The phrase is becoming almost redundant: bad day for the Red Sox leadoff hitter.
J.D. Drew didn’t have much to write home about on Sunday. He started the game by striking out looking against Roy Halladay, had a couple of infield groundouts and fouled out to first.
It would be difficult to pin the blame for the Red Sox’ 3-1 loss to Roy Halladay and the Blue Jays. (Recap here.)
For that matter, it would be difficult to focus on any cause aside from Halladay’s singular dominance in examining the underpinnings of Boston’s loss. Nonetheless, Drew’s poor day continued a rather odd trend for his club, which has spent most of the year operating as something of a headless horseman.
Even though Drew has been a willing enough fill-in at the top of the order, he’s admitted in the past that it’s not his favorite spot in the batting order. His performance in 14 games there this year suggests as much.
Drew is hitting .190 with a .299 OBP, .414 slugging mark and .712 OPS from the spot. His slide has become more pronounced of late, as he is just 3-for-38 (.079) with a .239 OBP and .211 slugging in his last 10 games. If there is any consolation for Drew, it is of the “misery loves company” variety. Drew is far from alone in his struggles at the top of Red Sox lineup.
Entering Sunday, the average American League team was getting a .277 average, .349 OBP and .413 slugging mark from the leadoff spot this year. The Sox were well short of those marks, with a .258 average (8th among the A.L.’s 14 teams), .309 OBP (13th) and .357 slugging (13th) prior to Drew’s oh-fer on Sunday.
Since Johnny Damon’s departure following the 2005 season, the Sox have yet to find a player who has either shown – in words and actions – comfort in the leadoff spot. Some, such as Drew, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, have admitted discomfort at the top of the lineup. Others – most notably Jacoby Ellsbury, Julio Lugo and Coco Crisp – have declared a desire to hit atop the order, but have not performed as if that was the case, forcing the Sox to continue a revolving door. (See chart.)
The collective performance has been poor. As a group, Sox leadoff hitters have a .260 average, .326 OBP, .370 slugging mark and .696 OPS. That is the team’s second-worst average (the No. 8 spot is hitting .241), third worst OBP mark and worst slugging percentage of any spot in the lineup. The spot in the Sox lineup that is receiving the most at-bats is producing some of the worst production. Drew has not been able to buck that trend.
Crisp was brought in to be the solution for Damon. He proved unable to fill the role. Lugo’s signing one year later likewise failed to offer a solution. With those two out of the picture, everyone else appears to be a place holder until Ellsbury – who has thrived in the bottom of the order this year – claims the job for good.
Ellsbury made his first appearance of the second half on Sunday, going 0-for-4 and striking out to end the game. Still, he is hitting .303 with a .355 OBP and .420 slugging mark since May 2. Those are the sorts of numbers that the Sox would love to have from the leadoff spot. Those are the sorts of numbers that no one has given them in that role in years.
Here are four other things we learned on Sunday:
ROY HALLADAY IS A FREAK
Earlier this year, a question was posed to a handful of American Leaguers: who has better stuff than Jon Lester? A few names crept up, but only one was offered by each respondent: Roy Halladay.
There is a chance that Sunday’s complete-game six-hitter – a victory over the Red Sox and Lester – was the last start that Halladay will make in the American League East. That being the case, it is worth taking stock of a remarkable run that has come in baseball’s most unforgiving division.
With his complete-game, six-hitter on Sunday, Roy Halladay now has 39 complete games since the start of the 2003 season. That is 50 percent more than CC Sabathia, who ranks second in the category during that time with 26.
Halladay single-handedly has more complete games since the start of 2003 than any other team in the American League East, besting the Red Sox (34), Orioles (32), Yankees (26) and Rays (25).
Halladay has five complete games against the Red Sox in the past seven seasons. No other pitcher has more than two. No other team has more than three.
If Halladay is dealt by Toronto to another division, it will be with a tip of the cap but no tears shed that the Sox see him go.
“I kind of stand by the statement I made the other day,” Sox manager Terry Francona told reporters. “They should have traded him the other day, and to a National League team.”
JON LESTER WAS WORTH THE COST OF ADMISSION AGAINST HALLADAY…AGAIN
Jon Lester’s breakout game in 2008 was not his no-hitter against the Royals. Instead, it came against the Blue Jays and Halladay last April 29, when he allowed one hit in eight shutout innings, and the Sox pushed a run across in the bottom of the ninth for a 1-0 win.
Since then, Lester has faced Halladay three more times: he picked up the win while allowing one run in eight innings last Sept. 14, allowed five runs in seven innings against Halladay last Sept. 20, then took a tough loss on Sunday, allowing three runs in seven innings in which Lester allowed just five singles.
All things considered, it’s a fairly impressive resume: against a man who may well be the best pitcher in the A.L. this decade, Lester has a 2.70 ERA and has allowed the Sox to split four games.
“He's one of the best pitchers in the league,” Francona told reporters. “He knows it -- he should know it. We know it. He pretty much went toe-to-toe with Halladay. He didn't quite match him, but on a lot of days, we're in here saying he walked a couple, but he still pitched great.”
Since May 31, Lester is now 5-2 with a 1.75 ERA. On Sunday, his stuff was overpowering, but he was undone by uncharacteristic difficulties with the strike zone. Lester walked four, his most since issuing that many free passes last Sept. 2.
Even so, he continued to make a case that his stuff belongs in the same category as that of Hallday, Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett and Justin Verlander – at the top of the pile in the American League.
OFFENSE AGAINST HALLADAY CAME FROM A USUAL SUSPECT
Of the Sox’ six hits against Halladay, two – including Boston’s only extra-base hit of the day, a first-inning double – came from Kevin Youkilis. No surprise there.
With the 2-for-4 day, Youkilis is now hitting .347 in his career against Halladay, the 11th best mark by any hitter with at least 25 plate appearances against the Jays ace. He is tied for the fourth-best OBP (.429) and ranks seventh in OPS (.939).
For the sake of context, it’s worth mentioning that 76 players have stepped to the dish at least 25 times against Halladay.
WAKE THEM IN AUGUST
It should not come as too great of a surprise to see the Red Sox’ lead in the American League East trimmed by two games since the All-Star break. The start of the second half has rarely featured the Red Sox’ best baseball.
Since 2000, the Sox have an 82-73 record (.529 winning percentage) from the start of the second half and the July 31 trading deadline. They have lost ground in the standings in eight of the past nine seasons, most notably when dropping 3.5 games out of the gate in the second half of last season.
The team has typically picked up the pace down the stretch, recording a .551 winning percentage from Aug. 1 through the end of the season this decade.