Red Sox Start Gauntlet Feeling Squeaky Clean

After a tremendous run of play against bad teams, the Red Sox entered a gauntlet stretch of their schedule. They have resurrected their season from 9-games under .500 to now 11 games over .500 in a short span of time thanks to a 20-4 record since June 1, but that’s only relevant if they can beat good and great teams in the next month. During this stretch that began on June 24th, the Sox play AL East opponents (except the 5th place Orioles) 20 times in 26 games, including a 17-straight game stretch wrapping around the break, all 3 AL East teams with at least 40 wins and 8+ games over .500 as of today. This is without a doubt a season defining place in their schedule and thus far, they’re putting on a show. They started off against the red hot 36-29 (at the time) Cleveland Guardians on the road and pulled out the brooms, sweeping the 3-game set. There isn’t a better way to start a tough patch in the schedule than to take care of business against a quality opponent on the road, but now comes the even bigger test.

Starting Monday, the Red Sox travel north of the border to take on the 40-32 Toronto Blue Jays. That alone would be a tough task for any team, but when you factor in those players who can’t travel to Canada thanks to their vaccination status, it becomes an even taller task. Tanner Houck has emerged as the Red Sox closer and has proven to be reliable in that role (6 for 6 in save opportunities), but will be unable to travel with the team and leaves a hole in the late-game bullpen for the Sox. Jarren Duran has finally had another chance at the highest level and has made it difficult for the Red Sox to take him out of the lineup as he’s hitting .327 and has accumulated 4 stolen bases in 13 games this year. His speed on the base-paths is a potential game-changer for the Sox, but for arguably one of the most important series of the season thus far, he’ll be watching on TV with Houck. On the minor-league side, Ryan Fitzgerald would seem like a good replacement for the Canada trip, but he is also unvaccinated and can’t travel. In a series that could very well be the difference in playoff seeding come October, the Red Sox are in a tight spot with roster management.

Moving on from Toronto, life only gets harder. The Sox will host the depleted but still tough Tampa Bay Rays for 3, then host the hottest team in baseball, the New York Yankees. The Yankees are having a historic start to the 2022 season despite getting no-hit by the Houston Astros this week. They are 53-20 as of Monday morning, on pace for 117/118 wins and are getting strong performances across their roster. If you’re looking for a silver lining as a Red Sox fan, the Yankees are just 4-4 in their last 8 games with 2 losses against the Astros, 1 against Tampa and 1 against Toronto. They have looked like they may be settling back to just being a great and elite team, rather than a historic one, although I’m not putting my money on a huge regression (maybe just a small one). As if we couldn’t get enough of the rivalry, the Red Sox then head to Yankee Stadium for a 3-game set after a 4-game set in Tampa against the Rays. Where the Red Sox sit at the All-Star break and how legitimate of a playoff contender they are, will in large part be shaped by Tampa and New York over the first 2 weeks of July.

After the All-Star break, things don’t really calm down until August and even then, just barely. The Sox play Toronto for 3 following the break, then the Guardians for 4 at Fenway, followed by a 3-game set with the 1st place Milwaukee Brewers. Following a 3-game road set with the Houston Astros, the Red Sox have a small respite, playing 4 in Kansas City against the lowly Royals before a date with the 42-32 Atlanta Braves and then another 3-game set with the Yankees (with one game against the Orioles sandwiched between series). I don’t need to spell out the entire schedule for you, although I got pretty close, but just know it’s going to be a brutal next 4+ weeks for the Red Sox. If they can perform at a high level and beat elite opponents, the trade deadline becomes even more intriguing. What moves would the Sox be willing to make if they genuinely feel they can contend for a title? On the flip side, struggling against divisional opponents may make the trade deadline a much more low-key affair.

While sweeps are fantastic, to me this next stretch is about series wins and splits. Expecting this team to sweep opponents the caliber of the Yankees is a bit unrealistic, but taking 2 out of 3 or splitting a 4-game set is not unreasonable and would be very telling. The Sox are not likely to catch the Yankees at this point, but the focus should be on the 1st Wild Card spot and the path there is series wins, especially against their closest opponents in the standings (Toronto and Tampa Bay). If the Sox continue to win series and the Yankees were to significantly stumble, anything is possible if you hang tight. With the Red Sox potentially having some pitching reinforcements arriving back from injury in the next few weeks (Chris Sale and Garrett Whitlock), things could continue to roll on into August and beyond. After spilling tons of metaphorical ink about the Red Sox woes the first 2 months of the season, things look quite different now for the home town team. Will we still feel optimistic in a few weeks?

