It isn’t time for the Red Sox to panic… yet

Apr 21, 2017; Baltimore, MD, USA; Boston Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley (19) looks on prior to the game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 21, 2017; Baltimore, MD, USA; Boston Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley (19) looks on prior to the game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports /

Through 39 games, the Boston Red Sox are 21-18 and exactly four games behind the New York Yankees for first place in the division.

If you had asked me three months ago which one of those teams would be fighting to stay above .500 and which would be comfortably atop the division, I’d have guaranteed that it would be the Red Sox looking down at the competition.

There are still a ton of games and left to be played and the Red Sox are far from being out of contention in mid-May, but we would be lying to ourselves if we pretended to not be the least bit concerned. The fact of the matter is, through 39 games they’ve been nothing but underwhelming. Aside from Chris Sale, Mookie Betts, Craig Kimbrel, Eduardo Rodriguez and maybe Andrew Benintendi, the team has been unspectacular up and down the roster.

After all the hype in the offseason and opening the year with the best World Series odds in baseball, this has been frustrating, to say the least. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to hit the panic button just yet.

Overall, the offense has been poor despite the fourth-best average (.269) and fifth-best on-base percentage (.341) in baseball heading into Wednesday night’s game. They’re getting on-base and hitting among the best teams in the game, so why is it that they’re 16th in runs scored? Probably has something to do with the fact that they leave an average of 3.47 runners in scoring position per game or are slugging just .410.

Mookie Betts has been great recently, after a slow start to the year, and is looking like the type of impact player that you’d expect out of an MVP-runner up. Aside from him, though, who else has delivered? Xander Bogaerts has hit the cover off the ball all season but has just 11 RBIs to show for it. Andrew Benintendi has a comfortable .290 average with an 118 wRC+ but is 0-for-his last 22 and is falling victim to that proverbial sophomore slump he avoided for so long. Other than them, Dustin Pedroia, Christian Vazquez, and Mitch Moreland have been the best hitters on the team without being that spectacular in their own rights.

Their lineup won’t be as good as it was last year, but there’s no reason why it should be this bad. At some point, the guys that have been here before – namely Hanley Ramirez and Jackie Bradley Jr. – will have to start contributing regularly. We’ve seen glimpses of the lineup’s ability to put up runs at times, which gives me hope that they’ll be able to put it together.

There’s no doubt that there’s room for improvement offensively, but what about pitching? As mentioned, Chris Sale, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Craig Kimbrel have been great. Sale, as you probably know, leads the MLB with 85 strikeouts and has been dominant in each of his starts. Rodriguez has surprisingly been the second best pitcher on the team with a 3.05 ERA and string of five straight quality starts since giving up four earned runs in his first of the season. Then there’s Kimbrel, who has returned to the status of the best closer in baseball with a 1.02 ERA and ridiculously high 54.8% strikeout rate.

Rick Porcello’s year has been tougher to decipher – with a 4.05 ERA entering Wednesday’s start that has been inflated by a couple tough outings and an abnormally high home run rate. He’ll likely settle down as the year progresses, as evidenced by a career-best strikeout rate and his normally stellar control, giving further reason for hope. Beyond Porcello though, we’ve seen Drew Pomeranz, Steven Wright, and Kyle Kendrick – none of whom possess ERAs under five.

The good news is that the Red Sox can expect to have their three-headed monster of Sale, Porcello and David Price together for the first time this season as early as next week. He threw 75 pitches in a simulated game on Sunday and is ready to ramp his pitch count up to 85-90 by Friday. There’s no denying that adding a pitcher of Price’s caliber is an improvement – even if it’s the Price we saw last year and not the perennial Cy Young candidate.

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All told, this season has been frustrating so far, but it’s not the time to ring the alarm yet. The Red Sox are still three games off their pace at this point last season (24-15), although they have 123 games left to make up the ground. If they are to make it back to the postseason they’ll need to improve significantly – especially on the offensive side of the ball. The positive side is that with the pedigree of players on their roster we can hold out hope for a lot longer than this.