EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 19, 2013

Top three takeaways from the Sox/Yanks series

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — BOSTON — Yankees GM Brian Cashman doesn’t talk with Red Sox GM Ben Cherington except for a “hello” when they cross paths.

And Cashman wouldn’t talk about the job Cherington has done building the 2013 Red Sox or what some of Boston’s flaws are moving forward. He just said the Sox have enough smart people and they know what they need to do.

What Cashman will talk about though is how much respect he has for Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

“He’s just a tremendous player, period,” Cashman told The Eagle-Tribune before last night’s game. “Offense and defense, he’s just a gamer. He’s one of the best.”

Boston and New York wrapped up their three-game set last night with New York winning the rubber match, 9-6. The Red Sox are starting to spiral downward. They have lost three straight series to the Royals, Blue Jays and Yanks.

Here are my three takeaways from the series:

1. Pedroia is irreplaceable and must be at his best

Cashman hit the nail on the head. Pedroia had a major influence on Boston’s 6-1 win Saturday despite going 0 for 5.

The second baseman made three strong defensive plays, including an excellent diving stop on a ball up the middle to rob Alex Rodriguez of a single.

Pedroia left Saturday’s game in the ninth after fouling a ball off his left shin above the ankle in the eighth. That got some around wondering what this Red Sox team would be like without Pedroia.

Pedroia is irreplaceable both offensively and defensively (just four errors) right now and this team needs him to be at his best down the stretch.

Pedroia’s health is crucial. He has played through injuries before with mixed results. Remember when he played with a torn muscle in his right thumb in June 2012 and batted just .194 in 93 at-bats that month?

A scan on Pedroia’s shin Saturday came back negative and he played yesterday. Without him or with an injured version of him, this team would be in big trouble.

That said, the Sox need him at his best and could use a few more extra base hits from him down the stretch. Pedroia is on pace for 46 extra-base hits, which would be 27 fewer than he had during his 2008 AL MVP campaign.

Red Sox manager John Farrell said about that, “I still think it’s more circumstance where pitchers are going to attack him down and away primarily and he takes his base hits the other way.”

2. Both Dempster and Doubront need to be better.

Lefty Felix Doubront said he feels fine physically but he has struggled in his past two outings, going just 4 innings in each and allowing six earned runs against the Yankees on Friday.

Doubront and John Lackey have been Boston’s two most reliable starter with ace Clay Buchholz sidelined.

But Doubront (132.0 IP) is nearing the 161.0 innings he pitched last year, which was the most innings he has ever thrown in a single professional season by a significant margin. Doubront struggled as his innings increased late last year. He recorded a 6.04 ERA during the final two months. Could the same thing be happening?

“If I keep a good pace, I think can go over last year’s (innings),” Doubront said yesterday. “My goal right now is to get my confidence back. The last two outings wasn’t good for me. ... but I feel good.”

His recent struggles — although just two starts — means he unofficially is fighting with Ryan Dempster for who will be the fifth starter in the rotation upon Buchholz returns. Buchholz will pitch a simulated game Wednesday and is getting closer to returning.

Dempster isn’t making too strong a case right now either. He allowed seven earned runs in 5.1 innings yesterday.

3. Bogaerts needs to be promoted this week

The Red Sox offense was in a bit of a funk in Kansas City and Toronto and then struggled at home Friday night against left-hander Andy Pettitte before coming alive Saturday and yesterday.

Still, it’s clear the Red Sox need another right-handed hitter, especially with Mike Napoli dealing with an ailing plantar fascia, something he aggravated Friday.

Right-handed hitting slugger Will Middlebrooks has helped since returning from Pawtucket. He homered last night.

But top prospect Xander Bogaerts should make his highly anticipated major league debut at some point during this week’s road trip through San Francisco and Los Angeles. The Sox need his bat. And with the team struggling to win games right now, he could end up providing a boost of energy like Yasiel Puig did for the Dodgers earlier this year.

Maybe the only reason Bogaerts isn’t with Boston yet is because the Sox are trying to get him more work defensively both at third base and shortstop.

“He’s a really good athlete,” Middlebrooks said about Bogaerts. “For his size he gets to a lot of balls you wouldn’t think he would get to. And I think that’s why he’s still at shortstop.”

Follow Christopher Smith on Twitter @SmittyOnMLB