Red Sox report on mid-season state of the franchise

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 29: Andrew Benintendi
BOSTON, MA - JUNE 29: Andrew Benintendi /

The Boston Red Sox are in first place in the AL East. Will they remain there? A look back at the first half and look ahead of what’s to come.

This is my baseball answer to the dreadful State of the Union addresses that presidents bore us with each year.  I will, therefore, bore you with a state of the Red Sox address. As with most of the denizens of Red Sox Nation I wear my Joseph Abboud shirts with absorbent sleeves for the various emotional responses as the season moves forward. This team has surprised me.

The first fifty games are a point of reference  that I have personally adopted as just what type of squad you will have.  The further addition is what niche they have within the league.  After the first fifty my suspicion was I would be watching something in October besides Red Sox baseball.  The reasoning was the baseball Black Death – pitching injuries with a subset of too many players just looking lost. The defense was shoddy and the offense inconsistent.

Fundamentally the Red Sox looked confused as misplays became commonplace, but as sudden as things can go sour they can turn sweet. The key is nothing new – pitching. As Earl Weaver said: “The only thing that matters in baseball is that little bump in the middle of the field.” That sums up success despite a precipitous drop in run production.

The Red Sox staff is statistically the second best staff in the American League.  The rotation has been rock steady at number one for almost the entire season.  The bullpen – with the dagger in the pitching heart injuries of Tyler Thornburg and Carson Smith – drifts between third and fifth in bullpen metrics. Then there is the offense.

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What an unusual look to have the Red Sox last in home runs, but fourth in stolen bases – and without having a Jacoby Ellsbury type padding that stat. The average has slowly climbed and so has run production as they now approach five per game. My skepticism directed at the offense is now dissipating as the run differential continues to climb positive.

The leadership issue and stagnant performance brought concern as the Red Sox displayed all the intensity of a sack race. Thomas de Torquemada – The Great Inquisitor – could pry willing confessions by showing Red Sox high or lowlights. This team was generating as much excitement as a school board budget meeting. Now?

The excursion through purgatory witness in the first fifty games has vanished.  Even Drew Pomeranz now looks like a steal. David Price is rounding into form and Chris Sale is starting to become a legend. Mookie Betts and his fellow travelers on offense just keep grinding so all is baseball kosher as first place is now Boston’s.

The outlook for the remainder is firmly optimistic for me.  Originally I thought this team would near 100 wins and they still may accomplish that. The pitching is not good, but great.  The defense is ranked a surprising number one and that cannot be dismissed – pitchers love that solid defense.

The Red Sox are in control. They have a favorable home schedule and that is a huge plus. They will make the playoffs – division champions or the Wild Card. The talent is substantial and balanced. The offense and defense – especially pitching – complement each other. Start saving your money for playoff tickets, but what about the bumps in the road?  Bumps as in the rest of the American League East.

Start with Baltimore which has a pitching staff that could be used for Home Run Derby.  The offense is spotty at best.  This is a team that may soon be on baseball eBay with most of their roster as they attempt to cull payroll and find valuable prospects. If the Red Sox desire a home run bat look to the O’s, but that bat may come with 200 K’s.

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I thought Toronto would be in a tussle to the end with the Red Sox.  The offense may not have reached 2016 standards, but would still get 800+ runs.  The pitching was young and talented, but then came injuries and poor performances.  Sellers? Possibly. I saw the Jays in a three-game series in Toronto, and this team appears lifeless with sloppy defense – a bad indicator.  The Jays are a baseball flat line. Can they recover? I’m not in that camp.

If you told me the Tampa Bay Rays offense would trump their pitching I would certainly give the folks at McLean hospital a call. A Tampa team that hits home runs?  Not only hits them, but vies for league leadership. The Rays are the perpetual trap game for AL East opponents as they appear to be easy pickings only to end up taking a series. I can’t dismiss this team since the pitching is still solid pitching.  Their six fans deserve it.

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The New York Yankees have suddenly hit the skids and within a few weeks have gone from a four-game lead to having that reversed. Teams have slumps and hot streaks, but in the American League East, a poor stretch can quickly ruin a season. There is no question about the offense, but injuries have been a negative all season long. Starlin Castro, Gary Sanchez, Matt Holliday and that is just a few. The pitching is competent but has been ragged all season.  This is one very dangerous team if they get a quality start. I feared the Jays and now it is the Yankees and surprising Rays.