As Yogi Berra once supposedly articulated, and Red Sox fans echoed when their team tumbled back to the flat ground of .500 last weekend, “it’s getting late early” in this 2019 season.
Certainly it’s true that there are essentially four full months of baseball still to be played, and that after capping off a sweep of the wretched Royals on Thursday afternoon, the Red Sox have exactly 100 games still to go. But along the route to 33-29, Boston has played itself into a position where any hiccups could really hurt, and where there’s enough urgency that what happens over the rest of June could define the direction this club is headed.
Friday night the Rays arrive at Fenway Park for a four-game weekender, presenting the Sox with an opportunity to close on the team it trails by five games for second place in the AL East. That opens an eight-game homestand, and a stretch in which they’ll play 14 of 20 at Fenway before making a quick jaunt across the pond to take on the Yankees in London.
When they return from that trip it’ll be July 2, with the All-Star game a week later, and the trade deadline lingering about three weeks after that. That’s always been a point by which teams need to decide and declare their intentions for the current campaign — but this year there’s a permanence to that declaration. This year the July 31 deadline is the only trade deadline, thanks to rules changes that eliminated the waiver deal opportunities that used to be available throughout August.
So, between now and the end of next month, Boston’s brass needs to figure out what they have. Whether this team is worth investing in. Whether they should resign themselves to the fate of a one-game playoff and stand pat. Whether they need to make a splash. Or maybe even whether they should sell off some pieces to get a jump on an offseason reset.
Yogi was right. It’s getting late already — and decisions need to be made soon. With that in mind, here’s a look at how the Red Sox roster ranks, individually, at the start of this important stretch:
25. Colten Brewer: Since a decent start the righty reliever’s performance has devolved to the degree that before stopping some of the bleeding early in Thursday’s win his ERA had exploded to 5.87 and came accompanied by a WHIP pushing 1.8. Meanwhile, second baseman Esteban Quiroz, who was shipped to San Diego in exchange for Brewer last winter, posted a .966 OPS in his first 39 games this season at Triple-A El Paso.
24. Steve Pearce: There’s apparently been no progress made toward Pearce’s return from back spasms, so for the time being his season remains stagnated while his batting average sits at .180 and his OPS at just .503.
23. Ryan Weber: Thursday’s truncated start amplifies questions about how long Weber may be among the candidates to fill vacancies that arise in the Red Sox’ rotation. His chance came with Hector Velazquez and Brian Johnson downed by injuries, though Weber got only four outs against the Royals after taking a beating from the Indians in his second turn. Providing competitive innings in a pinch is an important role on the staff, but Weber’s ability to do so reliably is in doubt.
22. Nathan Eovaldi: While the MVP isn’t any closer, one of his co-heroes in last year’s World Series is moving nearer to a rehab assignment. Eovaldi hasn’t appeared in a real game since April 17 because of loose bodies that needed to be surgically removed from his elbow, but he participated in a simulated contest recently, and could be back in the big leagues at some point this month.
21. Sandy Leon: Christian Vazquez’s stellar offensive start makes the hole in Leon’s bat look even bigger than it might otherwise, but the decision to move forward with him instead of Blake Swihart was made for defense — and going into the finale at Kansas City, Sox pitchers had posted an ERA about a run lower (4.49-3.47) when throwing to Leon instead of Vazquez.
20. Eduardo Nunez: Tuesday night’s deal-sealing blast was his first homer — and third extra-base hit — in a month. There’s value in Nunez’s versatility, and he serves a purpose off the bench, but if Nunez or Pearce doesn’t prove otherwise over the next eight weeks the Sox should be in the market for a right-handed bat off the bench come the trade deadline.
19. Heath Hembree: Opponents hit .150 with a .244 on-base percentage as Hembree posted a pretty 0.79 ERA over the month of May, and that performance carried into early June, too. It hasn’t yet earned him a legitimate shot at late-innings, high-leverage, lead-protecting opportunities, though perhaps Thursday’s eighth-inning appearance could be a sign that Cora will start handing things over to Hembree in those situations more often.
