August 19, 2011

What's wrong with Adrian Gonzalez?

A lot is going right in Boston. Erik Bedard has pitched well, John Lackey continues to drastically improve, Jacoby Ellsbury is doing his "young Barry Bonds" impression and the Red Sox are even turning triple plays!

Yet even with these individual steps forward, it still feels like the team as a whole is taking a step back. After ending July with a 20-6 record, they are a mediocre 9-8 in August. Injuries are are sidelining or hobbling the likes of Clay Buchholz, Marco Scutaro, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz; Tim Wakefield has been stuck on 199 wins for weeks; and Carl Crawford apparently forgot that he is supposed to be really good. But the point of greatest concern might be Adrian Gonzalez.

Gonzo still has wonderful numbers -- he's among the American League leaders in average, hits, RBIs, on-base percentage and OPS -- but he hasn't been himself lately. From June until the middle of July, he was on an absolute tear. Pitchers would really sweat trying to get him out. And if there was a runner in scoring position? He was coming around. Adrian was the man you wanted at the dish in a key spot.

Since the Home Run Derby, however, things haven't been the same. Gonzalez has sickeningly few extra-base hits or RBIs. It's not that he isn't hitting at all; it's that he is just smacking singles with no one onboard. With other players, that wouldn't be the worst thing, but Gonzo isn't like other players: Few men in baseball are slower than him.

I'd like a dollar for every time I've heard "a long single for Gonzalez." The Red Sox have grounded into an AL-worst 110 double plays this year, and Gonzo and his lack of speed are no small part of that. Not only is he failing to slug or drive in runs, but now he's creating outs.

It's hard to say if the Derby screwed up his swing, as if often does with line drive hitters, or if an injury has been the issue. Gonzalez plays nearly every inning of the season, but he has missed a few games recently to stiffness in his neck; Terry Francona admitted that this may be sapping his power. Regardless, he doesn't look like an MVP right now; Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia have leapt ahead of Gonzalez in the WAR rankings.

But with their recent injuries, including Youk's DL stint, the Red Sox need him to be that MVP. He's the number-three hitter, he makes the lineup work. Whatever's wrong with him needs to improve, because right now it's the offense that looks weak. And this team was built to hit; built around Adrian Gonzalez.

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