The defending World Series-champion Boston Red Sox are one of the most talented teams in Major League Baseball, yet they’re out to a 6-12 start this season. Now, it’s only April 17 meaning they can right the ship. With that said, the specifics of their struggles, among other factors, are reasons to believe that the Red Sox could be in trouble.
Going into this season, Boston’s bullpen was their biggest area of concern. With Joe Kelly signing a three-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers and closer Craig Kimbrel remaining a free agent — and likely not re-signing with the Red Sox — manager Alex Cora‘s once serviceable bullpen projected to be a shaky unit. To this point, they haven’t posed a formidable threat, but surely aren’t an incompetent bunch. Going into their Tuesday night matchup with the New York Yankees, their bullpen was 17th in MLB in ERA (4.46), 14th in opponent batting average (.233), and first in strikeouts (80).
Added onto their collective figures, there are individuals who have shined in the early stages of the regular season; Brandon Workman hasn’t surrendered a run in eight appearances; Ryan Brasier owns a 1.17 ERA; Matt Barnes owns a 1.42 ERA.
So, what is this team’s problem? Ironically, everything else.
The Red Sox identity is their lineup. Last season they were the most productive and dangerous offense in baseball. While their core remains intact, they’re producing nowhere near the level they did in 2018. Going into Tuesday night they were 16th in MLB in runs (74), 17th in total bases (218), 20th in batting average and on-base percentage (.236, .309), and 21st in slugging and OPS (.383, 692).
Now, it’s not all doom and gloom with Boston’s offense. J.D. Martinez is hitting .338 while totaling three home runs and nine RBIs; Xander Bogaerts is hitting .300 while totaling eight RBIs; Andrew Benintendi is hitting .293; Mitch Moreland has totaled five home runs and 12 RBIs. But the good outweighs the bad.
The 2018 American League Most Valuable Player Award recipient, Mookie Betts, is hitting .212; Rafael Devers is hitting .246; Jackie Bradley Jr. is hitting .160; Christian Vazquez is hitting .195; Brock Holt is hitting .063; Steve Pearce is hitting .100; Eduardo Nunez is hitting .171; Dustin Pedroia has just two hits.
Their starting rotation hasn’t been any better.
Considered to have one of the best starting rotations in the sport, the Red Sox are watching their starters put games out of reach. Chris Sale owns an 8.50 ERA and 1.56 WHIP; Rick Porcello owns an 11.12 ERA and 3.00 WHIP; Nathan Eovaldi owns an 8.40 ERA and 1.87 WHIP; Eduardo Rodriguez owns a 7.98 ERA and 1.70 WHIP; David Price, who owns a 3.79 ERA, has been their one reliable starter.
You know how Chris Davis was in the midst of an 0-54 streak at the plate? Well, he went 3-5 off Red Sox pitching Saturday afternoon to end the drought and also hit his first home run in 113 at-bats against them on Monday. The Red Sox have lost every series they’ve played this season, and only one of those teams (the Oakland Athletics) was a playoff team in 2018. How much worse can it get?
This is one of the most talented teams in Red Sox history. Their lineup features high-octane bats such as Betts, Martinez, Bogaerts, and Benintendi. A grouping of Sale, Price, Porcello, and Eovaldi is supposed to make for a potent starting rotation. In theory, it would make sense to expect both their bats and arms to get back on track in the near future, or at some point this season. But what happens if and when they do?
Yes, their bullpen has been respectable, but an immense part of that is them having little to no chances to win, or close out games; they’ve been pitching from behind for the majority of the season. When their bats begin to produce at the level the MLB world is accustomed to, Cora will turn to his pen to finish out games, and they don’t have a proven closer. Could someone grow into the role and flourish? Sure, but it’s an enormous mystery how this bullpen will perform for an entire season with Kelly and Kimbrel, who were integral pieces to their bullpen the last three seasons, elsewhere.
To this point, the Red Sox have been losing games because of their lineup and rotation — which are supposed to be the reasons why they can defend their World Series title. What happens when they have to hold onto a lead late in games? It was this roster’s biggest flaw going into spring training, president Dave Dombrowski did little to nothing to address it, and now the Red Sox also have to worry about their prominent figures snapping out of a funk. In a now-rapid American League East, that spells trouble.
The Tampa Bay Rays have been the talk of the sport, as they’re 13-4, have a formidable pitching staff from top to bottom, and an underrated lineup. Like the Red Sox, the Yankees are off to a slow start (7-9), but that’s greatly generated from injuries to Luis Severino, Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Andujar, Aaron Hicks, and Dellin Betances, among others.
The Red Sox don’t have depth on their pitching staff, and half of their roster isn’t on the injured list. What happens when the Yankees get to full force: Do they continue to play at a subpar level, or compete for the division title? What happens when Matt Duffy and Joey Wendle, who are two of the Rays best hitters, return from injuries to a red-hot and blossoming team?
The Red Sox, can, without a doubt, turn things around, win the AL East, and be a pennant threat. Heck, they’ve won the division in each of the last three years. The Yankees haven’t won the division since 2012, and the last time the Rays did as such was 2010; neither core has as much experience, as a whole, as the Red Sox.
It would be difficult to envision Boston finishing last in the AL East. But it wouldn’t be difficult to envision them losing the division if they don’t return to playing like even half of the team they were last season.