Monday, June 16, 2014
The Sox have scored a total of six runs combined in those four losses. In the three-game sweep at the hands of Kansas City, the South Siders went 3 for 32 with runners in scoring position. They stranded 13 runners alone in Sunday afternoon's 6-3 loss to the Royals.
Indeed, the Sox are struggling to knock in a big run right now. No single player is to blame for that. It's a team-wide problem. Overall, the Sox have been trending the wrong way offensively for about a month. They were the league's best offensive team in April, but they've since fallen to fifth in the league in runs scored (304) and seventh in runs per game (4.34).
Those are still respectable totals, especially coming off a 2013 season when the Sox scored the fewest runs in the American League. But, there's no question the offense was clicking early in the season much better than it is now.
Looking at some longer-term trends, there are two Sox hitters in particular who were good early in the season, but have fallen off a cliff over the past month or six weeks: outfielder Dayan Viciedo and catcher Tyler Flowers.
Let's look at the slash line splits for each of these two players.
Last 28 days: .154/.189/.220
Last 14 days: .100/.143/.125
Last 28 days: .136/.203/.305
Last 14 days: .042/.148/.167
Let's be fair: It was unrealistic to expect either Viciedo or Flowers to continue their April pace. Neither of them has enough talent to hit .300 over a 162-game season, let alone .350. A regression to the mean was expected. However, there's a difference between regressing to the mean and becoming a sinkhole.
Right now, Viciedo and Flowers are both sinkholes. When you have two guys who are hitting .100 or less over a two-week span, or .150 or less over a four-week span, that's like having to send your pitcher up to bat two times every time through the lineup. It's hard to win in the American League when you've got two players who just can't hit at all. Sometimes, you can cover up for one black hole at the bottom of your lineup, but certainly not two.
In Viciedo's case, he's missing a golden opportunity to make himself part of the Sox' future plans. The team was ready to move on from him as an everyday player at the start of the year. Viciedo was scheduled to platoon with Alejandro De Aza in left field when camp broke.
But then everything changed with right fielder Avisail Garcia went down with a season-ending shoulder injury the second week of April. Suddenly, opportunity presented itself for Viciedo. He's getting a chance to play every day and earn his way back into the Sox' good graces. For about two or three weeks in late April and early May, he was capitalizing on that chance. But the last four or five weeks, he's blowing it again -- one big swing-and-a-miss at a time.
Next year, Garcia is going to be back and there's isn't going to be a spot in the outfielder for the defensively challenged Viciedo. There is, however, an opening at designated hitter for the Sox in 2015. By then, Paul Konerko will be enjoying retirement, and presumably, Adam Dunn will be wearing a different uniform. Viciedo could fill that spot, but he has to hit to justify his presence on the roster. He can't field at all, so if he's not hitting, he's not helping. Right now, he's not helping.
In the case of Flowers, I can't say I'm surprised or disappointed he's stopped hitting. His approach at the plate has always been terrible. He had a month of flukish results in April, and now he's back to being the lousy hitter he's always been.
Apparently, the Sox' coaching staff believes Flowers does a good job of handling the pitching staff. At least there's that, if you're looking for a justification to keep him in the lineup. Unlike Viciedo, he might have some defensive value, although I've never been particularly impressed with Flowers' catch-and-throw ability.
The Sox have managed to hang around in the AL Central race to this point. Even now, they are only 5.5 games back entering Monday's play. People ask whether the Sox can contend this year, and I just don't see it.
This is team that has only three legitimate big-league starting pitchers. Their catcher is terrible, and they get little or no production from their corner outfield spots. I expect nothing offensively from Flowers. He's bad with the lumber in his hands. It is what it is.
Viciedo, on the other hand, really shouldn't be this terrible. If the light bulb suddenly goes on for him, the Sox will win more games than we might expect. But with each passing 0 for 4, it's hard to believe Viciedo is going to be anything other than a platoon player, or a weak starting player on a bad club.