.500 and in Playoff Position for Red Sox

Before the season, celebrating the Red Sox reaching the .500 mark would have seemed ridiculous. After watching the first 2 months of the season, this is certainly a benchmark worth noting and perhaps, celebrating. Sunday night is the first time all season, since the Red Sox were 0-0, that the hometown team has reached that .500 plateau thanks to a 3-game sweep of the Oakland Athletics. What’s even more interesting than that accomplishment? If the season were to end today, thanks to the struggling Los Angeles Angels (losing 11 straight), the Red Sox would claim the 3rd AL Wild Card spot. Over the last 30 days, the Red Sox postseason odds have jumped a whopping 43.2% and they now sit at a 55.6% chance to make the postseason, including an 18.4% bump just in the past week (Baseball Reference). Despite the awful start to the season and the seemingly endless struggles, the Red Sox are in the drivers seat with 108 games remaining.

On May 11th, the Red Sox were 11-20, 9 games under .500 and 11.5 games back in 5th place the AL East behind the Baltimore Orioles. To say the vibes were bad and the morale was low amongst fans was an understatement. The offense was struggling and the pitching staff was doing everything they could to keep the Sox in close games, but as Jon Madden would say, “You can’t win a game if you don’t score any points.” Since the walkoff 5-3 loss in Atlanta on May 11th, the Red Sox are 16-7 (.696), averaging 6.7 runs per game, and have a team batting average of just a tick under .300 (.297). Compared to the first 31 games of the season, that’s an astronomical improvement. The first 31 games of the year resulted in an 11-20 record, 3.5 runs per game, and a team batting average of .229. The Red Sox are getting contributions up and down the lineup and have seen several batting averages emerge from the depths of the .100s. During the most recent stretch, Franchy Cordero has been a nice surprise, collecting 6 of his 18 RBIs on the season in the Oakland series while Kike Hernandez has raised his average from .161 to .210 by grabbing at least one hit in 20 of his last 22 games (26 total hits with 3 HRs).

As much as some writers want to complain about the pitching staff (I’ve been known to spill some ink on occasion), the overall pitching numbers have remained quite steady all season. The only two numbers that have changed with any significance from the first 31 games to the past 23 games are K’s per game, which have dropped from 9.1 to 7.7 (Garrett Whitlock as a pitch-to-contact starter is the major contributor to that) and BBs per game, which has improved from 3.3 to 2.4. The team ERA was 3.77 the first 31 games and was 3.67 the past 23 games and overall the team has allowed 0.1 more runs per game the past 23 contests. Yes, the Red Sox need a closer and yes, the bullpen has struggled at moments, but overall, they have consistently done their job on a team constructed to score runs in bunches. On top of that, Chris Sale is on the road to a return and will be a huge plus for this team in the rotation and bullpen (whether he moves to the bullpen or remains a starter and a current starter is bumped there). He likely won’t be the ace of the staff, at least to start, but a mostly healthy Sale in any capacity is a bonus at this point. I said it from the beginning of the season and will continue to beat the drum: if the Red Sox offense can score 5+ runs per game regularly, they will win at an extremely high rate and will be a tough out in the postseason. It’s not rocket science.

Now that the Red Sox have reached the .500 plateau and are in the drivers seat for a postseason spot, they need to assert their strength and continue to win (obviously). There is a TON of season left and a near infinite number of scenarios to play out, but even being close to this position on June 5th is incredible. It just so happens the day following their rise into the 3rd AL Wild Card spot, the Red Sox begin a 4-game series with the Halos in Anaheim, the team 0.5 game behind them in the standings and struggling mightily. The Red Sox have a chance to put some distance between them and the Angels if they can pull off a big series win, and if they take 3 of 4, can ensure a winning record on their road trip despite still having a 3-game set in Seattle to close it out. The elusive .500 mark is great if they can blow past it and begin to put the rest of the league on notice, but useless if it’s the top of the mountain. Here’s hoping it’s not the destination, but a marker on the path to the top.

Huge West Coast Swing for Red Sox

After splitting a short 2-game set with the Cincinnati Reds, the Red Sox said goodbye to the friendly confines of Fenway Park after a 7-game home stand and 13 of the last 16 at home. While the home stand had a few signs of life with 3 series wins (of their 4 total on the season), including a 4-game sweep of the Seattle Mariners, it ended with some disappointing results against the Baltimore Orioles and Reds. Now the Red Sox head off on a 10-game swing in California with hopes of an above-.500 record when they return to Boston. With the calendar flipped to June, the urgency to turn around the 2022 season has ratcheted up a notch and the next stretch of series will be a true tell on whether the season is salvageable. Where will the Sox be when they return home on June 14th? Let’s take a look.

After grabbing back a little momentum on Wednesday night in the 2nd game against the Reds, the Sox are now 24-27, 3 games under .500. Losing 4 of 7 against two mediocre teams to end the home stand really put a damper on what appeared to be a turning of the tides. Getting back to the .500 mark is proving to be a challenge for this group, despite having one of the top performing offenses in baseball. The Red Sox led baseball in average, slugging percentage, and OPS in May but saw their pitching staff show signs of concern. This was everyone’s concern in the offseason, a strong offense with a weak pitching staff, but the script was flipped in April. The lack of an actual closer since they moved Garrett Whitlock to the starting rotation has been an achilles heal for this team.

