After losing two out of three to the Houston Astros, the Boston Red Sox still stack up well against other American League contenders.
These days, it’s popular to point to the Boston Red Sox’ bullpen every time something goes wrong. And sometimes, that can be fair! Especially in last night’s game against the Houston Astros, where Heath Hembree and Brian Johnson combined to squander Boston’s 5-2 lead in the sixth inning.
But if you look more closely, you’ll see the Red Sox’ bullpen has actually been one of the better groups in the league. They are in the top-10 in left-on-base percentage (fourth), FIP (fifth), fWAR (fifth), ERA (sixth), strikeouts per nine innings (seventh), saves (seventh) and home runs per nine innings (seventh). On top of all of this, they have even given up the third-fewest runs in all of baseball.
Their weakness has been the base on balls, though. They are 18th in walks, behind disappointing performers such as the Detroit Tigers and the San Diego Padres. Keeping runners off of the basepaths is of utmost importance, especially in the playoffs. But it may not be a fatal flaw.
Red Sox fans can feel just as confident about the team’s current state as they did back when they were almost on pace to break the all-time wins record. This is because of their success against the teams that they could potentially face in the American League playoffs.
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In 30 total games against the Yankees, Astros, Indians and A’s, the Red Sox are 15-15. Their .500 winning percentage against these teams is right in the middle of the pack compared to that of the other four. Predictably, the Astros are first (.550), followed by the Yankees (.545), Red Sox, A’s (.486) and Indians (.375).
Those numbers for the Astros and Yankees aren’t surprising. Based on last season, it’s reasonable to say they know how to beat good teams. But what is surprising is Cleveland’s underperformance against their peers. All season long, they have seemed like the weakest link among the powerhouses of the American League.
If Boston were to play the Indians in a playoff series, they should be considered the favorites. Even with MVP-caliber players such as Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor and a Cy Young candidate in Corey Kluber, they have benefitted from the weak AL Central. And their once-dominant bullpen is made much weaker with Andrew Miller unable to stay healthy. They would give the Red Sox some trouble for sure, but Boston is a more well-rounded team overall.
The A’s have been somewhat of a surprise success this season. They have also given the Red Sox trouble. A solid lineup made up of scrappy players (in typical Oakland A fashion) and a very good bullpen have made them a tough team to beat this season. Even with their poor winning percentage against playoff teams, the A’s could very well upset the Red Sox.
But that is assuming they make it past the Yankees in the Wild Card playoff. The Yankees are a team who the Red Sox have had a good amount of success against this year. They have each won two out of the four series that they have had against each other. In the most recent series, the Red Sox swept them in four games and exposed some of the Yankees’ flaws. With Aaron Judge still out and the Yankees’ shaky pitching, Boston would seem to match up favorably against them as well.
Houston would definitely be the team to give the Red Sox the most trouble in the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean that Boston should just roll over and concede defeat. The Astros obviously have the star-studded lineup, but so do the Red Sox. But it is the pitching that will give the Red Sox fits. They essentially have three aces in Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel and Gerrit Cole, but Boston has still found a way to go 3-4 against them this season. It would be an evenly matched series with the best pitching and best offense in baseball.
The Red Sox are obviously a great team. Even though they have an obvious weakness, it doesn’t mean that they are inherently worse than their peers. Every team has a flaw that is just made more obvious when things are not going well. But the Red Sox are good enough that they should be able to overcome their weakness.