Red Sox power rankings: A franchise cornerstone is at the top

Chris Sale continues to trend upward, while Xander Bogaerts is looking more and more like a franchise player.

Red Sox MLB Xander Bogaerts
Xander Bogaerts has been one of the Red Sox' best players all season long. –The Associated Press

COMMENTARY

The Red Sox have recovered their season to the extent that despite a repugnant start they approach its midpoint in the thick of the American League wild-card race — and for that they have baseball’s fifth-best road record to thank. After sweeping the Orioles and taking a series from the Central-leading Twins, the Sox are 24-18 in enemy territory.

Of course, the Sox have needed to be that good on the road because of how mediocre they’ve been at home. They returned with a 17-17 mark at Fenway Park, which ranked as the ninth-fewest home victories in the bigs as of Friday morning — but which also represented an opportunity. From here forward, Boston’s schedule is home-heavy, starting with a six-game homestand against the Blue Jays and White Sox that begins this weekend. After that it’s two tilts in London, and this span also includes the All-Star break, but the Red Sox will play as the visitors just six times between now and July 19.

Advertisement

So, collectively, things are starting to look promising. But how do they stack up individually? Here is the latest edition of our power rankings:

25. Colten Brewer (Last ranking: 25): The right-handed reliever continues to allow baserunners at a perilous rate (averaging 1.72 walks and hits per inning pitched), yet his seven appearances over the past couple of weeks were tied for the team high. The bottom of the Sox bullpen appears to be an ongoing audition for guys like Brewer, Mike Shawaryn, Josh Smith, and Josh Taylor, with Brewer — perhaps because he was targeted in a trade last November — appearing to have the largest margin for error, at least until Steven Wright and Tyler Thornburg rejoin the cast. Brian Johnson is already back, and Hector Velazquez is in the mix, but if Brewer can settle into a regular, middle-innings role he could be the most important of the bunch.

24. Nathan Eovaldi (22): Biceps soreness shut him down for a week and a half, but he’s returned to throwing. It’s already been two months since surgery to remove loose bodies from his elbow, and well past the four- to six-week recovery timeline projected back on April 23, so as the Sox plot the next step of the course they’ll likely proceed cautiously in hopes of ensuring the righty can take a regular rotation turn over the remainder of the year.

Advertisement

23. Steve Pearce (24): The Yankees added Edwin Encarnacion via trade, and the Sox soon figure to add Pearce to their lineup as he works his way back from the injured list. To this point his season has been a period of struggle sandwiched between a bunch of rehab, but Boston is counting on more from a potential middle-of-the-order bat.

22. Heath Hembree (19): Hembree had emerged as Alex Cora’s clean-up-the-mess reliever who was comfortable — and effective — entering with traffic on the bases. Then he strained his elbow extensor. That’s a bad sign for any reliever, and for the Red Sox, given the state of affairs in their bullpen. They’ll wait anxiously to see how Hembree progresses through his return to throwing.

Buy Tickets

21. Eduardo Nunez (20): The usefulness of the utilityman diminishes as Brock Holt, Marco Hernandez, and Michael Chavis all do the job — and do it better. There doesn’t appear to be a role at this point for Nunez, whose .561 OPS entered Friday as 11th-worst among the 300 big leaguers with at least 130 plate appearances this season.

20. Sandy Leon (21): Opponents are reaching base at a .289 clip against Boston pitching when Leon is behind the plate, and his work with Rick Porcello in particular gives the Sox’ staff a noticeable boost every fifth day. For what it’s worth, Blake Swihart was hitting .141 in Arizona when he strained an oblique, and has missed all of June.

19. Marco Hernandez (NR): The 26-year-old battled his way back to the big leagues to resume a career beset by injury for the better part of two years, then provided the signature moment of his comeback with a game-tying, ninth-inning homer against the Orioles last week. Now the challenge will be to see whether Hernandez can stay healthy, or sustain his play, and where he fits within the Sox’ roster.

Advertisement

18. Mitch Moreland (9): He’s got as many IL stints as plate appearances since May 25 — two apiece — after being sidelined by a quad strain in his return from a lower-back strain. Moreland’s first two seasons in Boston were both undone by injury after strong starts, so this chain of events does not bode well for what the Sox can count on moving forward.

17. Marcus Walden (12): He worked an easy ninth in the series finale at Minnesota, but that was his first clean appearance in almost a month. His ERA over those nine appearances was 5.79, which is not bad enough to give up on him by any stretch, but should be troubling enough to keep him from fully earning the late-inning trust of Alex Cora.

16. Brock Holt (18): Given consistent playing time, he’s hit .343 with a .929 OPS over the past couple of weeks, and his average is up to .308 for the season. Once again, he’s proving his value — both to the team on the field, and to the front office that gets a useful player at a cost of less than $4 million.

15. Jackie Bradley Jr. (17): In the 22 games leading up to Friday, Bradley hit .310 with a 1.008 OPS. Now the question is whether the center fielder returns to the hitter who posted .163 and .520 numbers in those categories over the first 45 games, or if he’s the contributor who delivered .282 and .851 after June 24 last season.

14. Ryan Brasier (16): The righty was away from the team on bereavement leave last week, but since returning has pitched twice — and looked like the hurler who was trusted with closing opportunities at the start of the year. He’s pounded the strike zone, pitched aggressively, produced swinging strikes, and retired all six hitters he’s faced. An encouraging indication.

