The Red Sox Are Built for Sustainable Success

The Red Sox are edging closer to their first division title since 2013. At various times in recent memory, that seemed impossible. Too many collapses. Not enough nerve. But as the leaves change color and autumn truncates summer, things are falling into place just nicely this time. The offense is unstoppable, and the pitching has improved. Boston is galloping away with the American League East, and that may be the case for many years to come.

Red Sox

This current success is rooted in fairly recent failure. The Red Sox have made just one postseason appearance since 2009. They’ve finished in last place three times since then, including the past two seasons, while winning eighty games has proved difficult. Managers have changed. Front office members have been fired. New players have arrived on bloated contracts. Yet, through it all, hope still pervaded, for an exciting group of prospects received playing time in which to hone its craft. Now, we’re seeing the fruits of that labor at the Major League level, and it’s pretty magical.

How the Red Sox Built a New Core

In darker days, back when Pablo Sandoval flailed at off-speed junk or Bobby Valentine lost control, we heard so much about the new core developing below. Well, it’s finally here. And it’s finally attuned to big league ball. Mookie Betts has over 200 hits, 30 home runs, 100 RBI and 20 stolen bases. Xander Bogaerts has 20 bombs of his own and he led the league in batting average earlier this season. Jackie Bradley Jr. may finish with 30 homers and 100 RBI with a late surge, complimenting his all-world defense. These players have an average age of just 24. They’re great, and they’re going to be around for a very long time.

Around that nucleus, there are more layers of young Red Sox talent. Andrew Benintendi is just 21, but his grace, poise and ability belies that fact. Yoan Moncada needs further refinement, but his raw skills saw him promoted to Boston before turning 22. Meanwhile, Eduardo Rodriguez has slowly returned to form, and he may be the Red Sox’ third playoff starter. Then we have Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez, one of whom will eventually become the starting catcher at Fenway Park.

Few Teams Can Compete With This Talent

Quite simply, no other team in the AL East can match that cadre of young, cost-controlled, Major League-ready talent. Toronto is a strong opponent, but many of their aging stars will soon hit free agency. The Yankees are transitioning to a youth movement, and their farm is loaded. But in developmental terms, New York is probably where Boston was in 2014. Many of those bright young players still have a lot to learn, and that can be a painful process. Meanwhile, Baltimore relies on a veteran core, and Tampa Bay is so far removed from contention as to be almost irrelevant.

The Red Sox will have tremendous flexibility moving forward, as these players should remain in Boston for many years. However, right now, veterans like David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Rick Porcello and Dustin Pedroia are providing valuable experience and leading the Red Sox back to contention. That blend of youth and know-how is crucial. It may just result in a deep championship run, if the magic dust doesn’t run out.

Whether the Red Sox win it all this year or not, fans can rest assured that other opportunities will arise in future years. At one point, just a few short years ago, that was a distant dream. Yet now, after building through the tough times, sustainable success is once again on tap in Beantown. It should be fun to watch.

Porcello Wins His 20th Game

Friday night proved to be a great culmination for Rick Porcello’s season. Going into 2016, Porcello was one of the major question marks for the Red Sox. The answer to the question has been a season of dominance for him. That dominance has now produced a 20-win season.

Porcello shut down one of the league’s best offenses Friday night, limiting the Blue Jays toPorcello two runs and six hits in seven innings. He also struck out seven while only surrounding one walk. Backing him up, the Red Sox offense slugged their way to a dominant 13-3 win at the Rogers Centre.

The win Friday makes Porcello the first Red Sock to have a 20-win season since Josh Beckett in 2007. If Porcello can offer the same postseason dominance Beckett had in ’07, it could be the same result for the Sox; a World Championship. With the number 20 under the “win” column, Porcello should be the frontrunner for the AL Cy Young Award.

Porcello’s Cy Young Résumé

Porcello’s year has been great to say the least. While not an All-Star, he was the first pitcher in the majors this year to reach those 20 wins, including being 13-0 at home. He also adds an ERA of 3.21 and leads the majors in strikeouts-walk ratio. You can make an argument for Chris Sale or even Toronto’s J.A. Happ, but it is really tough to argue against Boston’s bona fide ace.

More importantly than the 20th win for Porcello, this was a big game for the Red Sox. In such a crucial series, this was a statement win for them. They knocked out Toronto’s #2 starter in Marco Estrada after just 2 and 2/3 innings. While squandering some chances early, the Red Sox blew the game open with a six-run seventh inning to take it from a 5-2 game to an 11-2 game. With this win, the Red Sox can not relinquish first place by the time they leave Toronto on Sunday.