Looking at their opponents in California, the Red Sox should be able to take care of business and definitely win the road trip against 3 struggling teams. They play 3 against the 20-33 Oakland Athletics to begin the trip and anything less than a series win or sweep would be a massive disappointment. It’s still a hair too early to call this series a must-win, but it’s pretty damn close. The As are coming off a 3-game sweep at the hands of the Houston Astros in Oakland and 1-6 in their last 7 games. The Red Sox are facing 2 of the As best pitchers in games 2 and 3 in Paul Blackburn, who is a surprising 5-1 with a 2.15 ERA on the season and Frankie Montas, who has a tough 2-5 record, but a strong 3.20 ERA this season. Realistically, I see the Sox taking 2 out of 3.

The Sox then head to Los Angeles for a 4-game set with the Angels. They have been scuffling as of late, losing 8 of their last 10 and 7 straight, but have a 3-game set against the lowly 22-29 Philadelphia Phillies before facing the Sox. The Angels will have a chance to get themselves back on track and come into the Sox series with more confidence. It appears that the Shohei Ohtani will pitch in the Red Sox series, so that’s always a challenge, but frankly they have been underperforming as a team. If they continue to underperform, the Red Sox could do some damage. The Sox should at least split the series, but if they can find a way to win 3 of 4, that would be a huge momentum booster.

The Sox wrap up the trip with 3 in Seattle against the 22-29 Mariners. Another surprise disappointment, the Mariners have really struggled this season and the Red Sox have already done some damage against them with a 4-game sweep at Fenway earlier in May. For what it’s worth, the Mariners are 5-5 in their last 10 and have a winning record at home (12-10), but it’s another series that the Red Sox should, and need to, win. A bright spot for the Mariners and someone the Red Sox will likely see, is starter Logan Gilbert. The 25-year old is 5-2 with a 2.29 ERA in 10 starts this season. He has 60Ks in 59 innings and has a WHIP of just a tick over 1. Offensively, 1B Ty France has been mashing the ball, hitting .347 with 7 HRs on the season in 229 plate appearances. This should be another series win, taking at least 2 out of 3.

Overall, the road trip consists of 2 very winnable series against the struggling As and Mariners bookending a split/winnable series against the struggling Angels. West Coast swings are always tough given the time zone changes and travel, but with a day off leading into the trip, there are no excuses. If the Red Sox want to remain in the 2022 competitive conversation, this trip needs to result in 6+ wins, 2 of 3 from the As and Mariners and at least a split with the Angels. If they can somehow squeak out 7 wins, then the Sox will come home to Boston with at least a .500 record for the first time all season. Is that too much to ask?

Hotter than Hot, The Story is Just Beginning

The first 6+ weeks of the 2022 season have been awful for the Boston Red Sox. They plummeted to the bottom of the division and until this past week, struggled to win more than a single series. Now things appear to be pointing in a more positive direction and the flashy signing on offense for the Red Sox this offseason is at the heart of the offensive explosion. Over the past 5 games, Trevor Story has started to show the Fenway faithful why Chaim Bloom wanted him in the lineup every day. He has amassed 8 hits and 5 HRs in 5 games, including 4 HRs in his last 2 games, including 12 RBI over that span. He’s also been patient at the plate, drawing a walk in 6 of his last 7 games while striking out just 2 times. A rough start to the season for Story has now begun to turn around.

Over his career, entirely with the Colorado Rockies until this year, Story is a .270 hitter (including this year’s struggles) with 164 HRs. He was aided a bit by the thin air of Coors Field in Denver, but generally is a decent average, bigger power bat averaging 34 HRs per 162 games. As recently as May 15th, Story was hitting an abysmal .196 with 2 HRs in 112 at-bats, which is a HR every 56 at-bats. That’s a far cry from his numbers prior to this year, with a HR every 17.9 at-bats and obviously a significant drop in average (-.076). No matter how you slice it, that’s bad and is not because of the change in uniform or home ballpark. In just the past 5 days, Story has improved his average to .231 with 6 HRs, now with a HR every 21.7 at-bats. Its a sure-fire sign that he’s finally starting to settle into Boston after changing teams and uprooting his life in Colorado.

I certainly don’t expect Story to continue this insane run of power for an extended period of time, but it’s a true glimpse into the impact he can make in the lineup, not just defensively. He’s not going to hit for .300+ every year, but can carry the offense with his power for stretches of time. As he begins to hit, it puts tremendous pressure on the opposing pitcher knowing that there is another dangerous bat lurking besides Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and JD Martinez. If he can correct the ship and be even a .250 hitter with 25-30 HRs a season, that’s 4 big bats who can all easily hit 20-25 HRs, if not more, anchoring the lineup. If Bobby Dalbec or Triston Casas, when he eventually gets the call, can also live up to their potential, this lineup could have 5 guys in that boat. That becomes a scary order to face.

