With baseball season hitting its unofficial midway point with the All-Star break, it’s time to revisit Red Sox Review — our weekly check-in with the reigning World Series champs during their quest to repeat.
It’s more than fair to say that the first half didn’t go the way that Boston anticipated. A dominant wire-to-wire campaign in 2018 has been followed by a first half marred by remarkable inconsistencies and frustrations — most notably with a bullpen that has sorely missed the presence of real difference-makers, including Craig Kimbrel.
But that frustrating first half for the Red Sox came to a close on a positive note. In their final series before the break, Boston swept Detroit on the road to increase their win streak to four games, pushing the Sox eight games above .500 (49-41) — the first time they’ve reached that mark all year.
It’s a commendable finish that helps inspire some confidence heading into the latter half of the year. But the more notable number is nine — the number of games back the Red Sox sit in the AL East race. At the break, a fourth straight division title seems like a long shot with how strong the Yankees (57-31) have looked despite battling a host of injuries to star players.
In fact, forget the division. The Red Sox aren’t even in the playoff picture at the moment, with Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Oakland all standing in front of Boston in the Wild Card hunt.
So, yeah…did we mention the first half didn’t go as planned?
Every MLB campaign is a grueling marathon filled with peaks and valleys though, and there are noteworthy aspects to be taken from the highs and lows and everything in between. As such, throughout the course of this season, we’ll check in with the Red Sox to see where they are in defending their throne, what we’ve learned recently and what’s next for the reigning champs.
Then: July 9, 2018: 63-29, 1st in AL East, 2.5 game lead | Now: July 9, 2019: 49-41, 3rd in AL East, 9.0 games back
Offense clicking early and often
The Red Sox lineup continues to keep the team slightly above water. Boston’s offense finished especially strong with a productive series against the Tigers, racking up 25 runs in the three games in Detroit.
They were really good (and needed to be) in a 17-hit outing on Saturday, a game which looked like it may never happen due to inclement weather. Following a four-hour rain delay, the bats got going early — putting five runs on Jordan Zimmerman in the first couple of innings.
They eventually delivered a 7-0 lead but, as is pretty much inevitable with this team, that comfy cushion didn’t exactly stay comfy for long. Rick Porcello almost gave it all back, surrendering up six runs over his final two-and-two-thirds innings of work before being yanked. The bullpen was able to hold it together as the Sox picked up some late insurance runs en route to a 10-6 win.
So far, Boston’s offense has actually been slightly better this year than it was during last year’s campaign. They’re averaging 5.66 runs per game through the first half (third-best in the MLB), edging out the league-best 5.37 mark they held at this point last year.
The bats have been especially good of late, and they’re getting to work early. The Red Sox have scored six runs or more in 13 of their last 15 games. They’ve also scored in the first inning in 8 of their last 10 games, with 21 total first-inning runs in that span.
It goes without saying that the offense isn’t exactly the problem — it’s the pitching that is causing most of the headaches. Boston’s team ERA (4.59) is one full run higher than the 3.58 average they held at the break in 2018. When it’s not the starting pitching causing the issues, it’s the bullpen. But it’s pretty much never easy, regardless of how well the offense does its job.
We probably shouldn’t expect that to change in the second half unless Dave Dombrowski gets to work in the front office.
Devers’ big-time All-Star snub
The MLB All-Star Game will be held Tuesday night in Cleveland and three Red Sox will be on hand — but none of them named Rafael Devers.
That’s a pretty remarkable snub considering how great Devers has been through the first half of the year. Let’s look at his numbers compared to the third basemen who will be there representing the American League on Tuesday.
Bregman and Chapman are both top-five in position player WAR (Chapman at 4.3 and Bregman at 4.1) but Devers isn’t far behind at 3.6. Is that enough to leave him out of the ASG when he’s third in the AL in batting average and has driven in more runs than both of those guys?
I don’t think anyone could blame the 22-year-old if he were to take exception to that justification. It’s a big-time injustice that he’s not one of the 31 first-time All-Stars this year.
Xander Bogaerts nearly didn’t get the call for the Red Sox, either. He wasn’t initially named to the All-Star roster but lucked out by being named as the injury replacement for Hunter Pence. Had both Bogaerts and Devers missed the cut after an already frustrating first half, there may have been riots in Boston.
After the break, Boston resumes action with a World Series rematch against the Dodgers at Fenway. That three-game set kicks off Friday and precedes a 21-game stretch against AL East divisional opponents. The Red Sox play three games against the Orioles, four games against the Blue Jays, six games against the Rays and and eight games against the Yankees during that span.