This is Theo Epstein before last night:
“I think we’re a good offensive club having a horrific month," the Red Sox general manager said in a conference call. "When you go through slumps like this — and we’re in a pretty bad team-wide slump; we only have one or two players performing to career norms this month; as a club, I think we’re hitting around .220, .225 this month, so it’s a bad slump — anytime you go through slumps like this, 1) It’s important to assess any areas you can improve without overreacting, and 2) to put it in perspective, to realize that it’s not a good time to make a through assessment of the club when you’re in the middle of the slump.
“I think we’re realistic about where we are offensively. We have the potential to be really, really good. Right now, I think we’re around fourth in the league in runs scored. We have the potential to be a little better than that, but right now, we’re not the most prolific offensive club in Red Sox history. I think we score plenty of runs. We have the ability to be dangerous against both right- and left-handed pitching. I think we got a little more dangerous against right-handed pitching today. We certainly have the ability to score enough runs to get where we want to go, when you combine it with the run prevention attributes this club has.”
It is assumed Epstein wouldn't have changed a word after the Red Sox' 3-1 loss to the Rangers on Wednesday night -- a defeat that extended their season-long losing streak to five games -- but there might be a bit more teeth-grinding among the verbiage.
While Wednesday afternoon's trade for first baseman Adam LaRoche might have slightly altered opinion of the Red Sox' offense in some corners, Wednesday night's game did nothing to change perception.
As Epstein said, the Red Sox are a good offensive team in the midst of a horrific month. It's just that other than one Nick Green solo home run, there was no on-field beautification.
Six hits and one run against a fill-in starter (Dustin Nippert) and one reliever (Doug Mathis). So much for the idea of being spurred on by trade-induced shock waves.
But despite the constant theme of limited runs and unfavorable results, there were some alterations in the Red Sox' universe Wednesday...
WHAT LAROCHE MEANS
Word throughout baseball was that the Red Sox were still eyeing Washington first baseman Nick Johnson. His price, evidently, was too high. LaRoche's wasn't.
Ironically, one of LaRoche's worst moments as a big leaguer came thanks to Johnson when, on May 14, 2006, the then-Braves first baseman took his time getting to first on a routine grounder by Johnson, allowing the baserunner to beat it out. Instead of the inning ending, the Nationals went on to score four runs in the frame. The turn of events led to Atlanta manager Bobby Cox benching LaRoche for the next game.
What else? He battles Attention Deficit Disorder, was the first major leaguer to have a home run taken away from him via instant replay, was traded to Pittsburgh from Atlanta prior to the 2007 season, has been in a series of hunting videos, and is the son of former major-league hurler Dave LaRoche.
Those historical tidbits aside, LaRoche is a very good fielder, and a decent hitter. That, coupled with the fact that he could potentially yield a draft pick if a strong second half performance vaults the 29-year-old into "Class B" free agent status, was enough for the Red Sox to give up minor leaguers shortstop Argenis Diaz and Single A pitcher Hunter Strickland.
(LaRoche avoided arbitration in his final year of eligibility for the process this past offseason, agreeing to a one-year, $7.05 million deal.)
It isn't hard to figure out why the Sox acquired LaRoche. They needed a back-up plan if Mike Lowell's health goes south, a player who could not only fill the void defensively but also be identified as more of a middle-of-the-order bat than Mark Kotsay might represent.
He is a left-handed hitter who has hit at least 20 home runs in each of his last four seasons, topping out at 32 in '06, during a season he also batted a career-high .285. LaRoche is not an on-base guy, totaling a career OBP of .338, but does produce runs.
As for what the Red Sox gave up, it wasn't much. Diaz is a potential major-league backup, with an above-average defensive skill set, and Strickland might enter into somebody's bullpen one day.
But with the likes of minor league shortstops Casey Kelly, and Yamaico Navarro having passed Diaz on the organizational depth chart, along with the potential acquisitions of 19-year-old Cuban Jose Iglesias and Jose Vinicio of the Dominican Republic (with the two combining to garner an investment of more than $10 million in signing bonuses from the Red Sox), the position seems to be in good stead even without the chip used to get LaRoche.
“We’ve been in the market for a player who can do some damage against right-handed pitching and who can help our club’s depth at the corner infield. We’ve checked in on a number of players who fit that category and found that, by a large, large margin, the Pirates had the most reasonable acquisition cost,” said Epstein. “This was the chance to get at a very reasonable acquisition cost a player that we think will help our club, help against right-handed pitching, add to our depth and leave us in a position to continue to look for more impact before the end of the trading deadline…It was a relatively reasonable acquisition cost in terms of prospect inventory."
WILL THE RED SOX MAKE ANOTHER MOVE?