13. Rick Porcello (15): If Porcello wants to stay in Boston beyond this season, pitching the way he has in each of his past two turns may leave Sox brass in a position where they have no choice but to bring him back. In 13.2 innings, he’s allowed only 10 baserunners compared to 14 strikeouts and induced a bunch of weak contact. The depth of the Sox rotation has entirely different look to it when Porcello is pitching that way.

12. Eduardo Rodriguez (14): Such efforts can get lost over the course of a long season, and if the Red Sox had dropped the rubber match against the Twins it would’ve been a survivable defeat. But after blowing a couple of leads en route to a 17-inning loss on Tuesday, Rodriguez took the ball on Wednesday and gave the Sox a competitive start while gutting his way through seven innings. The team had an off-day Thursday to let the bullpen recover, and it’s just one win, but that sort of performance carries more weight within the clubhouse than it might on the ledger.

11. Andrew Benintendi (10): The left fielder is a fine bat to plug in near the top of the lineup. Fine. But Benintendi’s dynamic offensive capabilities continue to be quiet. Going into Friday, he had one homer and one steal for all of June, and three of his eight extra-base hits for the month came in a single afternoon.

10. Christian Vazquez (13): Of all catchers with at least 200 innings behind the dish this season, Vazquez rates third in defensive rating (according to Fangraphs). Then combine those receiving skills and running-game dissuading rifle with a .290 average as well as an above-average OPS and the Sox have themselves a valuable commodity at an important position.

9. Michael Chavis (8): Give the rookie credit. After a stretch in which it seemed the league had figured out how to pitch him, he hit .308 with a couple of homers and an .819 OPS over the two weeks leading into the Toronto series. He’s also been valuable defensively thanks to his ability to play second base when that was needed most, and now first with Moreland and Pearce out. The strikeout rate is still uncomfortably high, but at least the work is showing progress.

8. Brandon Workman (11): Six walks in a five-appearance stretch could be cause for alarm, particularly considering the consequences included a couple of blown saves, but Workman has earned major responsibility in the Red Sox bullpen. The frequency of the free passes are a budding problem, but his curveball keeps hitters off balance enough that he can be usually still be trusted.

7. Matt Barnes (7): After yielding runs in three of four appearances earlier this month, Barnes has recovered nicely with five consecutive scoreless outings. Entering Friday he hadn’t worked a clean inning since June 1, and his pitch efficiency is wavering, though he remains the best the Sox have in relief — and when considering his numbers it must be taken into account that he’s consistently facing the heart of the enemy’s order.

6. David Price (4): The Sox need him to be good — and he has been for much of the season. But after getting only four outs on June 13, he was lifted after 73 pitches and five innings on June 18. Cora says Price is one the Sox staff needs to take care of, but only twice i(both against the Rays) have they allowed him to throw 100 pitches. He’s recorded one out in the seventh inning since April 14, and has compiled just 66.1 innings in 13 starts. For a southpaw who considers himself a workhorse, and who’ll be 34 in a couple of months, it’s concerning.

5. Mookie Betts (6): A year after he won the AL MVP award, opponents are being careful with the right fielder. He’s on pace for 123 walks, which would be 42 more than he took last year, and with the league’s third-most walks his .387 on-base percentage began Friday ranked eighth. At the same time, Betts’s home run rate is down about 50 percent from last season, from a long ball every 16 at-bats to once every 24 at-bats — the combination suggesting that Betts still needs to adjust to the way he’s being approached, and do damage on the increasingly rare occasions that pitchers do challenge him in the zone.

4. J.D. Martinez (5): Even while wearing an 0-for-8 with five strikeouts, Martinez still ranked second on the team over the past two weeks with a .953 OPS. His dozen hits included four homers and three doubles, and while he hasn’t been the same offensive force he was a year ago, perhaps there’s a part of the Red Sox thinking that’s OK with that. If this is what Martinez remains for the rest of this season, it could raise some doubts about whether he exercises the option to cancel the rest of his contract — or if he decides to return to Boston for another season at less than $24 million. The latter would be a win for the Sox brass.

3. Rafael Devers (1): He’s been a huge factor in keeping the Red Sox afloat, so his exit from Wednesday’s game with hamstring tightness is a troubling development. Cora said Devers isn’t expected to need time on the IL, but Devers missed time last year with a hamstring injury, and also had hamstring troubles in the minors. In the midst of a breakout season that’s been enhanced by his baserunning and improved defense, a persistent leg issue could be a problem.

2. Chris Sale (3): In his first seven starts of the season, the southpaw totaled 42 strikeouts, 11 walks, and a 5.25 ERA. In his seven most recent starts entering Friday’s, he totaled 74 strikeouts, 10 walks, and a 2.53 ERA. Of his strikes this season, 14 percent have come on missed swings — just a tick under the 15 percent registered during his first season in Boston. The Sox have still lost four of Sale’s last seven turns, but that’s a team problem, not a pitcher’s problem. The ace is back.

1. Xander Bogaerts (2): Cody Bellinger, Mike Trout, and Christian Yelich. Those are the only major-league players who have been more valuable this season than Bogaerts, who carried into the weekend a .928 OPS, and whose 3.5 wins above replacement should put him in the premature discussion for AL MVP, not groveling for votes to be a part of the All-Star game. At age 26 — and under team control through age 32 — Bogaerts is blossoming into the franchise anchor he’s long seemed poised to become.