18. Brock Holt: It’s amazing what a functional cornea can do for a hitter. The utilityman was 1-for-16 while trying to play through a scratched cornea in early April, but he returned on May 27 and went 11-for-25 over his first seven games. With the Sox situation at second base potentially unsettled moving forward, Holt could yet find himself in the thick of things, like he did last October.
17. Jackie Bradley Jr.: He’s edging closer to both marks, but it was April 2 when Bradley last awoke with a batting average of .200, and not since reaching on an error in his fourth at-bat of opening day has his OBP surpassed .300. Meanwhile, of the 28 players who’d through Wednesday spent at least 250 innings in center field, a variety of advanced defensive metrics rank his glove somewhere around 19th. That said, history says there’s a white-hot month coming at some point.
16. Ryan Brasier: He notched saves in six of the Sox’ first nine wins, but was then tagged for two runs in each of his first two appearances of May. Since then he’s been called upon for a ninth-inning save situation just once — and in that game he blew a three-run lead without recording an out.
15. Rick Porcello: An early exit against the Yankees spoiled a string of seven straight starts in which Porcello did what Porcello does — specifically, completing at least six innings and kept his team in the ballgame. The ERA isn’t pretty (at 4.76), but it doesn’t need to be in order for the former Cy Young winner to be serving his purpose as the No. 3 or 4 arm in what’s fast shaping up as a top-heavy rotation.
14. Eduardo Rodriguez: The image of Rodriguez slamming his glove to the ground while an outing-spoiling homer soared over the Dodgers Stadium wall in Game 5 of last year’s World Series could really be the visual encapsulation of the lefty’s career. Just when he seems to have it figured out — in a game, or in a season — those gains are somehow given back. He’s still barely 26, so there’s time, but with each passing subset of starts it begins to look more like this is just who E-Rod really is.
13. Christian Vazquez: The Yankees’ Gary Sanchez is on track to be the American League starter, but about a month before the team is named there appears to be a legitimate chance Vazquez could find himself an All-Star this season. He took into Thursday an .809 OPS that ranked fifth among all big-league catchers with 150 plate appearances, and on top of that he’d eliminated 45 percent of would-be base stealers.
Christian’s first triple of the season was a big one! pic.twitter.com/VH3jW0Mqdf
— Boston Red Sox (@RedSox) June 6, 2019
12. Marcus Walden: Yielding just 29 baserunners and seven runs in his first 33 innings has vaulted Walden into Cora’s circle of trust, and for the time being it’s he, Brandon Workman, and Matt Barnes who are getting the biggest outs for the Boston bullpen. At age 30, he’s throwing more than three times as many sliders as he did when trying to break through last year, and so far the results speak for themselves.
11. Brandon Workman: The righty has spun a curveball with effectively half of his pitches this season, the third-highest usage rate among big leaguers who’ve been on the bump for at least 20 innings. And rightfully so. Entering Thursday, Fangraphs rated Workman’s hook as the most effective curveball among major-league relievers, and it had much to do with his 1.98 ERA.
10. Andrew Benintendi: On June 7, 2018, Benintendi slugged his 11th homer of last season as his average bumped to .299. In the calendar year since then he’s hit just 11 more home runs, and in the meantime posted an OPS that’s just a few ticks north of the American League average. The left fielder has continued to reach base successfully (.364 entering Thursday), though it’s been about a year since he looked like a truly dynamic offensive force.
9. Mitch Moreland: Statistically speaking, Baseball-Reference says Moreland has been worth 0.8 wins above a replacement-level player for the Red Sox this season. Those who were paying attention through the early struggles of April, however, recognize that Boston’s position may be even more precarious were it not for a few clutch blows from the first baseman who still leads the team with 13 homers, and who is set to return from the IL this weekend.
