By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Senior Staff Writer
Prior to the start of spring training in February, the Red Sox and Cubs were tied with 9/2 odds as favorites to win the World Series. Almost a month and a half into the season, both teams are hovering around .500 and sitting in third place in their respective divisions; although the Cubs are only a game and a half out of the top spot, while the Red Sox are five games behind the now hated Baltimore Orioles.
There have been few bright spots to point to for the Sox – other than Chris Sale’s dominance and Andrew Benintendi’s rapid ascent to stardom – and the young players whom they were counting on to propel them to the post-season – Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr., to name a few – have not delivered on the level many of the prognosticators believed they would.
Add injuries to vital members of the pitching staff – likely the number two starter when healthy David Price, and critical bullpen arms in Tyler Thornburg and the still recovering from Tommy John surgery Carson Smith – and what you have is a mediocre ball club, playing mediocre baseball.
Sure, the defending American League East champs didn’t exactly light it up last April, going 14-10 with some hiccups along the way – including Price’s rocky start in Boston – but once the calendar flipped to May; they were en fuego, posting an 18-10 record and scoring a scary 182 runs. And, oh yeah, they had David Ortiz on his way to an epic final season (.315/38/127), and Betts playing at an MVP level; although he lost out to the Angels Mike Trout for reasons yet to be explained.
After Sale and Rick Porcello, their rotation is basically a crap shoot; with Eduardo Rodriguez still every bit of a mystery man as he is an intrigue, Drew Pomeranz looking like a DL stint waiting to happen, and Kyle Kendrick currently playing the role of John “Way Back” Wasdin.
A few things need to happen if the Red Sox are going to fulfill live up to the lofty level they were expected to attain before – to steal a silly John Farrell-ism – balls were put in flight for real. The first is they need to get healthy. If Price’s arm doesn’t fall off, and he can return to being a decent percentage of himself before he came to Boston, that will definitely bolster the rotation.
And if Thornburg and Smith can effectively pitch at the back end of the bullpen, the rest of the misplaced arms like Heath Hembree and Matt Barnes can move back into their situational/mid-innings role; and thereby strengthen what on paper should be a really good bullpen.
In addition, the young superstars in the making have to play to their potential. Betts had a bit of a breakout game in the 11-7 loss to the Brewers Tuesday night, going 4 for 4, with a home run and two doubles. Over the past week, he has begun to show signs he is ready to pick up where he left off last season, hitting .385 with four doubles and two homers, while driving in five runs.
Bogaerts has picked it up a bit as well over the last seven days, hitting three of his five doubles he has on the season, while picking up a triple also. However, his lack of power – he has yet to hit a home run this year – has to be a concern for the Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski; who will have to decide whether an average fielding/singles hitting shortstop is going to be worth the money he will be making in arbitration over the next three seasons.
If anyone can figure out what Bradley is, please feel free to share with the crowd. Everyone knows he is as about as slick as you can get with a glove, but his streakiness at the plate is maddening – and there has been only bad streaks this season – and at 27 years of age, the word “potential” should not be part of the conversation where he is concerned.
One has to wonder, with Benintendi – who is a natural centerfielder – representing only a slight drop-off on defense, and light-years ahead of JBJ at the plate; if the Sox wouldn’t be better served having Steve Selsky share time in left with Chris Young in leftfield, and making Jackie available as trade bait to fill the black hole that is third base for the Red Sox.
There are still four and a half months of baseball to be played, but that being said, if things don’t begin to change for what seems to be an underachieving ball club; the grand predictions of a World Series featuring the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs, might just be the work of fiction it has been for over a century.