The 2017 Boston Red Sox are not a World Series contender. There. Take that in. Breath it and accept it. A robust and at times dominant rotation is not enough to make up for an offense that lacks
the pop and the ability to consistently put together the at-bats necessary to generate postseason success. Nor do they have the ownership commitment to fix the problem this season, leaving this team in a holding pattern of pray and play.
First, let’s talk the good. The pitching staff is very good. Maybe the best in the league. However, as the calendar turns to August you wonder if the strain will take its toll. A rotation of Sale, Price, Porcello, Pomeranz, and Eduardo Rodriguez is as good of a top five as there is in the game. Not much needs to be said about what Sale brings to the table, as he has been worth every penny and asset given up to acquire him. Price is a very good pitcher, albeit a tad inconsistent who will keep you in most games and at times dominate. Porcello looks more like the pitcher he really is this season than the fluky Cy-Young winning season of yester-year due to his propensity to give up the longball and give up hits galore without a dominating out pitch. Pomeranz has been a pleasant surprise who is outpitching what he actually brings to the table (in much of the same way Porcello did last season) and a regression is likely to be expected. Eduardo is the wild card, who has the stuff to be the #3 starter on this team—but due to what may be some growing pains and injuries, does not seem to have the consistency to be that guy. But that starting rotation can stack up to ANYONE in the game.
The bullpen has also been a pleasant surprise. What can feel most times like a drunken game of Jenga, has worked in the sox favor more times than not. Kimbrel has been better than what could have been hoped for and with the starters pitching the most innings of any team in the AL, the burden has not stressed the bullpen to the point it has in years past.
So what’s the problem? The obvious answer is David Ortiz. They really miss his thunder and presence in the middle of the lineup. But that’s too simple and cannot alone count for nearly a full run dip in production per game. That may not seem like a lot, but that is HUGE over the course of a baseball season. The biggest culprit is the lack of the longball. The Sox have 99 HRs hit as a team as of July 24th . Or, only three times what Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton have hit by THEMSELVES. That number is bad enough to rank last in the American League, while playing half their games in one of the most hitter friendly parks in baseball. Last season, they hit 208 regular season HRs, finishing in the upper third of baseball. With Ortiz’s numbers stretched out over a 162-game average, they could have expected a home run every 4.2 games from him. This season, his “replacement” Mitch Moreland is averaging to hit one every 8.4 games. Again, a number that may not seem huge, but extrapolated over a whole season is an enormous difference. But this is not a hate on Mitch Moreland post, as no one expected him to replace that kind of production.
The blame lies squarely with the front office of the team. There was more than a year to prepare for the departure of St. David. The Sox brass assumed that the growth shown last season by some young players were not flukes and were signs that they, in part, could replace that production. There was also a glimmer of hope that a trimmed down Pablo Sandoval may be able to do what they thought he could do. Oh boy, have they been wrong. With potential fixes like Edwin Encarnacion (whom Papi personally vouched for) or even old friend Mike Napoli hanging out on the open market for a long period of time one would think there would be an attempt to pursue them. Wrong. Despite Encarnacion ending up at 20 million a season (well below market value for him) and Napoli costing the rangers a bargain 8.5 million (while currently bashing 21 HRs this season) the front office did not pursue either. Are you telling me Napoli, on a 1 year, 9 million dollar deal would not add more value to this team? Instead, they rushed out early during the winter meetings to pay Moreland 5.5 million, instead of seeing how the market developed. They went run prevention rather than run production, which has never worked in this team’s entire history.
The young players have not developed as hoped. Jackie’s .268 average and occasional pop is probably all you can expect from him. Xander is not a power hitter and doesn’t seem to really possess the kind of swing that generates power. In addition I think the pressure to produce such is dragging his performance down. Mookie is still having a very good year, just not the MVP-caliber of last season (although most of his peripherals are the same). Benintendi is having a very good rookie season, simply overshadowed by the lofty and unrealistic expectations put on him and the emergence of Aaron Judge; who has completely run away with the rookie of the year race. Then there’s the bottom of the order. The automatic out that 3B has been (hopefully to be rectified a bit with Devers coming up) and the blackhole that the catcher position is has not done any part at all in helping the offense. It’s not the hit totals, it’s the lack of extra base hits that have really plagued the team. But look around the American League. The Yankees, Rays, Indians, and Astros (the other 4 likely playoff teams) have a much more balanced and powerful lineup. There are no guaranteed outs where the pitcher can take a breath against them. Meanwhile, if you run out a lineup against lefties at the bottom of the order you are looking at a Bradley, Leon/Vazquez, Marrero bottom three. Yikes.
We can sit here and be upset (as I often am) at Xander Bogaerts for not developing more power, having one of the laziest swings I’ve ever seen and being a below average defensive shortstop. We can blame John Farrell who would not rank in the top 20 of major league managers in overall game management. We can even get upset at David Price for being a distraction and not pitching up to his 30 million/yr contract in the eyes of most. But the fault lies with the front office. This is going to sound like bit of sour grapes from a partial season ticket holder; but what we have for the 2017 season is a Red Sox ownership group that went cheap this offseason. All while raising the highest ticket prices in baseball…again. They remain about 8 million shy of the luxury tax threshold, which would require them to pay an additional tax to Major League Baseball. In my opinion, I don’t believe ownership has given the okay for Dombrowski to go over that luxury tax barrier, even if it means winning the world series. I mean how could the fans complain? We’ve won three since 2004. But these aren’t your father’s sox who were underdogs in a constant chase to end a curse and bring joy to an area devoid of consistent professional success. We are in an era where a team they purchased for $660 million is now worth an estimated $2.1 billion according to a 2015 Forbes report. They also own Liverpool FC in England which is among the most profitable in the soccer world in addition to NESN. Crying poor does not work. If you’re going to pinch pennies (in this sense) over about 8 million dollars, then sell the damn team and get someone in here who is less concerned about a few million and more concerned about winning championships.
And I will leave Red Sox fans with this. The 2017 season is likely to get worse. One of the flukiest stats in all of baseball is one run and extra-inning games. While winning 93 last season, they were 20-24 in one run games and 7-4 in extra innings. This season they are already on a better pace at 13-11 in one run games and 8-2 in extra innings. Combine the obvious regression to the mean with Farrell’s well documented game management struggles and I think this is a team that likely struggles from here on out. I don’t think the offense will continue to be shut out at the same clip—but to expect Chris Sale’s historic pace, Pomeranz’s best Kershaw impression, and a lights-out bullpen that is really anything but aside from Kimbrel to stay the course is highly unlikely. Regression is coming. But don’t worry, Sweet Caroline will still play between the 8th , so the pink hats will be happy. The money will continue to print for the owners and they will save a couple extra bucks, all while pointing the finger anywhere but at themselves for wasting the 2017 season that could have been.