By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — As the Red Sox get ready for the second half of the season, it’s time to step back and look at what’s worked and what hasn’t for the AL East leaders. At 50-39, the Red Sox are on pace for a strong 91-71 record and plenty has gone right for them – but that doesn’t mean they lack weaknesses.
More importantly, one must hope that their strengths can carry over into October and that they can address or improve upon their weaknesses before they get to that point. They have had their ups and downs in all phases of the game: at the plate, on the mound, and in the field.
You saw the team’s obvious strengths in the 2017 MLB All-Star Game on Tuesday. The big weaknesses? Hopefully Dave Dombrowski can find a way to address them without further depleting the top end of the Red Sox’ farm system.
Chris Sale: Sale is on track to win his first Cy Young Award, as he has mostly dominated in his first season with the Red Sox. He’s second to the Royals’ Jason Vargas in both wins (12-to-11) and ERA (2.62-to-2.75), but blows Vargas and the rest of the AL away with his league-leading 178 strikeouts.
The rest of the rotation hasn’t quite lived up to Sale’s standard, but hasn’t ben terrible either. David Price (4-2, 3.91 ERA) appears to be rounding into form, as he’s gone 3-1 with a 3.25 ERA in his last six starts. Drew Pomeranz continues to frustrate at times with his relatively short innings totals, but actually sits 11th in the league with a 3.60 ERA.
If Sale can continue his dominance into the postseason, he would obviously be a serious weapon at the top of the Red Sox rotation and dramatically increase their chances of getting back to the World Series. Fingers crossed for Price to finally figure things out that time of year.
Craig Kimbrel: The closer has basically been Mariano Rivera in his second season in a Red Sox uniform. He’s “only” third in the league in saves with 23, but he has by far the lowest ERA (1.19) of any closer in the top-15 in that category. He has recorded more than three times as many strikeouts (68) as he has allowed baserunners (21).
It’s no coincidence that the Red Sox have had a lights-out closer for each of their three recent World Series championships. Kimbrel’s ability to shorten the game with his dominance would only grow even more important in October.
Plate discipline: The Red Sox have not had the most powerful offense in the league this year, but they’ve had one of the most disciplined – and it’s still leading to a lot of runs. They are fourth in the AL with 431 runs scored and third with a .340 on-base percentage.
The Red Sox are also the second-hardest team in the league to strike out with an impressive 18.1 percent rate, and boast the league’s third-highest contact rate at 80.2 percent. Ideally the power eventually comes around, but the good news is that the offense has found other ways to score.
Home run power: But about that lack of pop … the Red Sox remain last in the AL and 26th in the majors with just 92 home runs. No one has hit 20 on the season, as Mookie Betts leads the team with 16. Designated hitter Hanley Ramirez, meanwhile, is on pace for 24 home runs with just a .795 OPS after hitting 30 with an .866 OPS last year.
Hanley isn’t the only one who has underwhelmed in the power department. Xander Bogaerts and Dustin Pedroia have combined for just 10 homers, while Red Sox third basemen have combined for just seven. Which brings us to another “down” on the season …
Pablo Sandoval: The Red Sox’ massive issues at third base have mostly been because they put practically all of their eggs in the Sandoval basket. The much-maligned third baseman got another chance to make an impact at the hot corner, but the Red Sox left themselves with little to no backup plans as Sandoval blew up in their face. It’s gotten to the point where the Red Sox have had to (probably) make up injuries just to get Sandoval off the field.
The Red Sox have done better without Sandoval in recent days, fielding a platoon of Tzu-Wei Lin and Deven Marrero at third. But if Dombrowski wants to acquire a third baseman at the trade deadline, he may have an abundance of options. The Marlins’ Martin Prado, the White Sox’ Todd Frazier, the Pirates’ David Freese, the Athletics’ Jed Lowrie, the Royals’ Mike Moustakas, and the Phillies’ Maikel Franco are all rumored to be available.
Rick Porcello: The 2016 Cy Young Award winner has turned it around in recent weeks, but his regression from last year’s form has been sharp. He entered the All-Star break with a 4.75 ERA and 1.43 WHIP to go with a league-most 11 losses.
Part of Porcello’s poor 4-11 record is due to run support, as the Red Sox have scored just 4.95 runs per start for him – the ninth-lowest average in the league. He’s also been unlucky, as his 4.07 fielding-independent ERA is over a half-run lower than his actual ERA. His opponents’ batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .346, which is the fourth-highest in the AL, is about 50 percentage points higher than average.
Still, Porcello has given up the eighth-most homers (19) in the AL and his opponents’ hard-hit ball percentage (43.2 percent) is easily the highest in the league. Hitters have been fortunate against him, but they’ve also hammered the ball when making contact. Porcello (if not Price) will need to be much better down the stretch, and especially into October, for the Red Sox to get to where they aim to be at the end of the season.
The Red Sox have two major advantages in having perhaps the league’s best starting pitcher and the best closer. But for them to reach their full potential as a World Series contender, the offense needs to start showing more pop and at least one other pitcher needs to approach Sale’s standard.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS, CBS Radio, or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @Dolloff985 and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.