Simply put, the Red Sox are doing fantastic. At the All-Star break, Boston (68-30) has the best record in baseball… they are currently on pace for 112 wins. Anything and everything you could have asked for out of this squad, they have delivered.
As the season began, I wrote about five players I believed would dictate the course of the season. Now that we are at the mid-season point (not halfway, for those keeping track at home), I will go back and see how I did.
“Expect nothing less than a Cy Young-caliber season from Chris Sale in 2018. Anything less should cause concern.”
For those that just watched on Wednesday, you’ll remember who the starting pitcher was for the American League All-Star team: Chris Sale. Sale started for the junior circuit for the third consecutive year. At 10-4, Chris Sale has been consistent… which for him, means a Cy Young-caliber season. His ERA (2.23) is first in the AL (second in the MLB), his 188 strikeouts are first in the MLB, and his WHIP (0.899) is 2nd in the AL (third in the MLB). Needless to say, Sale has been exactly what the Sox wanted when they traded for him in the 2016 offseason, and he has not taken his foot off of the throttle. At this rate, Sale is on pace to strikeout 300 batters for a second consecutive season, and should be in contention for the Cy Young, per usual.
No need to be concerned.
“If you’re quiet, put up Cy Young numbers (as Price had done prior to arriving in Boston), and do your job, the media will be fine with you. If not, you face scrutiny.”
David Price continues to be an enigma to me. At 10-6, he’s winning games, but his ERA is above 4 (4.42), something that occurred for most of 2016 as well. He is being saved by the best offense in baseball most nights, but I would prefer that someone being paid over $30 million per season let up just a few runs per game.
I would not sound the alarm yet, because Price (as was the case in 2016) typically performs better in the second half (see: David Price’s career as a Toronto Blue Jay). Chris Sale lightens the burden on Price… but still, Price is still having trouble with the media.
It would naive of me not to talk about the continuing battle Price has had with the Boston media. Simply put: he hates them, and they do not like him. Earlier this season, Price was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome… an injury which people speculated might be due to playing Fortnite. This was a way for the media to further attack Price, but to me, it seems as though he gives them the opportunity to do so. Chris Sale does not have this issue with the media. As we saw with Joe Kelly, plunking a Yankee can do wonders with the press. Yet Price always seems to shy away from the competition of pitching well (or at all) against the Yankees (or so it seems).
We know what Price can be, and he is not having a bad season. I expect a strong second half, and at least 16 wins (his career average)… but unless he takes it upon himself to stop giving the media reasons to pick on him, they will continue to feed off of his insecurities of being a star player in a big media market… for his sake, I hope it stops.
“Expect a rebound season from Bogaerts. Anything less will be the writing on the wall for an end to his time in Boston.”
Shout-out to JD Martinez for this one (and to my step-dad, who bring it up once a week when talking about Bogaerts). The secret to Bogaerts getting his swagger back this year: launch angle. As the story goes, in 2017 Xander Bogaerts and JD Martinez both hits the ball with very similar exit velocities; problem was, Martinez had a launch angle above 15 degrees, as opposed to Bogaerts, who’s was 8.2 degrees. Simply put: Bogaerts was not hitting the ball in the air.
The mission has been to change that, and it seems to be working. Bogaerts started the season on FIRE before finding his way to the DL in April, but he is now back. His OPS is .889 (a career high, also considered very good according to Bill James). His 16 homeruns and 64 RBIs have already surpassed his total for last season (having done so in 79 games played; he played in 148 games last season). He has hit three grand slams, and is on pace to have a career year across the board.
This offseason, I was completely willing to trade Bogaerts for Manny Machado. I was under the impression that if Bogaerts was going to be the player of late 2016 and all of 2017, one season of Machado (FA in 2018) was worth two seasons of Bogaerts (FA in 2019). Go all-in with Machado, see what happens, and let him walk.
