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Are the Red Sox Really This Good?

In this week’s BSoT Red Sox Column to be Named Later, I look at the Red Sox performance this season compared to a weak American League, a scary Yankee trade rumor, and give recognition to an unlikely Sox All-Star.

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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

With the All-Star Break less than a week away, the playoff teams in the American League are all but established, with only final seeding left to be determined.  Of the 15 teams in the League, only six are more than three game overs .500.  Barring a monumental collapse, the Red Sox, Yankees, Astros and Indians are virtual locks for playoff spots.  Seattle is also in a very strong position with a 6 game lead over Oakland for the second Wild Card Spot, though there is still more than enough season left for the A’s to make a run.

While the Red Sox and Yankees will battle the rest of the summer into the fall for the AL East championship, Seattle is not expected to challenge Houston in the West.  Cleveland currently holds an 8 ½ game lead over second place Minnesota in the Central.  This leaves Seattle and Oakland fighting for the privilege of traveling across the country to face either the Red Sox or Yankees in a one game play-in, likely facing either Chris Sale or Luis Severino in a winner-take-all match-up.

Conversely, nine American League teams already have no hope of seeing the post season before the All-Star Game is played.  Six teams are more than five games under .500.  Three teams (Baltimore, Kansas City, and Chicago) are playing sub .330 ball or less, with the Orioles and Royals both well below the .300 mark (.283 and .286, respectively).

Statistics aside, the American League overall is simply bad this season.  With well over half the league mediocre at best, how do we judge how good the 2018 Red Sox really are?  The Red Sox are without question one of the top three teams in the league.  They currently have the best record in baseball, are over 30 games above .500 and on pace to win 110 games.  But does it really feel like they are that good?

The Red Sox have feasted on the non-playoff contenders.  Against teams currently within one game of .500 or lower, the Red Sox are 53-15, a gaudy .779 winning percentage after their 8-4 win Tuesday night against the Rangers.  Against potential playoff teams (New York, Houston, Seattle and Oakland - the Red Sox have not yet played Cleveland in 2018), they are only 11-14.

Breaking the numbers down even further, the Red Sox bats hold up well when comparing playoff teams vs non-contenders.  The Sox are slashing .256/.303/420 against potential playoff teams and only slightly better against the rest of the league at .269/.339/.422.  The biggest drop-off has come against Houston, against whom the Red Sox have batted only .239 in four games this season.

However, the bigger disparity comes on the pitching side of the ball.  Against non-contenders, Red Sox pitchers sport a solid 3.67 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP.  Against contenders, those numbers balloon to an ERA of 4.78 and a WHIP of 1.33.  The comparisons are even greater against the Yankees (5.73 ERA – 1.43 WHIP), though the Red Sox have also performed better offensively against the Bombers (.272/.329/.449).

The Red Sox are a very good team, but they also have some glaring needs.  They have question marks in the lower end of the bullpen getting to Craig Kimbrel, and the starting pitching has recently been plagued with injuries and inconsistent starts from everyone except for Sale.  The team runs into far too many outs on the bases, and has defensive liabilities at second and third base.  Does that sound like a team on pace to win 110 games?  Or even 95?

The Red Sox have taken full advantage of lesser opponents, which is a mark of any good team.  But can they rise to the occasion come the playoffs when facing the likes of the power laden Yankees or the pitching deep Astros or Indians?  Can the Red Sox translate their regular season success into a sustained playoff run?  Of course, only with time can those questions be answered.  For now, all we have to look forward to are hopefully competitive series with the Astros, Indians and Yankees sprinkled amid the remaining schedule of the dregs of the American League.

Let’s Make A Deal

One more thought to ponder.  With so many teams already out of playoff contention in both the American and National Leagues, it will be a seller’s market at the trade deadline.  The Red Sox are not expected to make any sort of significant move.  However, it is a virtual certainty that the Yankees will make a move to strengthen themselves for the stretch run.  They have both the young talent other teams covet, and the financial resources to absorb other team’s high priced salaries.

The Yankees have been rumored to be in on Baltimore’s Manny Machado AND Zach Britton.  Remember the offseason when they swooped in and stole Giancarlo Stanton at the last minute after being on nobody’s radar?  It could happen again.  The thought of Machado in the Yankee lineup and Britton pitching out of the Yankee bullpen should have Red Sox fans crying in their Sam Adams at summer cookouts all over New England. 

Hey Now, You’re An All-Star!

No surprises in the All-Star voting with respect to the Red Sox players who made the team.  J.D. Martinez, Mookie Betts and Chris Sale were slam dunk picks, and it would have been a major snub if Craig Kimbrel had not also been named to the team.  However, could anyone have predicted Mitch Moreland was going to be an All-Star when he was unceremoniously resigned in the offseason?

The signing of Moreland was looked upon as a nice depth piece/late inning defensive replacement.  He hit right out of the gate in Spring Training and continued producing once the games started to be played for real.  That production forced Manager Alex Cora to put him in the lineup every day and gave the Red Sox an out when they decided to release Hanley Ramirez for “purely baseball reasons”.  It’s nice to see a player of Moreland’s caliber, one who truly wanted to play in Boston and was willing to take less money to do so, be rewarded with an All-Star nod.

Follow Bill on Twitter @BTravers_BSoT. 

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