Don't put it past them. There have been whispers regarding their interest in San Diego first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who would serve as the middle-of-the-order future the Sox' sought in Mark Teixeira.
“There’s a second category of player we’re also going to pursue, where the player can make significant impact on the roster,” said Epstein. “Those trades are hard to make…That doesn’t mean you don’t pursue them.”
The Red Sox kept the trading momentum going later in the day Wednesday, dealing Julio Lugo -- whom the Sox had until Monday to trade -- to St. Louis for first baseman/outfielder Chris Duncan, picking up the remaining $13 million of Lugo's contract.
Duncan will be assigned to Triple A Pawtucket, having recently spent time with St. Louis' Triple A club in Memphis, With the Cardinals he was hitting .227 with five homers. The 28-year-old's best year was in '06 when he hit 22 homers in 90 games to go with a batting average of .293.
WHO WAS THAT GUY?
The biggest change in Red Sox Land from 24 hours ago will undoubtedly be the perception of Clay Buchholz, who allowed three runs on six hits over four innings while walking two, hitting a batter and throwing 90 pitches.
The confidence displayed throughout his year in the minors -- along with his previous big-league start, in Toronto -- seemed shaken, with Texas executing both a double-steal and squeeze bunt by Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus.
The time between pitches, uncharacteristic inability to control the running game and, most important, trouble with the curveball that was so effective against the Blue Jays all led to a bump in the road that many Red Sox fans didn't consider possible.
"It's hard being a starter and only having two pitches and consistently getting batters out," the hurler told reporters.
SOMEBODY MUST HAVE DONE SOMETHING
So, yes, the Red Sox' offense was not too far off from horrific throughout their first six games in the second half. Only the Padres had a worse team batting average during the stretch, with the Sox checking in at .192, having scored just 13 runs. The Sox also had the fourth-fewest walks among big league teams on this six-game trip (16).
(As a quick aside, one semi-interesting note was that the Red Sox stayed true to their approach during the slump, taking 3.97 pitches per at-bat, sixth in the majors.)
But you would figure somebody had to have accomplished something, right? You be the judge:
Mike Lowell: 4 games, .429 batting average, .500 on-base percentage.
Dustin Pedroia: 6 games, .318 BA, .375 OBP.
David Ortiz: 6 games, .304 BA, 0 BB, .292 OBP, .391 slugging percentage.
Kevin Youkilis: 6 games, .304 BA, 3 2Bs, HR, .333 OBP.
Jed Lowrie: 3 games, .200 BA.
Mark Kotsay: 2 games, .143 BA.
Jason Varitek: 6 games, .118 BA (2 for 17).
Rocco Baldelli: 3 games, .111 BA (1 for 9)
Jason Bay: 6 games, .105 BA (2 for 19), 5 BBs.
Nick Green: 3 games, .100 BA (1 for 10).
Jacoby Ellsbury: 4 games, .063 BA (1 for 16).
J.D. Drew: 6 games, .000 (0 for 21).
That's right, Drew was hitless in 21 at-bats, which led to what was for him a pointed post-game self-analysis after Wednesday night's loss.
"I don't know what to say other than a big question mark," Drew told reporters. "I don't know what in the world [is going on]. I've hit the ball hard five times over the last two days, for nothing. Just keep doing what I'm doing. Try to hit it hard. See what happens."
Predictably, Pedroia was even more to the point in his analysis of the team's offense.
"We were terrible this road trip," he told MLB.com. "We stunk. There's no way around it. It's unacceptable, not scoring. Our pitching staff has been great. We have to do a better job."
SO HOW WAS THAT PITCHING STAFF?
It was OK. Not spectacular, but good enough to win more than one game in six tries.
The team finished the swing with an ERA of 4.22, having held opponents to a .245 batting average while walking just 15, the fewest free passes in the A.L. over the span.
Actually, what went unnoticed was how good the Red Sox' bullpen was. None of the relievers surrendered a single run in 13 2/3 innings, and the group gave up a total of just seven hits. Take a look:
Daniel Bard: 2 games, 2 1/3 innings, H, 5 Ks, 0 BB.
Manny Delcarmen: 3 games, 2 1/3 innings, 3 hits, 2 Ks, BB.
Justin Masterson: 2 games, 3 innings, H, 3 Ks, 0 BB.
Hideki Okajima: 2 games, 2 innings, 2 hits, 0 Ks, BB.
Jonathan Papelbon: 2 games, 2 innings, 0 hits, K, 0 BB.
Ramon Ramirez: 1 game, inning, 0 hits, 2 Ks, BB.
Takashi Saito: 1 game, inning, 0 hits, K, BB.
And there is your silver lining.