It wasn’t a colossal failure. Nor was it a smashing success.
The Boston Red Sox’s first half was… meh.
Sure, the Red Sox entered the Major League Baseball All-Star break eight games above .500 at 49-41, a decent record considering they started the season by losing 17 of their first 28 games. But Boston also trails the New York Yankees by nine games in the American League East and sits outside the AL playoff picture, behind the Tampa Bay Rays, Cleveland Indians and Oakland Athletics in the fight for a wild-card spot.
In other words, it hasn’t been a continuation of last season’s dominance, when the Red Sox won 108 regular-season games and steamrolled the competition in October en route to their fourth World Series title since 2004. And that’s reflected on our first-half report card.
Speaking of which, let’s break out the red pen and hand out some grades.
Christian Vazquez’s emergence as an All-Star-caliber catcher was one of the most encouraging developments of the first half. He’s the clear-cut top catcher on the Red Sox, who traded Blake Swihart to the Arizona Diamondbacks back in April, and while Sandy Leon has provided next to nothing offensively, Vazquez’s production more than makes up for his partner’s shortcomings at the dish.
The Red Sox ranked dead-last in OPS (.547) from the catching position in 2018, contributing to Boston’s backstops finishing 21st in WAR (0.3) despite their defensive aptitude. Boston ranks ninth in OPS (.766) from the catching position in 2019, thanks to Vazquez’s output, and consequently fourth in WAR (2.8).
In fact, only Yasmani Grandal of the Milwaukee Brewers has a higher WAR (3.3), according to FanGraphs, than Vazquez (2.8) among MLB catchers with at least 250 plate appearances this season.
First Base: D
Neither Mitch Moreland nor Steve Pearce has provided anything lately due to injuries: Moreland has been sidelined since May 25, and Pearce has been out since May 31. Neither was all that productive when healthy, either, with Pearce struggling mightily mere months after earning World Series MVP honors.
Thus, it’s hard to view first base favorably, especially with Moreland and Pearce making nearly $13 million combined this season. The one saving grace has been Michael Chavis, whose offensive pop and serviceable defense has more or less kept the position afloat.
Second Base: C-
For a while, second base was shaping up to be a disaster, with Brock Holt hitting the shelf, Eduardo Nunez struggling and Dustin Pedroia’s career in jeopardy. But Chavis came to the rescue upon debuting in the majors, and things since have improved, with Holt performing very well upon returning from the injured list and Marco Hernandez even emerging as a solid contributor.
Third Base: A
Remember all that preseason talk about Rafael Devers breaking out? Well, the 22-year-old has made good on the hype, already placing himself among the game’s best hitters.
Since April 24, Devers ranks first in the American League in RBIs (57), first in hits (90), second in OPS (.997), second in batting average (.342), second in wRC+ (154) and 10th in home runs (16). His defense also has improved dramatically since the beginning of the season. What more could you ask for?
The six-year, $120 million contract extension Xander Bogaerts signed right after the season started already looks like a bargain, as the 26-year-old was Boston’s most consistent player in the first half. In the American League, only Mike Trout (6.2) and Alex Bregman (3.8) posted a higher WAR than Bogaerts (3.7), according to FanGraphs. Not bad company. It would’ve been a shame had Bogaerts not been a late addition to the All-Star Game.
Mookie Betts hasn’t performed up to last season’s MVP standards despite a mostly strong campaign. Andrew Benintendi has been a disappointment, all things considered. And Jackie Bradley Jr.’s red-hot June isn’t enough to completely erase his extremely slow start. Not to mention there have been far too many defensive miscues for an outfield featuring two Gold Glove Award winners that’s oozing with athleticism. The Red Sox’s outfield should be one of baseball’s best given the talent assembled, yet that hasn’t been the case in 2019.
Designated Hitter: B+
J.D. Martinez’s numbers are down across the board, but don’t lose sight of how good he’s been. The slugger still launched a team-high 18 home runs in the first half in addition to batting .304 with 48 RBIs and a .918 OPS, earning him another All-Star nod.
Starting Rotation: C-
The rotation was supposed to be a strength. Instead, the unit ranks in the middle of the pack — 18th in ERA (4.70), 15th in WHIP (1.31) and fifth in FIP (4.02) — which has taxed Boston’s underwhelming bullpen. David Price has been solid, for the most part, but Chris Sale hasn’t been himself, Rick Porcello has been mostly bad and Eduardo Rodriguez has been whatever. The fifth spot in the rotation, which was supposed to be held by Nathan Eovaldi, has been a mess, with a revolving cast of randoms providing zero consistency.
Boston’s biggest eyesore. Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski hardly touched the bullpen over the offseason despite losing All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel and valuable setup man Joe Kelly, and the unit predictably has become the defending champs’ most glaring weakness despite holding its own in the early going. Adding an established closer obviously would help — the Red Sox plan to roll the dice and insert Eovaldi into the role once he returns from the injured list — but the relief corps really just needs an infusion of talent, or else this season could spiral down the drain in the second half.
Manager/Coaching Staff: C
Alex Cora hasn’t had the Midas touch he possessed in his first season as Boston’s skipper. It’s not like he’s done anything egregious, per se, but he’s done little to maximize the Red Sox’s strengths and/or mask their shortcomings. Thus, an average grade.
Thumbnail photo via Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports Images