Don’t look now, but the Boston Red Sox, who won a World Series seven months ago, are teetering close to .500 with two full months of play in the rearview mirror.
The big picture: The Red Sox sit third in the American League East. They trail both the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays. If the postseason started today — which, of course, it doesn’t — the Red Sox would be forced to play a game 163 with the Texas Rangers for a chance to play in the American League Wild Card game.
For all intents and purposes, baseball’s reigning champions are on the outside looking in. The question is: why?
About that division: The gauntlet that comes with playing in the American League East is doing the Red Sox no favors. The Sox didn’t do themselves any favors in their horrid month of April, a month of play so bad it caused home fans to “boo.”
- Yankees: New York, of course, is Boston’s No. 1 rival, and the Yankees sure are playing like it. The Sox have lost nine of their last 12 games against the Yankees, including three of four that they’ve played this year. The Yankees, meanwhile, are on fire.
- Rays: Tampa Bay has cooled off slightly after sprinting to baseball’s best record in April, but they’ve remained a thorn in Boston’s side. The Sox have dropped each of their last two against the Rays after stealing a series in Tampa back in April.
- Divisional: After dropping the first two of a three-game set against New York, the Red Sox sit 13-13 in games against their AL East opponents. So far, they’ve been a rather average team playing rather average ball within their division.
Rotational woes: For much of the season — particularly early on — the Red Sox have been plagued by a starting rotation that has ranged from inconsistent to unbearable. Much of the unit’s struggles have been accented by injuries, too. Boston’s rotation’s ERA sits at 4.60 on the season thus far, good for just 19th in the MLB.
- Price is okay: David Price has been one of Boston’s best pitchers this year when he’s healthy, but his health has been the issue. The team put Price on the IL on May 6 and activated May 20, but the southpaw left a recent start after just 15 pitches. Thankfully he is coming around now.
- Injured Evoldi: Nathan Evoldi, who pitched to the tune of a 3.83 ERA a season ago, is missing significant time this season after undergoing elbow surgery. In limited action this year, Evoldi’s ERA had ballooned to 6.00.
- Runs for Sale: Chris Sale has been Boston’s best pitcher this year, but that isn’t necessarily saying much. Sale’s ERA reads 3.84 now, a serviceable mark, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. In his first six starts this season, Sale recorded an 0-5 record with 6.30 ERA.
- Not quite Wright: After putting together a career-stretch run in the latter half of 2018, righthander Steven Wright got hit with an 80-game suspension this offseason for PEDs. The former All-Star has been dearly missed in Boston’s pitching staff.
Closing by committee: Craig Kimbrel is now with the Chicago Cubs. He saved 42 games for the Sox last season and helped Boston clinch its first World Series title since 2013. But he wanted too much money for Boston’s liking. His replacements have been a mess.
- The committee: As a whole, Boston’s bullpen has been a solid unit. But in save situations, a committee of part-time closers that includes Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes, among others, has blown five saves on the year.
- Brasier: Like the unit as a whole, Brasier has been good this season, pitching to the tune of a 3.86 ERA. His last 15 games have told a different story, though, as Brasier has a 6.08 over that stretch. Brasier leads Boston with six saves, though he’s blown three attempts.
- Barnes: Make no mistake: Barnes has been a good pitcher for the Sox. Until he’s put into a save situation. The righty owns a 3.28 ERA in 24.2 innings pitched and by most accounts has been dominant, but he’s blown three of his seven save opportunities. Closing games at a 57 percent clip is a good way to lose them.
Final thoughts: Boston’s roster is too talented to have paced to such an average record. We know that. they know that. Even MLB executives know that. But so far, that’s what they are — an average team.
Still, the season has yet to reach the midway point, and as long as the Red Sox are still meddling a few games over .500 near the All-Star break — even playing in the relentless AL East — they should have the talent, wherewithal and luck to make a postseason run this fall.