Going into the season, one of the biggest question marks was how the middle to back end of the Red Sox lineup would fare? Everyone knew what the top of the order was capable of, but after the clean-up spot there was plenty of uncertainly.
After 18 games, it seems clear the Red Sox lineup is extremely top heavy, with little to no contribution coming from the No. 5 batter on down. In the past 10 games, including Sunday night, Boston's No. 6 through 9 hitters are hitting just .137 (19-for-139) and 5 through 9 hitters aren’t much better at .152 (26-for-171).
In contrast, the top four hitters are doing more than their fair share as in the same span they are hitting .344 (56-for-163). Leading the way at the top of the order has been Mike Napoli, especially in the clean-up spot filling in for David Ortiz. He’s reached safely in each of his last 13 games, hitting .327 with eight doubles, a triple, two home runs and 17 RBIs.
“Over the past seven to 10 days I think we are starting to see his swing get a little bit shorter,” said manager John Farrell. “He’s getting good velocity and he’s come up with some big hits for us in RBI situations.”
Also doing their part at the top of the order have been Jacoby Ellsbury in the leadoff spot and Dustin Pedroia hitting third. Ellsbury has hit safely in 11 straight games, hitting .306 in that stretch, while Pedroia has reached base in all 18 games this season, hitting .313.
Looking at the bottom portion of the lineup, no one is struggling more right now more than Will Middlebrooks. Since his three home run game in Toronto the first weekend of the season, the third baseman is batting 0.93 (4-for-43) with 16 strikeouts.
“Obviously, I’ve been a little off, but I know I am a good player. I believe in myself, I believe in my ability,” Middlebrooks said. “I have a team that has my back, so it’s fine. I’m going to keep going out there and it will change.”
Farrell said he would continue to stick with Middlebrooks, and stated there is no concern with the third baseman’s wrist. Other players in the midst of slumps at the bottom of the order include Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamachhia. Since coming back from his concussion April 10, Drew his hitting .100 (3-for-30) with 12 strikeouts, while in Saltalamacchia’s last eight games he’s batting .125 (3-for-24) while striking out nine times.
The Red Sox got away with their lack of lineup balance as the team rolled off their longest winning streak since June of 2011 with seven wins, but it may have caught up to them Sunday in being swept in the doubleheader by the Royals.
In Game 1 the team went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position, leaving seven runners on base. Hitters 5 through 9 went 1-for-19 on the afternoon as well. In Game 2, the team went 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position, and left nine runners on base. Hitters 5 thru 9 weren’t much better going 2-for-21.
Currently the Red Sox sit in first place in the American League East with a 1.5 game lead over the Yankees, but in order for them to stay on top they cannot continue to be as dependent on their top four hitters and need to get contributions from the entire order.
Follow Metro Red Sox writer Ryan Hannable on Twitter @hannable84