If the season ended today, the Baltimore Orioles would win the AL East. The AL Wild Card race is essentially wide open, with five teams within four games of the top two spots. While the Red Sox and Royals currently hold those top two spots, the Toronto Blue Jays are poised to snag a postseason berth from the Red Sox. Here’s a breakdown of why the Red Sox will be watching the playoffs from their couch come October.
The Sox are 39-30 so far, good enough for the top Wild Card seed. They are also just one game behind the Orioles in the AL East. We recently wrote about the breakout campaigns of the young hitters, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Xander Bogaerts. Veteran Dustin Pedroia (.301/.358/.453) is having a season in line with the best AL second basemen, and David Ortiz (.339/.419/.699) is enjoying an MVP-caliber final season with 18 HR and 59 RBI.
It’s the other side of the ball that has plagued the Sox in 2016. Their pitchers have an ERC% of 97.56, tied with the New York Yankees for 26th in the league (ERC% stands for Component ERA Ratio, and seeks to predict ERA based on the amount of walks and hits surrendered). With the exception of Steven Wright (8-4, 2.01 ERA), the rest of the staff has not performed up to expectations.
David Price has pitched better of late, giving up three earned runs or less in eight consecutive starts, but still sports a 4.24 ERA.
Clay Bucholz is set to return to the rotation Tuesday night against the Chicago White Sox. He was banished to the bullpen on May 26 after giving up three home runs in five innings against the Colorado Rockies. In general, Bucholz has walked too many guys this season (4.1 BB/9 IP), and has been unable to work out of jams, striking out just six batters for every nine innings pitched.
Rick Porcello has thrown pretty well considering his shaky past. He’s currently 8-2 with a 3.76 ERA. Any team would take that from a middle of the rotation starter.
Eduardo Rodriguez hasn’t been stellar since returning from the disabled list a couple weeks ago. He’s 1-2 in four games, with a 6.97 ERA. When healthy, he has the stuff to be a number two starter on most teams, but he has yet to regain his sharpness, as evidenced by his lackluster 10.5 H/9 IP and 2.6 HR/9 IP. Teams are seeing the ball well out of his hand, and that’s particularly dangerous as hitters begin to enjoy the hitting-friendly weather of summer.
Significant rumors have surfaced regarding Boston’s interest in aces like Jose Fernandez, Gerrit Cole, Sonny Gray, and Julio Teheran. It’s clear the front office will do whatever it can to improve the club’s chances of making the playoffs, but those names will require the Sox to surrender countless high-level prospects.
Cole and Fernandez are the type of pitchers that clubs love to build around, so it’s hard to imagine the Pirates or Marlins parting ways with their best pitchers. Cole is rehabbing from an injury while the Pittsburgh Pirates continue to struggle. Fernandez’ electric stuff has propelled the Marlins to being tied for the second Wild Card spot in the National League.
Oakland Athletics’ 26-year old Sonny Gray and Atlanta Braves’ 25-year old Julio Teheran are more likely be moved, though A’s GM Billy Beane has shown no signs of wanting to deal the team’s best player. Teams will likely wait on the A’s ace – since he’s the more talented pitcher of the two – as he regains his form after returning from the disabled list with a strained trapezius muscle.
The Red Sox are also said to covet bullpen help, despite great relief pitching so far. The team recently lost Carson Smith and is concerned about Koji Uehara. Craig Kimbrel is the best closer in baseball, but his save numbers (16 so far) won’t indicate that since the Sox seem to play so many lopsided games.
Despite being nine games over .500 so far and earning the fifth spot in our Weekly Rankings, the Sox are 15-17 against teams in the AL East, and could find themselves looking up at the Blue Jays and Orioles sooner rather than later. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Sox acquire two starters as the deadline approaches. Whether help comes internally or via trade, the Red Sox have to act quickly because the current pitching staff clearly cannot compete for a World Series championship.
Stats courtesy of ESPN.com and Baseball-Reference.com