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No Middle Ground - A Boston Red Sox preview

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A look ahead at the team with the fewest wins in the American League

Splash.
Splash.
Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

To call Ben Cherington's tenure as general manager of the Boston Red Sox "uneven" would be an understatement. Since his promotion after the 2011 season, the Red Sox have won 69, 97, and 71 games in the past three years. They've finished in last place in the AL East twice, with a World Series championship in between.

Coming into the 2015 season, many thought that this pattern would continue, as the Red Sox assembled a formidable offense after making some big splashes in the offseason. On November 25th, the team signed the seemingly mutually exclusive duo of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. With Ramirez ill-suited to handle shortstop, Sandoval's presence meant that Ramirez was headed someplace he'd never been in his nine years of major league service: the outfield.

That might have been classified as an odd, yet fitting decision if Boston had a need for an outfielder. However, the Red Sox already had an enviable logjam at that particular area of the depth chart, with Mookie Betts, Brock Holt, Yoenis Cespedes, Shane Victorino, and Daniel Nava all pushing for playing time. You could've formed two legitimate full major league starting outfields out of Red Sox players after Ramirez was brought in.

The situation was partially alleviated by the Red Sox trading Cespedes for Rick Porcello. The move made perfect sense, as each organization traded from a position of depth to improve where they needed it most. Porcello had been showing steady progress each year with the Tigers as he trucked along into his mid-20s. Unfortunately, the former groundballer has been allowing opposing hitters to put it in the air of late, and this year, home runs have been his undoing; Porcello has the third-worst ERA of all qualified pitchers.

The story hasn't been much better for Sandoval or Ramirez. These guys were supposed to help anchor the Red Sox offense. Instead, their aggregate OBP has been below .310. Ramirez has had the decency to provide good power, but you're a better left fielder than he is. Sandoval, on the other hand, has been talked about more for a mid-game trip to the bathroom than his actual play. The defensive metrics have universally panned Kung Fu Panda's formerly well-regarded glovework since his arrival in Boston.

On the plus side of the ledger, the Red Sox have received outstanding performances from two 22-year-old players at premium positions. Xander Bogaerts' sophomore season has featured a batting average over .300 and much-improved defense at shortstop, while Mookie Betts has provided good glovework in center to go along with plenty of power. Between these guys and a still-productive (but currently injured) Dustin Pedroia, the Red Sox might be in good shape up the middle for many years to come. They're further bolstered by Holt, who has turned himself into a Zobrist-like supersub with on-base skills that gets regular at-bats all over the infield and outfield.

Unfortunately for Boston, the guys at the corner positions aren't holding up their end of the bargain. In addition to Ramirez and Sandoval, Mike Napoli has given the Red Sox basically nothing from first base. For much of his career, Napoli has been a three-true-outcomes guy that has kept his batting average respectable with hard contact, but this year, he's had trouble barreling up the ball, and the result has been an extreme drop in BABIP. Out in right field, starter Shane Victorino has missed time with a hamstring issue and continues to be useless against righties. The Red Sox countered the latter issue by bringing in Alejandro De Aza to platoon with him, which has yielded excellent results in a small sample.

Despite some nice performances, the Boston offense has been below average this season. That's a problem, because everyone who thought the Red Sox would contend believed they would do so on the strength of their bats. It was pretty clear from the get-go that the starting rotation was leaky, and the results have reflected that. All they had was hope that Porcello could provide above-average production as the default "ace" and lingering memories of Clay Buchholz's excellent half-season in 2013. Fortunately, Buchholz brought the sweet nostalgia as the lone bright spot on the staff. Increased use of an excellent changeup helped Clay get his groove back. Unfortunately, a right flexor strain has earned him an all-too-familiar spot on the disabled list.

Despite justifiable optimism for the top two guys, the other slots were filled by Joe Kelly, Wade Miley, and Justin Masterson. Miley is useful as a durable LAIM, but Kelly is a borderline swingman and Masterson was simply a bad idea. Once Masterson finally had to accept the reality that guys who can't get lefties out need to be relief pitchers, the Red Sox eventually turned to Eduardo Rodriguez to fill his slot. The Venezuelan lefty has a hard fastball and a decent changeup, but is lacking a usable third offering. He infrequently mixes in a slider, but he has poor command of the pitch and it tends to get hammered.

Star-divide

It appears likely that the Red Sox will finish in the AL East cellar for the third time in four years, a concerning fate for a franchise that's probably missing Theo Epstein more than it might want to admit. Still, most baseball fans would accept that result if it meant the other of the four seasons involved capturing a World Series win. It's tough to get too down on the future of the Red Sox given the considerable talent under control and the sudden transformation of the AL East into baseball's most unpredictable division. You can probably count out the Red Sox for 2015, but it would shock no one if they emerged as a playoff team next year.

Predicted Record and Finish: 71-91, fifth place AL East

Probable Pitching Matchups

  • Monday July 27: John Danks vs. Joe Kelly
  • Tuesday July 28: Jeff Samardzija vs. Wade Miley
  • Wednesday July 29: Jose Quintana vs. Rick Porcello
  • Thursday July 30: Chris Sale vs. Stephen Wright

Probable Lineup

Pitching

1. Mookie Betts - CF

SP1. Rick Porcello - RHP

2. Brock Holt - 2B

SP2. Wade Miley - LHP

3. Xander Bogaerts - SS

SP3. Eduardo Rodriguez - LHP

4. David Ortiz - DH

SP4. Joe Kelly - RHP

5. Hanley Ramirez - LF

SP5. Stephen Wright - RHP

6. Pablo Sandoval - 3B

CL. Koji Uehara - RHP

7. Alejandro De Aza - RF

RP1. Junichi Tuzawa - RHP

8. Mike Napoli - 1B

RP2. Craig Breslow - LHP

9. Ryan Hanigan - C

RP3. Alexi Ogando - RHP