Red Sox surprise bag as half season approaches

Apr 3, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; A general view of Fenway Park during the fifth inning of the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Pittsburgh Pirates at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 3, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; A general view of Fenway Park during the fifth inning of the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Pittsburgh Pirates at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Red Sox surprise bag has a few awful and a few pleasant offerings. Here are six that I note as we zero in on 81 games.

As a Boston Red Sox prognosticator, I will not be measured with Nostradamus or even the Amazing Kreskin, but some of  that is predicated on the unknown.

Prior to spring training, I viewed this Red Sox team as a close to 100 win team – somewhere between 97-100 wins. The 100 number in the American League East is something special so I was possibly over exuberant.

The proverbial wheels started to come off in that most vital of area – pitching. Pitching is the first line of defense and David Price, Steven Wright, Tyler Thornburg and now Eduardo Rodriguez all missed time or the season. A more judicious approach would be to simply say who was healthy since the list would be shorter.

This is some of the surprises that I have seen this season. Some are positive and some negative.

Surprise number one – pitching

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Carson Smith and Thornburg were supposed to be the key – the industrial glue that gets you to Craig Kimbrel. Neither has surfaced. Still, the bullpen has done far better than expected. I have no idea what Eureka pitching moment happened for Joe Kelly but it happened. Even one of my favorite targets – Fernando Abad – the Three Mile Island of pitching – now enters a game and I actually watch.

The Red Sox pitching collectively is still ranked number one in the American League according to Fangraphs. The starters are ranked first and the bullpen second. Within this segment of surprise is Kimbrel.  Last season his 5.1 BB/9 made me compare him to Heathcliff Slocumb only with a better fastball. Now? Ungodly.

Surprise number two – Pablo Sandoval

My assumption was the beleaguered Panda had finally figured it out. The weight loss and a new dedication to his art – baseball. John Lackey did the same and Boston went from hate to love, but Sandoval has simply regressed.

At 30-years-old it is far too young to be finished, but skills do erode at a baseball young age and Sandoval may be one added to that list.

Surprise number three – John Farrell

As a harsh critic of Farrell, I give him substantial credit along with Carl Willis and Brian Bannister for keeping the pitching afloat for the first 60+ games. That has long been a reason that the anti-Farrell’s have pointed out – surprising since Farrell is a former pitcher.

Farrell has also used more of a hot hand approach to players and (thankfully) placing a premium on defense.

Surprise number four – American League East

I really thought that the Toronto Blue Jays would be nipping at our heels or we at there’s for first place.  The Jays got a healthy dose of the injury bug and were mired in last place, the Jays are still well in the hunt and my personal long range fear factor is the Jays.

The Yankees were a year or two away – not so. The collection of young players and valued veterans have made the offense just about the best in the league.  Will it continue? I have my doubts.  The biggest “surprise” for me with New York is not Aaron Judge, but Aaron Hicks. The pitching will decide and New York just saw a resurrected C.C. Sabathia go down.

Baltimore can hit and Baltimore can’t pitch. So I can’t see the Birds doing anything, but trail the very surprising Rays. Tampa is well ahead of Boston in home runs – amazing.

Surprise number five – Boston’s offense

No home run power. Plenty of potential 20+ home run hitters, but the absence of a big bat is quite telling.  I thought Boston would still lead in runs despite the loss of David Ortiz.  Not so.  They are scuffling for runs and have a squad that has difficulty manufacturing runs.

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The Red Sox are now ranked a shocking sixth in offense in the American League. This is unimaginable for those of us who just recently saw the terror in a pitchers eyes with Manny Ramirez and Ortiz in the middle of the lineup.

Will the offense heat up?  Mookie Betts is not a .270 hitter. Mitch Moreland has done as expected, but a big bat behind Xander Bogaerts would give XB more fastballs to cream.  Andrew Benintendi hit the slumping skids and then recovered. That is what good hitters to do.

This offense will climb in run production.

Surprise number six – Defense

The defense has improved and the other night against the dreadful Phillies the Red Sox put on a highlight montage on positive glove work.  That has been the exception.  Far too many mistakes that just didn’t happen as much last season.  Cut off throws that apparently are going to some unknown destination, poor positioning and just a rather lengthy collection of mental errors.

Next: Betts sets franchise record

This will improve. This has to improve since the idea is if you can’t create runs, then do your best to avoid giving up runs. Off the top of my pointy head, I can recall at least three games that we just handed away.