Allen Webster Still Developing, But Rookie Joining Red Sox’ Rotation by Season’s End Wouldn’t Be Shocking

Allen WebsterWhat’s happening here?

That’s the million-dollar question in Boston right now, as the Red Sox, who began the season in a big way, suddenly find themselves in the midst of a rough patch. Every team goes through some struggles over the course of a 162-game season, but the whole situation has some Sox fans wondering where exactly this team is headed.

Are the Red Sox more like the team that started off the season as one of baseball’s elite, or are they more like the team who has gone 2-8 over the last 10 games while losing its division lead?

In this edition of the baseball mailbag, I dive head first into such hot-button questions. Let’s not waste any more time then.

Why is the Red Sox’ slump happening? They are too good for this, don’t you think?
— Little Vivian

The Red Sox are undoubtedly better than they have been over the last 10 games. That’s not saying much, as they’re just 2-8 in that span, but they’re far too talented for a stretch like this.

The Red Sox’ current slump is due to a combination of things. Some guys are banged up, the team’s overall pitching isn’t quite as consistent as it was in April and the defense has been extremely shaky at times. But the biggest thing plaguing Boston right now is the team’s lack of situational hitting.

It seems like we keep seeing the same thing each game during this rocky stretch. The Red Sox’ offense, which is built on making pitchers work and producing baserunners, does its job from that standpoint. Capitalizing on scoring chances has been a different story, though.

All too often, the Red Sox find themselves stranding runners, which kills a team’s offensive momentum. During their three-game series against the Blue Jays, the Boston offense left 25 men on base and went 3-for-36 (.083) with runners in scoring position. It’s no coincidence they dropped two of three. Even when the Red Sox have won games, though, they haven’t been opportunistic, and that’s something that forces the team’s pitchers into high-stress situations.

It’s tough to put a finger on why exactly the Red Sox haven’t been cashing in with runners on. Perhaps guys are pressing a bit, although there isn’t too much to indicate that’s the case. Manager John Farrell has one theory.

“As much as we cashed in in the month of April, it may be cliché, but things are evening out,” Farrell said after Sunday’s game.

Maybe Farrell is on to something, in which case we’ll see the team’s offense turn things back around real soon. Until that happens, though, the Red Sox are going to find themselves in some dogfights, no matter how good the pitching is.

Why didn’t John Farrell bunt in obvious situations late in the game on Saturday? It’s the same old Red Sox mentality without the productive lineup. This team has to scratch for runs and needs a manager that can adapt to the team he has, not one he wishes he has.
— Warren Wetherbee

I assume you’re talking about the ninth inning, when Will Middlebrooks led off with a double with the Red Sox down one run. Looking back, bunting with Stephen Drew — who lined out to the shortstop — was certainly something Farrell should have strongly considered. Moving the tying run to within 90 feet of home plate with one out in a one-run game is something that’s hard to pass up. It opens up the possibility for a sac fly, and I think going down that route would have made sense with the No. 9 hitter at the plate.

That’s my opinion, although I don’t blame Farrell in any way for Saturday’s loss. It all boils down to a lack of execution. As for why Farrell didn’t bunt, here’s what he had to say when asked about it after the game:

“No, because with the lefties up [Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino] at a minimum I didn’t want to take the bat out of his hand. [Drew has] been driving runs in this month. He’s been in a pretty good place. Even if he pulls the ball on the ground, it’s going to serve the same purpose to move the runner over at minimum. Unfortunately, the 2-0 cutter gets up and in and he jams him for the infield popup. I thought with the three left-handers coming we’ll take three shots at it.”

My mom loves the Sox! Does yours?
— Eric Bam

She sure does.

Do you think the Red Sox should’ve kept Jonathan Papelbon?
— Kim Eldredge

It’s funny you bring that up, Kim. I wrote about the exact topic on Sunday, had some back-and-forths about it on Twitter and even had a lengthy conversation with a couple of friends. Looking at the Red Sox’ current closer situation, yes, they would be in much better shape right now if they re-signed Jonathan Papelbon. That being said, I thought the team’s decision to move on from Papelbon was the right one at the time it was made. Therefore, I don’t think the club should be criticized for not re-signing Papelbon.

The Red Sox have been aggressive in trying to find a successor to Papelbon. Andrew Bailey, Joel Hanrahan and even Bobby Jenks (who was signed the season before Papelbon left town) were all brought in with high expectations, but the whole thing just hasn’t panned out, mainly because of injuries. It’s unfortunate for the Red Sox, but it’s the nature of sports.

