Tomase: These three players are stopping the Red Sox offense

The three players who kill the Red Sox offense are not easy targets Bobby Dalbec, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Christian Vazquez. They beat at the bottom of the order for a reason.

It’s the next level of players: Kiké Hernández, Alex Verdugo and Trevor Story. They are supposed to be the 1A collective of the powerful trio of Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and JD Martinez. The three stallions are more or less doing their job. Bogaerts leads the team in average (.343), Devers in homers (four) and Martinez in RBIs (14).

The problem is this intermediate group, like our friend Lou Merloni tweeted the other day. Each failed the Red Sox in their own way, with the resulting impact on the offense abysmal.

Start with Hernandez. Alex Cora raised eyebrows last year when he installed the free swinger at No. 1, which never seemed appropriate for a guy with a .313 lifetime on-base percentage. Cora had a specific thought in mind, however. During his previous stint as manager, in 2019, Andrew Benintendi’s early experience failed after around two passive months, forcing Mookie Betts’ return.

When Cora had another chance to manage, he not only wanted to maintain the left-right balance at the top of the command, but also his choice to set the tone by chasing fastballs. He viewed the unconventional Hernández as the man for the job, and Hernández rewarded him with 20 homers, a solid closing kick in the past two months, and then a monster postseason.

Sadly, that success didn’t carry over into 2022. Hernández went 0 in 19 to open the season and is appearing at twice his lifetime pace. He hits .176, which required a drop in order. Unlike some of the other names on this list, it mostly swings on good lands, but it doesn’t do anything with the lands it hunts. When Hernández is right, he hammers balls to the pull side, but he sent lazy fly balls to right field.

The Red Sox need the return of the dynamic overachiever who epitomized last season’s unexpected success, but with Hernández failing to provide a spark, Cora made the logical decision to elevate Story, with disastrous results.

Chaim Bloom and the front office must pray that Story’s struggles have more to do with his new surroundings, new position and new home than any underlying physical issues, because the man’s alternative to $140 million is terrifying.

Tomase: Trevor Story hears early signs of unrest from Red Sox fans

He opened the season beating Gerrit Cole’s sliders and hasn’t stopped since, but that’s not even really the point. While it’s true that Story has swung and missed nearly half of the sliders he’s seen, the biggest problem is that he doesn’t catch fastballs. He only hits .200 against them and has hit more fastballs than any other field.

Story’s inability to manage speed helps explain why he’s so sensitive to sliders off the plate, and that hole in his swing will be exploited mercilessly until he closes it.

In the meantime, he kills the offense. He’s heard constant boos at Fenway after going 1-of-16 with 10 strikeouts over the last four games, and those jeers will only intensify if he doesn’t deliver. The Red Sox left outfielder Hunter Renfroe because they thought he would be $7 million overpaid even after he had hit 31 homers and .816 OPS.

What makes Story, which hasn’t shot yet and is hitting .194?

This brings us to stealth deception, Verdugo. Much like last year, he got off to a flying start that suggested he was on the verge of going from a slightly above average regular to All-Star. And like last year, it ended almost before it started.

The Red Sox need Verdugo to be a table passer when he beats first and a run producer when he beats fifth. The same dynamic applies to Hernández and Story. Instead, the trio provided a whole lot of nothing.

John Thomas

Verdugo’s dazzling start – 0.333 in 10 games – earned him goodwill which he very quietly depleted. In his last 17 games, Verdugo has only reached 0.147 with an OPS of 0.317. His “expected average” over that period is much higher, but the eye test does not suggest he is the victim of bad luck. Verdugo walked once and delivered an extra base hit on that stretch, and Cora noted that he had strayed from the all-field line drive approach that characterizes his most productive stretches.

In retrospect, the worst thing he could have done was to hit three home runs in the first week of the season, as he has since become happy. Verdugo is a line hitter with the occasional pop. When he swings towards the fences, he falls well below.

Because he’s one of the best bat-to-ball guys in the big leagues, his problem isn’t breathiness, but overexuberance. For the first time in his career, he swings over half of the pitches he sees, resulting in more ground balls and fewer lines.

The Red Sox need Verdugo to be a table passer when he beats first and a run producer when he beats fifth. The same dynamic applies to Hernández and Story. Instead, the trio provided a whole lot of nothing.

Until that changes, the bottom of the order will be the least of the team’s worries.


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