Ultimately, I’m just happy that Story is finally able to take a breath and contribute to the box score. Boston fans are passionate and can be ruthless at times and even in his short tenure, he’s felt the good and the bad. He was booed on multiple occasions at Fenway just a few weeks ago and the last few nights has felt the warmth and love. He was clearly pressing early in the year, trying to prove he was worth the big contract and now has the opportunity to settle down and just do what he does best, play baseball. We’re seeing more smiles and a seemingly more relaxed Story in the batters box, which is good for everyone involved. As he continues to grow into his role with the Red Sox, Story has the potential to be a fan favorite given his calm, down-to-earth personality. Hopefully, the early bumps and bruises are in the rearview mirror.

Three HRs on Thursday and a grand salami on Friday. What can Story do to top that on Saturday and Sunday? Who knows, but this is finally a team I’m excited to watch on a daily basis.

Signs of Life for the Red Sox?

After a season worst 5-game losing streak on May 8th and a string of 0 back-to-back wins since April 17th, the Red Sox finally realized the season was about to slip out of their grasp. Thanks to a favorable matchup against the below-.500 Texas Rangers, the Red Sox got over the hump and won their first series of the season since early April. The energy around the team perked up a hair as they faced Houston and despite getting absolutely clobbered thanks to a Nathan Eovaldi home run derby in game 2, they rode Nick Pivetta in the rubber match to secure a 2nd straight series win. This one was much more impressive, because it was against the Houston Astros, the 1st place team in the AL West. For the first time in more than a month, there are some small signs of life in the Red Sox clubhouse.

Over the last 9 games, the biggest difference for this team has been the offense beginning to wake up. We’re finally starting to see the production we expected, as they are scoring 5.75 runs per game during the stretch. Not surprisingly, in the 6 most recent wins, the Red Sox have scored 6.33 runs per game, while just scoring 2.67 runs per game in their 3 losses. It’s no secret, we’ve known this since well before the season began, the Red Sox will go as the offense goes. Besides the big three of Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and JD Martinez, the catalysts of the mini-run have been Kike Hernandez, who has at least 1 hit in 6 straight games, Christian Vazquez, who has 7 hits in his last 7 starts behind the plate, and Trevor Story, who despite not hitting for average, has drawn a walk in 5 straight games creating traffic on the bases. All three of those mentioned, plus the rest of the lineup besides the big three, are still struggling well-below their averages, but signs of life have led to more Ws and a glimmer of hope.

Unfortunately, despite finally winning multiple series, the Red Sox have fallen even further behind in the AL East thanks to the absolutely dominant New York Yankees. A 6-3 record is a nice turnaround for the Red Sox, but during that stretch they dropped 2.5 games further behind the Yankees. While the goal at this point can’t be to catch the Bronx Bombers atop the division, you have to expect the Yankees won’t continue on their .757 winning percentage tear and set the MLB record with 122 or 123 wins on the season. The goal needs to be winning the next 2 months to determine if a Wild Card spot is possible or if it’s just not their year and the trade deadline should become a sell-a-thon.

The big question for me despite the recent optimism: Is the season realistically still salvageable? The answer is yes-ish, but it’s going to take a herculean effort. As it stands after their win on May 18th, the Red Sox are 7 games below .500 at 15-22 sitting in 4th place in the AL East, a whopping 13 games behind the Yankees. Their winning percentage is an abysmal .405 and if you think about who is in front of them in the AL East, I think they realistically need to hit 90+ wins to make the postseason (although I know it’s possible for a team to make the postseason with win totals in the upper 80s). At this moment, the 3rd AL Wild Card would go to the Toronto Blue Jays, who are surprisingly just 20-18 with a .526 winning percentage. They are on pace for just 85 wins, but you have to expect that they will pick up the pace a bit and end up near or over 90 wins. If they go 70-54 to finish the season (.564), they will hit win #90. If that is true, they the Red Sox would need to finish the season with at least a .600 winning percentage just to touch the 90-win mark and that’s likely just fighting for the 3rd Wild Card and squeaking into spot in the postseason. It’s possible that the Los Angeles Angels falter also and drop to the 3rd Wild Card, but they have a .600 winning percentage on the season thus far and with two of the best players in baseball, Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, will definitely be in the hunt. While a postseason run is not out of the question, to win over 60% of your games just to hang onto hopes of a postseason bid is a monumental task with 125 games remaining.

Before you come at me, I know there are about 1,000 variables and tons of uncertainty when projecting out potential scenarios, but in a season that has been anything but good to this point, it’s worth determining whether the Red Sox keep fighting or become sellers at the deadline. There are 68 games until the August 2nd trade deadline and ultimately the mark in the season when teams make decisions on whether to load up and make a run, stand pat, or sell. In a season with now 3 Wild Card slots per league, more teams will be competitive and in the race, which could be beneficial for teams looking to sell. The number of teams looking to buy will lead to higher asking prices and larger returns. For the Red Sox, if they win 60% of the 68 games in this stretch (that’s a big if), they will be sitting at about 66-49 and in a strong position to compete for the postseason and not be sellers. If they are winning closer to 55%, which would be the 6th highest winning percentage in the AL right now, then they are sitting at just 52-53 and are likely sellers focused on 2023. Just a percent or two can be the difference between loading up for a run and pointing toward the future. The worst place to be would be in between those two records, unsure of whether to buy or sell. Thanks to the awful start, the pressure is extremely high to have a shot at competing for the postseason come August.

