Red Sox

Drellich: If Red Sox lose division, don't compare them to 2011

Drellich: If Red Sox lose division, don't compare them to 2011

BOSTON — If the Red Sox lose the division, don’t call it a collapse. Don’t compare this team to 2011's, unless you're talking about the most basic commonalities: there was a lead in September and they didn’t hold it.

The Sox have never been head and shoulders better than the Yankees, at least not since the season got rolling. The Sox soared in August while the Yanks were trying to coax Aaron Judge out of a prolonged slump. 

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The 2011 Sox had the majors’ best offense, just as the 2016 version did. If you entered September believing these Sox, the 2017 version, would run away with the division, you have already realized your folly.

Don’t be too sad. Who doesn’t enjoy a little down-to-the-wire jockeying?

Nonetheless, you should have known better. The smoke-and-mirrors trick the Sox offense pulled off in August was pretty convincing, though. 

Eduardo Nunez will prove human, and has started to. Rafael Devers has hit a point where there’s reason to wonder if he’d start at third base in any potential playoff games. Christian Vazquez was otherworldly.

So at a certain point — now, yesterday, three months ago — it comes down to Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts. Andrew Benintendi has carried his weight, and Jackie Bradley Jr.’s been on and off, but a better performer than both Betts and Bogaerts offensively. 

“Just not being consistent,” Betts said Monday after a 1-for-5 performance in a 10-4 loss to the Blue Jays. “Not swinging at good pitches. I mean, pretty much doing a whole bunch of things you’re not supposed to do.”

The starting pitching has been a rock all year. To think now that it's truly falling apart is over the top. The rotation has been a bedrock, and that's reason to believe in the group on a whole — even if Porcello’s proclivity for allowing home runs is distressing.

“Our guys are well aware of where we stand and what's transpired particularly over the last couple of weeks,” John Farrell said. “We're going through a stretch here where a couple turns through the rotation have been not as consistent and when we fall behind early in ballgames, the difficulty in being able to dig out of some of those holes is there. Of late, and this is probably more surprising than anything, is the number of balls that are going out of the ballpark. That hasn't been there all year and the last couple of weeks, it's been more dramatic certainly.”

Porcello took full blame for Monday’s loss, and said the Sox got their rear ends handed to them. They did. He did, certainly, with 10 hits surrendered in 5 1/3 innings, including three home runs — one to a No. 9 hitter who entered the day batting .182.

It was the kind of game that, even in a sport that avoids the rah-rah, seemed to be begging for a team meeting. Farrell said the Sox had one just four days earlier, although declined to detail it.

“There has been one. That was as recently as four days ago,” Farrell said. “The thing that we do frequently is that when we prepare for a city, for a team, for an opponent, we do have an opportunity to meet and those are regular.”

Maybe yelling and screaming would do no good at this point. Hitting more would. 

The division’s far from locked up. If the Yankees grab it, don’t make comparisons to 2011. Those Sox looked like juggernauts. These Sox look like a good team that tricked people into thinking they're more.

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Is Red Sox' slump temporary, or did they come back to earth?

Is Red Sox' slump temporary, or did they come back to earth?

NEW YORK -- All year, this looked like the revival of the 2016 offense. Some extended drop-offs are starting to make that seem like a mirage.

The Red Sox’ 11 home runs in the month of September are the fewest of all 30 teams. As of midnight going into Thursday, their on-base percentage in September, .317, was middle of the pack at 14th best. Their slugging percentage, meanwhile, was worse than all but four teams, at .362.

“There’s been a few at-bats early in the game, in these two games, that we had a chance to score right away,” Alex Cora said after a 10-1 loss to the Yankees on Wednesday. “We had man at third with less than two outs, and we haven’t been able to cash in. That’s something that, we’ll talk about it, and it’s always good to get the lead. I think we’re pretty good ball club doing that. There’s certain at-bats, just put the ball in play and get the runner in and keep moving forward. We’ll talk about it.”

The Red Sox offense overall still has been a juggernaut. The Sox entered Wednesday first in runs per game (5.30), first in slugging percentage (.449) and tied for the second-most steals (117). They wouldn’t have 103 wins without a very capable lineup.

But as the playoffs arrive, the Sox need to look at their recent downturn and identify whether they feel they’ve just hit a natural rut, or whether something both larger and correctable is at play. Were some players simply playing over their heads collectively, or have they just temporarily lost their approach?

Sandy Leon is hitting .098 in the second half. Mitch Moreland is hitting .179, Christian Vazquez .200 and Rafael Devers .222. Blake Swihart, the man who must rarely play, is at .250, with Brock Holt at .224.

Vazquez, Moreland and Leon together are a combined 39-for-264 in the second half: a .149 average. Andrew Benintendi (.263) has just two home runs and a .693 OPS. 

J.D. Martinez (.339) is still his incredible, awesome self, while Mookie Betts (.296) has done very well but seen a drop in power too, with just six home runs since the break. That’s the same amount as Jackie Bradley Jr., who has quietly put together a very solid second half, with an .818 OPS.

The Red Sox don’t seem to be swinging at strikes as often as they were before. Per FanGraphs, the Sox had a 69.2 percent swing percentage at pitches in the zone, sixth best in the majors in the first half. They entered Wednesday 19th best in the second half, at 66.2 percent.

The Sox could be due to break out. They could also be a lineup exposed. But it’s a topic they’ll have to invest time in before the playoffs begin, and consider whether players like Moreland and Leon make their lineup as strong as can be over, say, Swihart and Steve Pearce.

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Highlights from Boston Red Sox' 10-1 loss to New York Yankees

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USA TODAY Sports Photo

Highlights from Boston Red Sox' 10-1 loss to New York Yankees

FINAL SCORE: 10-1, Yankees

IN BRIEF:  David Price's issues at Yankee Stadium continued as the Red Sox failed to clinch the AL East again on Wednesday night. Box score.

RED SOX RECORD: 103-49.

WHERE THEY STAND: The Red Sox lead the Yankees by 9 1/2 games in the A.L. East standings with 10 games remaining in the season.

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HIGHLIGHTS

WHAT'S NEXT:

THURSDAY: Red Sox (Eduardo Rodriguez, 12-4, 3.53) at Yankees (Masahiro Tanaka, 12-5. 3.47), 7:05 p.m.

FRIDAY: Red Sox (Chris Sale, 12-4, 1.92) at Indians (Trevor Bauer, 12-6. 2.22), 7:10 p.m.

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