8. Michael Chavis: Through the first 20 games of his big-league career, Chavis had a .970 OPS, six homers, and 23 strikeouts to 14 walks in 86 plate appearances. Over the next 20 games, his OPS was .687, he hit four home runs, he walked only four times, and he struck out on 31 occasions in 88 plate appearances. The league has adjusted to him, but with an opportunity still available at second base, and because of what he’s already contributed, Chavis for now (and for better or worse) remains a key piece to this season.
7. Matt Barnes: Three of the eight runs the righty has been charged with this season were tagged onto his ledger when he entered with a six-run lead against the Yankees last weekend, with that outing jacking up his ERA by more than a run. Forty-two strikeouts to 14 hits in his first 23.2 innings speaks to how tough it has been to hit Barnes this season, during which he’s embracingly emerged as the anchor of the Red Sox bullpen.
6. Mookie Betts: Thursday’s homer was his 10th, and Baseball-Reference rates him as the Red Sox leader in WAR, with his 2.5 ranking just outside the AL top 10 going into the finale against the Royals. The numbers will almost certainly be there in the end offensively, and he remains an impactful defender — but it’s felt like a quiet start for the reigning MVP. So don’t discount the possibility that as Betts gets louder, the Sox may make some more noise in the East.
Heads up play by Mookie Betts to score on the fielder’s choice. pic.twitter.com/QagZgcvSoo
— Brendan (@brendan_camp) June 6, 2019
5. J.D. Martinez: The slugger is well behind the pace at which he was blasting the ball en route to 88 long balls between 2017 and ‘18. Over those two seasons, he homered once every 11.4 at-bats; it was once every 17.8 at-bats after Wednesday’s game. The good news for the Sox, however, is that Martinez’s taters tend to bunch together, and outside of a three-day surge in mid-May he hasn’t yet gone on the tear the team has to be anticipating.
4. David Price: Parlaying his excellent postseason into a fresh start with Sox fans, the southpaw’s 2.83 ERA would’ve tied him for sixth in the AL going into Thursday had he thrown the requisite number of innings. He’s on pace to allow the fewest baserunners per inning of his career (with a WHIP of 1.037), and he’s afforded valuable stability to a staff that has been both inconsistent and injury plagued. If this continues through the month, Price deserves to represent the Red Sox at the All-Star game for the first time.
3. Chris Sale: Speaking of All-Stars … all of a sudden Sale is back in the conversation, too. Yes, his Wednesday shutout was only his second win, against a league-high seven losses. And his current 3.84 ERA would be the worst of his career. But since April 23 his ERA is 2.43, opponents are hitting .166 against him, and suddenly he was second in the league in strikeouts, fifth in WHIP, and eighth in innings pitched when play began Thursday. His fastball might be down to 92.9 mph (from 94.7 a year ago), but the results are trending in no way but up.
Chris Sale was quite immaculate last night. pic.twitter.com/h924E4ha5w
— Boston Red Sox (@RedSox) June 6, 2019
2. Xander Bogaerts: After making a six-year commitment to the Red Sox late in the offseason, Bogaerts has validated the franchise’s choice to make him part of the footing of its foundation. He’s added more consistent power to his repertoire — with 12 homers and 30 extra-base hits going into Thursday — and per Fangraphs, only 9.4 percent of his contact has been classified as “soft.” That’s the lowest rate among big-league shortstops, while the rest of Bogaerts’ production rates among the highest echelon.
1. Rafael Devers: With a two-RBI single and a pair of walks, Thursday marked the 33rd time in his 58 starts that Devers has safely reached base at least twice. It also improved his ratio to 23 free passes against just 42 strikeouts for the season, and with that combination of bat control and approach has also come a slugging percentage that sits on the cusp of the AL’s top 20. He’s running the bases well, on top of working his defense to a point where it’s at least on par with the league average, and the emergence of May’s American League player of the month honors supports the thinking that the Sox have a 22-year-old cornerstone manning the hot corner.