Twelve years of playing in Boston have formed Dustin Pedroia’s view that teams here are judged on an almost daily basis as either “whale s—,” as he so eloquently put it the other day, or “the greatest of all time.” Rarely, Pedroia says, is there any in-between.
But this year’s Red Sox are disproving the second baseman’s theory.
Just past the season’s quarter mark, the Red Sox are 23-21, a half-game closer to first place in the American League East than they are to last. They have scored only 13 more runs than they have allowed. They haven’t won more than two games in a row since a four-game run April 15-18, but they haven’t lost more than three straight, either. They rank roughly in the middle of the pack in the AL in runs and slugging percentage and are dead last in home runs. Every five days, they send the best pitcher in the league to the mound. But in between Chris Sale’s starts, there isn’t anything approximating the must-see viewing that retired franchise icon David Ortiz provided for the past 14 years.
The Red Sox have been maddeningly mediocre. Although they are hardly a lost cause, their $197 million payroll and collection of young stars were supposed to make them the class of the AL East. Instead, they are stumbling along in desperate need of something, anything to kick them into gear.
With that in mind, here are three ways to turn the Red Sox into the team they were supposed to be — or at least make them more interesting to a market that yawns at water-treading and .500 records.
1. Trade for a power hitter.
No need for Dave Dombrowski to wait until after Memorial Day to admit his two biggest offseason miscalculations: He underestimated how much the Red Sox would miss Ortiz and gambled on a bounce-back season from $95 million third baseman Pablo Sandoval.
Last season, the Sox led the AL in scoring by more than 100 runs. They brought back nearly the same lineup — led by Mookie Betts, Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, Hanley Ramirez, Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr. — but are tied for sixth in the AL in runs after pounding the Texas Rangers 11-6 Tuesday night.
Losing Ortiz was like flipping off the power switch. The Red Sox led the AL in doubles and ranked second in hits and on-base percentage. But they were eighth in slugging and eighth in total bases, which means they aren’t getting enough extra-base hits to drive in runs. And they have hit only 38 homers in 43 games.
Dombrowski will wait until Sandoval returns from the disabled list to pursue any big trades. But the Red Sox president must know by now that Sandoval isn’t a reliable power source. He has only two 20-homer seasons in his career, and the most recent (2011) was a long time ago.
Dealer Dave didn’t dawdle last season in addressing Boston’s pitching needs. He acquired lefty Drew Pomeranz from the San Diego Padres two weeks before the trade deadline. As such, it comes as no surprise that the Red Sox have been scouting Chicago White Sox third baseman Todd Frazier.
Here’s an even better name: Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas. Like Frazier, he’s eligible for free agency after the season, so he wouldn’t block 20-year-old top prospect Rafael Devers’ path. But he’s making $8.7 million (Frazier makes $12 million) and bats left-handed (Frazier is a right-handed hitter). Moustakas’ 11 homers are four more than anyone in the Red Sox lineup has.
Moustakas wouldn’t make anyone forget about Ortiz. But plug his bat into the middle of the order, and watch more of those Bogaerts singles and Betts doubles turn into runs.
2. Make sure Price is right.
Three out of every five days, manager John Farrell can count on a solid outing from his starting pitcher. As long as Rick Porcello, Sale and upstart lefty Eduardo Rodriguez continue to range from reliable to dominant, the Red Sox can afford not to rush David Price through his minor league rehab assignment.
It’s true that Price’s impending return from a spring training elbow scare is paramount to Boston’s fortunes, and the Red Sox don’t want Price wasting bullets on a Triple-A mound when they need him to throw as many pitches as possible in the big leagues. But they also need Price for the rest of the season — not merely a handful of starts before encountering a setback.
Price was neither efficient (65 pitches in two innings) nor particularly effective (three runs on five hits, including a home run) on Friday in his first rehab start for Triple-A Pawtucket. He is scheduled to start again Wednesday night with an eye toward joining the rotation next week in Chicago.
If Price is able to pitch even to his level from last season, when he admitted he was more inconsistent than usual, it would go a long way to stabilizing the back of a rotation that presently features Pomeranz and the void that depth starters Brian Johnson, Kyle Kendrick and Hector Velazquez have been unable to fill.
If Price needs another Triple-A tune-up before he’s ready, the Red Sox should make sure he takes it.
3. Give Farrell some more relief.
When the offseason began, Dombrowski listed finding a setup man as his top priority. Two months into the season, the Red Sox are still searching.
Tyler Thornburg was supposed to be the guy after he was acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers for power-hitting third baseman Travis Shaw. But a spring training shoulder injury has prevented Thornburg from getting on the mound.
Later in the season, Carson Smith might wind up being the answer. For now, he’s still working his way back from Tommy John surgery.
Flame-throwing right-hander Joe Kelly has shown flashes but still has bouts with control issues. Heath Hembree has been good, save for a few recent outings that inflated his ERA, while Matt Barnes remains prone to allowing home runs.
With closer Craig Kimbrel at his dominant best (0.92 ERA, 12-for-13 in saves, 36 strikeouts, two walks), Farrell often must resist the temptation to use him for more than three outs. If Dombrowski can come up with another reliable reliever before the trade deadline, it’ll be one fewer thing for Farrell to worry about.
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