The Red Sox are hanging on to the top spot AL East with less than a month to go in the regular season. The operative words here being “hanging on”, as the Sox have watched their healthy lead over the Yankees dwindle behind some truly mediocre baseball, then widen right back to a comfortable 4.5 games after a few recent wins. The pitching has been shaky since late-August, with Chris Sale enduing a few brutal starts and Rick Porcello continuing to be a semblance of the pitcher he was last year.
Sep 7 2017 HR Against Leaders
35: Porcello (BOS), Miranda (SEA)
33: Nolasco (LAA)
32: Lackey (CHC)
31: Holland (CHW), Fiers (HOU)
— Home Run Tracker (@DingerTracker) September 8, 2017
Offensively, things have been just as streaky. Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and newcomer Rafael Devers spent the better part of three weeks icy cold, and from top to bottom the Sox still lack any real power.
The simple, wide-angle view? It’s a story as old as time: the pitching needs to be better and the hitting needs to be better if this team wants to win the division.
But that stuff has a way of rebounding, especially for a team with this much talent. It is not out of the realm of possibility that the Sox can suddenly find themselves back ahead by six or seven games in a matter of days. And it already could be trending in that direction with this current three-game winning streak. The bats heat up, a few quality starts, and boom. No more panic. Who knows, perhaps the 19-inning marathon win against Toronto could be the spark they so desperately needed to right the ship.
— Red Sox (@RedSox) September 6, 2017
With all that out of the way, I must turn my attention to something that has really driven me nuts this year with Boston. I think it could put the Red Sox in tough spots during a time in the season when virtually every game is a must-win.
And that, my friends, is baserunning.
For anyone who has watched this team consistently this year, you (like myself) may have thought at one point or another: “Man, I feel like they get thrown out a lot at home plate.”
Well they do. And it’s not just at home. The Red Sox lead the MLB in baserunners thrown out at second base, third base, and home plate.
They also lead all of baseball in total outs on the basepaths, with 71. Add in the fact that the Red Sox are among the team leaders in bases taken (advancing on fly balls, wild pitches, etc.) and it seems clear that they value an aggressive baserunning strategy. This explains all these putouts at home. The more often you try to take extra bases, the more often you will be thrown out. So what’s the big deal?
Let’s look at the following gem on the basepaths, courtesy of Eduardo Nuñez.
In my life, I don’t think I have ever seen a runner try to tag up at second and advance to third on a fly ball to left field. And certainly not in a one-run game in the ninth inning. Nuñez defended his decision after the game (which I do respect him for) but the call was still horribly misguided. Instead of worrying about swiping the next possible bag ASAP, he should realize that a) he is still in scoring position at second base, b) he has tremendous speed, and c) the closer had been struggling through the inning. A single to center and he scores.
Unfortunately, overly-aggressive decisions like this one have been commonplace for this team all season. And I think this trend could have some serious ramifications as the playoffs draw near. Late in the regular season, and most definitely in postseason, baserunners can be hard to come by. Managers shorten their rotations, shrink their bullpens, and ensure that their best arms are out there as often as is feasible. Every runner on base, therefore, becomes a precious, precious commodity.
Take the Red Sox playoff appearance in the ALDS last season as an example, in which they were swept by the Cleveland Indians. The Sox, who in the regular season batted .282 as a team with an OBP of .348, managed a measly .214 batting average and an OBP of .278 in the series. They scored a total of seven runs in three games. On a squad that boasted Big Papi and AL MVP candidate Mookie Betts, who was the series leader for the team in hits?
Brock Holt, with four.
The 2016 Red Sox, even with the offense they had, could not find a way to get enough runners on base and drive them home. Again, this is not a new problem that teams face in October. It’s just a part of playoff baseball.
I’d hate to watch the current Red Sox continue to give up prized baserunners with a reckless approach so close to the playoffs. This is no time to be working against yourself (duh), and the Sox can’t afford to be losing potential runs on the scoreboard because they had to go after every possible base they could. Pull back the aggressiveness, even if only slightly. And if you want to argue that this style helped the Red Sox get to where they are, fine. That may be true. But this type of baserunning is not well-suited for a playoff push, nor the playoffs themselves.