It's needless to say, but I'm going to say it anyway: This year has not gone the way Red Sox fans expected. After the magical run to last year's World Series title, one that few in Red Sox Nation even dreamed of coming off of the Bobby Valentine fiasco, the team is mired in last place in the American League East as of this writing, a half game back of the Rays at a dismal 40-51.
What has gone wrong? Well, in a word, the offense. The offense has been, well, offensive to this point. The stars haven't hit. The outfield has been horrendous. Stephen Drew? Don't even get me started....
It's the halfway point of the baseball season. After they end a four-game series with the White Sox this afternoon, the Red Sox will wrap up their pre-All Star Break schedule with a three-game series in Houston. Let's evaluate the team to this point in the 2014 season:
The infield: Xander Bogaerts has had quite the up-and-down season, hasn't he? Only one homer and a measly 5 RBI in April, a .327 BA and .897 OPS in a red-hot May and then a precipitous drop since then (.123/.340). Is the kid showing signs of simply not "getting" the big leagues, or is the talent still there? I tend to lean toward the latter, but fans have been impatient with the rookie. Stephen Drew is hitting .131 with a miniscule .170 OBP. Despite his light hitting, which we all saw last year (.253 for the season), he's not even getting on base and drawing walks. He's been dreadful at the plate and many fans are asking why his signing even happened. Dustin Pedroia, while hitting well and getting on base at a decent clip, has been slow to pump up his power and speed numbers this season with only four homers, 34 RBI and two, TWO steals, with six times being caught stealing. The former MVP has been consistently hitting in both home and away games this season, but Sox fans have expected more from him to this point. I think the biggest disappointment of this group has been Mike Napoli. Ten homers and 34 RBI is not going to cut it for a guy who hit 23 and 92 last season. He does, however, lead the club in OBP (.393) and is second only to David Ortiz in OPS (.834), but he needs to drive in more runs for a middle-of-the-order hitter.
The outfield: Where do I start with this group? I dare you to find a worse offensive group in the majors. If it wasn't for Brock Holt, this unit would be a complete lost cause. The kid has impressed this season in only 57 games, batting a stellar .311, stealing six bases and coming up in clutch situations like last night's walkoff hit against the White Sox. He's become a crucial utility player who can play third base, second base and might even play shortstop a bit in the second half. He's been playing in the outfield because, let's face it, the production has been terrible from this group but his offensive and defensive prowess is injecting some excitement into this team. I'm just going to lump the rest of the crew into one group: Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes. Betts just came up a week ago and has shown flashes of brilliance, so I will reserve judgment on him until later but what I've seen from him has been promising. Nava has been a revelation lately, posting the 15th best OBP (.385) in the AL over the past month. He's hit slightly better at home (.237) than on the road (.217) and his power numbers are almost nonexistent, but his penchant for getting on base will keep him in the lineup. Gomes has shown some pop (5 HR, 30 RBI) and remains a solid option off the bench and for the occasional spot start. JBJ, whose weak hitting (.217 BA) and lack of power has given fans fits all season, is showing signs of improving. His strikeout rate is falling and lately, he's been hitting better. He remains a defensive wizard which, frankly, keeps him in the lineup on a daily basis.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Shane Victorino. What a frustrating injury-filled year he's had. Sox fans are hoping to squeeze out some baseball from him before the year is over.
Designated hitter: His average probably should be higher than .259, but it's borderline to say that David Ortiz has been a disappointment thus far. His power numbers are right there in terms of what we've come to expect from Big Papi with 19 homers and 56 RBI. He's got 16 doubles, is drawing walks and has been consistently hitting all season long despite a light-hitting June (.223 BA).
Catchers: I'm going to reserve judgment on Christian Vazquez since he just got called up yesterday, but let me join the chorus to say that it was time for A.J. Pierzynski to go. His OBP was circling the drain, his power numbers weren't there, and he represented a gaping hole in that lineup. That counts as a failed signing. David Ross isn't doing much at all but he simply catches for Lester only at this point, so no one's expecting a ton from him. Sox fans are excited for what Vazquez has to offer.
Starting rotation: Other than the head-scratching season of Clay Buchholz, this unit has been fairly consistent. Jon Lester has been phenomenal. He is 11th in the majors and seventh in the AL in ERA (2.73), possesses a sterling 1.14 WHIP and is only 10 IP off of MLB-leader David Price. The guy's been a workhorse. His contract situation? That's another story. No complaints here, he's the true ace of the staff. John Lackey has picked up right where he left off last season, continuing his status as a solid No. 2 man. His 1.24 WHIP could use a little work, but with over 100 strikeouts at this point in the season, he's right on track. Buchholz's ERA was an atrocious 7.40 in May and since he's come back from injury, he's been slowly getting better ... and by better I mean hovering around a 4.00, which is still not very good. He's been a drag on this rotation and he needs to start showing the stuff he showed last year before he got injured. What does Jake Peavy (1-7) have to do to get a win? He's pitched fine at home, sporting a 3.59 ERA at Fenway compared to an ugly 6.00 on the road. Through it all, he's handled his trade talk with class and but he's arguably been the team's third best starter this season. The Sox have had a sort of revolving door at the fifth spot, featuring the likes of Rubby De La Rosa (currently occupying that role), Brandon Workman and Felix Doubront. I love what I'm seeing from De La Rosa recently (1.42 ERA at home, 1.04 overall WHIP in six starts), so hopefully he can keep it going. He looks to be a big part of the future for this unit.
The bullpen: Let's not even talk about Koji Uehara. he of the 1.27 ERA, 18-for-19 in save opportunities, 55 Ks to only six walks. All-Star. Done. The Red Sox have the 10th best bullpen ERA in all of baseball, so there's really not much to complain about with this unit. Burke Badenhop, Andrew Miller, Edward Mujica, Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow have pitched as a very solid group that is 10th among MLB bullpens in strikeouts, as well.
The offense has been the one overall aspect of the Sox that has kept them down this season. The pitching, for the most part, has been fine, but their inability to score runs has been the one through-line in this disappointing season. The good news? The AL East is terribly mediocre this season, so there's at least a sliver of hope to move up and snag a Wild Card spot. With the youth movement under way at Fenway Park and the trade deadline looming, it remains to be seen whether this team will be sold off for future pieces or if Ben Cherington decides to fight and claw for a playoff spot.
But is it too late?