Thirty-nine games into the 2015 season, the Red Sox are 19-20. They play their 40th game of the season against the lowly Texas Rangers tonight, and so they have a decent chance of climbing back to the .500 mark.
Viewed through the prism of offseason expectations, that’s a pretty disappointing sentence. The Sox were supposed to have a powerful offense, average pitching staff and enviable depth. Instead, they rank just 19th in the league with 3.97 runs scored per game, 25th in the league with 4.79 runs allowed per game and have yet to see secondary players like Allen Craig, Daniel Nava, Jackie Bradley Jr. or Rusney Castillo make much of an impact.
Things have been better lately, sure. The Sox went 5-5 on a tough West Coast road trip and won last night’s game at home, and thanks to lackluster performances from the rest of the division, they’re just three games out in the hunt for the AL East.
Still, this squad has some serious flaws, and when I asked the BP Boston staff if they thought the Sox would finish the season with more than 81 wins, I was expecting a debate.
I did not get a debate.
Of the 10 BP Boston writers who got back to me, every one said the Red Sox would indeed finish over .500. Reasons cited include everything from an inevitable (we hope) bounce-back from the offense, some positive regression to the mean for the rotation, the weak AL East and the likelihood that Ben Cherington and co. will make a trade to bolster the 2015 club if they’re close. They generally ceded that the Sox need help in the rotation and the bullpen and expressed concern over the injury bug hitting the catcher position, yet none was swayed to vote against Boston being at least an average team.
Here are their responses:
Yes. There is too much talent from top to bottom for this team to continue to struggle like it has over the past month. David Ortiz is better than a .723 OPS, Mike Napoli will either hit or sit, and Rusney Castillo won’t stay in Pawtucket forever. Meanwhile, the starting rotation has finally woken, which is enough to convince me this team is at least average.
Yes. Very little has gone right for the Red Sox this year. The pitching staff has ranged from merely acceptable to downright terrible. The offense has shown flashes of what it should be, but overall it’s been a huge disappointment. With all of that, they’re still hanging right around an even record. The offense should definitely improve, especially with the eventual addition of Rusney Castillo. The pitching staff won’t ever be great, but the numbers suggest they should at least be better. There is plenty of depth in Pawtucket to cover any of the injuries that always come in the middle of the season. I would be surprised if Boston wasn’t at least in contention for a playoff spot around the trade deadline, meaning they should be motivated to swing a trade to improve this team at some point. I’m more pessimistic about this team than I was to start the year, but it’s still an above-.500 team.
Yes, they’ll finish over .500. Sure, it hasn’t been fun to watch, but these guys are not this bad. The pitching wasn’t going to be historically bad – and hasn’t been that way at all lately – and the offense isn’t going to look awful forever. Remember the first week of the season? That’s pretty much what we can expect. Lots of offense in a low-scoring league is going to do wonders. We just have to take it week-by-week instead of day-by-day.
Will the Sox win more than half their games this season? I kind of think they have to. That’s not to say that I think the team, as currently constructed, is a .500 team. They might be. But I’m not certain that the front office in Beantown can afford a third disastrous season in four, nevermind that these years of futility sandwich a World Series cap. No, I think this team will, come hell or high water, muster up the moves to add enough surplus talent to eke out a winning percentage north of .520, and the playoffs are still in play.
What I’m not sure about is what price they’re willing to pay to hire some real major-league pitchers. My guess is this: godspeed, Manuel Margot.
I’ll say yes. The offense has been slumping recently, but there’s no reason to believe they won’t hit and be one of the best offenses in the league. Mookie is still growing and adjusting at the plate, as is Bogaerts. I see no reason that Napoli won’t still turn it around and get white hot at some point, like he tends to do (though I am perplexed that he still hasn’t shown any signs of life). I think the pitching will be serviceable. I’m not really worried about Porcello or Miley, I think they’ll be at least serviceable to pretty good (in Porcello’s case). Buchholz is doing his thing in a bad and good way, but he’ll at least win some games I believe. Joe Kelly is really the wild card. I want to like him, but growing pessimistic. But could also see it clicking for him and really going on a big run. I think it’ll be good enough for .500 overall, but not confident in going much beyond that.
Yes. I don’t think there’s a compelling argument that the Red Sox will be any worse than they have been so far, and the truth is they’re not all that bad. They’re not good, either, but they have plenty of room to get there. The rotation has started to put some good starts together and David Ortiz and Mike Napoli both homered last night, hopefully signaling returns to form, and they’re just two guys in a stacked offense. This isn’t last year or 2012; this workaday rotation means the Sox will likely stay near .500 for awhile, but slight improvements from month-to-month add up. If they simply win one more game than they lose in two of the remaining months, they’re above .500 for the season. Any better and they’re much better. So yeah. It’s gonna happen.
Yes. Considering the way things have gone so far, the Red Sox are pretty fortunate. Things could always get worse, as the team has enjoyed mostly good health outside of the catcher position, but so far the Red Sox haven’t played well and are not far back in a weak division. With the track record of the players involved, it makes sense that some if not all of the under-performance seen in right field, at first base, in center field, shortstop, and at catcher will correct itself. The rotation should start to resemble its FIP more than its ERA. The defense isn’t ever going to be great and the bullpen seems unlikely to do the same, but mere adequacy in those areas should allow a sleeping offense to shine when they awake.
I’m going yes — the talent is there, and there’s reason to believe that guys like Swihart and Bogaerts are more likely to get better than worse as the season goes on. Maybe more importantly, this is the first season in a while in which the Red Sox might finish just over .500 accidentally. If they’re hovering right around .500, they may still sell at the deadline – but the players helping to prop up the team are all young or on good multi-year contracts. If guys on expiring deals like Buchholz, Masterson, Victorino and, to some extent, Napoli are traded, I don’t know that the team would end up losing more games with fresh blood. There probably isn’t a way to sell out on the end of 2015 while keeping the 2016 plan intact.
There are a number of perfectly good reasons why this Red Sox assemblage might not finish above .500 in 2015. Here’s one: through Monday’s games, both their -33 run differential and .443 third-order winning percentage rank near (or at) the bottom of the American League. Here’s another: the rotation stinks!
On the bright side, it seems like half the roster has underachieved — Mike Napoli’s posted a .214 TAv, David Ortiz only has five home runs, Mookie Betts has a sub-.300 on-base percentage, the starting rotation hasn’t lived up to expectations of mediocrity, etc. Boston should see plenty of improvement from regression candidates alone during the season’s remaining 120-some games, and there aren’t enough players currently overachieving to negate the expected gains. An underperforming roster (that should improve) in a division of flawed teams — plus a strong incentive to avoid another last-place finish — should be enough to push the Red Sox on to the good side of .500 by September.
Yes. The Red Sox have played some pretty ugly baseball at times, but their pitching staff has underperformed (in some cases, woefully), and they’ve gotten nearly league-worst production on offense at multiple positions. Given all the talent in the club’s lineup, it’s hard to imagine the Red Sox continuing to struggle so much offensively. They’ll also have the benefit of playing loads of games against AL East squads that are scuffling just as much as they are.
This team will certainly struggle to reach 90 wins, but considering we should expect improvement pretty much across the board (plus a potential boost from Rusney Castillo and any starter Ben Cherington goes out and trades for), a winning record seems well within reach.
So then, there you have it. According to our merry band of analysts, the Red Sox should at least finish .500 this season, and should keep you engaged and entertained all summer long.
As to whether the Red Sox will right the ship in time to make the playoffs? Well, that’s a question for a different day.
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