As one of the few fans of baseball in the United Kingdom, why do you think it is so hard for championship teams to repeat in baseball compared to football (soccer) teams here? The Red Sox were unstoppable last season, but with a very similar squad, they are struggling this time round. In football (soccer), you wouldn't usually see such a drop-off with so few changes.
-- Matt S., Manchester, England
Great question. I think there are a number of factors at work. Winning a championship, and playing an extra month of baseball, can take a serious toll. This pushes a player's offseason-conditioning program back, and there's bound to be some carryover fatigue when the next season starts. Another thing you often see with championship teams is that they have a lot of good fortune along the way. This was definitely the case with the 2013 Red Sox, where they had a lot of bounces go their way and had some dramatic wins in the late innings. The best teams need some luck, and they also create a lot of it.
Then there's the matter of personnel. Championship teams seldom stay together like they used to. In Boston's case, the team lost Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Stephen Drew. Perhaps the Sox underestimated how important these three players were to last year's team, or simply thought that for business reasons, they needed to go in a different direction.
At any rate, these are some factors that I see early in the season. But the Red Sox still have quite a long time to re-establish themselves.
Is it just me or does one of the main problems with the lineup seem to be that we have no solid No. 5 hitter?
-- Josh J., Arlington, Va.
You make a great point. The decline and subsequent demotion of Daniel Nava has really hurt the lineup, as nobody has stepped up with the type of production he had last year. David Ortiz and Mike Napoli are as eager as anyone for the club to get some more production in the middle of the lineup. Once that happens, pitchers can't be so careful with those two guys.
With Nava now in the Minors, I thought we'd be seeing a lot more of Jonny Gomes, but it seems he is only playing once a week. Why are we seeing so little of him, especially when he has been playing decent this season?
-- Dan H., Vernon, Mass.
The Red Sox were really hoping that Grady Sizemore's left-handed bat would give them their best lineup against righties. Thus far, Sizemore has been inconsistent. I'm not sure playing Gomes more against righties is the answer, either. He is perfect in the role he is in, and he helps Boston win a lot of games as a starter against lefties and a pinch-hitter in the mid-to-late innings.
With all of the offensive struggles the Sox have had from the left side of the infield, how long will it be before manager John Farrell makes a move to get some offense going?
-- Violet, Millinocket, Maine
I'm not sure there's a whole lot Farrell can do about it. He can only play the roster he has available to him. It sounds like you are wondering more if the front office can make a change and add some more offense to the left side of the infield. I'm sure general manager Ben Cherington and his staff are going through all those options as we speak.
Why did the Sox get in the head of Nava, a consistent player last year, instead of supporting him? There are several others who are not hitting.
-- Barry S., Norwich, Vt.
The reason, plain and simple, is that Nava had Minor League options left and the other players did not. But you can't pin this all on the Red Sox. Nava could have maintained his position by playing better earlier in the season. Now he is in a fight to earn his way back to the Majors. Nava has never hesitated to overcome some adversity before, so I'm guessing he'll find his way back to Fenway again.
Any updates yet on how Nava is faring in Triple-A Pawtucket? His numbers down there are looking better, but have you heard anything? He is just too good to spend the season down there.
-- Lizbeth G., Boston
In his first 20 games with the PawSox, Nava hit .275 with three homers and a .370 on-base percentage. Clearly, this is a much better sample of the type of player he can be than what he did earlier in Boston. The strikeouts are a bit of a concern, as Nava K'd 20 times in his first 69 at-bats for Pawtucket.
I feel bad for Drew. What's happening with him?
-- Seth H., Brooklyn, N.Y.
I'm sure Drew appreciates your sympathy, but I don't think you need to feel bad for him. Look, the Red Sox offered Drew a one-year, $14.1 million salary for this season and he turned it down. What's happening with him now is that nobody wants to sign him before the First-Year Player Draft in June because they don't want to give up a compensation pick. After the Draft, I'm sure teams will clamor for Drew's services. And it wouldn't surprise me at all if Boston re-engages if its production in the left side of the infield doesn't improve soon.
Has the question now gone from, "Will the Sox make the playoffs this year?" to "Will the Sox finish above .500?"
-- Barry S., Quaker Hill, Conn.
Interestingly, the way things are looking now, I'm not sure how much above .500 any American League East team will have to finish this year to make the playoffs. Nobody in the division has played all that well coming out of the gate. You figure at some point, one of these teams will emerge from the pack.
Are there any prospects in the Minors who we could pull up to inject some energy into this offense? Mookie Betts? Garin Cecchini? Travis Shaw?
-- Ian B., Boston
I think you are seeing living proof at Fenway right now that handing the keys to the young players isn't always the answer. The Red Sox have a very careful development plan with all their prospects, and they don't like to rush their Minor Leaguers simply to fill a spot at the Major League level. But some of those players you mentioned could be ready to complete their development. I think that July or August is generally a time for a top prospect or two to get a chance to inject some life into the club.
What's with Clay Buchholz? Are the Red Sox working with him? Or do they expect him to bounce back on his own?
-- Karl W., Locust Valley, N.Y.
The Red Sox work tirelessly with all their pitchers, trying to get the most out of them for each start. Of course they don't just expect Buchholz to "bounce back on his own." I do agree that his early-season struggles have been mysterious. Buchholz looked like the best pitcher in baseball before getting injured last year. The medical staff hasn't detected any injuries, so the problems he is having right now could be more mental than physical. Without a doubt, Boston needs to get Buchholz going if it wants to have legitimate repeat hopes.