Red Sox Rest of Season Outlook

It finally feels like the Red Sox season started last week with the combination of big wins against the Rays and Yankees and the offense firing on all cylinders. There’s no denying that Chris Sale laid another egg with his chance to sweep the Yankees, but let’s not overlook the fact that the Sox dominated the Yanks. In the first 3 games of the weekend series, they outscored them 38-13. The bats came alive, Mookie Betts is starting to round into his MVP form, and they got three very solid pitching performances out of their 3 thru 5 starters, Rick Porcello, Andrew Cashner, and Eduardo Rodriguez.

As we head into yet another huge week of games against the Rays, who are .5 games ahead of Boston in the wild card standings, another 4 game set against the Bronx Bombers, and the trade deadline on Wednesday, this is a crucial stretch in determining where this team will end up at the end of the season.

As we evaluate this team moving forward, I think it’s pretty clear they don’t need to make any additions to the offense. Most people know it’s been a bit of a disappointing year for Mookie and Andrew Benintendi, but it looks like both of their bats are finally waking up. We saw Mookie put on an electric performance last Friday night when he slammed 3 dingers and went 4 for 5. Benintendi has raised his average almost 20 points over the last week or so. If these 2 can stay hot and live up to their expectations, their offense is still as good as any team in the league. Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers are in the midst of career seasons and have carried this offense for the most of this year. JD Martinez continues to rake and his batting average is creeping back up close to .300. Couple all this with the return of Mitch Moreland platooning at 1st and Christian Vazquez in the middle of a career year offensively and their offense will continue to carry this team in the dog days of summer.

The starting rotation while inconsistent at times seems like it’s been moving forward after the trade for Andrew Cashner back on July 13th. Eduardo Rodriguez is tied for the AL lead in wins and looks to have settled in as the 3rd starter. David Price has been mostly consistent this year despite his inability to ignore the media (read up on his ongoing feud with Dennis Eckersley if you want to know more about that). Rick Porcello, while struggling mightily at times with his 5.55 ERA, continues to eat up innings per usual. Andrew Cashner looks like a serviceable 5th starter who can be used out of the bullpen if/when they get to the post-season.

This leaves one guy yet to be mentioned, Chris Sale. If the Red Sox end up missing the post-season, much of the blame should be pointed at Sale. His current record now sits at 5-10 with an ERA of 4.26. If he sat at 10-5 like an ace of his normal caliber, the Sox would be in the running to take another AL East crown. Personally, I still believe Sale can return to his dominant form in time for the playoffs and lead the pitching rotation in September and October. There are still positive signs that he can turn the corner. He’s 2nd in the AL in strikeouts which illustrates that he still has his swing and miss stuff. He’s  also 6th in the league in WHIP. If he can cut back on his HRs, and avoid the blow-up inning he seems to have every few starts, there’s no reason he can’t dominate like the past few seasons… it’s just a little scary to say this with the calendar about to flip to August.

Anybody who’s followed this team throughout the year knows adding an arm or preferably two to the bullpen is probably the key to making another run to a World Series. I look at the bullpen and hardly know who these guys are… and for good reason since they’ve been horrible for much of the season. The only guy I really believe in right now is Brandon Workman, who’s been very reliable with an ERA of 2.08 in 47.2 innings pitched. Other than Workman, it’s been a crapshoot as to what you’re going to see from the rest of the crew. I’m hopeful Matt Barnes is starting to turn a corner, as he hasn’t given up a run in July. They also just got Nathan Eovaldi back from the Injured List and have decided to put him in the bullpen (since the pickings are so slim out there). We all saw Eovaldi’s upside last October, so this move could work well in the long run. He’s been rusty so far in his 3 appearances since he was activated off the IL, throwing 2.2 innings and allowing 5 earned runs. But he hadn’t pitched since April 17th and hadn’t pitched out of the bullpen since last October, so some rust is to be expected.

