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On Baseball

Red Sox lineup has one true area of concern

BALTIMORE — Ryan Dempster is a big hockey fan, being from Canada. So he knows all about “skating your wing.” In other words, do what you’re supposed to do. Do your job.

Dempster did his in a 2-0 loss to the Orioles on Friday night, but the offense didn’t do its job.

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OK, it’s one game. Or maybe it’s that the Orioles simply have Boston’s number — the Sox dropped to 1-4 against Baltimore this season and are 6-17 dating to the start of last season.

But despite leading the majors in runs this season, there are some problem areas of the Sox’ offense that may need fixing.

It’s the team’s philosophy that a player must hit to keep his job. They held Jose Iglesias’s feet to the fire on that one, even demoted him after he batted .450 through the first six games of the season.

So when you look down the Red Sox lineup, there are problems developing.

In the ninth on Friday night, manager John Farrell was planning to pinch hit Stephen Drew for eighth hitter Will Middlebrooks, but Iglesias, who had two of the Sox’ three hits, hit into a game-ending double play.

Middlebrooks was supposed to be that middle of the order hitter. You could have projected him as a cleanup hitter or fifth hitter when this team broke camp. That wouldn’t have been far-fetched based on his 15 homers in limited time last season.

But except for one game in Toronto on April 7 when he hit three of his eight homers, he hasn’t delivered. And so Middlebrooks, who is now being spotted as low as eighth in the batting order, is even in danger of being pinch hit for by a .218 hitter.

He went 0 for 3 last night and is now batting .198. Farrell said when Middlebrooks started rehabbing a back injury at Pawtucket that he would likely stay in the minors until he started building some momentum at the plate. Instead, he was recalled in time for the start of the road trip in Tampa Bay. Middlebrooks is 3 for 18 on the trip.

Iglesias has really been the least of the Red Sox’ worries offensively. He batted seventh Friday and produced a bunt single and a double to extend his hitting streak to 15 games. He started at shortstop over Drew, part of Farrell’s platoon between Middlebrooks, Drew, and Iglesias.

The plan is designed to increase competition for two spots.

With two hits, Iglesias is now hitting .451, more than double Drew’s average.

On nights when Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who is having a very good offensive season, doesn’t play, the Red Sox use David Ross, a superior defensive catcher, but one who doesn’t hit as well. Ross took an 0 for 3 on Friday and is hitting .185. So far he’s not been the clutch hitter he was in Atlanta a year ago, but has certainly held up his end defensively.

But you expect your backup catcher to be just that — a backup catcher who can handle things defensively and whatever he gives you offensively is a bonus.

Also, look at the dip that David Ortiz’s batting average has taken lately.

On May 27 he was hitting .346. He ended Friday’s game hitting .302. He still has good production – six homers and 15 RBIs during that period — but after going 0 for 3 Friday he is 2 for his last 18.

Even Jacoby Ellsbury, who started June with 11 hits in six games, has gone hitless in his last 11 at-bats as he’s watched his average dip 10 points the last three days to .273.

Again, it’s hard to determine how much of the recent problems are due to the shortstop/third base situation.

It’s hard to regularly play Iglesias at third because even though he’s superb defensively he doesn’t have the power the position requires in the American League to keep the job long term. He’s one of the best defensive shortstops in the majors and serves his purpose as a bottom of the order hitter.

But Middlebrooks should not be a bottom of the order hitter. He should be a middle of the order guy.

Right now, Middlebrooks is not skating his wing. Farrell is trying hard to get him going, probably sticking with him longer than he would like. But he knows what we all know, there’s really nobody else behind him other than Iglesias.

Farrell and general manager Ben Cherington can afford to be patient because the team is in first place. The Mike Carp/Jonny Gomes platoon has worked out, Daniel Nava has been outstanding, and Shane Victorino has been productive when healthy.

Not every facet of every team always clicks 100 percent. In fact, it rarely does. But after two losses to what could be Boston’s biggest competition — the Orioles — you can look at the Middlebrooks/Iglesias/Drew situation at third and shortstop and see where the weak link is.

It will be interesting to see if there’s a solution in the near future.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.
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