By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Senior Staff Writer
The Red Sox are in first place at the All-Star break for the first time since the 2013 season; which, of course, resulted in one of the flukiest World Series championships in decades. They have a true ace on their starting staff in Chris Sale, and David Price is starting to pitch like the Price team president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski paid through the nose for in December of ’15.
Even Drew Pomeranz is beginning to look like he isn’t the bust he appeared to be just six weeks ago; and Eduardo Rodriguez – who was pitching like a top of the rotation starter when his kneecap decided to pop out of place, yet again – is scheduled to return to the big-league mound next Monday against the Yankees.
Their outfield has two of the bright, young superstars in the making – Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi – sandwiching the best defensive center fielder in the game; Jackie Bradley Jr. Xander Bogaerts is still hitting for average, while becoming much better defensively, and Mitch Moreland has been more than anyone could have anticipated; playing more games against left handed pitching, than was in the plan entering the season.
Dustin Pedroia – despite openly dissing his manager and coaching staff by shouting to Manny Machado “it’s not me…it’s them,” after Matt Barnes threw a fastball behind his head in Baltimore in April – is still a defensive dynamo; his last error came on August 19th, last season; and he is still effective at the plate, even though his power at the plate is greatly diminished.
With all that being said, the sports fans of Boston should be chomping at the bit for the second half of the season to start, right?
Umm, not really.
Earlier this month, Red Sox president Sam Kennedy told the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo – aka, the house organ for the organization – that the TV ratings for the team are down 20 percent from last year.
For a team that has worried more about the television show than the performance of the team – chairman Tom Werner once famously told former manager Terry Francona that the team needed to “start winning in more exciting ways,” before the team shamed the best skipper they have had in a half century on his way out of the door – such a sag in ratings for a first-place team, must be gut wrenching.
The fact is, this Red Sox team is oftentimes about as exciting as cold white toast, with no butter or jam to be found. Call it the curse of Big Papi, or the lack of any kind of personality that comes across during game broadcasts; no matter what you point a finger at, this team is often boring to watch.
Once you get past Sale starts – he might not be Pedro Martinez appointment viewing television, but he is as close as anyone has come since the best Red Sox pitcher of my lifetime, packed his bags for New York and the Mets in ’04 – there is not much that compels you to stay glued to your set with this team.
Price is almost as bad as watching Daisuke Matsuzaka – whose pauses between deliveries often rivaled the time between bowel movements for the average human being – pitch; his deep breaths and shirt tugging is maddening. Pomeranz finds a way to cram 100-plus pitches into five innings unlike anyone in the game; and the lineup is full of singles and doubles hitters, that rarely ever are cause for delay for walks to the fridge for a snack or a beer.
Everyone knew that David Ortiz would be missed, but when his spot is taken by a tool-bag like Hanley Ramirez, it makes the loss hurt even more. To add insult to injury, Ramirez seemingly checked out for the All-Star break earlier than anyone else.
On Saturday afternoon – with struggling starter and current defending AL Cy Young award-winner Rick Porcello pitching perhaps his best game of the year – trailing 1-0 with the tying run on third base, and with the go-ahead run on second with one out; Hanley the Hound struck out on four pitches, in the biggest I-don’t-give-a-bleep at bat of the year.
He followed up that gutless display by making two base running gaffs that likely cost the Red Sox runs; they so desperately needed. The result was the club that came into the four-game set in Tampa on a roll, unexpectedly limping to the break; losing three of four to the suddenly surging Rays. Not to mention, giving life to a young team, whose pitching gives them a chance to win every night.
Sure, the Sox are in first place in the second week of July for the first time in four years. However, given the weakness of the division, and lack of power in their lineup; you have to question just how good they really are.
As constituted, they lack a bonafide star, they lack a personality as a club, and they are managed by a guy who seems not to have the respect of the leaders of his team. Even so, barring an unlikely collapse, the Red Sox will be playing meaningful games this October.
Nevertheless, based on the ratings and the lack of buzz surrounding this ball club; the question is, how many of those who have tuned out a first-place team at the All-Star break, will even care to take notice?
Follow on Twitter @KevinMFlanagan. Email at email@example.com.