The Sox still desperately need help in the ‘pen. The name they continue to be linked to is Edwin Diaz. Diaz is only 25 years old and is currently the closer for the Mets. New York traded for him in the offseason. He’s been a major disappointment to date with a 4.95 ERA and a WHIP close to 1.5. With that being said, a change in scenery could be good for Diaz. Last year he led the majors with 57 saves and had an ERA of 1.96. He constantly throws in the high 90’s and has a very effective slider. While he would still cost the Red Sox a top prospect, his down season may allow them to buy low on Edwin compared to last offseason when the Mets traded for him, coming off his 57 save season.

There are plenty of other options out there as well, such as veterans Greg Holland who recently got removed from the closer role with the D’Backs, Ken Giles who’s closed for the Blue Jays this year and has an ERA of 1.54, but hasn’t been in many high leverage situations (as the Jays are one of the worst teams in baseball), and Shane Greene who has been one of the best relievers in baseball to date and earned his first All-Star appearance with the Tigers (the worst team in baseball).

At the beginning of last week, there were some whispers that the Red Sox might be sellers at the trade deadline and take calls on studs Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez. Or at least look to deal an arm like Rick Porcello to a team who was looking for a veteran starter. Taking 2 of 3 from the Rays, along with the dominating series against the Yankees has helped remind everyone that this team still can return to the World Series and in no way, should the front office consider selling at the trade deadline.

Buckle up Sox fans it’s going to be a wild week/ last 2 months of the season. As old friend Kevin Millar used to say, “Cowboy Up!”

 

5 Burning Questions Heading into the 2018 Red Sox Season

Don’t look now folks, but opening day at Fenway Park is a little more than a month away. There hadn’t been much buzz around the Red Sox this offseason until their signing of JD Martinez, which became official on Monday. Now they’ve added the big power bat they’ve been craving ever since Big Papi retired. There are still a lot of questions surrounding this team as we sit a little over a month away from the start of the season.

1. Can David Price prove to be healthy and finally live up to his huge contract?

Image result for david price

Photo Credit: The Boston Globe

It’s now been over 2 years since David Price signed a 7 year deal worth $217 million with the Sox. I think it’s fair to say Price’s first 2 years in Boston have been rocky. He’s clashed with the media and team broadcasters, battled an elbow injury all of last season, and hasn’t lived up to expectations on the mound. In terms of the elbow injury, it sounds like Price has fully moved past it. A few weeks ago he was quoted saying, “I haven’t had one instance this offseason, whether it was playing catch or doing anything on the field, where I was like, ‘That doesn’t feel right.” This is great news for the Red Sox because Price appeared to have turned a corner on the mound when working out of the bullpen late last season. He looked as dominant as he has since putting on a Red Sox jersey.  He appeared 7 times between September and October throwing a combined 15 and 1/3rd innings, allowing 0 Earned runs, and striking out 19 batters. If Price can carry that momentum into this season, I believe he can make a run at a second career Cy Young Award and form the best 1-2 pitching punch in the MLB, with Chris Sale. Finally, when speaking with the media at Spring Training a few weeks ago, he admitted that he could have handled the media better last year. Let’s hope Price can keep his head on straight both on and off the mound this year.

2. Have Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts already peaked?

Image result for jackie bradley jr and xander bogaerts

Photo Credit: Boston.com

If we rewind 3 or 4 years, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley were arguably more highly regarded than Mookie Betts. Now as we approach the 2018 season, the Red Sox are getting close to the point where they need to decide whether they see both players as the future of the organization. The hype around both of them has fizzled out in the last year or so. Xander’s batting average has dropped in consecutive seasons. Although he had 21 home runs back in 2016, that was sandwiched between 7 in 2015 and 10 in 2017. People keep waiting and wanting to see him pop 25+ HR’s year in and year out, but it seems like that’s wishful thinking. Bogaerts was once regarded as an exciting elite shortstop in the MLB, but has now become an afterthought with studs Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor rising as superstars at the SS position. I worry that Bogaerts’ ceiling isn’t quite as high as we envisioned a few years back. Bradley on the other hand continues to be a defensive stud in center field, but proves to be a below-average hitter. He led Red Sox hitters in strikeouts last year, and was below the league average in batting average, and on-base percentage. He just hasn’t made the strides as the solid hitter that Red Sox fans have hoped for. The upcoming season feels like a make or break year for both of them.  If they struggle again, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Sox try and unload one of them next year, since they are both represented by Scott Boras. Boras said it’s likely that neither one will sign a contract extension before they hit free agency in the next 2 years.

