This is a good baseball club.
It’s a good shakeup of the batting order away from being a world championship baseball club.
Having reached the ceremonial midpoint of the season, the Boston Red Sox are, frankly, something of a tough puzzle to figure out.
The runs come in spurts at best. The starting rotation has been at full strength for all of three days at the end of May, leading into June. The club has largely struggled more often than not against its division rivals. And they finished out the first half with a whimper, losing a very winnable series to Tampa Bay.
The team has often seemed inconsistent, and yet it leads the AL East by 3.5 games and holds the second best record in the American League.
Here’s my take, and it’s simple: We haven’t seen the best of this year’s club yet.
The lineup is truly special — but John Farrell is going to need to find the right order to capitalize on it.
It’s not his fault, really. What is one supposed to do with Mookie Betts?
He looks like a leadoff hitter and runs like a leadoff hitter but holds only the fifth-best on-base percentage and fifth best batting average on the club.
Yet, he leads the team in home runs, and RBIs — from the leadoff spot. And he leads the team in stolen bases and runs. What do you do with that? Slot him in the No. 3 spot? The No. 4?
At some point, there will be a shuffle to the lineup and things will click. Maybe Pedroia re-assumes the leadoff spot. Maybe they take a flyer on Andrew Benintendi, who finished the first half with an on-base six points higher than Betts.
Time will play that out.
But a reorganized batting order isn’t the reason for optimism.
Instead, it’s a couple very simple points:
- Boston presently has a series record of 16-10-2. Series records matter. To a much greater extent than overall winning percentage. And Boston is nine points better in series winning percentage (.571) than in overall winning percentage (.562). Series records, to me, most closely translate to how a team should perform in the postseason.
- The bullpen has been exceptional — and it’s been missing two of its best three arms (in theory) in Tyler Thornburg and Carson Smith. If either come back (and neither is a guarantee), it could be a tremendous boost down the stretch.
- As mentioned above, we haven’t really seen the rotation at full strength yet. David Price is just now beginning to stretch into the form we hoped we’d see last year, Drew Pomeranz overcame some early-season hiccups and is firing on all cylinders, E-Rod is due back soon with hopes of continuing what looked to be his breakout season, Rick Porcello seems to be beginning to remember he won the Cy Young last year and Chris Sale has been everything we could have hoped he’d be.
- The defense is superb. Hitting can come and go, but defense tends to remain fairly static. It may not be that much of a stretch to suggest Boston boasts the best outfield in baseball. Mitch Moreland has lived up to the Gold Glove billing, Dustin Pedroia has reached an entirely new level and Xander Bogaerts continues to perform at an elite level.
Defense and pitching. Two of three facets are among the best in the majors. The third — the offense — just hasn’t put it all together yet. But they get on base. There is good speed, good power, good discipline. It just hasn’t all clicked at the same time.
It will though.
This is a world championship-caliber club. They just need to realize it first.