xander Bogaerts.
Until then, Red Sox manager John Farrell should try to alternate right- and left-handed hitters as much as possible against right-handed pitching
If Thursday’s Grapefruit League lineup indeed winds up as a preview for the regular season, Farrell’s on the right track.
1. Dustin Pedroia 2B
2. Andrew Benintendi LF
3. Mookie Betts RF
4. Hanley Ramirez DH
5. Mitch Moreland 1B
6. Xander Bogaerts SS
7. Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
8. Pablo Sandoval 3B
9. Blake Swihart C
Sandy Leon or Christian Vazquez should be at catcher normally, rather than Swihart. (If Leon shows he can in fact hit again, the Sox could also decide to put Jackie Bradley Jr. in the nine-hole.)
"Maybe a first look at our lineup," manager John Farrell told reporters in Florida. "I'm not saying this is Opening Day, but this is potential for one on Opening Day. And just to get everybody back in the rhythm. We've kind of fragmented because of the WBC and because of travel and bouncing around the state. To get our camp finally together, I think we're all looking forward to these last remaining games."
Betts is the best all-around producer the Red Sox have. He should be in the three-hole, despite chatter than Andrew Benintendi might be a fit.
But Bogaerts’ success will determine a lot of the flexibility available to Farrell. (Yes, everybody has to be healthy for the above statement to be true. And remember, lineups are important, but probably not as important as we’ve all been raised to believe).
If Bogaerts plays like he did in the first half, when he batted .329 en route to an All-Star appearance, he could easily slide into the three-hole, and push Betts into the second or fourth spot. Or even leadoff.
If Bogaerts is the .253 hitter he was after the All-Star break, well, the second half of the lineup is where he belongs.
Bogaerts is, ultimately, better than he showed as both he and the season wore down. But let him establish himself in a groove before you start loading up the top of the lineup with right-handed hitters, thereby giving opposing managers a clear path for righty relievers.
(The Red Sox could pinch hit Chris Young at any time, but you’re usually not taking out one of your best players just for a platoon advantage.)
And from another perspective, you almost need Bogaerts in the second half of the lineup. Because what else is there?
Say the Sox load all four right-handed hitters at the top.
That’s awesome. Then what? Benintendi and cross your fingers? Benintendi seems as sure a thing as any sophomore — well, technically a rookie — can be. But still.
This is where Moreland and Sandoval represent other X-factors. All spring, there’s been talk of how Fenway Park and a use-all-fields approach will benefit Moreland. That may be so — but to what extent? How much better can he reasonably be? The Sox are internally encouraged.
As it stands now, however, there’s no obvious choice to protect Ramirez, considering Moreland is coming off a season where he had a .293 on-base percentage against righties.
And with Sandoval, whether he’s anything more than a wet napkin vs. left-handed pitching is to be seen. There’s reason to believe he can handle right-handed pitchers at least adequately, so he'll get the start — but he could be the first guy pinch hit for nightly.