With each milestone a Red Sock gets, the fate of the team still remains the key focus. Whether it is a new record for David Ortiz, Mookie Betts’ MVP-caliber season, or Rick Porcello’s Cy Young campaign, it is all about the playoff picture at this point. Given what has happened the last two years, it is refreshing that the playoffs are what the Red Sox are focusing on. However, Friday night was for Rick Porcello, who put an exclamation point on a terrific season so far.

Red Sox Cannot Catch a Break

Boston let out a collective gasp when Red Sox rookie Andrew Benintendi sprained his leg this past week. “Say it ain’t so!” seems to be the Red Sox motto this season. Injuries have plagued others players like Blake Swihart, Chris Young, Brock Holt, and Koji Uehara. These injuries haven’t only kept our best players out of the lineup, but have kept the Red Sox from securing first place. With the Baltimore Orioles falling behind, the Red Sox have a strong chance to capture first place. But as of late, it seems like the Red Sox cannot catch a break.

The Red Sox started the season in strong fashion. Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, andRed Sox Cannot Xander Bogaerts’ bats were on fire. The pitching rotation was amazing. The bullpen was unstoppable.

Then the injuries started.

Brock Holt got another concussion. Chris Young went onto the DL. Josh Rutledge got hurt. Koji Uehara hurt himself. Blake Swiart hurt his leg. Joe Kelly got hurt. Craig Kimbrel got hurt. Meanwhile, the Red Sox swayed back and forth in the AL East between the Blue jays and Orioles. Just like me with past romantic relationships, anytime they seemed to finally gain an advantage they’d blow it.

Red Sox Cannot Get A Break. Is There Still Time To Recover?

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. I really think John Farrell needs to go. While injuries have put a huge dent in the amount of wins the Red Sox have accumulated this season, he hasn’t helped. I’ve questioned Farrell’s relief pitching choices more than once. Two pitchers who haven’t been injured much are Clay Buchholz and Junichi Tazawa but you wouldn’t know it based on their poor performance this season, and Farrell keeps using them. While Buchholz is starting to “coming around” a little, for lack of a better term, Tazawa isn’t getting much better.

The Red Sox are in a much stronger position than many think to reclaim first and keep it. The pitching rotation is coming around (finally), the relief pitchers are finding a groove, and the hitters are learning from mistakes. There’s no reason why that can’t begin to gel over and solidify.

The Red Sox cannot catch a break. They’ve been like a tarp flapping in the wind since June. They now have a chance to tie themselves down and focus on making it to the playoffs. Let’s hope they tie themselves down as tightly as possible.

Dustin Pedroia: Resurgent Season

Plenty of members of the Red Sox organization have had turnaround seasons in 2016, but maybe none has been more important than Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia now serves as the catalyst for this team, with Mookie Betts moving to the clean-up spot for the near future. His importance in the infield as well as in the clubhouse have been well-documented, but his bat has also come back to life this season.

Since winning Rookie of the Year in 2007 and MVP in 2008, the narrative on Dustin Pedroia has Pedroia been the same: he is a guy who gives it all he has. He’ll play great defense (with his four Gold Gloves) and is a great leader off the field. However, he has been mainly inconsistent at the plate since then. On top of that, Pedroia’s career has been littered with injuries. He had major surgery in every season from 2010-2014. Also, he has had six major surgeries in the last nine seasons. The fact that he has stayed healthy has been the main reason why he has returned to his former success.

Pedroia’s Resurgence At The Plate

Since 2012, Pedroia has hit over .300 for an entire season once, when he hit .301 in 2013. 2013 was a good season for him, combining the .301 average with 42 doubles and 84 RBI. He also finished seventh in the MVP voting that year. Other than that, it is no secret that he has underperformed the past five seasons. When he’s healthy, he’s been productive and the Red Sox win. In 2013, he had those exemplary numbers in 160 games and the Red Sox won the World Series.

After that season, the numbers have not come quite as easily to Pedroia. In 2014 and 2015, Pedroia batted a subpar (by his standards) .278 and .291 respectively in a combined 228 games. In 2016, he has played in 121 of the Red Sox’s 125 games. Also, he has hit .305 with 55 RBI and 30 doubles this year. Although he said he hates batting leadoff, he sure has a weird way of showing it. In his 55 at-bats leading off this season, he is hitting a whopping .364 with four doubles and six RBI.

