Considering the alarming frequency with which the sky falls in the greater Boston area, it is no small feat that the streets remains mostly clear of concussed bystanders. The Red Sox are never good enough, it seems. Two straight rocky Aprils nearly rendered New England out of hands to wring. The pitching isn’t good enough (or dedicated enough, depending on who you ask), the bullpen is a mess, the defense is spotty and the ageing roster is too suscepitable to injury.
While many of these things contain kernels of truth, the fact of the matter is the Red Sox are still really good. They sit above the .500 mark despite disappointing performances from most of their rotation and catastrophic injuries at key positions. But how?
The Red Sox success —such as it is— can be attributed to a few key contributions. Namely:
- David Ortiz is Killing It – David Ortiz currently ranks in the top twenty in all of baseball for wOBA, TAv, OPS, and home runs. Ortiz built on his new-found contact skills by striking out far less than earlier in his career. Big Papi just keeps on going, being one of the better DHs in the AL and the best hitter in their lineup: an integral cog in the Red Sox machine.
- The Bullpen is Suddenly Good – The blowups of (the injured/mechanically flawed) Mark Melancon getting farther in the rearview, the Red Sox bullpen is suddenly one of the best in the game. Second in WPA for the month of May with a decent 28/14 shutdown to meltdown ratio.
Scott Atchison turned in some terrific work over the last month, striking out 12 batters against just 2 UIBB in 17 innings without allowing a single run of his own. Alfredo Aceves, Clayton Mortensen, even Andrew Miller all helped pick up the Sox relief corps in May.
- Guys with Long Surnames Did Work – Did you know Jarrod Saltalamacchia already has ten home runs this year? It is true, he really does! Infield rotation member Will Middlebrooks did his darned to keep a big league job with some strong play of his own, slamming six home runs and posting a sky-high (albeit BABIP-assisted) .394 wOBA. With this kind of secondary production from outside the Pedroia/Ortiz/Gonzalez heart of the order, the Red Sox can absorb many a rough outing from their rotation.
- Yeoman’s Work from a Battalion of Outfielders – Few teams have been as beset by injuries as the Red Sox, particularly among outfielders. The Sox have already cycled through eleven outfielders this season, which doesn’t even include the one they’re paying $19.5 million dollars this season and barely includes the one who nearly won the American League’s Most Valuable Player last year.
As a unit, the Red Sox outfield has 2.8 fWAR to their name, placing them square in the middle of the pack. League average offense and solid defense from a group including Daniel Nava, Darnell McDonald and, most frighteningly of all, Scott Podsednik? I think most Red Sox should count their blessings and realize how much worse it could be.
Sure, the BoSox are in last place in their division but things could be much worse. Considering the incredible amount of talent sitting on their disabled list and the kind of talent in their pitching rotation, the Red Sox are far from dead with more than 100 games remaining.
The concerns with the starting rotation, however, are real. Stalwarts such as Jon Lester and, to a lesser extent, Josh Beckett do not look like themselves. Waiting by the good old regression phone might not be good enough if the two key pitchers as still chasing the true talent dragon.
If Lester and Beckett get right (and Clay Buchholz gets…anywhere) the overwhelming amount of talent in the Red Sox stable is sure to lead them right back where they belong: fighting for a playoff spot right down to the final key pitches of the season. Ugh. Don’t say you weren’t warned.