Boston Red Sox in a tight race for the AL East division title
By Sean Penney
Boston Red Sox
Current Record: 73-59 (second in AL East, 2 games back)
Remaining Divisional Games: Blue Jays (6 games), Orioles (7 games), Yankees (7 games).
Why they will finish first
The Red Sox have the best offense in baseball with a lineup that includes four players in the top 10 in batting average. They lead in just about every significant offensive category and have proven capable of putting up runs even when the opposing team’s ace takes the mound.
Mookie Betts may be the front runner for MVP at the moment. He’s second in the league with a 7.5 WAR, trailing only Mike Trout (8.9 WAR), who plays for a team that won’t sniff the postseason. Betts is obliterating his career highs, hitting .320/.360/.563, mashing 30 homers and driving in 96 runs, despite spending the bulk of the season in the lead off spot.
The much maligned rotation has shown signs of improvement, with David Price finally looking like the ace the Red Sox anticipated. Steven Wright has returned from injury and Drew Pomeranz has settled in after a rocky start following the trade that sent him over from San Diego. Rick Porcello, who was nearly run out of town after last year’s disaster, has been the steadiest presence in the rotation with his league-leading 18 wins. Boston’s pitching staff owns a 3.73 ERA since the break that ranks fourth in the league over that span. If they remain healthy and pitch to their potential, this Red Sox rotation has the highest ceiling in the division.
Why they won’t
While they seem to have figured out their rotation issues, the bullpen remains a concern. Craig Kimbrel has been solid in the ninth inning, but bridging the gap between he and the starter has often been an adventure. Injuries have hit this bullpen hard, depriving them of many of their most reliable options. Brad Ziegler has helped since being acquired from Arizona, but manager John Farrell hasn’t committed to giving the 8th inning role to the former closer. The late inning formula has been a mess for a while now. Farrell has made some baffling moves with the bullpen, but also hasn’t been given much to work with.
19 of the team’s final 29 games are on the road, easily giving the Red Sox the most road games in the division down the stretch. The only silver lining to the schedule is that 9 of those road games come against last place teams – Oakland, San Diego and Tampa Bay.
David Ortiz is having one of the best seasons of his career at the age of 40, hitting .316/.404/.627 with 31 home runs and 101 RBI. He also leads the league with a 1.031 OPS and 42 doubles. The production he has provided is unprecedented for a player in their final season, let alone one his age. If we can give bonus points for the added motivation of sending Big Papi off into retirement with one last postseason run, Boston gets a bit of an edge.