3. Can Rick Porcello rebound after his disastrous 2017 season?

Image result for rick porcello

Photo Credit: Over the Monster

There’s no denying that Rick Porcello was horrible last year. Just a year removed from winning the AL Cy Young award, Porcello set a career high for most losses in a season with 17, gave up a league leading 38 HR’s, and had an ERA of 4.65. This was a far cry from his 3.15 ERA back in 2016. Over Porcello’s last 4 seasons he’s alternated between good/great seasons to horrible seasons. During even numbered years 2014 and 2016, Porcello had a WHIP under 1.25, an ERA of under 3.50 and 15+ wins. while of course winning the 2016 Cy Young. In odd numbered years 2015 and 2017, Porcello has had an ERA of 4.92 and 4.65 and a combined 32 Losses. If past history is any indicator, Porcello should be in store for a good season. The thing is the Sox don’t need Porcello to return completely to his Cy Young Form. He’s now the clear #3 starter going into the season, with Chris Sale and a healthy David Price together for the first time. The expectations don’t need to be as high for Ricky. If Porcello can keep the ball in the yard this year, and bring his HR allowed to around 20ish, while keeping up his strong strikeout rate (8th in the AL in 2016 and 9th in 2017 in K’s), then he should easily bring his ERA below 4.00. This would give the Sox one of the best rotations in the MLB.

4. Will JD Martinez fill the David Ortiz void?

Image result for jd martinez red sox

Photo credit: USA Today

In the Red Sox’ first year without David Ortiz (last year), they finished 27th in Home Runs with 168. By comparison, Yankees sluggers Gary Sanchez, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge combined for 144 Home Runs between the 3 of them. As a fellow Red Sox fan I was very disappointed when they missed out on Stanton this offseason, never-mind the fact that he went to our arch rival the New York Yankees. Thank goodness, they redeemed themselves by signing JD Martinez. JD hit 45 home runs. in only 119 games. The 45 HR’s were a major outlier in JD’s career, as his previous 3 year totals for Home Runs starting in 2014 were 23,38, and 22. The key question now is can Martinez carry over the momentum from last year and provide the Sox the missing power bat they’ve needed since Big Papi retired. Also, one question we always have to ask when someone is coming from a smaller market like Arizona/Detroit (JD’s previous 2 teams) is, can he handle the Boston Media? If JD can come close to replicating last years numbers of 45 dingers with a .303 Batting Average and 104 RBI’s, then they have clearly found their man… at least in the regular season. The Postseason is totally different, as Big Papi displayed year in and year out.

5. Just how much potential does Rafael Devers have?

Image result for rafael devers

Photo Credit: The Boston Globe

Red Sox fans and people in the organization got a glimpse of 20 year old (let that age sink in for a second) 3B Rafael Devers last year. He was highly regarded around baseball as the 2nd best prospect in the organization and had a lot of positive flashes in his brief time in the majors last year. In just 58 games, he had 10 HR’s and batted a very solid .284.  He even batted .400 against lefties in 50 at bats last year, so he probably won’t be losing many starts to Eduardo Nunez when a fellow lefty is on the mound. Does anyone remember his opposite field game tying home run against a 103 MPH fastball from stud closer Aroldis Chapman of the Yankees?

DeversHR

While Devers struggled defensively at 3rd base, committing 14 errors in 56 games, The Red Sox have a great deal of confidence in him at the plate. Early whispers out of spring training are predicting he’ll be batting in the middle of the lineup. Fangraphs, a projection website has a projection of 27 HRs/80 RBI’s and a .275 average for Devers. All which would be more than welcome for a 20 year old kid brimming with potential. If Devers can bring his high strikeout percentage down a little, then the sky is the limit for him.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m slowly getting excited to get back to Fenway to down some Fenway Franks, sing along to Sweet Caroline, and hopefully see the Sox get back to the World Series. Go Sox!