With an eye toward offsetting the retirement of David Ortiz and putting themselves in postion for a title run, the Red Sox this past offseason traded away Yoan Moncada, their second-best hitting prospect, and Mitch Kopech, arguably their best pitching prospect (yes, we know, TINSTAAPP), to pry away Chris Sale from the White Sox. Two months into the season, Sale has proven to be a bargain, but the Sox are scuffling along at 22-21.
In his last start, Sale tied his own Major League record for most consecutive starts with 10 or more strikeouts at 8, a mark he’d previously shared with Pedro Martinez. Sale has now struck out a Major League leading 95 batters, putting him 19 K’s ahead of #2 hurler Max Scherzer. And when hitters do manage to make contact, it’s of little consequence, as they’re batting just .172 with a .220 OBP and a .260 slugging percentage. That all works out to an OPS+ of 28 — to put that number into context, the only pitcher ever to post a lower OPS+ over the course of a season was one Pedro Martinez in 2000, when he held opposing batters to an 18 OPS+. Sale also has the lowest FIP in the bigs at just 1.63, which would be the twelfth-best mark of all time, and the best ever by a guy not already in the Hall of Fame. And to make those rate stats all the more impressive, he’s done it while leading the American League in batters faced and innings pitched. Sadly, the Red Sox have not lived up to their end of the bargain, scoring just 1 run total in Sale’s two losses, and twice hanging him with a no-decision despite pitching 7+ scoreless innings.
The Sox offense was expected to take hit with the retirement of Ortiz, but no one foresaw this kind of drop off. It was hoped that the loss of Ortiz would be offset, at least in part, by a full season of Andrew Benintendi in left, the departure of Travis Shaw, and the continued development of Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts. Nothing of the sort has happened thus far. With Ortiz in the heart of their lineup, the Sox led the AL in runs, hits, doubles, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and total bases. This season they’re 8th in runs and slugging percentage — they’ve stopped hitting for extra bases, and it’s killing them. Last year through 43 games the Red Sox had 57 more hits, including 28 doubles, 6 triples, and 14 home runs.
Who’s to blame? Sandy Leon has predictably fallen to Earth, after posting an .845 OPS last season, he’s down to .713 this year. Dustin Pedroia’s home run rate has been cut in half. Xander Bogaerts is hitting .320, and his walk rate is up, but he’s yet to put one in the seats after jacking 21 homers last year. Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval has proven to be even worse than Shaw at 3B, and the jumble of guys behind him have been even worse. Jackie Bradley Jr’s BABIP has cratered from a career standard of .299 to just .235. Hanley Ramirez’s numbers are down across the board, except for his grounded-into double plays, which are up about 30%. Mookie Betts’ numbers are down slightly, but he’s still among the top ten in WAR. Benintendi started off hot, with a .916 OPS through 32 games, but has gone just 3 for 37 over his last 10 games. Even supersub Brock Holt has struggled, as he’s battled vertigo and has a .449 OPS. Ironically, Mitch Moreland, the man brought in for his defense at 1B, is the only guy performing at or above expectations, leading the Majors with 16 doubles while posting an .806 OPS.
Ken Rosenthal: "I wouldn't be surprised if the Red Sox fire John Farrell this week."
— Boston Strong (@BostonStrong_34) May 21, 2017
There’s plenty of blame up and down the lineup, and the rumblings about manager John Farrell getting fired have officially begun, but it’s not too late for the Sox to pull out of this death spiral. They trail the overachieving Yankees by just 4 games in the East, are only a 1.5 games out of the Wild Card, and still have another 100 games to play. But if they don’t get it together, they may end up wasting one of the great seasons by a pitcher in the game’s history.
San Francisco Giants (Cueto 4-4, 4.50) vs Chicago Cubs (Hendricks 3-2, 3.35)
@ 7pm ET on ESPN
St. Louis Cardinals (Lynn 4-2, 2.78) vs Los Angeles Dodgers (Kershaw 7-2, 2.15)
@10:10pm ET on ESPN
Kansas City Royals (Vargas 5-4, 2.03) vs Cleveland Indians (Tomlin 2-5, 6.86)
@ 4:10pm ET on FS1
Baltimore Orioles (Miley 1-1, 3.02) vs Houston Astros (Keuchel 7-0, 1.84) or
New York Mets (Gsellman 2-3, 6.75) vs Pittsburgh Pirates (Cole 2-4, 2.84) or
Chicago Cubs (Lackey 4-3, 4.37) vs Los Angeles Dodgers (Ryu 2-5, 4.75)
@ 7:15pm ET on FOX
New York Mets (Harvey 2-3, 5.56) vs Pittsburgh Pirates (2-3, 7.34)
@ 8pm ET on ESPN2