Are the Red Sox collapsing?

As a Red Sox fan, it is my duty to constantly worry. Those who thought that a World Series would result in a calmer, more laid back fan base obviously did not realize what 86 years of pure psychological trauma will do to you. The victory was nice, but it will take a lot more than that to make me into a rational human being.

Irrationality, however, is something that I, along with the rest of my Sox-fan brethren, have in spades. Even when the Sox started 36-15—that’s a .706 winning percentage, my friend—we kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Even as the Yankees fell behind by double digit games and struggled to reach .500, we kept waiting for them to overtake the Sox.

And now, it seems, that’s finally starting to happen. Since that hot start, the Red Sox have gone 20-22, and the Yankees have crept back to within eight games of the division lead. Last year, the Sox fell apart in August, and a familiar sinking feeling has returned to collective stomachs of Red Sox Nation, this time a month earlier.

We’re worriers by nature, and when a $200 million juggernaut is breathing down your neck (or in this case, some distance away from it, but closer than it was before), it’s only natural to get a little worried. Well, that’s how I rationalize it anyways.

But are the Red Sox really treading water, or has the past month-and-a-half simply been an aberration? To answer that question, we first have to figure out what’s been wrong with the team since June.

That question has an easy answer: It’s the offense. The Red Sox hitters started at a blistering pace, scoring 5.38 runs per game in the first two months of the season. They have since cooled down considerably, with a 4.53 runs per game average since.

It seems like almost every Sox hitter has struggled at some point during the course of the season, so some might expect that the whole lineup really has had problems over the past month-and-a-half, but that just isn’t the case. Here are some bright spots that have emerged while the Red Sox have treaded water:

  • Since an awful start in April, Manny Ramirez has been consistently great with a .970 OPS in May, .938 in June, and .931 thus far in July. He has definitely lost a little bit, and this may turn out to be the worst year of his career, but his bat still puts fear in pitchers’ hearts, and Manny is good enough to continue being one of the best hitters in baseball even with a somewhat slower bat.
  • Since June 1, Coco Crisp has hit .315 with an .843 OPS. If you really want to make his numbers look good, start on June 16, as Crisp has posted a 1.063 OPS in the past month. Crisp’s resurgent bat augments the fabulous season he is having in the field, and makes him a valuable asset to the Red Sox while Jacoby Ellsbury matures into a future star.
  • J.D. Drew has hit .306/.400/.495 since June 1, which is exactly what was expected of him when he signed with the Red Sox. In fact, the THT projection for Drew was actually a bit more pessimistic at .282/.386/.480. Even if he does lose a little batting average, Drew really looks like he has turned a corner, and the Red Sox should expect to get what they paid for over the next two-and-a-half-months.
  • Surprisingly, David Ortiz has not lost any of his value despite playing on a torn meniscus. His OPS through June 1 was 1.010; since, it’s 1.019. As long as the meniscus doesn’t bother him any more as the season wears on, there’s nothing to worry about with Big Papi.

Of course, it hasn’t all been pretty for the Red Sox; otherwise, they wouldn’t be stuck in this offensive rut. Who has been struggling over the past month-and-a-half?

  • Kevin Youkilis hit .354/.427/.561 over the first two months of the season, but his .378 batting average on balls in play meant that was never going to last. He has fallen pretty hard, however, with just a .252 batting average and an even uglier .351 slugging percentage since. Neither of those extremes represent his true ability, and a .280/.400/.500 line the rest of the way seems like a reasonable expectation.
  • Mike Lowell hit very poorly in June, but has been stellar in July. His OPS approached 1.000 at one point, but that is just too much to expect. Above-average offense, however, isn’t, and Lowell will continue to be one of the better third basemen in the American League.
  • Then, of course, there is the much maligned Julio Lugo, whose spectacular .309 OPS in June would have tied him for 62nd in the major leagues that month in batting average. Lugo’s .089 batting average, of course, ranked last, making him the only player who couldn’t even hit triple digits. Overall, Lugo has been awful this season, but he’s actually put together a nifty little July, hitting .359 with an .894 OPS.

Overall, actually, the outlook for the Red Sox offense is quite rosy. The team scored a lot of runs without Lugo, Drew, or Crisp hitting much those first two months, and their resurgence should balance out Youkilis’ fall back to earth.

Indeed, the Red Sox have not suffered so much from bad offense as from bad luck amidst this 20-22 run. They have scored 181 runs since June 1, but created 204. In other words, they should have been scoring about 5.10 runs per game over that stretch, more than half-a-run above their actual total. Compounding that, the Red Sox underperformed their Pythagorean record by a couple of games as well.

In other words—and it scares me to say this, because as a Red Sox fan I expect nothing but the worst karmic retribution—it looks like Sox fans have little to worry about. The pitching staff is very good and will only get better with Curt Schilling’s return, and the offense might actually be stronger at the end of the season than it was in the beginning.

The Red Sox’s slide was not a slide at all, but just some bad luck. Good thing they could afford it.

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