BOSTON (CBS) — No one expected the Boston Red Sox to follow their historic 2018 championship season with another one for the record books. But the defending champs certainly should be better than a team on pace to win just 88 games.
But that is where the Red Sox stand with the second half of the season set to begin Friday night with a three-game rematch of last year’s Fall Classic against the Dodgers at Fenway Park. Their postseason hopes are not necessarily bleak, but they’re not all that great either. They sit nine games behind the New York Yankees in the AL East, a team they’re just 1-6 against on the season. They’re only two games out of the final Wild Card spot, but have a pair of teams to leapfrog (Cleveland and Oakland) just to get into the one-game playoff.
It’s not over yet. Baseball being baseball, there are still nearly three months for the Red Sox to get their act together, go on a tear and assert themselves as a postseason contender. They’ve won six of their last seven, which is a good start.
But the team has shown no consistency through the first 90 games of the season. They’re just 10-18 against current playoff teams, and will have to put together quite the second half if they just want to reach the postseason. Here are a few things the Red Sox need to correct over the next few months, or we can forget about October baseball.
Starters Need To Go Deeper
Don’t you worry, we’ll get to the bullpen. They haven’t been very good, but Boston’s starters deserve a healthy share of the blame too.
We’ll start with Chris Sale, who has not been an ace this year. He’s been a No. 4 starter, at best. The lefty is just 3-8 with a 4.04 ERA and the team is just 6-12 in his starts. He has said over and over again how much he stinks this year, and no one is arguing with him.
There have been flashes and his velocity has returned, but overall, Sale is not Sale. He’s lasted five innings or less in five of his starts and made it to the seventh inning or longer just five of his 18 times on the hill. That isn’t doing the bullpen any favors.
But Sale is not alone on that front. Rick Porcello (6-7, 5.33) has been even more inconsistent, averaging less than six innings per outing. Eduardo Rodriguez has reached the seventh inning in just four of his 18 starts, going five innings or less in five turns on the mound. David Price, at 7-2 with a 3.24 ERA, is the only starter to give Boston any consistency this season.
Overall, Red Sox starters own a 4.70 ERA this season, which ranks 18th in all of baseball. If Boston wants any shot at making the playoffs, their starting pitching has to be a lot better in the second half of the season. If not, it won’t really matter how bad their bullpen is in the end.
Pick Up Some Reinforcements For Pitching Staff
Paging Dave Dombrowoski. You need to do something to help this pitching staff. Putting Nathan Eovaldi in the bullpen is not enough, and likely won’t work anyways.
Starter, reliever, whatever you want, Dave. But you need to go get the arm (or rather, arms) you didn’t get over the offseason. Losing Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly and only bringing in Colton Brewer is unacceptable. Add that to the team’s lack of lengthy outings from starters, and Boston’s current crop of relievers has been worked ragged at the midway point of the season.
Matt Barnes has already made it into 40 games this year, tossing 37 innings. He had a 2.08 ERA at the end of May, but then had a taxing June where he pitched in 15 games and allowed 14 runs over 13 innings. He’s held opponents scoreless in his last three appearances (coming against the Blue Jays and Tigers), but owns an 8.79 ERA over his last 17 appearances overall.
If you think Barnes has been overworked, don’t look at Ryan Brasier’s projected innings. He’s already thrown 37.2 innings, more than he threw all of last season. Not ideal for a 31-year-old who has just a single season of Major League experience under his belt.
Barnes and Brasier had been Alex Cora’s usual suspects in the ninth inning, but Boston will now turn to Eovaldi. He hasn’t pitched in the Majors since mid-April when he had loose bodies removed from his twice surgically repaired elbow. It’s pretty risky to ask him to slide into the unpredictable schedule of a closer, let alone rely on him to shut down the opposition for the final three-plus outs.
Reports say the Sox are targeting another starter and would like to get a deal done sooner rather than later. That’s a good start, with the Mets’ Zack Wheeler (6-6, 4.69 ERA), Detroit’s Matthew Boyd (6-6, 3.87), Texas’ Lance Lynn (11-4, 3.91) and Mike Minor (8-4, 2.54) potential options, among others. Whether Boston has the prospects to get any deal done is another story, but they need to get something.
But one starter shouldn’t be it for Dombrowski, especially if Eovaldi and his elbow can’t handle the rigors of being a closer. Relievers are always a risky acquisition, and Dombrowski doesn’t have a great track record. But he needs to help the pen, whether it’s calling upon the pitching prospects that Boston has left or using them to snag a (hopefully) reliable reliever.
Mookie Needs To Become Mookie Again
Boston’s offense has been good enough for the most part this season, thanks in large part to Rafael Devers becoming one of the best hitters in baseball. JD Martinez isn’t what he was last year, but he hasn’t been a slouch. And it helps when your usually light-hitting catcher is batting .299 with 14 dingers out of the eight-spot in the lineup.
But if the Red Sox want to be the offensive force they were last season, they need Mookie Betts to become Mookie Betts again. At this point last season, Betts was hitting .359 with 23 homers and 51 RBIs on his way to winning the AL MVP. This year, he has not played like an MVP.
That’s not to say Mookie hasn’t played well; he’s still produced 104 of Boston’s 509 runs this season. But the Red Sox need better than a .272/.392/.467 slash line from one of their best bats in the lineup.
And on that front, it would also help if Andrew Benintendi kicked it up a notch as well.
Win At Home
Boston is just 20-20 at Fenway Park this season, plus two additional losses in their “home games” in London. Last year, they lost a grand total of 24 games at Fenway.
Going .500 at home is not a recipe for success for any team, and it again goes back to their pitching. Away from Fenway, Sox pitchers have a 4.18 ERA. In Boston, it jumps up to 5.04. Yuck.
Show Up For The Biggest Stretch Of Season
It’s never a good move for a team to look ahead in the schedule. You know, the whole “one game, one inning at a time” shtick. Besides, that’s our job anyways. And boy do the Sox have a monster stretch coming up at the end of the month.
From July 22 through August 4, the Red Sox will play 14 games in 14 days against the Yankees and Rays. It starts with four in St. Pete, following by a seven-game homestand before Boston heads to the Bronx for four games over three days.
The two sets against the Yankees are big, because it’s the Yankees. But those Tampa series will be even more important, with the Rays holding a 2.5 game lead over Boston for the top Wild Card spot at the moment. That two-week stretch will likely make or break Boston’s postseason chances.