Despite a 32-38 record, the Boston Red Sox are still only 5.5 games back of a playoff spot in the American League.  Barring a complete collapse, the Red Sox figure to be buyers when the July 31 MLB trade deadline arrives.  With that in mind, what are Boston’s greatest needs going forward, as they look to stay alive in the postseason race?

In their past three games, the Red Sox have scored a total of just five runs.  They dropped a pair of 3-2 decisions to the Cleveland Indians over the weekend and held on for a 1-0 win over the Minnesota Twins on Monday.

In fact, two of Boston’s last four victories are of the 1-0 variety.  The Red Sox defeated the Baltimore Orioles by that margin on June 10—the only run Boston could manage in the three-game series in Baltimore.

Simply put, the 2014 edition of the Red Sox is struggling to get runners across home plate.

Collectively, Boston is hitting only .246 on the season, and that drops even lower to .240 with runners in scoring position.  Last year the Red Sox led all of baseball by averaging 5.27 runs per game.  This season that number has fallen off dramatically to 3.91.  Fifteen of the club’s 38 losses are by just a single run.  If the Red Sox had won roughly half of those 15 contests they’d be near the top of the AL East. 

Clearly Boston needs offensive help, but what about pitching?

Jon Lester and John Lackey are a solid one-two punch, posting ERAs of 3.33 and 3.24 respectively.  And with Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront on the disabled list, Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa have filled in admirably.  Workman is 1-0 with a 2.88 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in five starts, while De La Rosa is 2-2 with a 2.84 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in four outings of his own.

At the moment Jake Peavy is the weak link in the Red Sox rotation.  Peavy has an ERA of 4.53 and a career-worst 1.44 WHIP to go along with just a single win in 14 starts.

Even with Peavy’s struggles, starting pitching should not be an area of concern for Boston.  Buchholz and Doubront are close to returning, and top prospects Allen Webster and Anthony Ranaudo are both throwing very well for Triple-A Pawtucket.

In the bullpen, Koji Uehara is following up a spectacular 2013 with another great year in 2014.  Uehara has converted all 15 of his save opportunities, and has a minuscule 0.57 ERA to go along with his equally impressive 0.66 WHIP.  The Red Sox closer has not been scored upon in his last 20 appearances (21 innings in total), dating back to May 1.  Similarly, Burke Badenhop hasn’t given up an earned run since April 18, a streak of 29 consecutive innings.

Relief pitching is also not an issue Boston must worry about.

If pitching isn’t the problem, what can be done to fix the Red Sox’s lackluster offense?  

Boston began the year with five outfielders on its roster: Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Daniel Nava, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Grady Sizemore.  Those five players are batting a combined .219 (161-for-734).  Victorino leads the bunch at .242, and he should come back soon from a hamstring injury, which he is currently rehabbing in Pawtucket.

Brock Holt has recently added some life to the outfield, hitting .400 in 25 at-bats since moving there.  Via Scott Barboza of ESPN Boston, Red Sox manager John Farrell had this to say about shifting Holt from the infield:

The need drove it, to be honest. As a guy returned we found where the opening was and stuck him there and he’s continued on, whether it’s been first base when Mike Carp broke his foot to [Mike Napoli] coming back — stick him in left. And then put him in right. It’s a pretty good showing on his part.

Victorino’s return and Holt’s hot streak shouldn’t stop Boston from trying to add a quality bat in the outfield.  Not necessarily a star, but a solid player who could hit sixth and drive in some runs behind David Ortiz and Napoli.  For the season, Red Sox No. 6 hitters are batting just .217, a full 40 points less than their opponents’ .257 average from the same spot in the order.

If any potentially incoming outfielder also possesses good speed and power, he might help Boston’s plight immensely.  The Red Sox have stolen only 24 bases this year, the third-lowest total in MLB.  Their 63 percent success rate (24-of-38) also ranks third from the bottom.

Along the same lines, Boston has a total of just 50 home runs this season—only four other clubs have fewer.

Of course all of this could change in the next six weeks.  Nava is 11 for his last 26, raising his batting average 70 points from .134 to .204.  If he keeps hitting like the guy who finished fifth in the AL in on-base percentage last year (.385), the team’s outfield woes might be solved.

Last week on WEEI’s The Dennis and Callahan Show, Red Sox president Larry Lucchino was asked about potential trade deadline activity.  His response was:

Every year is different. Every year is a different configuration of teams ahead of you or behind you, so there’s no formula. But there is a realistic assessment made, but it’s not made at this point when there’s 96 games [left] in the season, it’s made generally much later. In our case, it’s almost always made in late July, not in early June.


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