MLB Handicapping: Boston Red Sox
by Trevor Whenham - 5/13/2011
There hasn’t been a team more interesting to follow this year than the Boston Red Sox. I’m not saying that watching them has been fun — it often has been really ugly. Watching them flounder in the face of massive expectations has been fascinating, though. Only the Phillies came into the season with lower futures odds and higher expectations. The team had overhauled their lineup and gotten significantly better and the Yankees had failed to significantly improve, so hopes were high. Needless to say, sitting at 17-20 and five games out of first is not where they were supposed to be almost a quarter of the way into this season.
What’s most striking about the Red Sox’ season is how much of a roller coaster it has been. They started out losing their first six and 10 of their first 12. Just when things were looking really bleak they won eight of nine and looked like they had remembered that they were supposed to be a good team. Before people could get too excited, though, they dropped four of five and have gone an underwhelming 7-9 in their last 16. They can look as good as they are supposed to be at one point, and then look totally lost and clueless the next.
Dealing with this team is a real challenge for MLB handicappers. They clearly aren’t a great team — or at least they are a team that isn’t playing anything like a great one. Despite that they are still a wildly popular public team. When was the last time you saw a team that was three games below .500 listed as the third choice to win the World Series in futures odds?
So, is this team going to get back on track and live up to their low futures price (The Red Sox odds to win the World Series are +650 as I write, behind only the Phillies and Yankees), or are they doomed to continue to struggle and underwhelm? If they want to turn things around and become a trustworthy team to support then there are four areas that need to be addressed right away:
Pitching — There have been some success stories on the mound. Josh Beckett looks as good as he has in a long time, and has eased any concerns people had coming out of a lousy season last year. Jon Lester has been as good as expected this year — and expectations were very high. Neither Tim Wakefield nor Daisuke Matsuzaka has been brilliant, but they aren’t expected to be and they haven’t been as bad as they could be. Given their comparatively minor roles, that’s more than good enough. Jonathan Papelbon has been mostly good, and Matt Albers has been great in relief.
Unfortunately, all those good things are outweighed by three high-profile disasters. Clay Buchholz was rumored to be on the trading block a lot, and it seems like the team should have shipped him out of town when they had the chance. He’s slowly getting better, but he’s supposedly a very talented guy yet he is playing like a journeyman.
He looks like Cy Young himself compared to John Lackey, though. You’d expect a guy who signed a fat contract to be with a team would be happy to be there, but Lackey looks totally miserable. He was only okay last year, but this year he has been truly terrible, and it will be a miracle if he makes it through this season without a total meltdown. Bobby Jenks has even been worse. His numbers were terrible, and now he’s stashed on the disabled list. Not good.
Catching — The team made the decision not to compete with the Tigers for Victor Martinez because he was expensive and far from the best defensive catcher around. It was hard to be too uncertain of that move when it happened, but now it looks pretty awful.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia clearly isn’t ready to be a No. 1 catcher — and is raising real doubts about whether he ever will. Jason Varitek is doing what he can to help out, but he’s 40 and he has apparently forgotten everything he ever knew about hitting lefties.
After having stability at the catcher position for so many years the team now has a world of hurt to deal with.
Mental issues at the plate — They should have been able to hit the cover off the ball, but 15 teams in the majors have scored more runs than they have. There are several issues for that, but what seems to stand out most is that guys who are fully capable of great play just aren’t mentally able to perform like they should.
Carl Crawford’s woes after joining the team were well documented. He’s getting better, but he still isn’t what he is being paid to be, and he doesn’t seem entirely comfortable in the high-pressure fish bowl that is Fenway Park.
Dustin Pedroia has lost his power and his eye — he is striking out far too much. J.D. Drew can’t find his power, either. Mike Cameron has been a waste of oxygen. Kevin Youkilis has a terrible batting average, and just isn’t good enough under pressure anymore. Before the season this team was easy to praise for their seeming consistency. They haven’t mentally delivered on that promise.
Performance against bad teams — To their credit, the Boston Red Sox schedule has been tough. Any team that wants to be a serious contender, though, has to be able to beat up on bad teams when they have the chance. They have played three series against what I’d call bad teams — Baltimore, Seattle, and Minnesota. They lost two of those series, and are just 5-5 overall in those games.
If they can’t do better than they have been doing in the must-win games, then there is no way that they will win the 90+ games they need to be in the playoff picture. They are already in a tough spot — to get to 90 wins they would have to go 73-52, or .584 the rest of the way, and 90 wins may not even be enough. That means that every win matters, and turning easy games into wins are crucial.
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