There have been plenty of reasons to doubt the 2017 Boston Red Sox. But you can’t argue with results, and it’s hard not to like where the club stands as of Monday.
The Red Sox sit atop the American League East heading into the All-Star break, a full 3 1/2 games ahead of the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays. Despite losing four of its last five games, Boston boasts a 50-39 record, the first time it has reached the 50-win plateau by All-Star week since 2013.
That’s a pretty impressive achievement, considering the Red Sox sat at an even .500 on May 20. Since that day, they’ve gone 29-18 during a stretch that’s included two separate six-game winning streaks.
As we mentioned, though, there have been plenty of bumps along the way, from injuries to key members of the rotation to a serious lack of production at third base. So, what to make of the 2017 Sox? With baseball’s unofficial midway point upon us, let’s break out those Scantrons and grade Boston’s first half on a position-by-position basis.
Starting Rotation: B-
It’s been a roller coaster for this staff so far. David Price and Eduardo Rodriguez have spent extended time on the disabled list, while five different hurlers have started in the No. 5 spot. But things are starting to smooth out. Chris Sale has been a force, while Drew Pomeranz (9-4, 3.60 ERA) quietly is putting together a strong season. Rick Porcello has underachieved but is coming off his best start of 2017. If Rodriguez returns soon and this staff stays healthy, it could hold its own down the stretch.
How’s this for dominance: Closer Craig Kimbrel has faced 134 batters this season and struck out more than half of them (68). The rest of Boston’s relievers have been pretty strong, too (Sunday afternoon aside), as the club’s 3.08 bullpen ERA ranks third in baseball. Injuries to Tyler Thornburg and Carson Smith mean there isn’t much depth here, but so far, the relief unit hasn’t cost the Red Sox too many games in the grand scheme of things. (Again, Sunday aside).
You didn’t expect Christian Vazquez to hit .350 all season, did you? Vazquez has regressed to the mean over the last few months, taking a .267 batting average into the break. But as far as catchers go, he and Sandy Leon have been serviceable enough at the plate to complement their above-average defense — the tandem has combined to throw out 21 runners in 60 attempts, a solid 35-percent clip.
First base: B
It’s a good thing the Red Sox picked up Mitch Moreland this offseason. With Hanley Ramirez unable to play the field due to various ailments, Moreland has been solid as Boston’s everyday first baseman, driving in 41 runs through 82 games played. Triple-A call-up Sam Travis has shown signs he can produce at the big league level, so the Red Sox might go to him more in the second half to lighten Moreland’s workload.
Second base: A-
Dustin Pedroia never ceases to amaze. Despite fighting through yet another hand injury, the 33-year-old sports a team-high .303 batting average and hasn’t made an error since Aug. 19 of last year. With 41 RBIs through 71 games, he’s also on pace to reach his highest RBI total since 2013.
Xander Bogaerts’ offensive numbers are almost identical to that of Pedroia — .303 batting average, 41 RBIs and six home runs to Pedroia’s four. That’s a fine first half, but Bogaerts, who smacked 21 dingers and hit 89 RBIs last season, should be providing a lot more pop than his diminutive second baseman. The Red Sox need more power, and that starts with Bogaerts finding his home run swing again.
Third base: F
No sugarcoating here: Third base has been an unmitigated disaster for Boston. Pablo Sandoval, the team’s Opening Day starter, hasn’t played since June 19. Marco Hernandez is done for the season, Brock Holt’s return is unclear due to a bout with vertigo, and Deven Marrero, while providing solid defense, is hitting .225. Obscure call-up Tzu-Wei Lin has held his own over the last few weeks, but this team needs serious help at the hot corner.
Designated hitter: B-
Hanley Ramirez has jolted the Sox with occasional power surges, but he still hasn’t found the consistency that helped him rack up 30 homers and 111 RBIs last campaign. Ramirez did much of his damage late in the season last year, so the book isn’t closed yet. As of now, though, the veteran’s switch to DH hasn’t corresponded to a more potent bat.
The Red Sox have 402 RBIs on the season. Boston’s three starting outfielders — Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts — have accounted for 35 percent (142) of them. Betts is back in the All-Star Game after recovering from a slow start, while Benintendi has found his groove at the plate and has made serious strides defensively. Even the streaky Bradley is becoming more consistent at the plate while providing continuously stellar defense. Outfield is the least of this team’s worries.
Give John Farrell’s club credit where credit is due. Things looked pretty bleak for the Red Sox back in May, but they’ve weathered the storm of injuries and inconsistency to take a definitive AL East lead. On paper, this team has the talent to be among the best in baseball, and it finally started to realize that potential as the calendar turned to summer. While there still are flaws that need to be addressed if Boston wants to hold off the Rays and Yankees down the stretch, this team is in a fine position at the season’s midpoint.
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images