I’ve already written this team off prematurely once this season, so I’m certainly not going to do it again. Still, this past week has shown exactly how badly the cavalcade of injuries suffered by the Red Sox have hurt them; without a major recovery or a major acquisition, the AL East will be a very steep hill to climb.
A recent Fire Brand poll asked which offensive player’s absence would hurt the Sox the most, and the answer was both predictable and obvious: Dustin Pedroia is the leader, the sparkplug, and the heart of this offense in many ways. Still, other injuries — some lasting nearly the entire season — have been just as damaging.
Beckett’s rough start to the season aside, his absence has made the starting staff — the team’s consensus strongest aspect going into the season — a shaky one. While Buchholz and Lester have performed as well as or better than any other pitching duo in the game, Beckett’s starts have been filled by a combination of Tim Wakefield, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Felix Doubront. The drop-off from a productive Beckett to those three is a sharp one, and that absence alone has likely cost the team at least a couple of wins thus far this season.
While controversy builds around Ellsbury’s prolonged and mysterious absence, it’s easy to forget what he meant to this club last season and what he was projected to mean this season. Ellsbury, if healthy, would have provided a stabilizing force at the top of the lineup, getting on base at a strong clip (his OBP has climbed in each of his first two full seasons) and wreaking havoc on the basepaths. In his stead, we’ve seen Jeremy Hermida briefly, and fill ins such as Daniel Nava and Darnell McDonald, each of whom have done an admirable job filling in but could not replace Ellsbury’s production.
Though he got off to a slow start, Martinez had been on a tear: an .878 OPS in May followed by a .955 in June made him an AL All-Star and made his DL trip, caused by a broken thumb, a devastating blow to the team’s power potential. His injury also hurt the team’s flexibility, as he served as the primary backup at first base. While Jason Varitek was a more than adequate fill-in, his subsequent injury has turned catcher into an offensive black hole, a major drop off from the strength it had been.
This injury stung especially hard, as Buchholz was in the midst of a truly spectacular season; at 10-4, with a 2.45 ERA and plenty of potential Cy Young buzz, Buchholz was showing that he deserved every ounce of hype that had been placed upon him after his 2007 no-hitter. His injury further depleted the starting rotation, which began to look flimsy and thin after he went down. While his injury did not last as long as others (he will be starting today’s game), his absence has likely caused at least one loss that otherwise would not have happened.
Cameron’s season has been truly bizarre, from a spate of strange injuries to uncharacteristically shoddy defense and, at least at first, a total lack of batting power. Through it all, Sox fans have been denied the chance to see what a productive player Cameron can be; a stellar defensive center fielder, his low batting average and high strikeout totals have often obscured his value. His consistent mid-.300s OBP and high .400 SLG as a center fielder make him a Red Sox dream — positive value on both offense and defense, at low cost, and filling a key defensive position. Instead, we’ve seen Bill Hall and McDonald in center — both adequate, but hardly a replacement.
Obviously injuries to Matsuzaka, Hermida, Varitek, Lowell, and Drew have been costly as well, but I’d be willing to bet that with Pedroia and the above five players healthy, the Sox would be looking down at the rest of the division by at least a couple games right now. Buchholz and Lowrie return today, and hopefully the rest will be right behind them, but it’s already hard not to think of what might have been with this team at full strength.