Baseball is back! We think. Each day, SportsIntel’s Matt DeSaro will take a look at two of the 30 teams in Major League Baseball as we head toward MLB Opening Day in late July and we continue today in the AL East with the Boston Red Sox.
The owners and players agreed in late June to stage a 60-game season, beginning July 24. There are still many hurdles to overcome in this COVID-19 landscape, but for now, the teams are gathering for “Summer Camp,” a Spring Training reboot crammed into three weeks.
MLB Opening Day – Boston Red Sox
Boston Red Sox | O/U 32.5 Wins | +3000 to win World Series
The Red Sox have spent their offseason licking their wounds after a letdown season in 2019. They came away with just 84 wins and finished 19 games back from Yankees in the American League East standings. They brought in a new chief baseball officer in Chaim Bloom to try and regroup and work on getting back to the postseason for the fourth time in the last five years.
Bloom will have a lot of pressure on him to bring this team back to the perennial contenders they had been in the last decade or so. This team is a far cry from the team that won the World Series in 2018 and was considered one of the biggest disappointments of 2019.
There are many factors which one could point to as the reason why the Red Sox had such a fail of a season. They played terribly against their own division, going 35-41 which includes a 12-26 record against the top two teams in the AL East. Boston won just 28 of 45 games against teams with a winning record and only finished above .500 themselves because they found success beating up on the bottom feeders.
Sure, luck played a factor in their downfall. Injuries in the MLB were pretty consistent throughout the year, and that is just something no team can plan for. Between Chris Sale missing a half dozen starts and David Price making just 22 appearances, the cards were stacked against them.
Generally, I would have the Red Sox as a strong bounce-back candidate ahead of opening day, but the truth is that their offseason was not what it could have been. Or perhaps should have been.
They backed out of the Mookie Betts competition and he was ultimately traded to Los Angeles. In return for one of the best players in baseball, the Red Sox got back just Alex Verdugo, Connor Wong, and Jeter Downs. Meanwhile, the Yankees were signing Gerrit Cole.
The American League East is again a strong division and the Red Sox might have trouble keeping pace. The offense should be very good, but not quite the elite level Boston is accustomed to.
So are the Red Sox better prepared than they were last year at this time?
Offseason Acquisitions: C Kevin Plawecki, C Jett Bandy, INF Alex Verdugo, 3B Jantzen Witte, SS Jose Peraza, OF John Andreoli, OF Nick Longhi, OF Kevin Pillar, LHP Mike Kickham, LHP Martin Perez, RHP R.J. Alvarez, RHP Robinson Leyer, RHP Domingo Tapia, RHP Trevor Hildenberger, RHP Chris Mazza. RHP Collin McHugh, RHP Phillip Valdez,
Offseason Losses: INF Brock Holt, 1B Steve Pearce, OF Mookie Betts, RHP Jhoulys Chacin, RHP Rick Porcello, RHP Travis Lakins, RHP Andrew Cashner, RHP Rick Porcello,
What Do The Red Sox Do Well?
Much like 2019, the Red Sox will rely heavily on their offense in 2020. It is far and away from their strong suit and will need to perform at a high level if the Red Sox have even a chance to make the postseason.
The lineup will miss Betts for sure but is anchored by Xander Bogaers, Rafael Devers, Andrew Benintendi, and J.D. Martinez. Bogaers actually posted a higher WAR than Betts last year so we might not see as much of a dip in production as one might think.
It seems the franchise is putting a lot of hope on the shoulders of Verdugo, who was acquired in the Betts trade. The 24-year-old might be a difference-maker eventually but it’s too much to ask for him to be the savior this team needs. Not by a longshot.
The Red Sox also have some intriguing arms, specifically Eduardo Rodriguez. He worked 203.1 innings last year and his performance was a huge boon to this team. Especially in the second half of the season. If he can continue to trend upward, and if the Nathan Eovaldi gamble pays off, this rotation might be a top-15 crew.
Where Can They Improve?
The biggest negative for the Red Sox ahead of the season opening day this year has to be the loss of Mookie Betts. His contribution to this team cannot be overstated. Despite having a “down” year, he still managed to hit .295/.391/.524 with a very healthy .380 wOBA. The Red Sox had no way to replace him and therefore find themselves with a gap in their lineup. Sure, they brought in a few guys to help, but no amount of mid-tier talent can make up for the loss of such an elite player.
The Red Sox also need a bit of help with their starting pitchers. The help they will be unlikely to get in the short term, especially with Chris Sale lost to Tommy John surgery. With the loss of David Price, this team is dangerously close to having a sub-par pitching staff. This is not to say they lack talent at the position. They have Nathan Eovaldi on the roster. But, each of them missed significant time with injuries last year and was the main reason for their ugly win-loss record. Lucky for them Eduardo Rodriguez had a breakout year, but they also saw Rick Porcello depart as a free agent. So we have a talented staff that is aging presenting injury concerns. Additionally, the team lacks the depth to handle such injuries, as evidenced by their 2019 season.
The Boston bullpen also presents its fair share of problems. The main one was self-imposed as the Red Sox just decided not to replace Craig Kimbrel and wing it. Well, that led to both Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier being largely ineffective with the latter being sent back to minors by July. They were rewarded with Brandon Workman, who emerged as a legit closer toward the end of the season. But the Red Sox would do well to add another arm as it’s certainly possible Workman does not have such a dominant full season.
The Red Sox are also a bit light in the first and second base positions. Steve Pearce and Brock Hold left for free agency. Holt is an especially hard loss as he was a true utility player and filled in for Dustin Pedroia a lot at 2B. Speaking of which, it’s becoming more and more likely the MLB has seen the last of Pedroia. He has played just six games since 2018 and suffered a “significant” setback already in spring training. He won’t just outright retire due to his contract, but he can be considered dead weight at this point.
Opening Day Red Sox Season Prediction
This Red Sox team feels like it has a ceiling very close to its 35-win projection ahead of opening day 2020. Meaning that if all goes well, they might win 36-37. But as we all know, things rarely go to plan in pro sports. We need to just look back at last season to see what happens to a team when things don’t go perfect.
The issue for me comes down to pitching or lack of. Who is going to put in significant quality innings behind Sale and Rodriguez? I won’t go as far as to say the rest of the rotation is bad, but they certainly won’t be fanning batters left and right. Add to this the injury issue which Sale suffered last year and we could be looking at another down year for Boston. The Red Sox need 24 or so starts combined from those two guys and if they don’t get it things will get ugly. Especially if one goes down for a long period of time.
The offense is very good and should rank as one of the best in the Majors come October. But I just can’t shake the worst-case scenario that this pitching staff might suffer through. They are unquestionably the third-best team in the division and I think will again struggle to win 32 games.