I was wrong. Machado is obviously an immense talent, but Bogaerts is having a good season of his own. If Bogaerts did not get hurt in April, he may have had a similar number of homeruns as Machado (Manny simply gets on base and slugs an elite level, a tier above Xander). Xander has shown he is still a great offensive player, and has squashed any doubts I had of him entering the season. I do not think we will re-sign him in the 2019 offseason (he’ll command a HUGE contract), but I believe he will be a big part of the team for the remainder of this season, and next year as well.
“On a per season basis, [David] Ortiz was a monster hitter, who you could expect to hit more than 30 home runs, have an elite OPS (.956 during his career with the Red Sox) … As long as Martinez can replicate those…things, he will be fine.”
Through 98 games (92 of which Martinez has played in), here are his stats: 29 homeruns, 80 RBIs, .328 BA, 1.037 OPS, 4.6 WAR (offense; 4.4 overall). He leads baseball in homeruns and RBIs, his BA is third in all of baseball (Mookie is first at .359), his OPS is third in all of baseball (Mookie is first at 1.139), and his offensive WAR is 6th in baseball (Mookie is second at 5.6; Trout is first at 6.3).
With the job of replicating the production of David Ortiz, JD Martinez has passed that test with flying colors. His numbers should warrant MVP consideration (although he’ll be fighting with teammate Mookie Betts for those honors), and it should be acknowledged how much of a steal he was this offseason; signing an MVP for an average annual salary of $25 million is a bargain, and with the Sox being the only team truly desiring his services, the rest of baseball missed out.
I will admit, I did not expect THIS for Martinez, but I was wrong. I have learned just how meticulous JD is regarding his craft, and it is a process I respect. Those that eat, sleep, and breathe their profession deserve to reap the rewards, and Martinez, who was RELEASED by the Astros just over 4 years ago, deserves all of this. He takes no shortcuts, worked hard to get to this level when it seemed like he’d be nothing more than a journeyman, and is now a top 5 hitter in the game… it is a story that actually reminds me a lot of David Ortiz, who did not start performing like a star until he joined the Sox at 26 (when Martinez joined Detroit at the age of 26, his career began to improve drastically).
I expect more of the same out of JD in the second half, and I am thankful he is in Boston.
“I’m under the belief a huge issue with the Red Sox last year was the culture… A new face may be the answer.”
Just to put things into perspective about Alex Cora’s managerial career with the Boston Red Sox thus far: at 68 wins, he only needs two more (which he will most likely get this month) to surpass the win total of Bobby Valentine’s one season managing the team. Things are going good.
As I hoped for, the offense has redeemed itself; Mookie is putting up MVP-caliber numbers, JD Martinez is filling the hole David Ortiz left following his retirement in 2016, and five starting players on the team have an OPS above .833 (which is above-average). The starting staff has held its own, with Eduardo Rodriguez having an impressive season by his standards (he always had the potential) at 11-3 with a 3.44 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. Porcello, with run support, is at 11-4 (2016-like numbers). The bullpen has holes, but Kimbrel has been dominant.
I say all of this because coming into the season, it was apparent the Red Sox had all the talent in the world to succeed. Winning 93 games two seasons in a row made that obvious, and the only two things that changed were the addition of Martinez (which, as I discussed, has helped IMMENSLY) and the manager. But with a team on pace for 112 wins, and having won 93 games two years in a row, it is not Martinez who is adding 19 wins (although his WAR is 4.4)… something has changed…
It was joked about during spring training, but there is a completely different atmosphere with this group. Players are having fun, enjoying what they do, and the results are showing. For those hockey fans reading, you’ll remember after the Bruins fired longtime coach Claude Julien, the team went on a huge winning streak; the new culture transitioned into the following season, with the B’s bringing back most of the same group (and some rookies), ending the year with 112 points, only one point behind Tampa Bay for the best point total in the Eastern Conference.
Sometimes changing the coach is all the motivation you need, and right now, it seems to be the case for this group.
All statistics provided by Baseball-Reference
By: Nick Collins
Follow him on Twitter (@Nick_Collins14)