Red Sox Must Find Way to Live Up to Run Prevention Tag


March 13, 2010

Red Sox Must Find Way to Live Up to Run Prevention Tag Early in an 8-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in Grapefruit League play this week, Red Sox catcher Dusty Brown threw a ball into center field trying to nail a would-be base stealer at second base, allowing the runner to reach third. Moments later, third baseman Adrian Beltre fielded a chopper before also throwing the ball away. It allowed the runner to score from third and slapped an unearned run on starter Jon Lester's line.

Sequences such as this, even early in a slate of spring training games, are exactly the ones which Boston hopes to avoid after a season which saw its defense suffer.

While Boston's offense ranked third in the American League in runs scored and its pitching staff allowed the third-fewest runs, the club's defensive efficiency ranked 13th in the league. The development precipitated a series of maneuvers designed to prevent situations such as the one we saw between Brown and Beltre.

"We were subpar defensively last year, any way you look at it,: general manager Theo Epstein said early in spring training. "If you want to watch the team from a scouting standpoint, we had definite holes defensively that affected our pitching staff, especially on the left side of the infield with health, with Mike Lowell coming back off the surgery not able to have his normal stellar defensive performance. We had clear problems at shortstop all last year. A few too many balls were falling in the outfield as well."

Give Epstein credit for one thing — he's put his money where his mouth is.

Beltre and shortstop Marco Scutaro were signed to shore up that tricky left side of the infield. Mike Cameron was brought in to play center and keep more of those balls from falling in the outfield. Those deals, along with the $9.25 million still owed to keep former shortstop Julio Lugo far away from Fenway, puts a $47 million tag on the defensive overhaul.

And Epstein nearly paid another $9 million to get rid of Lowell in the deal with Texas which fell through this offseason. That would have made over $56 million tied directly to an effort to improve run prevention. If you want to add the signing of John Lackey to that equation, the number soars.

It can't be classified as a major gamble, for Epstein plugged holes where there were leaks. But if the sacrifices made in other areas prove too much to overcome, then the overhaul could be open to criticism. Among those sacrifices, some say, are on offense.

The Cameron-Jacoby Ellsbury shuffle came after 2009 home run and RBI leader Jason Bay was lost to free agency. And while Lowell's range at third was lost, his production at the plate remained strong: He hit .290 and kept a 162-game pace of over 23 home runs and 102 RBIs, primarily from the seventh spot in the lineup.

Beltre's numbers in Seattle last season paled in comparison.

Some Sox players have bristled at the notion that their offense will suffer, particularly those expected to produce, such as Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis.

"It kind of gets to you a little bit," Pedroia recently said when asked about the questions surrounding the lineup. "A lot of guys take pride in having good at-bats and doing everything we can to score runs. We have a lot of very good offensive players. I'm confident in our team and I?m confident that we?re going to be great."

Pedroia has a tendency to prove people wrong. Yet, if the Red Sox defense does not improve dramatically as Epstein and the organizations hopes it will, then an extended run into October becomes that much more difficult.

After Beltre's error in the loss to the Rays, he was given a second chance when another grounder came his way on the very next batter. This time, he made a clean throw to first to end the inning and was given a slightly sarcastic applause from the fan base in Fort Myers. The sarcasm at Fenway might be a bit more biting.

From now until Opening Day, will run down 25 things that need to happen for the Red Sox to win the World Series.

March 14: Dustin Pedroia is as consistent as Kevin Youkilis.

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