It’s been a long season, battling back-and-forth with the Yankees for sole possession of first place, dealing with a banged-up rotation and looking to fill needs through trades and the farm system.
Injuries to Jed Lowrie and Josh Reddick have forced some lineup movements in the last couple of days. Conor Jackson, who replaced Reddick in the lineup, injured himself by hitting the wall hard in third inning of today’s game. The daily grind of the regular season has cost Kevin Youkilis a DL trip recently and Marco Scutaro has been seeing some frequent days off in order to keep his 35-year-old body fresh for the playoff run.
Luckily, the Sox made a couple of moves at the trade deadline that have helped to combat these injury issues. Erik Bedard has pitched well as Clay Buchholz‘s replacement, posting nine strikeouts per nine innings and a 3.7 BB/9. While Bedard was the biggest name the Sox hauled in at the deadline, the smaller move of adding Mike Aviles for depth may end up paying off bigger than expected.
Aviles is no whiz with the glove, though he’s adequate enough, maybe, to man a utility role. The key is his bat, which had gone missing this season in Kansas City, but has come alive a bit while with the Sox. The sample size is extremely small, but Aviles has hit .333/.350/.386 with four stolen bases in 60 plate appearances since coming to Beantown. Of course, we can point to his .396 BABIP over that span as a source of good fortune, especially with such a small sample size. The thing is, from here on out we’re only going to be dealing with small sample sizes. An everyday regular might get 120 or so plate appearances in any given month, so Aviles, as a part-timer, is going to see even fewer than that.
As Chip Buck pointed out this past week, small sample sizes have played a big role in how many Sox fans have perceived the likes of Josh Reddick and Jed Lowrie. While both of those players have regressed from strong starts, we can’t use the sample size from either their hot streaks or their slumps to determine their true talent level at the plate. Mike Aviles has 1278 major league plate appearances under his belt and a .288/.318/.416 career slash line. He has experienced both extreme success (.325/.354/.480 in 441 plate appearances as a rookie in 2008) as well as extreme lows, having been sent back down to the minor leagues by the Royals this season.
There is no way of knowing exactly what Aviles will do with the remainder of his at-bats this season, but given his major league experience and current groove at the plate, at least there is hope that he can come through in some key situations while filling in for some of the injured or worn down regulars.
September is the month that teams get to dig into their farm system and add depth to their major league roster for the stretch run. The Sox have some prospects that could play a key role in their quest to win the division.
Breakout prospect Ryan Lavarnway is set to rejoin the team on Monday in Toronto. Lavarnway has had an incredible season at the plate while spending time at double and triple-A this season, hitting .290/.376/.563 with 32 home runs overall. That hot bat found it’s way to the Sox when David Ortiz was dealing with a foot issue. In a small sample of 27 plate appearances, Lavarnway hit .304/.407/.391 with the Sox, but that came along with a 412 BABIP.
Given his lack of defensive skills, Lavarnway will likely be relegated to pinch hitting, but could give V-Tek and Salty a day off here or there down the stretch. In any scenario, Lavarnway’s numbers, similar to the case with Aviles, will be subject to a small sample size. Given his power and plate discipline, Lavarnway could provide a small boost in key pinch-hitting situations heading into October.
No announcement of a call-up has been made, but there is a very good chance that the opposite extreme of Ryan Lavarnway finds his way to Boston soon. Jose Iglesias may not be able to hit much, but the man can do just about everything defensively at shortstop. Given that the current options at short are average defensively at best, Iglesias could play an important role as a late inning defensive replacement.
Of course, the big roster addition that we have all been waiting for is none other than the return of J.D. Drew!
All sarcasm aside, Drew has a chance to play an expanded role this September. While he was a disaster at the plate earlier this season before hitting the DL, the time off may have helped him to regroup and recharge. Drew has found little-to-no success against either righties or lefties this season, but he continued to post a positive UZR in right field. He hasn’t posted a negative UZR since 2002. With the hand injury topping off what has been a steady, month-long slump for Josh Reddick, Drew, who has had a minor setback with a strained finger, could find his way back in right-field before long. If Drew hits, he could easily stick there, perhaps even sending Reddick to the bench. We’ll have to wait and see how this scenario plays out.
Some teams use September as a time to give young players a look. They use it as a time to evaluate for next season. The Red Sox, on the other hand, can use their September roster to their advantage as they fight for the division title. The impact of players like Mike Aviles, Ryan Lavarnway, Jose Iglesias and J.D. Drew might look minimal upon one’s immediate outlook, but given the need to deal with injuries and fatigue at this point in the season, their contributions could prove vitally important.