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Zero for Three: Sox amidst home run drought in third spot

04.26.11 at 12:10 pm ET
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Adrian Gonzalez is Kirk Minihane's pick for AL MVP this season. (AP)

Adrian Gonzalez has yet to hit a home run in 16 games batting third for the Red Sox this year. (AP)

That the Red Sox have been carried by pitching through their recent run is indisputable. The team has won eight of its last nine contests at a time when its starting five has a combined 0.88 ERA, something that has allowed the team to enjoy a wildly successful stretch even at a time when the offense has been modest.

In fact, the rotation has been good enough to mask some of the lineup’s early season shortcomings (though not all, as the highly scrutinized Carl Crawford and catchers can attest). Nonetheless, there are some interesting puzzles to the performance of the team’s offense through the first 25 days of the season, and few are greater than the team’s dreadful performance in the third spot in the lineup.

The Sox are one of two American League teams without a homer from the spot, joining the Rangers. The hitters in the third spot in the lineup have combined to hit .233 (10th among the AL’s 14 teams) with a .320 OBP (T-10th), .302 slugging mark (11th) and .622 OPS (12th).

A position that characteristically yields run production has instead seen the Sox drive in just seven runs, tied for the fewest by any spot in the batting order. That relates in part to the struggles from the leadoff spot (.198/.263/.363/.625), but even so, with Dustin Pedroia getting on base in more than 40 percent of his at-bats, there have been plenty of opportunities to drive in runs with an extra-base hit.

The third spot in the lineup simply hasn’t delivered. That suggests a deficiency, given that the third spot of the lineup is, on average, the second-most prolific RBI spot in the lineup (behind only the cleanup spot) in the AL this year, just as has been the case for each of the last five seasons.

It would be natural to assume that the season-opening struggles of Carl Crawford were a key part of the issue for the Sox. But Crawford (0-for-7 with a walk in eight plate appearances) spent just two games in that spot before beginning to pinball around the lineup

Dustin Pedroia spent three games in the third spot, going 2-for-11 with three strikeouts. Jed Lowrie occupied the spot for just two at-bats, going 1-for-2.

But the vast majority of the at-bats in the third spot of the lineup have gone to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. In 16 starts spanning 74 plate appearances, he is hitting .258 with a .338 OBP, .348 slugging mark, .686 OPS, four doubles and no homers.

That is in marked contrast to his five combined games in the fourth and fifth spots of the lineup, during which Gonzalez went 7-for-19 (.368) with a  .429 OBP, .632 slugging mark and 1.061 OPS. His only homer of the season came while batting cleanup in the first week of the season – two games before he was installed as the third hitter in the lineup. Gonzalez’ current 16-game streak without a homer is tied for the sixth longest of his career.

So what to read into that fact? In all likelihood, nothing, aside from the fact that based on his career track record, there is a strong likelihood that Gonzalez will soon enjoy greater success than he has had to date.

“I wouldn’t say were clicking on all cylinders but we’re scoring the runs we need to score,” Gonzalez told reporters in Anaheim on Sunday. “If you look at the numbers, we’ve still got a lot of guys who are below their career average or where they’re normally at. The good sign with that is everybody is going to hit a lot better going forward and the numbers are going to go up. That’s a good thing to know.”

Certainly, luck has been in play for Gonzalez’ homer drought. In Oakland last week, Gonzalez slammed a ball high off the fence in right-center that was hit with such force that it ended up being just a single. In his final at-bat of the home stand last week, Gonzalez drilled a ball into the triangle. Had it blown a few feet to the right, it would have landed in the Sox bullpen. Instead, it bounced on the warning track for a ground-rule double.

So, with Gonzalez seemingly settled into the third spot in the lineup for now, it seems a matter of when, not if, he will give the Sox their first homer of the year from that spot. And it seems just as likely that an area in which the Sox have ranked among the least productive teams in the majors quickly could become a strength.

Read More: adrian gonzalez, carl crawford, Dustin Pedroia, Jed Lowrie Print  |  Email  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
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