I’ve started to write something about this Red Sox team for nearly a month now and just couldn’t bring myself to finish a full thought. I wanted to find answers or see the silver lining, but frankly it’s becoming an incredibly difficult team to watch, root for, or understand. It began with the embarrassing fails of extension talks with Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts in Spring Training and the mood hasn’t improved from there. On the field, it’s been even worse. From the early season disaster that is 2/3 of the lineup to the surprising overachieving of the pitching staff that is now shooting back to earth, it feels like this team is both in contention for every game they play and at the same time finding new and creative ways to take the L. Every time it seems like maybe they are turning a corner, the door swings back and slams them in the face. Now 31 games into the 2022 season and 11.5 games back in the AL East, 2 games behind the Baltimore Orioles, some of the decision making appears as if Chaim Bloom and the Red Sox have given up on 2022 and are preparing for the future.
The early season offensive struggles overshadowed the strong performances from the pitching staff. At one point the Red Sox had one of the best bullpens in baseball statistically and were getting some solid starting pitching, but were losing low-scoring 1-run games thanks to the anemic lineup. Three of their starters (4 if you count Garrett Whitlock as a starter) have sub-3 ERAs and have started the season really strong. Arguably their #4 or #5 starter on opening day was Michael Wacha, who before his recent injury, was 3-0 with a 1.38 ERA allowing 4 earned runs and just 13 hits in 26 innings. Despite some shaky outings as of late, the Red Sox bullpen has actually been impressive on the season. Hansel Robles (2.70), Austin Davis (2.70), Ryan Brasier (2.45), Matt Strahm (2.70), Tyler Danish (2.35) all have sub-3 ERAs and have frankly overachieved. Thanks to the lack of offense, their outings have mostly been in high-pressure situations (1 or 2 run games), which is just not sustainable.
Lately, the glaring lack of a closer thanks to the Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock pitcher mismanagement has been a big problem. To be fair to Red Sox management, Houck didn’t exactly help the situation by not getting vaccinated and not being available for the Toronto series in Canada. Thanks to some starting depth and injury issues as well as his desire, the Red Sox are working to get Whitlock into a consistent starting role which leaves a massive hole on the back end of the bullpen that he could, and probably should, fill. If you know me at all, you know I love Matt Barnes, but at this point there is no reason he should be in the major league bullpen or throwing in major league games. Something is clearly wrong and continuing to send him out to the mound is certainly not helping. Not having your best arm, Whitlock, for clutch late game situations is proving to be a massive issue if the Red Sox plan to try and compete in 2022. If they are already looking forward to 2023, then the decision makes more sense.
The decision making around Tanner Houck is also incredibly confusing if you are trying to win in 2022. He was really strong to start the season as a rotation arm in 3 starts, then after the Toronto series when he was unavailable due to his vaccination status, it went downhill no thanks to his odd usage. He pitched out of the bullpen the day before the trip to Toronto and threw a solid 1.2 innings with 2 Ks in the loss to Tampa Bay. Then the day following the trip he pitched 3 innings (5th, 6th, and 7th) against the Orioles getting the win with 3 BBs and 4 Ks and then was not reinserted into the depleted rotation and not used until 5 games later. He came in as a reliever after a long layoff and gave up 7 runs in 3 innings against the Angels. After throwing 56 pitches, he started 3 days later and allowed 3 runs in 2.2 innings before being lifted after 39 pitches. The 25-year old came into this year as a starter and now the Red Sox can’t figure out what to do with him and are just throwing him into different situations seemingly at random. If they were looking toward success in 2022, they should be using him as a starter, especially when the rotation has as many injuries as it does. To push Houck aside a bit to get Whitlock starts doesn’t make sense in the short-term. I’m normally not a big “role” guy, but in this case, the Red Sox need to stop toying around with Houck and Whitlock and just make some decisions on roles.
I’ve spilled a lot of metaphorical ink in my rant about this team and I haven’t even touch the lineup yet. The offensive production is by far the most disappointing and embarrassing element of the 2022 Red Sox. After a strong offensive season in 2021, the Red Sox made a few moves that at very least should have kept the status quo of success, if not improve it. Swapping Hunter Renfroe for Jackie Bradley Jr.was a downgrade in the batters box, but the addition of Trevor Story at 2nd base was a big improvement in the everyday production. At least it should have been. As we sit here in mid-May, the Red Sox are averaging 3.45 runs per game, the 3rd worst in all of baseball only ahead of the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers, and frankly that’s a bit inflated because they have scored 4.67 runs per game in their last 3 games thanks to dropping 9 runs on Tuesday. That’s a pretty stark contrast to their 4th best 5.14 runs per game last season and 4.87 runs per game in 2020. Looking even deeper, this is historically bad lineup production and the first time a Red Sox team has averaged under 4 runs per game since 2014 (3.91) and the lowest franchise mark since 1907. Yes, you read that right, the Red Sox team hasn’t scored under 3.5 runs per game since 1907 and that was the only year it happened since records started being kept in 1901.
Needless to say, there is room for improvement on offense. There have been occasional signs of life, but as fans we’re waiting for the big turn of momentum. Trevor Story finally hit his first HR of the season on Wednesday, which is a promising sign, but the Red Sox still couldn’t produce more than 3 runs and lost on a walkoff HR. Kike Hernandez is batting .161 on the season and frankly it looks even worse than the numbers and Bobby Dalbec is even worse sitting at .148 with 1 HR and 3 RBI in 28 games. It’s not just bad, it’s epically bad at this point and even if the offense turns it around and gets going, 9 games under-.500 is a massive hole to dig out from in the AL East. All this offseason there were questions about when Triston Casas gets his shot in the big leagues, but I’m not sure it’s even healthy for him to come up at this point. He’s probably better off in Worchester with a lineup that isn’t digging themselves a massive hole, at least until it’s clear that the season is over and they’re just playing for pride and 2023 (which is just around the corner).
With an eye towards 2023, this team has a lot of question marks, with Xander Bogaerts at the top of that list. We had hoped that this year would be a strong one and regardless of the future, Xander would help lead a deep run. If this season continues to roll downhill and it’s clear to management that Bogaerts is not likely to return next season, do the Red Sox trade him at the deadline to get some value back? After what seems like a completely demoralizing first stretch of the season, does that impact Bogaerts’ interest in signing in Boston long term? If Bogaerts leaves, what happens with Devers and his contract? I can’t believe I’m even suggesting it at this point, but 2022 seems to be a complete wash given the current play and the division. What is the future of this team and particularly the major pieces on this roster?
I would love to be proven wrong and everyday hope for the moment that turns the tides, but there is nothing right now to indicate that 2022 should be a focus and a massive winning streak is on it’s way. Underperformance is manageable in stretches, but 30+ games of it is debilitating. We’re approaching the 1/4 tent-pole on the season and so far, it’s just hard to watch and this team is hard to root for. I’m not sure I’m ready to throw in the 2022 towel just yet, but I’m getting pretty damn close.