Ultimately, while there are more glimmers of hope in the past week than most of the season so far, it’s going to be a tough road ahead if the Red Sox want to make the postseason. They are going to need their lineup to continually score 5+ runs per game and have their starters continue to perform well, with perhaps fewer of the duds Nathan Eovaldi put out there in game 2 of the Houston series, allowing 5 HRs in 1 inning. It’s unclear whether they will get support from James Paxton and Chris Sale this year and even if they do, when is an even bigger question mark. Perhaps we are seeing the page turn now and the Red Sox are ready to pull a Boston Celtics and emerge from the depths of despair to the sunshine of success, shocking everyone including me. I’m not holding my breath.

Are the Red Sox Giving Up on 2022?

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.

Way-Too-Early Overreaction for Red Sox

The first series of the year sets the tone for the season, sort of. It’s everyone’s first chance to see returning veterans, new free agent additions, and young talent getting their first taste of the big leagues. Everyone wants to put a ton of stock into the first series of the year (including me), but the Red Sox are notoriously meh early on. Last season, they got swept by the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park to open the year and they finished two wins from the World Series while the Orioles finished with 110 losses, 48 games back in the AL East. As a matter of fact, the Red Sox haven’t won an opening series since 2018 when they took 3/4 from the Tampa Bay Rays. All that aside, let’s join the masses and overreact to the first three games of the season.

Pitching Staff – B

Overall, while it wasn’t amazing, it wasn’t bad considering the opponent and location. The Red Sox staff allowed 13 runs in 27 innings against the Bronx bombers and mostly kept their offense away from big, runaway innings. In typical Yankees fashion, the majority of their runs came off the long ball and Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton mashed 4 combined in the series. Other than the length of starts, which is expected to be shorter this early in the season with a compressed Spring Training, the rotation gave them a chance to win every game. Nathan Eovaldi allowed 3 runs in 5 innings, Nick Pivetta allowed 4 runs in 5.2 innings, and Tanner Houck allowed 3 runs in 3.1 innings. On most nights when the Red Sox offense is humming, 4 or fewer runs from your starter will be enough to win if the bullpen can hold up.

The bullpen overall was very solid to start the season despite some early question marks heading into the year. In 13 innings pitched as a group, they allowed just 3 runs, only 1 earned while striking out 15. In the first month or two of the season, the bullpen takes on an even more important role and if they can get the type of contributions they’re getting from Matt Strahm, Kutter Crawford, and Hansel Robles, this team will have a real chance to compete for the division. Of that group, Crawford had the most action on the bases behind him, allowing 5 hits in 2 innings and 1 run, but was able to work out of jams. Despite taking the loss in his first appearance (and just 2nd appearance in the big leagues), he rebounded to get the win in Sunday’s finale.

The biggest story in the bullpen coming out of the series is Jake Diekman. When the signing happened in mid-March I thought it was a great move and he could be an important piece. The veteran had a rocky Spring Training and his appearance on opening day was not ideal (0.1 innings, 1 run, 1 BB), but was as clutch as can be on Sunday to secure the save and first win for the Red Sox. As a lefty, he faced righties Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton followed by Joey Gallo and struck out the side in a 1-run game in the Bronx. All three guys can absolutely crush the baseball and Judge and Stanton feast off of lefties to the tune of .274 with a HR every 12.5 at-bats and .291 with a HR every 12.1 at-bats respectively. Oh yeah, and not to be forgotten, even as a lefty, Gallo hits a HR every 13.2 at-bats against lefty pitchers. That’s an enormously impressive outing for Diekman and puts him in line to perhaps take on more closing duties if Matt Barnes can’t figure it out.

The last thing I’ll say about the pitching staff is that I was impressed with the staff’s ability to work out of jams. They gave up quite a few walks and hits to a potent lineup, but were able to strand 26 Yankees runners over 3 games. While I’d prefer fewer baserunners to begin with, that says a lot about the ability for these pitchers to step-up in clutch situations and make the big pitch. There will be a LOT of scenarios throughout the year where there are runners on and they need to limit the damage. So far, so good.

