By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
The 54th game of the Red Sox’ 2018 season fell precisely on Memorial Day, which always has been a milepost in the baseball season. Fifty-four games is precisely one third of the way through. Memorial Day is a time to take stock. And so, as the Red Sox conclude Phase 1 and prepare to begin Phase 2, the question seems logical.
What, exactly, do we have here?
“It’s just us now,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora mused to reporters yesterday, when the Red Sox beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 8-3, to improve to 37-17. “I guess the season starts today.”
Or the real season, anyway.
First, the math. The Red Sox are on a pace to finish the season with 111 victories. They rank second in baseball to the Houston Astros (plus-126) with a run differential of plus-82. They rank second in the American League in overall ERA (3.58), fourth in starters’ ERA (3.84) and second in bullpen ERA (2.91). Offensively, only the New York Yankees (288) have scored more runs than the Red Sox (287).
So everything is awesome, right?
Three things worth watching:
1. The bullpen. Obvious, right? President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski keeps telling us that he believes in the bullpen, but we all know better. Overall, the Red Sox rank seventh in the league with a 3.78 bullpen ERA beginning in the eighth inning, which isn’t awful. But is it good enough to win against Houston and New York, on the road, in October? Probably not.
One thing to keep an eye on: bullpen losses. The Sox currently are tied for the second-fewest in the AL with six, which is a great sign. But Sox relievers had two losses and a blown save in the three-game series at New York earlier this month. And as we all know, it’s one thing to close out a game against bad a teams at home, and another thing entirely to do it at Yankee Stadium.
2. The starting pitching. Um, what? Yes, the starting pitching. And here’s why: For all the money and resources the Sox have poured into their rotation, it should be better than it is. David Price has a 5.21 ERA in his last nine starts and lasted only five innings yesterday. Drew Pomeranz (6.75 ERA) hasn’t been good all year. Rick Porcello has come crashing back to earth and has a 7.29 ERA in his last four starts. Eduardo Rodriguez still throws way too many pitches and struggles with inconsistency.
Remember: the biggest reason the Red Sox have gone belly-up the last two Octobers is their rotation. It hasn’t been good enough. None of the starters have ever won a postseason game as a starting pitcher. Between now and July 31, one of them has to go on the kind of run that inspires enough confidence to forgo the trading deadline. Look for whoever fails (Pomeranz? Price?) to end up as a potential bullpen option.
3. The lineup, minus Hanley Ramirez. Look at it this way: worst case, the Red Sox have upgraded from Hanley Ramirez to J.D. Martinez, who is on pace for 51 home runs and 132 RBI for the same average annual salary ($22 million) that the Red Sox gave Hanley after the 2014 season. Martinez has made an enormous difference in the lineup and we all know it. The problem? So does everyone else.
When the Red Sox were at the height of the Theo Epstein Era, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez were stacked in the middle of the lineup. As such, it was impossible to pitch around both. Say what you will about Hanley, but he has a career .380 average in the postseason and he is, in a word, dangerous. Does Mitch Moreland really produce the same kind of effect? Of course not.
Don’t look now, but Xander Bogaerts has cooled off, batting just .192 in his last 14 games. What the Red Sox have right now is good enough to beat most teams. But is it good enough to win in October against New York and Houston? Time will tell.