If the 1st quarter of this Red Sox season was Utopia, the 2nd quarter of the season was……..Des Moines? There were stretches of baseball that were tough to watch and then without warning there was a game that made to think this team could play deep into October. They’d score two touch downs a game for a week and then lose half of them when Tazawa staged his own impromptu home run derby. Without further ado, the toughest report card I’ve ever had the privilege to grade.
Offense- 1st quarter grade A+, 2nd quarter grade A-.
We knew after the first grading period (opening day until May 16th) that the offensive production couldn’t continue at its current pace. If so, the Red Sox would have 5 hitters batting over .330 and everybody would have 30 game hit streaks going. The offense slowed down in June, but was still very productive. They still lead the AL in runs and are batting 20 points higher (.292 vs .272) than the second best team in the league (Kansas City). We saw some guys swoon in June, none more than Travis Shaw who went from hitting .330 to .269. Jackie Bradley Jr. even dropped from the lofty heights of his 29-game hitting streak when he was batting .341 to his current .296. Holding this grade close to an A is David Ortiz, whose production hasn’t waned and is on pace for the greatest season a 40-year old has ever had. Atleast, one not named Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens.
Bench- 1st quarter grade B, 2nd quarter grade B-.
Injuries to Blake Swihart, Ryan Hanigan and Brock Holt hurt the bench and the team’s line up versatility. Taking a page out of Bill Belichick’s play book, with the Red Sox it has been a next man up mentality. When Holt went down, Swihart came in and after a slow start was starting to square up more pitches. When Swihart went down, Chris Young became the team’s hottest hitter for a short stretch. But when he went down, left field became a hole that Bryce Brentz has done an good enough job filling, but the rash of injuries a this position has put a drain on the bench at other positions that could use the roster flexibility. The Red Sox bench going forward is going to depend a lot on health and more particularly the health of Brock Holt. If he’s healthy, it’s a lot easier to give other guy’s days off. The trade for Aaron Hill adds depth at the corner infield positions, allowing Shaw to play some first base and gives a righty/lefty platoon at third. This seems like the best place to bring up Sandy Leon. The guy was given a minor league camp invite in the off season and because of a lack of other options he accepted it. Vasquez struggled mightily at the plate and the injury to Hanigan gave Leon a chance. He was called up vs Minnesota and only went 7 for 8 in his first plate appearances and miraculously has been able to continue the pace as he’s currently batting .455. SANDY LEON IS BATTING .455!
Defense- 1st quarter grade A, 2nd quarter grade A
I said last quarter that the “most unrelenting strength of this team is its defense” and their numbers during the second quarter have been almost identical. They’re 14th in the MLB in errors with a .985 fielding percentage. The errors have come in bunches for this team, which was most evident during the June pitching swoon where there was a lot of pressure on the defense to make plays and get out big innings. An “A” here is too high of a grade, but I can’t mark them down for maintaining their production. Call this one a gift made to raise the team GPA, which will be much needed after the next three grades.
Starting Pitching- 1st quarter grade B-, 2nd quarter grade D+
The good: Steven Wright has been very good. The bad: Clay Buchholz, Roenis Elias, Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez and Joe Kelly have been very bad. The underrated: Rick Porcello has been very underrated, but also looks better in comparison to 60% of starting pitchers that John Farrell has marched out there. The Ace: David Price hasn’t been “The Ace” but has shown flashes of the pitcher Dave Dombrowski thought he was signing. Price leads the American League in strike outs (140) but is sporting a 4.34 ERA, which if he maintains it for the rest of the season would be a full point higher than the worst of his career. This is the area that needs the most attention as the trade deadline approaches, but for this team to make a playoff run, it’s going to be the guys in the rotation right now that are going to have to step it up to them there. (The potential trade for Drew Pomeranz notwithstanding, the deal has yet to be finalized as the publication of this piece.)
Bullpen- 1st quarter grade B+, 2nd quarter grade C-
Uehara and Tazawa have been linchpins of this bullpen and in the last two months those pins have been knocked loose. Uehara is averaging two flat splitters per outing since May and more often than not, one of them is getting hit out of the ballpark. Tazawa looks over worked, his off speed stuff which is so effective to righties because he keeps it down has been up in the zone and elevated out of the yard by opposing hitters. Matt Barnes seems like he might have gotten it figured out and actually found a little more velocity, (or NESN is juicing it’s radar guns) throwing in the upper 90’s his last 2 appearances vs Tampa Bay. The good news is that help has arrived and there may be more on the way. Brad Ziegler is a great move, he’s been a tough reliever since his MLB debut with Oakland in 2008 and wreaks havoc on right handed hitters. AND THAT’S NOT ALL, as we may finally get to see Joe Kelly fulfill his destiny and become the reliever we all hope(d) he can/could be.
Manager- 1st quarter grade A-, 2nd quarter grade C
I’ve never seen a manager have a more up and down season. In Spring Training the critics were out in full force that Farrell was going to be fired by Memorial Day. Funny thing happened on the way to the gallows as the team started slugging the ball like the ’27 Yankees and the tempers were tempered. With a June that featured nightly 1st inning crooked numbers by the opposition, sacrificing Farrell because the Nation’s rally cry. I’ve liked Farrell since his days as pitching coach but even I can’t defend his use of Craig Kimbrel this season. Kimbrel is great in save situations and awful in non-save situations. Rational human beings wouldn’t pitch Kimbrel in non-save situations, but it’s like he has amnesia and forgets that every time the Red Sox trail by a run heading into the 9th inning. Yes, I know, Kimbrel should be able to get outs in any situation without the score being a factor. I’d also love him to be like Goose Gossage in the 1970’s and go 3 innings to get every save to but neither of those things is going to happen. Use Kimbrel responsibly and this bullpen would look a bit better. If you boil it down the biggest gripes about Farrell is his use of pitchers and the bullpen. The look on his face when O’Sullivan gave up a moon shot foul ball last Friday perfectly illustrated his feelings about the arms on this team. He knows that he has a fragile entity that at times has to be used exactly right or it could blow up like the White House in Independence Day. You can’t blame the manager for all of this team’s deficiencies, we knew going into this season that the bullpen was top heavy and the rotation seemed incomplete and through the first half of the season we’ve all been proven correct.
Sterling Pingree is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays at 4pm on 92.9fm The Ticket, stream The Drive at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.