What to know about Red Sox now that the Bruins season is over
Boston Red Sox, the floor is yours.
With the Bruins losing a heartbreaking Game 7, the Celtics waiting to see how Kyrie Irving screws them for the second time in a month, and the Patriots diving off yachts until late July, the Red Sox suddenly find themselves in the Boston sports spotlight.
If you've been too distracted to pay close attention to their title defense, guess what? You haven't missed anything! So with that in mind, here's a primer for those sticking the hockey sweaters in summer storage and turning their focus to baseball.
1. The nuts and bolts
The Red Sox are 35-34, in third place in the American League East, 7.5 games behind the Yankees and seven behind the Rays.
If the season ended today, they wouldn't make the playoffs. They trail the Rangers by two games in the race for the second wild card, and are technically percentage points behind the 34-33 Indians and tied with the A's, too.
On this date a year ago, they were 47-22, one and a half games up on the Yankees.
2. So what has changed?
In a word, lots. Last year's Red Sox rode consistent starting pitching and baseball's most relentless offense to a series of easy victories. They went 38-17 in blowouts of at least five runs, but this year are just 12-9.
Securing wins has required maximum effort, even against dregs like the Orioles, who have actually outscored the Red Sox in their seven games, though Boston is 4-3.
But let's start with two symbolic culprits: the ace and the defending MVP.
3. The ace
The Red Sox went 22-10 in Chris Sale's starts in 2017 and 18-9 last year. They're only 4-10 so far this year and even if that isn't entirely on Sale — he left one recent no-decision with a lead after striking out 17 Rockies, and on Monday allowed just one unearned run over seven innings in another no-decision vs. the Rangers — it paints a generally accurate picture.
He was won but two games, and they've come against the White Sox and Royals. He has recently showed renewed velocity and more vintage command, but the Red Sox are just 1-5 in his starts against AL playoff contenders. That's not good enough.
4. The defending MVP
Mookie Betts is posting borderline All-Star numbers and leads the AL in runs, but he doesn't look anything like the player who earned comparisons to Mike Trout last year after posting the second 30-30 season in Red Sox history while winning a batting title and Gold Glove.
Not only is he hitting .263, but he looks out of sync, misplaying admittedly tough plays in the outfield, tinkering with his stance, and hitting an inordinate number of lazy balls to right field when he makes his money by ripping fastballs to left. The joy seems drained from the five-tool star's game, and that's a problem.
5. It's the little things
One year after playing mistake-free, the Red Sox have embarrassed themselves with sloppiness.
On consecutive nights, for instance, utilityman Brock Holt ran through a stop sign to be thrown out by 75 feet against the Rangers, and then laid on the fence rather than pursue Hunter Pence's inside-the-park home run, a play that also saw Betts belatedly back him up from center field.
Errors in the field and on the bases have contributed to too many losses. They've allowed 27 unearned runs, fifth-worst in the American League.
6. Situational hitting
Some recent runners-in-scoring-position numbers against the Yankees and Rays alone tell the story of a team that hasn't found its stride in the biggest at-bats of the game: 2 for 14, 1 for 13, 1 for 6, 1 for 7.
The Red Sox have struggled to drive in runners from third with less than two outs, and manager Alex Cora has pointed to players trying to do too much when just putting the bat on ball would suffice. When they finally did deliver in such a situation to walk off the Rangers on Wednesday, there was something fitting about the winning run scoring on an anticlimactic walk.
7. It's time for a closer
Management let Craig Kimbrel walk in free agency and entered the offseason counting on four reliable relievers: Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Tyler Thornburg, and Steven Wright. So much for that plan.
Brasier has struggled, Thornburg looks like a lost cause, and Wright got busted for PEDs. In their place, Brandon Workman stepped up alongside Heath Hembree and newcomer Marcus Walden, but the ninth has been a disaster, with a team ERA pushing 6.00. Acquiring a closer seems like a necessity, with Washington's Sean Doolittle and San Francisco's Will Smith two possibilities.
8. Fifth starter hell
With Nathan Eovaldi on the injured list following elbow surgery (and suffering a recent setback), the Red Sox have had to rely on a cavalcade of crud every fifth day.
Hector Velazquez, Ryan Weber, Josh Smith, and Darwinzon Hernandez have combined to go 2-7 (same record as Sale, btw) with a 7.62 ERA in 13 starts. They've averaged just over three innings an outing, which has taxed the bullpen and impacted ensuing games. Along with the bullpen being an arm short, the lack of a reliable starting depth option qualifies as a failure of roster construction.
9. Bright spots
Hey, it's not all bad! Xander Bogaerts has emerged as one of the best offensive shortstops in baseball and unlike some strangely apathetic teammates, is playing his tail off on a nightly basis.
Third baseman Rafael Devers earned player of the month honors for a monster May and looks like a long-term linchpin. Second baseman Michael Chavis arrived with a bang, even if he has since cooled.
And David Price has carried over his postseason success to emerge as the rotation's most reliable starter. Oh, and Workman has only allowed eight hits all season.
10. The competition
The narrative about the Red Sox waltzing to the playoffs because the competition stinks isn't accurate. There are three other legitimate contenders for the second wild card, assuming Tampa or New York claims the first one: the Indians, Rangers, and A's.
Oakland actually has the best odds of reaching the postseason, at 40 percent, ahead of Boston's 30.5 percent. The Indians shouldn't be discounted, especially with ace Corey Kluber due back in August after breaking his elbow, and the Rangers are typically active at the trade deadline.
Beating up on bad teams won't be enough to punch Boston's ticket to October, not with the Red Sox just 13-20 with a minus-28 run differential against the six teams tied or ahead of them in the standings.