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Five Reasons to Keep Tuning In

2012 August 21

For the first time in 15 years, the Red Sox, 59-63, are in serious danger of finishing below .500 on the season. They’ll play 22 of the remaining 40 games on the road, against teams with a combined .519 winning percentage and they’ll close out the season with back to back three-game series in Baltimore and New York. Baring a strong change in fortune, the remainder of the season could make for the worst stretch in recent history. Last September stunk. The start of the last two seasons stunk. Buried in each of those spates though was the hope that the team could still turn things around in time to reach the playoffs. Seven games out of the second wild card and with more of the calendar year behind us than not, it’s hard to imagine that hope lasting much longer, if it hasn’t died out already. With that in mind, here are five reasons to keeping following along.

  • Daniel Freaking Nava

Daniel Nava, on the disabled list since July 29th with a left wrist sprain, will rejoin the team in time for tonight’s game, replacing the injured Carl Crawford. From May to June, Nava was one of the best players on the team. He drew walks in 14.0% of plate appearances (8% league average) and struck out in just 16.9% (19.6% league average). 42.9% of his hits went for extra bases (33.9% league average). At the end of June, his slash line sat at .302/.421/.475 (896 OPS).

In July, his rates got a little worse (11.4% BB%, 18.6% K%) and he hit just .133/.257/.217 (474 OPS). He was playing injured, but there was also some regression to the mean going on. After all, 29 year-olds who can OPS nearly 900 in the majors leagues don’t wallow in the minors.

The reality is that neither May, June nor July painted an accurate picture of who Daniel Nava is; a patient hitter with little pop. A guy who generates a lot of contact, but not necessarily a lot of good contact – all while playing not so great defense. He’s not the type of player you want to pencil in for 600 plate appearances a year, but he may be just the type of player Red Sox fans need in order to weather the rest of the season.

Everyone loves an underdog. Poor performance, injuries and attitudes have turned Sox fans off of the type of high-priced major league veterans that dominate the roster. Nava can grit his way with the best. He’ll foul off ball after ball until finally knocking a base hit or drawing a walk. He won’t hit for power and he’ll throw the ball to the wrong base, but it will be OK. We’ll smile and forgive him because our expectations are lower or his paycheck is closer to ours. It’s not sound logic, but it won’t stop us from enjoying his play.

  • The Youngsters

Dreaming on next year may be the best way to make it through this year and part of that is getting a look at the crop of young players most likely to make an impact in the near future. Ryan Kalish, 24, who has appeared in 25 major league games this season, and Jose Iglesias, 21, are likely to see September call ups when the 25-man roster expands, but one member of the group, Ryan Lavarnway, 24, is already here.

Since his call up on August 1st, Lavarnway’s struggled to reproduce the kind of offensive numbers he displayed in the minors (career MiLB .286/.376/.506). In 31 plate appearances, he’s recorded four hits (.129 AVG) with seven strikeouts (21.2% K%), but that doesn’t change his long-term outlook as a positive offensive force.

The questions rest with his defense. In five games (four starts) behind the plate this season, he’s allowed three stolen bases in three tries and seen three wild pitches. One wild pitch occurred in Sunday night’s lost to the Yankees, allowing one runner to score and another to advance to third base. The scorer attributed the event to starter Josh Beckett (as opposed to a passed ball on the catcher). If memory serves correct though, some blame should be attributed to Lavarnway, who could have been reasonably expected to keep the ball in front of him. How he handles this and other situations the rest of the season could be the difference between starting at, or backing up, the position in 2013.

  • The Return of the Adrian Gonzalez

Adrian Gonzalez has been feasting on major league pitching since the All-Star Break, posting a OPS 320 points higher than he brought into it.

1st Half 86 85 371 339 42 96 27 0 6 45 0 0 23 64 .283 .329 .416 .745
2nd Half 34 34 141 130 21 48 10 0 9 40 0 0 8 13 .369 .411 .654 1.065
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 8/21/2012.

For a number of years, Gonzalez has been one of the best and most consistent hitters in all of baseball. Then, in the second-half of 2011, his power nodded off. In just north of 300 plate appearances, he hit ten home runs.

Things got worse to start this season when he had notched just six home runs heading into the Break. With nine already in the second half of 2012, it looks like things may be back to normal. Funny thing about “normal” Adrian Gonzalez though is that he’s doing it in an entirely new way, one that amounts to “see ball, hit ball.” Check out a piece from SN Nation’s Marc Normandin that covers all the bases on Gonzalez’s resurgence.

  • The Pitching

Like it or not, most, if not all, of the starting pitching staff that has compiled a 4.82 ERA will likely return in 2013. The same can be said for the injured John Lackey. They’ve been bad, but we can’t change that. So why not focus on the positives with an eye towards 2013?

Has Jon Lester turned the corner? In his last two starts, he’s allowed a combined two runs, on eight hits, in 13 innings pitched. He’s struck out sixteen batters to four walks. Most notably, he’s induced a 15% swinging strike rate (career 9.3%). He’s really, really missing bats at the moment.

Does Franklin Morales continue to find success? In eight starts this season, Morales has a 3.98 ERA with an above average 2.75 strikeout to walk ratio. If he keeps this up, will the team offer him a shot in the rotation to start next season?

Assuming he isn’t pitching injured, can Josh Beckett figure out how to pitch with reduced velocity?

Despite the severe ill will directed his way, John Lackey can be a pretty decent pitcher when he isn’t injured. Will he make a start before the season is up?

  • Playing the Spoiler

Facing a number of teams in playoff contention over the next month and change, the Sox find themselves in an unusual position: they have the opportunity to play the spoiler.

The Rays currently hold the wild card and are four games behind the New York Yankees for the AL East crown. The Orioles, two games behind the Rays, would win the second wild card if the season ended today. Beginning on September 17th, the Sox face both teams six times each over the next thirteen days. As the say goes, if you can’t win, don’t let them win either.

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