Offense – C-

It’s early and generally offenses take a bit to get going in cold weather climates, but the offensive performance this weekend left something to be desired. In each game, the Red Sox offense jumped on the starting pitcher for the Yankees in the first or second inning and hung a 2 or 3 on them. It was nice to see a strong start for the offense, but then it seemed like they would settle into a dormant stretch for innings at a time. I’ll give some credit where it’s due, the Yankees pitching staff made adjustments and was able to settle in as the game wore on, but the Red Sox offense didn’t exactly help themselves. There were quite a few short, low-quality at-bats in situations where working a pitchers pitch count would be hugely beneficial. They missed a lot of opportunities throughout the series, leaving 21 runners on base in 3 games and grounding into 4 double-plays. They relied a bit on the long-ball, scoring 5 of their 11 runs on HRs.

As I said in my season preview, if the offense can do what they did in 2021 and score 5+ runs per game, they will win most nights. In this series, they would have taken 2 out of 3 if they scored 5 runs in each game, the only loss would have been the 11-inning 6-5 loss in the opener. Instead, the team put up just 3.67 runs per game and fell short in 2 of 3. Like I said, it’s early and in the cold air in the northeast it can take a bit for bats to heat up, but I was hoping for just a little more from the offense in this opening series. If as a team they want to have success, they need to jump on pitchers like they have been early, but then keep applying the pressure. Getting a starter to throw 20+ pitches and give up a few runs in the first inning is great, but what crushes other teams is then forcing him to throw another 20+ in the second inning. Sustained pressure will make it extremely difficult for opposing pitchers to have success and will in turn force them into situations where mistakes happen and the opposing manager needs to dig into the bullpen earlier than expected.

The surprise bright spot early on is Alex Verdugo. It feels like he’s on a mission in 2022 to be the best player possible and has put in the work to get there. On top of a few really impressive defensive plays in left field, he’s hitting 5 for 11 (.455) to begin the season with a HR, 3 RBIs and 2 BBs. He’s locked in early and if he can sustain success throughout the season (obviously not at a .455 clip) then this lineup gets even more impressive and powerful than anticipated.

Defense – C+

A large investment this offseason was defense and so far its been just OK. The team came out of the gate with 2 errors on opening day, one for Nathan Eovaldi and one for Xander Bogaerts which was disappointing although neither from the new defensive additions. The other thing that frustrated me a bit, although completely explainable, was watching Christian Arroyo in right field on Sunday night. There were at least 2 plays that he couldn’t make that I think Jackie Bradley Jr. would have likely made that led to Yankees hits. While Jackie’s offense prohibits him from being in the lineup against the lefty starter, the defensive gap was glaring. The need for a 4th outfielder to round out the group that was talked about ad nauseum this offseason reared it’s head this weekend. While Arroyo is serviceable, a right-handed 4th outfielder to platoon with JBJ would have been useful.

On the positive end, Verdugo looked really solid in left with a few really nice diving plays and if his defense improves a bit over last year, that’s a bonus. I’m also excited about the addition of Trevor Story at second base, but we only saw him in 2 games due to a flu-like illness, so it’s a REALLY small sample size. Time will tell if the defense is really improved over 2021.

Are the Red Sox the ‘Surprise’ AL East Team?

As opening day is finally upon us, just slightly later than expected, it’s time to take a deeper look at the Boston Red Sox and the AL East landscape. For much of the shortened free agency period, it felt like the Red Sox were just taking a back seat while their AL East competitors improved, significantly in some cases. The Red Sox appeared to be content with their roster until on March 20th it was announced they had reached an agreement with SS/2B Trevor Story. The addition is a significant one and solidifies the shift to a focus on improved team defense this year, while also adding some nice pop to the lineup. Let’s take a look at the Red Sox, who I believe are closer to being competitive in the AL East than others believe.

Roster In:

OF Jackie Bradley Jr.

SS/2B Trevor Story (FA)

RP Jake Diekman (FA)

RP Matt Strahm (FA)

RP Tyler Danish (FA)

RP Kutter Crawford (From minors)

SP Michael Wacha (FA)

SP Rich Hill (FA)

SP James Paxton (FA – 60-day IL)

Roster Out:

OF Hunter Renfroe

UTIL Marwin Gonzalez

OF Danny Santana

SS Jose Iglesias

SP Eduardo Rodriguez

SP Garrett Richards

SP Martin Perez

RP Adam Ottavino

RP Matt Andriese

What stands out to me when looking at the roster ins and outs over this offseason is just how stable the Red Sox lineup remained. In terms of the lineup, their biggest weakness in 2021 was defense. As much as fans liked Hunter Renfroe with his burst of power and occasional diving play in center, by almost all metrics he was a terrible defender. He was so bad in fact, that despite leading the league with 16 OF assists, and hitting 31 HRs he was ranked 181st (2nd to last) in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) in 2021 with a 2.4 and was ranked 172nd in defensive WAR with a -0.5 (i.e. an average defensive player would have been better defensively than he was). The addition of Jackie Bradley Jr. is surely a step down in offense, but that downgrade is compensated for by stellar defense. Jackie has the 24th highest active WAR in baseball and has proven in his career that despite being an extremely streaky hitter, his defense is consistently excellent and he’s a strong baserunner when he can find a way to get on.

