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Sinking against southpaws: Red Sox losses to lefties mounting

06.20.14 at 9:27 am ET
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The Red Sox have been missing Shane Victorino's production against left-handed pitchers. (AP)

The Red Sox have been missing Shane Victorino‘s production against left-handed pitchers. (AP)

Remember Shane Victorino? How about Will Middlebrooks? The Red Sox do — particularly any time they face a left-handed starter.

The Red Sox’ offensive futility, of course, has been staggering to comprehend. With Thursday night’s 4-2 loss to the A’s and Scott Kazmir, the team already has endured 26 games in which it has scored two or fewer runs this year. The Sox are on pace to have 58 such contests this year, which would be its most since 1992.

But whereas the Sox had enjoyed relative success early in the year against lefties — winning 10 of their first 14 contests when southpaw starters opposed them — they’ve gone off the rails since Middlebrooks landed on the disabled list with his broken finger, followed a few days later by Victorino.

In 11 games against lefty starters since Middlebrooks landed on the DL, the Sox are 3-8, including losses in each of their last five games. In that span, lefty starters are averaging 6 1/3 innings with a 3.10 ERA against the Sox. Boston’s lineup on Thursday — in which David Ortiz sat out — made clear why the team is struggling in such circumstances.

The team simply lacks right-handed hitting depth. Jonny Gomes, of course, was in the lineup in place of Daniel Nava, and David Ross started at catcher. But beyond them, the Sox didn’t have a credible right-handed bat on the bench. Switch-hitters Nava and Jonathan Herrera both are significantly more successful against right-handed pitchers than lefties.  And so, it was A.J. Pierzynski who started at DH with Ortiz out.

Two qualifications: First, Kazmir’s devastating changeup has given him non-traditional splits. He’s dominating right-handed hitters (.180 average, .227 OBP, .289 slugging mark), whereas lefties actually have handled Kazmir effectively (.278/.345/.316). And Pierzynski, in keeping with that, had one of the Sox’ hits against Kazmir, in defiance of his season .205/.221/.260 line against lefties. (Pierzynski is hitting .299/.336/.445 against righties.)

Still, the absence of Middlebrooks and Victorino is palpable. Middlebrooks, for all his faults against right-handers this year, was hitting .318 with a .375 OBP and .409 slugging mark in 24 plate appearances this year, consistent with his track record of success against southpaws. Victorino was hitting .320 with a .333 OBP and .360 mark even as he was working to find his timing.

Right now, without that duo, the Red Sox are simply lacking against lefties. The Sox have had to put Stephen Drew or Herrera into the lineup at short against lefties; the outfield configurations have been likewise imperfect, with the Sox having to try to hide a player who represents a mark for lefties. The issue has been exacerbated by the lack of right-handed depth options on the 40-man roster. Bryce Brentz was struggling with Triple-A Pawtucket before landing on the DL with a hamstring injury in May; Alex Hassan, after an extremely promising 2013 season, has struggled to the point that he was employed only for spot lineup protection. It’s telling that at a time when the Sox are starved for right-handed outfield bats, they called up left-handed hitting third baseman Garin Cecchini this week.

The Red Sox appear to be in a holding pattern when it comes to the idea of making trades. The team believes in what Victorino will be able to offer, and Middlebrooks, too, could provide a potential weapon against lefties. And, on the horizon, there is a player like Mookie Betts, who later this season could become something of a right-handed version of Holt.

But for now there is a glaring deficiency, and with Middlebrooks and Victorino building back slowly, no immediate answer in sight — beyond hoping that right-handed lineup members like Mike Napoli and Xander Bogaerts and Dustin Pedroia can carry the load until the cavalry arrives.

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