By: Jake Perda
We are now just days away from the glorious month of September. The leaves will be changing, the NFL season will be beginning, and most importantly, the pressure will be rising among Major League Baseball teams who are hoping to make a playoff run. With the Red Sox up 3.5 games in the division, it seems very likely that they will find themselves in the playoff picture come October; however, this team was not constructed to simply make it to the playoffs.This team was constructed to contend for a World Series title, and they were constricted to do that right now. But when you take into consideration the injury problems, inconsistencies, and other issues that they have endured, it begs the question of whether or not they deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as teams like the Dodgers, Astros, and Indians. Does the Sox have what it takes to win in October?
If health weren’t such an issue for this team, this would be a stupid question. Unfortunately, health has been a major problem. David Price’s UCL has been hanging on by a thread all season, we’ve never seen Tyler Thornburg throw a pitch in Fenway Park, Carson Smith has exceeded the one year milestone in his return from Tommy John Surgery, Dustin Pedroia has been battling a knee injury all season, Joe Kelly and Eduardo Rodriguez haven’t been the same since they both injured their knees, and Jackie Bradley Jr. is on the disabled-list forcing the team to send a platoon of Brock Holt, Rajai Davis, and Chris Young to roam the outfield beside Betts and Benintendi. The list goes on and on, but I think you get the point. This is not the team that we thought we were going to see coming into Spring Training.
Nonetheless, the roster that they will take into October, on paper, should be good enough to make things interesting. The reason that I say “on paper” is because the Boston Red Sox are one of the most consistently inconsistent teams in all of baseball. As a team, they are just as likely to go on a 6 game winning streak as they are to drop 4 games in a row in absolutely embarrassing fashion. As individuals, they have not been much better. There are exactly 5 players on this team who have performed consistently well this season. Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel, of course, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Drew Pomeranz, Christian Vazquez, and Jackie Bradley Jr. have all made it to the last month of the season without a prolonged period of uncharacteristic play. With that being said, the Red Sox success come October will heavily depend on who’s clicking at the right time.
More specifically, any postseason success that Boston has will directly correlate with the success of their bullpen. I realize that “you can’t win if you can’t score” and that a shutdown bullpen is useless without a lead, but the Red Sox bullpen has to be the most concerning aspect of this team at the moment. Matt Barnes has not been able to pitch on the road all season and has lacked the ability to throw a strike for the entirety of August (4.5 BB/9 this month), Heath Hembree has not been able to strand inherited runners on base when the team has really needed it (1.46 WHIP), and I don’t even know what to say about Addison Reed. He hasn’t been terrible, but do you really feel good when the Sox are clinging to a one-run lead against a playoff-caliber lineup and they have Addison Reed coming out of the bullpen to pitch the 8th inning? I don’t.
Not to worry, there are reasons to be optimistic. First and foremost, we have Chris Sale. The guy is an absolute lunatic. Sale has traditionally fallen off in the second half, but that’s because he was playing with the White Sox. When you’re on a last place team, 10 games below .500, it’s pretty difficult to get amped up to pitch. Now he will be pitching in the electric atmosphere of Fenway Park with a playoff hungry fanbase who wants to see their team make amends for last years disappointment of an series against Cleveland. The same goes for Craig Kimbrel. Not to mention, we also have Drew Pomeranz A.K.A “Big Smooth” A.K.A the man who is tied with Chris Sale and Jason Vargas as the American League leader in wins with 14.
The real wild card in all of this is that the Red Sox could go into the postseason with none, one, two, or all three of Dustin Pedroia, Carson Smith, and David Price on their roster. Any one of these guys could provide a huge boost to this team, but the one I’m really looking forward to seeing is Carson Smith. No, I’m not looking for him to be the savior of the bullpen. He hasn’t been in the Majors in over a year and is coming off the most serious surgery a pitcher can undergo. However, if he can simply come into games and get outs, then he already has a step up on half of the Sox bullpen to begin with.
If you want a straightforward answer to the question of whether or not this team is a serious World Series contender, I’m sorry. I don't have one. I’m not sure that it exists right now. Do I think the Sox are a playoff team? Yes, they should and hopefully will win their division. Do I like their chances in a series against the Indians or Astros? Not really. They have yet to show me that they can match up well with another high caliber American League team other than the Yankees. Until the Red Sox can convince me that they’re in the same class as the other division leaders, I’m not ready to say that they’re World Series contenders, especially since we haven’t even factored in how they stack up to the Dodgers. Luckily, September baseball is right around the corner, and we are about to find out what this team is made of.
Photo: (Over the Monster)