In order to not see an offensive drop-off and continue to see defensive improvement this season, Chaim Bloom took a bold stance and signed SS/2B Trevor Story to a large contract. The addition immediately improves the defense at 2nd base (Story was 12th in defensive WAR in 2021) and adds a nice pop to the lineup offensively, not to mention legitimate speed on the bases. Story is a career .272 hitter with 158 HRs and 100 SBs in his 6 seasons with the Colorado Rockies (745 games). Even if there is a slight dip in production leaving the thin air of Denver, which I highly doubt will be significant, Story is coming to play in an almost perfectly-configured-for-his-swing Fenway Park for 81 games a season. No matter how you slice it, the defense and lineup improved over 2021.

The concern, as with most years in recent memory, is the pitching staff for the Red Sox. Do they have enough arms? Can the starting pitching compete with the other AL East lineups? Will Chris Sale ever be Chris Sale again? What does the backend of the bullpen look like? And so on.

There were some notable departures this offseason that definitely left a bit of a hole in the rotation. Eduardo Rodriguez left for the Detroit Tigers in search of a change of scenery and despite my constant frustration with him, he occasionally had stretches of solid pitching for the Red Sox. The Red Sox lost some additional backend of the rotation depth in Martin Perez and with the injury to Chris Sale, the rotation looks mighty thin to begin the season. It’s shaping up to have Nathan Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta, Tanner Houck, Michael Wacha, and Rich Hill, with Garrett Whitlock in a multi-inning relief role or a rotation sub. Overall, Houck should be getting better in now his 2nd full season in the majors, Wacha is pretty similar to Martin Perez but with more upside and Rich Hill with his sub-4 career ERA as your #5 starter isn’t terrible. Not to mention that Chris Sale and James Paxton should be returning from injuries around mid-season. Call me naïve, but I think there is a potential for this rotation to be more than serviceable barring additional injuries with the offense this team puts out there each and every day. In general, this lineup should produce 5+ runs a game (5.12/game last season), so all you need from your pitching staff is to allow 5 or fewer runs and you’ll win most nights.

The other pitching area of concern is the bullpen. The absolute freefall of Matt Barnes last year became a glaring problem at the closer spot. Supposedly, he found a mechanical issue that is being corrected this spring and if that’s true and he returns to form, that solidifies the backend of the bullpen. Losing Adam Ottavino hurts, but the additions of Jake Diekman as a lefty and a more experienced Garrett Whitlock in a longer-relief role (for now), should be stable. Home grown Kutter Crawford (2017 Red Sox draft pick) has emerged in Spring Training and will have a shot in the majors after just a cup of coffee last year. The addition of free agents Tyler Danish and Matt Strahm are added to the returnees Josh Taylor, Ryan Brasier, Hirokazu Sawamura, Austin Davis and Phillips Valdez (to start the year). It’s hard to evaluate a bullpen without seeing them in action and in what roles they will be used, but I think the Red Sox have enough arms in the majors and AAA to mix-and-match a solid group. They have more lefty support than in the past and I believe Sawamura in his 2nd year with the Red Sox will be more comfortable and hopefully cut back on the walks while maintaining a 3ish ERA. He could become a high-leverage reliever for Alex Cora. I’m not sure as a group they are better than last year as of today, but I don’t think they got significantly worse.

Overall, I feel like the defense and lineup improved over 2021 while the starting rotation and bullpen still leave much to be desired. That being said, I genuinely believe there is enough talent in the pitching pool to match or potentially exceed last year’s production if you’re willing to be patient and wait for it all to settle out as the season wears on. There are some young arms (Houck, Whitlock, Crawford) who hopefully will take the next step in development this year and a few new veteran faces (Hill, Wacha, Diekman) to help them along. Yes, others in the league made splashy moves and got better, but I think the Red Sox methodically and somewhat under-the-radar got better (besides the splashy Story signing). They were 2 games from the World Series last year with a fairly similar roster, so there wasn’t the pressure for Bloom to blow it up and start over (like some other teams felt). He addressed the defense and 2nd base need and time will tell if his pitching additions were smart or a bust. If they turn out to be smart, I can’t rule out another nice playoff run in 2022. If they turn out to be busts, the offense will only carry this team so far and they may be fighting for the 3rd Wild Card come September.

AL East Prediction

  1. Toronto Blue Jays – 91-71
  2. Boston Red Sox – 88-74
  3. New York Yankees – 87-75
  4. Tampa Bay Rays – 86-76
  5. Baltimore Orioles – 60-102

Overall, I think this is finally the year the Blue Jays sit atop the AL East. They are stacked top-to-bottom and as long as they stay healthy, their offense can compete with anyone while their starting rotation continues to look daunting. I also believe that this is the season the Tampa Bay Rays fall back a bit. They have been overachieving for so long, eventually their small budget will begin to show and they will settle down in the division. Ultimately though, I think the top 4 in the division will be within 5-8 games of each other, so a win here or there in April or May could make the difference down the stretch. With a 3rd Wild Card this year, it could be a race for 3 or even 4 AL East teams to get into the playoffs. The only thing I know for certain? The Baltimore Orioles will be out of contention by the All-Star break (if not long before).

