Red Sox roster will look different by August, September
By Rick McNair
The real crunch for the Boston Red Sox will be in August and September. By then the team will be settled and focused on the stretch run.
What you see now with the Boston Red Sox is not what you will see in August and September. This is only mid-May and the Red Sox started all ablaze and that has now been extinguished. This team was certainly not as good as 17-2 nor as bad as what we have seen the last several weeks. Not unusual since the season is long and quite fluid.
The same applies to the rest of the league and especially our most significant competition within the American League East – the New York Yankees. During the next few months, changes will happen to the roster as needs are addressed and returning players add some fortifications. July starts the buying and selling season where those who still consider themselves relevant go on a shopping spree.
Easy pickings are second base and the return of Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia is expected back by late May and the rust may show. I would expect the post-All-Star Game Pedroia is the one we have been accustomed to seeing for ten seasons. Timely hitting, extra solid defense, and a probable .300 average. Pedroia has most certainly been missed and that is especially noticeable on defense.
With defense, two other infield issues come bubbling to the surface. First base will have Mitch Moreland on a more steady basis as the stretch run commences. The weak link at third is Rafael Devers who is on a pace for a horrific error total. Expect greater utilization of other defensive resources such as Eduardo Nunez or Brock Holt. Neither are especially adept at third, but would still represent an upgrade.
The Red Sox regular outfield alignment for the last 40 to 50 games will be J.D. Martinez, Andrew Benintendi, and Mookie Betts. Statistically, it will be the top-ranked offensive outfield in the American League. If you noticed the absence of Jackie Bradley that is based on the Red Sox either trading Bradley or relegating him to the spot player status.
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I do not expect Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez to be sharing the catching duties. Neither has any degree of potency with the bat and even defensively the tandem is a bit frayed. Expect the Red Sox to make a move to upgrade catching with someone a bit more gifted in the hitting department.
Baseball in 2018 relies on bullpen strength. Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, and Heath Hembree instill no great level of confidence when they saunter in to pitch. In the recent Yankees series apparently, all three thought they could be subjected to STD if they tossed a strike. This is a good bullpen, but the Red Sox will need a great bullpen and my mid-August they will have it.
Carson Smith has returned to productivity after two seasons of almost zero in the contribution department. Tyler Thornburg is lighting it up in rehab and both are the real deal regarding any role the bullpen needs. In fact, one may be the closer in 2019 when – a tin foil hat prediction – the Red Sox let Kimbrel test the free agent market.
Steven Wright will also provide a serviceable spot starter and bullpen piece by August. You may see Austin Maddox and Bobby Poyner getting some high leverage appearances and the Red Sox transition away from what currently sets up after the stater is lifted. This will be a solid bullpen and the price paid – especially for Thornburg – will be rewarded.
Competent starters prevent an over-reliance on the bullpen and prevent bullpen burnout. Too often the managerial temptation as the season winds down is to go with the same steady arms repeatedly. Quality starts – and not that nonsensical QS stat – become the key. The Red Sox do have three who can routinely deliver seven innings and that has an asterisk since one is Mr. Gamer – David Price.
Health is always of concern with pitching depth especially starters. Will Drew Pomeranz hold up? Can Price rest his weary game playing thumbs? Will Eduardo Rodriguez make every start? Every pitcher is just one toss away from the surgical unit and each day it seems another item surfaces about another pitcher going down for the count. Just think Jay Groome. But Boston does have remarkable depth with Wright and even Hector Velazquez.
Next: Red Sox need more playing time for Mitch Moreland
Winning the division is important but losing it is not earth-shattering. The best is to avoid any one game all or nothing playoff, but this Red Sox team will be positioning itself for the playoffs. That is a virtual guarantee. The loose ends will have been tied up, roles clearly defined, Alex Cora more comfortable, and needs (hopefully) addressed with astute late-season trades.