Red Sox Quarter-Season Report Card: Grading Boston’s Tumultuous Start To 2017

by NESN Staff

May 22, 2017

Believe it or not, the Boston Red Sox already are more than a quarter of the way through their 2017 season. But the phrase “time flies when you’re having fun” doesn’t exactly apply to this group.

That’s because the Red Sox, pegged by some experts as potential World Series contenders, entered Monday third out of five teams in the American League East, a hair above .500 at 22-21.

Needless to say, it’s been a turbulent start to the season for Boston. The Sox already have endured a nasty flu outbreak and injuries to several key contributors — notably starting pitcher David Price, third baseman Pablo Sandoval, reliever Tyler Thornburg and knuckleballer Steven Wright, who is lost for the season. The utter brilliance of new hurler Chris Sale and solid play of first baseman Mitch Moreland have been overshadowed by a lineup lacking power and a rotation lacking consistency.

The good news for Red Sox fans: There’s a whole lot of baseball left. Despite all of their struggles, the Sox sit just four games out of first place in the AL East with more than four full months left in the regular season.

But until those contests come, let’s grade where Boston stands at each position through 43 games.

Starting Rotation: C
We’ll give you one reason why this grade isn’t lower: Chris Sale. The left-hander has been historically dominant through his first nine starts for Boston, boasting a 2.19 ERA and a major league-best 95 strikeouts. Eduardo Rodriguez also has been a pleasant surprise, stringing together a stretch of six consecutive quality starts while stepping up in the No. 3 spot in the rotation.

Outside of those two, it’s ugly. Rick Porcello has regressed from his Cy Young campaign, while Drew Pomeranz has lasted six full innings in just two of his eight appearances. The fifth spot vacated by Wright has been a revolving door of mediocrity featuring no-names like Kyle Kendrick to Hector Velazquez. Boston could really use a boost from the return of Price.

Bullpen: C+
Once again, you can thank one player for boosting this mark. Craig Kimbrel has been absolutely nails in the closer role, converting 12 of 13 save opportunities while striking out 36 batters in 19 2/3 innings. It’s been pretty rough sailing in the rest of Boston’s bullpen, though. Joe Kelly has been decent, but setup men Matt Barnes and Heath Hembree have been very inconsistent, leaving manager John Farrell few effective options with Thornburg and Carson Smith on the shelf.

Catcher: B+
One of the stranger developments of the season to date has been the play of Christian Vazquez. The Red Sox catcher used a hot bat to unseat Sandy Leon for the starting job, but his usually stellar fielding has gotten worse, as the 26-year-old already has committed four errors in 23 games. Still, Boston will take a .329 batting average from its starting catcher in a heartbeat, and the defense shouldn’t be a long-term issue.

First Base: B
The Hanley Ramirez first base experiment was derailed by the veteran’s ailing shoulder, but Moreland has stepped into the fold as a solid everyday contributor. The 31-year-old has started all but two games at first base this season, and while his .250 average is nothing to sneeze at, he’s tied for the major league lead with 16 doubles and has displayed solid pop in a lineup that could use more of it.

Second Base: B+
Dustin Pedroia has been his usual reliable, productive self. The 33-year-old sports a .288 batting average through 39 games played and has played excellent, error-free defense at second base. The power numbers are low — just two home runs and 16 RBIs — but Pedroia is the least of this team’s problems.

Shortstop: B+
Xander Bogaerts has been one of Boston’s most consistent hitters, ranking seventh in the American League as of Monday with a .320 batting average, and boasts a solid glove. So, why doesn’t he get a higher grade? Mainly because he still has zero homers this season, which isn’t a good sign for a guy who popped 21 dingers and drove in 89 runs last season. The average is a plus, but the Red Sox need more power out of Bogaerts if they want to win more games.

Third base: D-
Remember when Pablo Sandoval was supposed to bring stability to this position? Well, the 30-year-old hit the disabled list after just 16 games with a sprained right knee, forcing the Sox to rely on a motley crew of Josh Rutledge, Deven Marrero and Marco Hernandez to get them through. In fact, Rutledge’s 11-for-38 start to the season saves this grade from being an F. If Sandoval fails to produce when he returns, Boston should start looking for outside help.

Designated hitter: B-
Ramirez went on one of his patented tears as the calendar turned to May, launching four home runs in a four-game span. Outside of that binge, he’s been more or less mediocre compared to his strong 2016 campaign. He’s on pace for about 24 homers and 70 RBIs, which isn’t terrible. But it’s far from the production a certain David Ortiz gave this team in the DH spot last year.

Outfield: B+
The Red Sox’s outfield has underachieved at times and still is the team’s best position group, which is a testament to how much talent they have. After a slow start, Mookie Betts has emerged as Boston’s best power hitter, leading the team in homers (seven), RBIs (28) and OPS (.854). Andrew Benintendi boasted the Red Sox’s best batting average before enduring a nightmarish 0-for-25 slump but still ranks third on the team with 45 hits. Jackie Bradley Jr. has battled through injury and is struggling mightily at the plate, taking a .208 average into Monday, but has kept the Sox in games with his defense. Chris Young once again has performed solidly in a platoon role.

Manager/Overall: C
Injuries and bad luck partially are to blame for the Red Sox’s slow start, but Farrell still gets a piece of the blame pie. Simply put: Boston should be much more than a .500 baseball team, and the sloppy play and inconsistency that have plagued this team are fixable issues. If Price can return to shore up the rotation and the lineup starts producing in the power department, the Red Sox should get back to playoff level. But right now, this team isn’t where it needs to be.

Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images

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