Allen Craig’s Return Could Help Fix Boston Red Sox’s Biggest Deficiency

Allen CraigBOSTON — The Red Sox on Thursday added a serviceable plug to their leaky offense.

Allen Craig, who suffered a foot injury Aug. 1 in his first game after being acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals, returned from the 15-day disabled list. While Craig won’t singlehandedly halt Boston’s season-long offensive malaise, the slugger’s return could go a long way toward fixing the club’s biggest deficiency.

The Red Sox have been putrid with men on base in 2014. They entered Thursday ranked 27th in the majors with a .234 average with runners in scoring position. Their .675 OPS in such situations ranked 26th. You could make the case that anyone with a pulse and a long piece of lumber has the potential to improve those numbers, but Boston’s fatal flaw is right in Craig’s wheelhouse.

Craig, an All-Star in 2013, led the majors last season with a .454 average (59-or-130) with runners in scoring position — the third-best mark since 1974.

“I think when you see him hit, you’ll see that there’s an offensive approach that’s pretty conducive to (producing with runners in scoring position), and he handles a breaking ball from a right-hander that runs away from him fairly well,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said before Thursday’s game against the Los Angeles Angels at Fenway Park. “Typically, you’re going to get those types of pitches thrown at you. It’s an all-field approach, and he doesn’t look to just pull. I’m sure he’s got a lot of confidence because he’s been very successful in those situations as well.”

Craig’s offensive production has dipped significantly this season, with one possible explanation being his battle with ankle and foot issues. Craig looked like a lame horse during last year’s postseason run with the Cardinals but pushed through as St. Louis eyed a World Series berth.

“The injury that he had last year was something that was given rest and recovery rather than a repair — probably as much to do with their stretch into the postseason run,” Farrell said. “I guess it’s debatable whether a repair was needed or recommended, but they chose a conservative path. Is there still some involvement? That is above me. He turned the ankle and the foot here on the base. What he was feeling was not a result of the actual previous injury. But does the previous injury still give some instability? That’s, again, debatable.”

If Craig stays healthy, Boston’s offense should improve. While Craig hit just .237 with seven homers, 44 RBIs and a .638 OPS in 97 games with the Cardinals this season before being traded to the Red Sox, the 30-year-old has a track record of success. He drove in 97 runs in 134 regular-season games last season and compiled 92 RBIs in 119 regular-season games in 2012. His OPS over parts of five seasons with St. Louis was a solid .803.

“I think there’s times where we’ve tried to force things, you see that,” Farrell said of his team’s struggles with men on base. “Now, individuals might not acknowledge that, but just when you see guys have at-bats day in and day out, you begin to see a want or a desire kind of spike a little bit. And does that cause guys to overswing the bat (and) get out in front on occasion? It does. We’ve also squared up some balls right at people, that’s part of the game. But we’re well-aware of the average in those situations.”

The extent of Craig’s impact remains to be seen. But his return is a welcome sight for a Red Sox offense that entered Thursday on the heels of a three-game stretch in which the unit went 2-for-39 with runners in scoring position and left 41 men on base.

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