The Red Sox reached the midpoint of the season on Wednesday in last place in the American League East, their residence for nearly a month.
They are 40-41 with losses in six of their last seven games. No one transaction short of trading for Shohei Ohtani can save this season.
Maybe nothing will. But being stronger up the middle defensively would be a good place to start.
The Sox have tried 14 combinations at second base and shortstop this season, none for more than five games in a row. There have been six starting shortstops and five second basemen.
The results, as you would expect given all the moving parts, have been terrible.
Based on outs above average, the Sox have had the fifth-worst defense at shortstop and are second worst at second base.
In terms of traditional statistics, the Sox have committed 27 errors at those two positions, the most in the league. The Pirates have 22.
Third baseman Rafael Devers and first baseman Triston Casas have been mainstays at their respective positions. They’ve been below-average defensively, particularly Casas. But the poor play up the middle has been more damaging because so many routine plays haven’t been made.
It happened again in Wednesday’s 6-2 loss against the Marlins. With the Sox down, 2-1, in the sixth inning, Hamilton booted a ball that allowed two runs to score. It was inexplicably ruled a two-run infield single.
For manager Alex Cora, a former shortstop and second baseman, it can be hard to watch.
“You’ve got to make sure everybody works together,” he said. “It’s our job to prepare them for the game. The more reps they get, the better it is. Obviously, it’s hard in that aspect [given all the lineup changes].”
Had the Red Sox made a realistic contract extension offer to Xander Bogaerts during spring training in 2022, this could have been avoided.
Instead Bogaerts turned down a lowball offer, became a free agent and signed with the Padres. Bogaerts has not hit well but his defense has been above league average.
The Sox had Trevor Story in place to take over at shortstop but he tore an elbow ligament in December and has been out all season recovering from surgery.
The third option was Kiké Hernández, a utility player the Dodgers never saw as a full-time shortstop during his six seasons in Los Angeles.
But the Sox gave him that opportunity and Hernández committed 14 errors in 56 games.
“Obviously we have struggled,” Cora said. “I don’t know what can happen. We trusted these guys … This is where we’re at. We’ve just got to keep pushing them.”
The lack of familiarity, Cora feels, has been the biggest obstacle. With Story not expected back until August, the Sox need to settle to a trustworthy combination.
“We have to adjust on the fly,” the manager said.
There is potentially some good news. Or at least better news. Yu Chang, whose 11 starts at shortstop in April were strong defensively, will begin a minor league rehabilitation assignment on Saturday and could come off the injured list next week.
Chang is a 27-year-old journeyman from Taiwan and a career .206 hitter, but he can pick it shortstop and has a strong arm.
The Sox were planning on leaning on Chang, but he broke the hamate bone in his left hand during a game in Milwaukee on April 24.
That injury is treated by removing the bone. Chang has since tried two rehab assignments but couldn’t swing without pain. That has changed this week and he took batting practice on the field Wednesday without discomfort.
“It feels a lot better now,” Chang said. “I’m getting close.”
If Chang gets through 2-3 minor league games, he could hold down shortstop with Christian Arroyo at second base.
The team’s other reliable defender, Pablo Reyes, is on the injured list with an abdominal strain and not eligible to return until July 9.
Hamilton has started five of the last six games at shortstop. His speed adds a dimension to the offense but Hamilton could be better fit defensively at second base based on his arm strength.
His throws from shortstop, while usually on target, are not with the usual zip you’d expect from a player at that position.
However it works, settling on a shortstop would be a good first step in improving the infield defense.
And better infield defense should help get the Sox over .500 and in position to build some momentum before it’s too late. That Chang’s return from the injured list is a key development 81 games into the season is not what anybody expected.
But that’s where the Red Sox are.