If the playoffs were to begin today, the Boston Red Sox would be watching such play from a Boston pub.
If the Red Sox continue to perform at the erratic level they’ve displayed over the last month, they’re not going to the playoffs.
The only way the Red Sox have a chance at making the playoffs is if their stars perform to their capabilities and, in some cases, wake up.
Sunday night the Red Sox hit rock bottom. Losing 7-4 to the New York Yankees, they were swept in a four-game series in Yankee Stadium. This came after they were swept by the Tampa Bay Rays in Fenway Park. Boston has lost nine of its last 10 games and is now 60-56, which puts them 15.5 games behind the Yankees for first place in the American League East and 6.5 games behind the Rays for the second AL Wild Card seeding.
Yeah, being two week’s worth of games behind the team they beat in the ALDS last season and nearly a week’s worth of games behind a team with the lowest payroll in Major League Baseball in August wasn’t the scenario the Red Sox envisioned being in back in spring training. So, how has this happened? What can be done, if anything?
Well, for starters, remove the attachment of the Red Sox being the defending World Series champions from the conversation because this isn’t the same team it was last season. Veteran starters such as David Price, Rick Porcello, and now Andrew Cashner have either been inconsistent, or a ticking time bomb on the hill. Meanwhile, postseason hero Nathan Eovaldi is now coming out of the bullpen due to their recurring struggles — and experiencing difficulty himself.
Betts is putting together another All-Star-caliber season, but it falls short of the esteem you’d hold a former Most Valuable Player Award recipient in. Hitting .280 while totaling 19 home runs and 59 RBIs and holding down the fort in right field, he has continued to show glimpses of the premier outfielder the Red Sox and the baseball world are accustomed to. But there’s the problem: It’s in glimpses.
There’s no debating Betts’ merit, but he has been inconsistent and struggled against Boston’s rivals this season. Hitting .190 while slugging .379 against the Yankees and hitting .244 while slugging .444 against the Baltimore Orioles, he hasn’t been his prolific-self against Boston’s archival and a pitching staff regarded as one of, if not the worst unit in baseball. Last season Betts sported a 1.078 OPS; this season he sports an .874 OPS.
Martinez is hitting .300 while totaling 24 home runs and 65 RBIs and sporting a .917 OPS. It’s another impressive year for the big right-handed hitter. But, let’s be honest. Wasn’t Boston’s historic 2018 season on the shoulders of Martinez and Betts’ career years? You can’t expect 40-plus home runs and 120-plus RBIs from an individual player, but for the next two months, the Red Sox need Martinez to go on a tear.
The one-two punch of Betts and Martinez is regarded as one of, if not the best offensive duo in the sport. If Betts gets on base more, especially against teams the Red Sox are competing with for the playoffs, it sets the table for Martinez to do even more damage. A dark truth for Boston is that solo home runs and sometimes even five-plus run barrages aren’t enough to win games, as their pitching staff has been an utter guessing game, and that starts with Sale.
Sale is in the midst of the worst season of his career. He owns a career-worse 4.68 ERA and 1.14 WHIP and has been hit hard since the summer solstice. Sale has surrendered at least five runs in five of his last seven starts and a combined 14 runs in his last two starts — which were each losses to the Yankees.
He’s getting hit in a way unseen throughout his big-league career, struggling with his command, and isn’t deceiving hitters with his delivery, velocity, or pitch selection. Sale is the ace of this staff. He’s a proven commodity and one of the best pitchers in baseball because he has been able to conquer hitters with the aforementioned qualities. It’s a matter of execution.
More likely than not, Boston’s pitching staff, collectively speaking, isn’t turning a corner. They’re a shaky bunch of veterans and have no trade deadline to lean on. Price and Porcello have been worrisome on the hill in each of the last three seasons, Eduardo Rodriguez is a steady force, but more so a backend starter, and their bullpen has been severely affected by their rotation’s inability to provide length. Given how their rotation has worsened with time, there’s little reason to believe their pen turns a corner.
The same logic applies to Boston’s offense, except that’s more so a matter of how they could be performing at an even higher level, as a unit.
Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers have been as good as any left side of the infield in baseball at the plate. They’ve combined for 48 home runs and 172 RBIs and are each hitting above .300. Granted Bogaerts and Devers have been reliable forces in years past, Betts, Martinez, and, to some degree, Andrew Benintendi have been the face of Boston’s offense.
What are Bogaerts and Devers supposed to do, hit .400 apiece? Become two-way players? Clone themselves? You’d think that their stellar seasons would be leading the Red Sox to a fourth consecutive AL East division title. Meanwhile, Christian Vazquez is hitting .284 while totaling 17 home runs, rookie Michael Chavis has totaled 18 home runs and 57 RBIs, and Brock Holt is hitting .310.
Boston’s lineup remains potent, but it can be better. Betts and Martinez hitting with more consistency and coming up with timely base hits would make their lineup formidable once again. Having at least one reliable starting pitcher, preferably Sale, would be an ideal development — and a much-needed one for their sake.
Time is running out on the Red Sox. They have just eight games left against the Yankees and Rays and been atrocious in their meet-ups with them this season; the Red Sox are 4-11 against the Yankees and 6-9 against the Rays.
Only Boston’s stars can take them on a late playoff push.