Off the bat, I know that this sounds like a silly question, because as of September 2, the Red Sox find themselves only 2 games back behind the Blue Jays for the American League East. Additionally, they actually find themselves 2 games up in the Wild Card race, holding onto home field advantage for the one game playoff. Given the aforementioned facts coupled with the fact that the Sox have some of the best offense in all of baseball, it does seem counterintuitive to think that the Sox won’t make the playoffs. Boston ranks 1st in runs scored (724) in all of baseball, 1st in RBI (693), 1st in batting average (.285), 1st in OBP (.350), 1st in SLG (.467), and 1st in OPS (.817). In fact, the only major category in which the Sox don’t rank 1st is home runs, and they’re 10th in that column. So, how can an offensive juggernaut like they’ve been all season find themselves on the outside looking in? Well, there are a few problems.
Firstly, the bullpen has been largely abysmal for Boston this season. In fact, when referencing potentially calling up second baseman phenom Yoan Moncada, Buster Olney of ESPN joked, “but can he pitch?” There have been some bright spots within the pen, in the form of Brad Ziegler, but he’s not been without fault, nor has he made many appearances for Boston this season after coming over from Arizona. He’s appeared in 20 games this season (with Boston) posting a 1.88 ERA, over 19 innings. He’s been largely good, but spotty on occasion, as Ziegler has tended to be throughout his career. Other than that, there’s a black hole in the Red Sox bullpen, especially in the 8th inning. Everyone knows that in order to make it to the postseason, and especially to make a run in the postseason, every team needs a strong bullpen. Think Detroit Tigers as an example of a team faltering in the postseason because of a lackluster bullpen. Interestingly, Dave Dombrowski, who is the President of Baseball Operations within the Red Sox organization was also the President and CEO of the Tigers during those heavy offense, weak bullpen seasons in Detroit.
The Red Sox entire pitching staff hasn’t been too bad, though, picking up considerable contribution from Rick Porcello, and with the acquisition of Drew Promeranz from San Diego, he’s put up some decent contribution for the team, giving up no more than five runs in a start over his last six starts. Steven Wright who, surprisingly, has provided very large contributions, even being named an All-Star for the 2016 campaign. David Price, however, has been pretty disappointing after signing such a large contract with Boston in the offseason, to the tune of 7 year, $217 million. Price has posted a 3.97 ERA in 28 starts this season.
Perhaps an even more difficult obstacle for the Red Sox will be their schedule to close out the final month of the season. They finish the season with only 10 more home games, seven of which occur during a home stand in the middle of the month, and then three on the last few days of the season against Toronto. Most of their road games will also come against formidable opponents, including three in Toronto, four in Baltimore, and three in New York. The positive is that they’ll be playing, in part, against the team they’re chasing, the Blue Jays. But will they be able to beat Toronto with their bullpen that’s struggled so mightily; to make matters worse, the Blue Jays offense, while not as potent as Boston’s, is also one of the best in baseball. Moreover, the Sox are playing under .500 baseball against Toronto this season, if only barely, at 6-7. Meanwhile they’re .500 against the Orioles at 6-6.
The Red Sox have also suffered some setbacks in the injury department, including Pablo Sandoval who was injured in the first series of the season. Koji Uehara was also placed on the DL July 20 with a pectoral strain, but is expected to make a September return, but will he be ready to go? Also, Andrew Benintendi went down August 25 with a knee injury. Of course, Benintendi had only been up for 21 games, recording only 68 at-bats, and is more of a problem for the 2017 season.
The Red Sox do have a major positive in the form of the call up of Joan Moncada, who MLB.com and Baseball America have both ranked 1st in top MLB prospects. The Red Sox signed the Cuban infielder for a $31.5 million signing bonus, and is expected to contribute quickly for the Sox. A quick rise through the minor leagues sees Moncada as a late season call up just a few months after turning 21. In 177 at bats over 45 games, Moncada went .277/.379/.531, and an OPS of .910 with 11 home runs and 28 RBI at AA Portland. Moncada also shows off pretty decent speed, stealing 45 bases over 106 games with Salem and Portland. We’ll see if he’ll make his debut tonight, September 2, at Oakland. Additionally, and time will tell if he’ll be effective, Joe Kelly received the call back up to the majors. Kelly posted a 7.62 ERA in 9 games over 26 innings pitched.
The Red Sox sit in a good position to make the playoffs as it stands right now, but they needed to provide themselves with a strong cushion going into the final month of the season, but they failed to do so. Now it’ll take a strong effort from the team for the rest of the year in order to make the playoffs.
(Photo: Charles Krupa, AP/Boston.com)