The Red Sox let Papelbon walk because they didn’t think it made sense financially. And in my opinion, $50 million over four years is way too much to pay a relief pitcher, so I don’t fault them at all for trying to go in a more cost-efficient direction. Looking at the numbers now, the Sox didn’t save all that much money, but let’s keep in mind that Hanrahan was brought in mainly because there was some unpredictability surrounding Bailey entering this season. If Bailey stayed healthy and productive in 2012, the Sox probably wouldn’t have signed Hanrahan, the financial particulars would be different and the conversations nowadays regarding Papelbon’s departure would be much tamer.

It’s easy to look at the Red Sox’ situation and say, “They should have re-signed Papelbon.” We should just remember that we now have the benefit of hindsight, though.

Click here to read more about this topic >>

Is David Ross related to Cody Ross?
— Keith William Antonevich

Nope, no relation. There is a little bit of a resemblance there, though, don’t you think? They look a little bit alike, and they’re a couple of well-spoken guys.

I notice a lot of batters — like Jacoby Ellsbury — turn their back pockets inside out. I can see that while batting, as it makes them take up more space for a hit by pitch. But once on the bases, doesn’t it seem like more space makes for an easier out by having more surface area to tag?
— Lance, Bakersfield, Calif.

Lance, I’d love nothing more than to give you an exact reason for why players turn their back pockets inside out. But the honest truth is that I have absolutely no clue why some players do it.

ESPN.com’s Uni Watch actually took a long look at this phenomenon a few years ago, and it’s a pretty worthwhile read. Basically, there doesn’t really seem to be any definitive reason for what Uni Watch calls “flappage.” Maybe players do it for the reason you mentioned — easier to get hit by a pitch — or maybe players simply don’t realize the pocket is inside out after grabbing their batting gloves.

Whatever the case, I think it looks kind of dumb. I’m no style aficionado, though, so what do I know?

Why won’t MLB face the fact that there’s an umpiring problem and deal with it? (I know the answer, by the way.) Also, when are the Red Sox going to buy pitching or trade a prospect for effective pitching?
— Jill Jankoski

Oh, umpires. Generally, I give the boys in blue the benefit of the doubt. An umpire’s every move is under immense scrutiny, and I can’t imagine having to deal with some of the things umps do. That being said, the umpiring sucked last week. Then again, I’m not saying anything everyone didn’t already know.

In my opinion, Major League Baseball actually handled last week’s debacle quite well. Suspending Fieldin Culbreth and fining the rest of the crew of Thursday’s Angels-Astros game sent a message that the league isn’t messing around, and that was something that needed to be done. So in that sense, the league is dealing with the problem, although I’m not sure if that’s the answer you were looking for.

Click here to read an opinion about Culbreth’s suspension >>

As for the Red Sox going out and acquiring pitching, I wouldn’t be shocked if they added a reliever at some point before the trade deadline, perhaps sooner rather than later. The bullpen is still strong, but you could always use horses back there, and with Joel Hanrahan going down, there is suddenly a need for another arm. They could also look into adding a starter, especially with Felix Doubront’s recent issues, but the more likely scenario is that rotational help comes from within.

What are the chances we see Allen Webster become a regular in the starting rotation this season?
— Kyle Arnold

There’s a lot to like when it comes to Allen Webster. The 23-year-old has electric stuff and a ton of potential. He’s still developing, though, so there are going to be some rough patches, which we saw on Wednesday, when he surrendered eight earned runs and didn’t make it out of the second inning in his second big league start.

The ideal scenario for the Red Sox would be for Webster to continue pitching at Triple-A Pawtucket for most, if not all, of this season, and then have the right-hander show up to spring training ready to compete for a rotation spot in 2014. But given Felix Doubront’s current issues and the fragility of John Lackey, there is a very realistic chance Webster ends up being a regular in the starting rotation by the end of this season.

Doubront’s velocity is down, and his effectiveness has suffered as a result. The Sox haven’t been able to find anything wrong with him physically, but their patience could start wearing thin. When it comes to Lackey, or anyone else for that matter, there is always the potential for an injury issue to arise. That would immediately enter Webster into the equation.

The Red Sox clearly have a ton of faith in Webster, and he’s essentially the team’s sixth starter right now. If he ends up in the rotation this season, it means something else probably went wrong, but it’s absolutely a possibility.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here

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