Pedroia has stepped up to do something some veterans would not. He is in a position he is not comfortable with (batting leadoff) and thriving. Because of his turnaround, like in seasons past, the Red Sox are finally winning again. Right now, the Red Sox are in a playoff position and the resurgence of Dustin Pedroia is a key reason why.

Why Do The Red Sox Leave Runners On Base?

There’s a problem in Boston that few are discussing. The Red Sox leave runners on base. As of August 11th, they lead the American League in runners left on base at an average of 15.50 per game. The Red Sox also lead the league in runners in scoring position left on base at 3.78. So if the Red Sox are leaving all teams in baseball with a .283 batting average, then why aren’t we scoring more?

The problem of how the Red Sox leave runners on base has existed for a fewRed Sox leave runners seasons now. Up to May 21st last season, the Sox were batting just .199 with eight doubles, three triples and 11 home runs when runners were in scoring position. You’d think after two seasons that John Farrell would focus more on this problem. But so far this season it seems as though the team blows every opportunity to score when the load the bases. It’s particularly frustrating when they load the bases with no outs, and strand them all after three.

Dustin Pedrioa, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and David Ortiz are strong hitters. They can get on base. Betts and Bradley Jr. can steal bases to get into scoring position. They’re doing their part. So that leaves the bottom half of the lineup. Except for Sandy Leon, the Red Sox bottom half of the lineup is mediocre at best. Travis Shaw isn’t hitting the ball like he once was. Aaron Hill has yet to get into a hitting groove. Hanley Ramirez is good when he gets hits but he’s been inconsistent all season. It’s only worse when someone like Ryan Hanigan or Christian Vazquez is catching because their batting averages are lower than some NL starting pitcher’s.

Here’s a radical idea. Instead of making the lineup top-heavy with good hitters, mix the good hitters with the bad. Make it odd/even. Pedrioa starts off, followed by someone like Aaron Hill. Hill’s on-base percentage isn’t too bad this season so there’s a good chance he could reach base. Betts could advance him. Bring up Shaw, who might ground out, but will advance Hill and Betts. Then bring in another big gun like Ortiz or Bradley Jr. to drive them home. Don’t insert anyone into the lineup with a OBP of less than .300. We have plenty of hitters with a .300 or better OBP.

But what do I know? I’m just an English teacher, not a baseball manager. What I do know though is that the Red Sox leave runners on base more often than they should, and it doesn’t look like the problem will get better any time soon.

The Betts Case For MVP

Mookie Betts is in the midst of a career year in 2016, and he’s being rewarded for it. Betts was just named American League Player of the Month for July, raising a new question for Red Sox fans—can he win the American League MVP?

Betts has had a good year, sure, but is it enough to earn baseball’s most prestigiousBetts individual award? He has proven to be one of the most versatile players in all of baseball, and that only helps his case. For MLB’s best offense, Mookie has been the unquestioned catalyst. After a slow start, he has raised his average all the way to .311.

It has not been just his average that has impressed fans—Mookie has added another lethal power threat to an already potent Red Sox lineup. Even batting lead-off, Betts has 23 home runs and 74 RBI. Both those statistics are second on the team, only behind David Ortiz. He has combined hitting with above average power and exceptional fielding for a great MVP case.

The 2016 Difference For Betts

Betts has been exponentially better this year compared to last year when he finished in the top 20 for MVP voting. Last year, he did not even make the All-Star team and still got MVP votes. This year, Betts has become a staple in the “league leaders” lists. He ranks 2nd in the American League in hits and extra-base hits, 3rd in doubles, and 5th in batting average. Also, Betts is 4th in the American League in stolen bases, runs scored, and triples. He also leads the league in at-bats and total bases.

It has not just been his hitting that has improved, however. Betts is 3rd in the league among outfielders in fielding percentage (and 1st among right fielders in particular), and 3rd in outfield assists. On the base paths, he’s 4th in the league in stolen bases and stolen base percentage. In July, Betts hit .368 with 5 home runs and 15 RBI, being named AL Player of the Month.

A red-hot July and an already impressive August have definitely increased Mookie Betts’ stock in the MVP race. Personally, I think it’s Jose Altuve’s award to lose. He’s hitting almost .360 and has almost single-handedly led the Houston Astros near a playoff spot. If he stays hot and they get in the post-season, he has to win. However, the Mookie Betts case is clearly one that can not be ignored.