The Boston Red Sox are currently on pace for an historic season. The club currently sits at 62-29 and is on pace for an absurd 109 wins. While conventional wisdom suggests this pace can’t be sustained, conventional wisdom could well be wrong. 110 wins is not impossible for this Boston Red Sox team, and this unit could be one of the best in history.
Three star performers
As of this posting, the three best players on the team are Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, and Chris Sale. Each player has been playing out of their minds during the first half of 2018, and there’s no reason to expect a drop in production.
Yes, Chris Sale has a history of wearing down as the season goes on. However, there’s reason to believe Sale will buck that trend in 2018. In his first year with the Red Sox, Sale faltered in September primarily because then-manager John Farrell didn’t pace Sale over the course of the season. Alex Cora has intentionally limited Sale’s outings to avoid a similar fate.
So far, it’s been working. Through 19 starts, Sale has thrown 12.2 fewer innings in 2018 than he did in 2017. Additionally, he’s thrown 1,915 pitches this season, compared to 2,084 last year. That’s nearly a 10% drop. His fastball velocity is topping 100, something he’s never done before this late in the year. Cora’s long-view managerial style is already showing signs of working. While we obviously won’t know if it’ll work in September and October, there are already positive signs that it will.
While Martinez and Betts will likely slow their production a little bit, there’s no reason to suspect a massive drop off. They’re just that good. Betts is currently slashing .342/.432/.673 with a 195 wRC+, well above his career marks of .298/.361/.509 with a 131 wRC+. However, he’ll probably stay closer to his 2018 marks than his career marks.
Betts is just 25 and entering the prime of his career. It’s only natural that his career numbers improve as he gets closer. On average, the typical major league player’s career peaks around the age of 28-29. Following typical trajectory, it makes perfect sense why Mookie is enjoying his best year to date.
While JD Martinez should be past his peak, he’s having the best season of his storied career. Through 85 games, Martinez is hitting .329/.392/.646 with a 178 wRC+. While most would assume there’s no way the slugger can remain that good, this actually isn’t far off from his average production.
Since embracing launch angle philosophy in 2014, Martinez has hit .304/.366/.584 with a 153 wRC+. These numbers aren’t far off what he’s done this year, and there’s plenty of reason to believe this year’s numbers aren’t a fluke.
Martinez is phenomenal at hitting the ball to all parts of the field with power, and this skill translates well to Fenway Park, as well as most ballparks in the AL East. In a sense, these hitter-friendly parks are inflating his numbers, making him an even more productive hitter than he normally is. Basically, the production of all three of the best players is legit, and there are no signs that it will slow any time soon.
Increased Production from Weak Positions
Earlier in the season, the Red Sox were winning mostly in spite of the bottom of the order. Third base, second base, catcher, and center field all underwent serious production problems. However, these struggles are already starting to disappear and should continue to improve as the season goes on.
Let’s start with third base. 21-year old Rafael Devers has been the primary third baseman all season long and underwent some early struggles in the season. However, the young lefty has adjusted to major league pitching and is transforming into a great hitter. Since June 6th, Devers has hit .289/.325/.500 in 120 plate appearances to go along with a 122 wRC+. His fielding still needs some work, but he’s becoming a real weapon at the plate.
Likewise, the catcher position has started to improve. With Christian Vazquez injuring his pinky, Sandy Leon will have the chance to win the starting job. Just like Devers, Leon has shaken off a rough start to become a solid offensive presence. Since May 6th, Leon is hitting .304/.343/.500 with a 127 wRC+. He’s been 27% better at the plate than the league average hitter, so he’s anything but a liability at the plate. Will he continue to produce at that pace? Probably not. However, he’s still a solid hitter, especially for a catcher.
Eduardo Nunez is in the midst of an ugly season at second base, but there’s hope on the horizon. Boston signed longtime second baseman Brandon Phillips to a minor-league deal with the understanding that he will enter the majors once he’s ready. Phillips represents an upgrade on Nunez in just about every capacity. While Phillips isn’t a difference maker like Betts or Martinez, he’s a solid starter. Right now, that’s a considerable upgrade.
As for center field…at least Jackie Bradley Jr. is still good with the glove. He’s been incredibly unlucky at the plate, but it’s hard to believe he’ll drastically turn his production around. Still, three of the four biggest weaknesses on a 62-29 team have easy fixes and should improve in the second half.
The first half of the Boston Red Sox schedule has not been easy, but they’ve managed to thrive in spite of it. Their 91 games played are among the most in the league, and they’ve played more road games than any other team in the American League.
Needless to say, that means the second half of the schedule will be considerably easier for them. With more time to rest and less leaguewide travel, the Red Sox should find themselves more rested than the average team later on in the season.
Additionally, the Red Sox currently find themselves leading the New York Yankees by two games despite playing six of their nine meetings in the Bronx. While the Yankees have a 5-4 head-to-head lead on the Sox, that probably won’t last in the second half of the year. New York is notably worse on the road than at home, and the Sox will be hosting the Yankees more often than not in the second half of the season.
Winning 100 games in a season in an incredible feat, so asking for 110 is borderline ludicrous. It would take a phenomenal team with exceptionally talented players to pull off something like that. Fortunately, that’s exactly what the Red Sox have.
Betts and Martinez are legitimate MVP candidates and top-five hitters in the league. Chris Sale is one of the few true aces in the league and a top-five pitcher. Combine that with a lineup with minimal weaknesses, one of the best starting rotations in baseball, and an underrated bullpen, and that’s a formula for success.
There’s no limit to how good this team can be, and there are no signs they’ll put on the breaks as the season goes on. With the Yankees in the same division, the Red Sox will need every win they can get to avoid the Wild Card game. 100 wins may not be enough. 110 certainly will be.