Can The Backup Brigade Carry The Red Sox?

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

Last night the Red Sox lost 3-2 to the Tampa Bay Rays, and featured a number of players who weren’t on the 25 man roster a month ago. This includes their starting pitcher, catcher, left fielder, center fielder, first baseman(after Kevin Youkilis left with an injury), and the final pitcher on the mound for Boston.

Since Dustin Pedroia went down with an injury on June 25th, the Red Sox have carried on with a respectable 5-3 record. This is in large part thanks to Kevin Youkilis, who is on pace to set new personal highs in home runs, RBIs, slugging, on base percentage and runs scored to name a few. Youkilis and David Ortiz have provided enough offense to off-set the loss of the numerous other players already on the disabled list.

However, with Kevin Youkilis out of the lineup last night after hurting himself, the already depleted lineup looks devastatingly large. In particular, a void of protecting the remaining offensive powerhouses. Entering June 25th, David Ortiz had walked 31 times in 60 games he has appeared in, with 4 intentional passes. Since then, he has walked 11 times with 4 intentional passes spanning 8 games. This includes three IBBs following Youkilis’ exit from last night’s game.

Niuman Romero filled in for Youkilis and played first base. Though the versatile utility player had a respectable .268 average with the Pawtucket Red Sox this season, it’s impossible to ignore the potential for a gigantic hole created by the void of Kevin Youkilis at first base right next to the void left by Dustin Pedroia at second base. With Romero up in the 9th inning of last night’s game, there’s no doubt fans were hoping he would rise to the occasion much like fill-ins Daniel Nava and Darnell McDonald did earlier this season. However, it wasn’t meant to be, and any lengthy absence by the all-star first baseman could be the straw that finally breaks the back of the surging Red Sox.

Just over a week ago, I wrote about the backups helping the team stay in contention. Though Darnell McDonald has cooled off slightly since he burst onto the scene with a pinch hit game tying home run and game winning hit on April 20th, Daniel Nava has proven that he could possibly be the real deal at the major league level. Though he hasn’t homered since his first pitch grand slam in his debut, he has contributed with 9 runs scored and 13 runs knocked in in just 19 games with the Red Sox. As recently as July 2nd, Nava was the player who drove in the go ahead run to give the team a 3-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles.

Eric Patterson, acquired by the team after Pedroia landed on the DL, quickly made his presence known to fans when he launched two homers in his second game with the team. A career .229 hitter with a .305 on base percentage to go along with 8 career home runs in 400 career at bats suggest the Red Sox may have acquired Patterson at a hot streak rather than a newly discovered offensive level miles above his career norms. If he maintains even the slightest power he has shown in his 6 games, the team may find a way to hold off an utter collapse with the loss of so many players.

Another aspect of the backup brigade is the pitching staff. With Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, and Manny Delcarmen on the disabled list, Terry Francona is left to trust Felix Doubront, Dustin Richardson and Robert Manuel to fill the gaps. Doubront and Manuel have a handful of games played at the major league level between them. In Doubront’s case, he has made just 6 minor league starts above the Double A level. Tp his credit, the 22 year old has responded nicely in his second career start when he limited the Rays to 2 runs in 5.2 innings of work.

The Red Sox have had pitching woes for much of the season, as Scott Atchison’s three tours of duty with the team this season can confirm. In Nick Cafardo’s Extra Bases game notes on Boston.com, he points out that Hideki Okajima has battled a sore back. This may explain why his ERA has climbed a full run and a half in his last five appearances where he has given up 7 runs in 3.2 innings of work. Another reliever landing on the disabled list would likely create an even greater burden on Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard and Ramon Ramirez.

The question remains, can the backup brigade carry the Red Sox? Though the Red Sox have managed to stay within striking distance of the first place New York Yankees since Dustin Pedroia went down with an injury, there are four games that remain before the All-Star break and several weeks before the sight of the walking wounded returning to the everyday lineup that seem to require a lot more than just a few players playing above their heads. It may require an extended stretch of great everyday play from a collection of players that may not crack the rosters of many MLB teams, let alone start for them. They’ve done well so far, and by the All-Star break, the Red Sox should have a good idea what needs to happen to shape the team for success in the second half.

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