RED SOX INSIDER

Tomase: New rules might hurt Sox pitchers, but could aid lineup even more

RED SOX INSIDER

We've focused so much on the struggles of the Red Sox starting rotation since MLB's crackdown on illegal substances that we've overlooked the flip side of the argument: what about the offense?

After all, it's not as if the Red Sox field the only staff that ever rubbed up a baseball. Rotations and bullpens across the game must navigate this new normal without grip enhancers, and the early returns suggest the bottom of the Red Sox order could benefit.

Remember the bottom of the order? Maligned all season for contributing little to the cause? A constant liability for manager Alex Cora to finesse?

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Well, maybe it's a coincidence, but the Red Sox have recently started to see some production from players not named Alex Verdugo, J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, and Rafael Devers.

Over the last two weeks, first baseman Bobby Dalbec is hitting .310 with three homers and a .998 OPS. Kiké Hernández is at .275 with an .845 OPS. Christian Arroyo has three homers and 11 RBIs. In the last week, Hunter Renfroe is hitting .300 with an .864 OPS.

With MLB's new rules -- including spot checks and 10-game suspensions -- officially being introduced on Monday, it's possible that those numbers will only rise, and that obviously would give the Red Sox a very different look offensively.

Before the league decided to start enforcing its rules on Spider Tack and other substances, the Red Sox already boasted the best heart of the order in the game. But even those guys, particularly designated hitter J.D. Martinez, acknowledged the challenge of facing pitchers throwing harder and with higher spin rates than ever before.

 
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"In the last, I would say, two years, the ball has been moving a lot differently than it has in my first eight years in the big leagues," Martinez said recently. "The ball has been moving a lot differently."

Players as talented as Martinez or Bogaerts or Devers can adjust, but for the guys hitting at the bottom of the order who already had a hard time catching up to a high fastball or recognizing the spin on a slider, the game could be borderline impossible.

Even without substances, pitchers still feature overwhelming velocity, so it's unlikely that we're suddenly looking at a bunch of 12-9 games, as Red Sox starter Garrett Richards suggested during an unusually despondent postgame session last week. But even if pitchers retain the upper hand, at least an average offensive player has a chance.

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That will only extend a Red Sox lineup that's still searching for a leadoff man and lower-order depth. But the emergence of Renfroe has already lengthened the lineup, and maybe Dalbec and Hernández can push a little further.

"From about two through seven we're set," Cora said. "It's just a matter of what we can do, what can we not do. … (Leadoff) has been a challenge. But at the same time, we are where we're at lineup-wise. Somebody has to step up. It's kind of like a challenge for them. Somebody has to come through."

If that happens, maybe the travails of the pitching staff won't matter quite so much. Whatever the Red Sox are losing on that side, they may gain it back and more when they're at the plate.