Why You Should Have Cared About The Red Sox Game: Allen Craig's alarming performance

September 03, 2014 - 8:32 pm
(For the final month of the regular season, '€˜Closing Time'€™ will now be called '€˜Why You Should Have Cared,'€™ looking beyond the final score -- at a time when losses are arguably more valuable to the Sox than wins (for draft and waiver position) -- for either meaningful signs for 2015 or simple aesthetic considerations.) NEW YORK -- When the Red Sox made the decision on July 31 to take a wrecking ball to their rotation, their decision was motivated chiefly by a desire to reload a league-worst offense and turn it into a deeper, more formidable group for 2015. The trade of Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes for Yoenis Cespedes represented part of that strategy, but only a first part. The team also made the decision to trade John Lackey, who remained under team control for 2015 at the major league minimum, to the Cardinals in exchange for right-hander Joe Kelly and corner bat Allen Craig. Kelly -- a young, controllable pitcher with a solid starter's mix -- was an important component. But Craig represented a key piece, someone with the potential to offer the Sox a middle-of-the-order right-handed bat if he could show that his poor performance with the Cardinals this year prior to the trade deadline (a .237 average, .291 OBP and .346 slugging mark) represented an aberration, and that he could return to the standout level of play he'd established from 2011-13 (.312/.364/.500) as a lineup anchor. Yet this year increasingly looks like a lost one for Craig, and so rather than having any measure of defined expectations for Craig going forward, the Sox will have to rely heavily on hope. And in his very limited time in a Red Sox uniform, the 30-year-old has given few glimpses to suggest cause for optimism. Wednesday represented a low-point. In the Red Sox' 5-1 loss to the Yankees, Craig went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts, just the second time (and first since April 8, 2011) that he's punched out four times, and the first that he'd done so in the same number of plate appearances. In 10 games with the Sox, he's 4-for-36 with four walks and 15 strikeouts in 41 plate appearances, resulting in a line of .111/.220/.250 in a very brief sample. Overall this year, he's now hitting .226/.285/.337 while striking out in 22.8 percent of plate appearances, a career-worst. The Sox have been playing the 30-year-old every other day for the last week, something that may have contributed to a lack of timing at the plate. For the first time since he played in four straight from Aug. 24-27, Craig will be in the lineup for a second straight day on Thursday, something that the Red Sox hope will help. "Because it'€™s been on a game, off a game, he'€™ll be back in the lineup tomorrow. Just trying to get some rhythm established with him," said manager John Farrell. "At times, he'€™s having to commit kind of early to some fastballs and a breaking ball is expanded below the zone on the outside part of the plate as well. I know he'€™s trying to search and get a little continuity, a little rhythm going.'€ The jury will likely remain out on Craig until next year, when it will become clearer whether this season represented one that was derailed by his recovery from a Lisfranc fracture last offseason. That injury, combined with a DL stint for a tweaked ankle in his first game with the Red Sox, impacted how he could approach his offseason and in-season conditioning. Perhaps with a healthy offseason, he'll look more like the player whom the Sox hoped they were getting as a buy-low opportunity. But there's risk. That much has been far more apparent than the potential reward in this limited look for the Red Sox in 2014. SOME OTHER THINKS YOU (MAYBE) SHOULD HAVE (KIND OF) CARED ABOUT -- Anthony Ranaudo did little to distinguish himself in the race for a spot in next year's starting rotation. Pitching in front of a large ensemble of friends and family, he showed good poise and aside from a poorly located fastball that Brian McCann rocketed into the mezzanine seats in right field, he kept the game under control. But he struck out just one (and walked two) in 5 1/3 innings in which he permitted three runs, and he now has allowed more walks (10) than he's struck out batters (8) in 23 1/3 innings while permitting five homers. To date, he's been a flyball pitcher who has been unable to generate swings and misses, a combination that rarely produces sustainable success. That said, even in a game that resulted in his first big league loss, Ranaudo didn't look uncomfortable in the setting. "He kept the game in check," said Farrell. "There was an opportunity for them to put together a big  inning with the bases loaded, one out situation. He'€™s able to minimize it with just the sac fly and the one run allowed. He didn'€™t really add to his cause with the base on balls. Kept guys in the big part of the field for the most part with the exception of McCann." -- In a game that was unremarkable, there was one memorable play. In the top of the first inning, with runners on first and second and one out, Derek Jeter took off for third with Brett Gardner breaking behind him. While the play normally would have been to throw to third to try to cut down the lead runner, catcher Christian Vazquez read Gardner's late break and fired to second. That, in turn, set in motion a rundown -- with Xander Bogaerts throwing to first baseman Allen Craig, who threw to second baseman Jemile Weeks. Weeks saw Jeter straying from third base and fired behind him, cutting down the Yankees captain without a slide. Third baseman Brock Holt then fired to second, where Craig tagged Gardner for the unusual 2-6-3-4-5-3 double play.