Red Sox Make Big Splash in Free Agency

After sitting back and watching everyone else in the division get better, the Red Sox jumped into the big-name free agent pool and made a big splash. The Red Sox signed SS Trevor Story to play 2B and instantly the defense and lineup improved. The righty was not the top free agent in a loaded infield class, but he’s a guy who will have an impact on day one and is locked in long term (6 or 7 years). This is by far the biggest contract Chaim Bloom has signed as Red Sox GM (by about $125 million) and it’s clear he felt this team needed a big bat and improved defense to be competitive this season. Here we go!

Story spent his whole career in Colorado, which can produce some odd home/road splits which will raise some eyebrows. The thin air allows the ball to travel further than other places, but there has been some research lately that the impact of the splits in Colorado is not as significant as it once was thought. Regardless of the impact of a thin air bump, Story has a ton of power and some speed. He is a career .272 hitter with 158 HRs and 100 stolen bases in 6 seasons. Last year was a bit of an off-year for him, with a lower average (.251), but he was still able to blast 24 HRs in 142 games. His swing should fit Fenway Park very well, with most of his power to left field. He definitely has opposite field power as well, but looking at his spray chart from last year tells the story. A shorter distance to the wall at Fenway should lead to a bump in extra base hits putting dents in the monster and homeruns onto Lansdowne St. Additionally, he now has a strong group of hitters around him in the lineup, so should get some better pitches to hit.

Chart from Baseball Savant

The one unknown is that Story has not played 2B in the majors in his career (and just a little in the minors), but as a talented defensive SS, he should be able to pick it up over time and settle in there. Fans should be prepared for some shaky moments early on considering it’s a fairly significant shift to change sides of the diamond and get comfortable with double play throws, especially with a super-compressed Spring Training and now an even shorter runway to get in defensive reps. That being said, once he settles in, the infield defense, especially range, will be significantly improved over a year ago.

The contract locks Story in for 6 years, with a 4th year opt-out, and a potential 7th year add-on. The 29 year old provides some insurance for if/when Xander Bogaerts decides to test free agency and potentially move on, but until then, the Red Sox may have the best infield in baseball. The defense up the middle is A+ (especially when you think of Jackie Bradley Jr. in center) and all 4 infielders (assuming Bobby Dalbec at 1B) can hit for power. This certainly makes the Red Sox lineup a lot more feared top to bottom and hopefully covers the pitching staff a bit if they aren’t quite as strong without a healthy Sale (or just in general).

Now that they have made the big lineup/defensive splash, it’s time for Bloom to bring in an outfielder to round out the offense and a starter to solidify the rotation. If he does that, this team might be in the playoff hunt, even with the new power throughout the AL East.

Sale’s Injury Puts the Red Sox in a World of Hurt

As Spring Training is back in full swing and players are working to get ready after a delayed start, news is flowing like fine wine. This player is looking good, this player won’t switch positions, this player is ready for a breakout. The one piece of news that no one wants to hear: this player has an injury. The news quickly spread on Wednesday morning that Chris Sale has a stress-fracture in his rib. The ace starter who is coming off of Tommy John surgery is now on the shelf again and will not be ready for opening day. That is not the news Red Sox fans wanted to hear.

The initial report is that the fracture has been healing and isn’t expected to be a long-term issue, but when Chaim Bloom says “We’re still trying to get a read on it. He’s doing much better than he was a week ago, but we have to get him rotating and throwing and then build him up. Again, we’re talking weeks, not days before he’s throwing again,” there is cause for concern. In an already shortened and compressed Spring Training, the loss of any time for a pitcher is significant, especially one who is going to need to build up his strength and stamina already coming off of major surgery. This isn’t an injury that will allow Sale to begin pitching, just with limited capacity, it’s going to prevent him from twisting and throwing, which is pretty important for a, oh I don’t know, pitcher.

The other component is the uncertainty of bone healing and timing. For some, a bone could heal fairly quickly and be back to 100% and for others it could take quite a bit of time to fully heal. As much as Bloom indicated it’s healing and moving in the right direction, I have serious concerns and hesitations when it comes to Sale’s ultimate return timeline. My gut is that we won’t see a full strength, up-to-speed Sale now until mid-season at the earliest, which is a massive concern as the Yankees and Blue Jays (especially) are stacking their lineups and improving significantly. The Red Sox have brought in some pitching depth this offseason so far, but with more games compressed in fewer days, losing a major piece of the rotation puts them at a large disadvantage.

Coming into the season I expected Sale to need time to build up and expected pitch and innings limits in April and perhaps the beginning of May, but now that timeline is pushed at least a month or (hopefully not) two. There is no doubt this is an early blow to the Red Sox rotation.