Thanks to a sweep in Detroit, and winning five of six to stabilize after staggering through a foggy jaunt to London, the Red Sox arrived at the All-Star break a season-high eight games north of .500 — seventh in the 15-team American League, but just a couple games out of the last-ditch second wild-card slot. With a .544 winning percentage, they’re up to an 88-win pace.
That’d be 20 fewer than they won last year, and deciphering blame for such a dip isn’t difficult, based on the numbers. Boston’s pitchers may lead the league in strikeouts, but by most other measures they’re no better than mediocre, and trending even worse as of late, allowing at least half a dozen runs in eight straight games before the first-half finale.
Offensively, the Sox have been excellent, on the whole. They lead the league in runs scored, batting average, and on-base percentage. They’re second in total bases, third in doubles, and fourth in slugging. If the pitching could catch up, that 88-win pace would almost certainly ascend into the 90s. And what Baseball-Reference says is a 25.7 chance of making the playoffs would also certainly climb, too.
So, who bears the most responsibility for that improvement? Who’s carried them through 90 games? Here’s our latest Red Sox power rankings:
25. Josh Taylor (Last ranking: Not ranked): The depth roles in the Red Sox bullpen remain ripe for upgrades, but Taylor hasn’t been among the problems of late. With two scoreless innings in relief of David Price on Sunday, he has a 1.46 ERA with opponents batting .200 against him over his past 11 appearances. Over that same span, by comparison, Colten Brewer’s ERA was 4.82 and foes were hitting .278.
24. Eduardo Nunez (21): The more the Sox get from Holt and Hernandez, the less useful Nunez seems to be. He’s got one homer, one walk, and one steal since June 2. Boston could use a right-handed bat off the bench, and Nunez’s roster spot could be one place to make room for it if the club continues to carry 13 pitchers.
23. Hector Velazquez (NR): In eight starts last season, the righty posted a 4.15 ERA and gave the Sox 30.1 innings. In eight starts this season, he’s lasted through just 22 frames, and his ERA is 6.95. However, especially with the decision to move Nathan Eovaldi to the bullpen, the Sox are in a position where they need to fill a void every fifth turn for the foreseeable future, and as of now Velazquez is the guy.
22. Sandy Leon (20): Since steering Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez through impressive wins over the Twins on June 17 and 19, the Red Sox have allowed at least six runs in each of his four starts. That span includes two poor outings from Chris Sale, and Rick Porcello’s undoing on Saturday night in Detroit. The Sox are riding Christian Vazquez hard, and Leon needs to be better to give Boston a more reliable alternative before its primary backstop wears down.
21. Heath Hembree (22): Initially reports suggested he’d rejoin the team for the weekend, but the Sox accelerated that to get him on the roster for Thursday — then he wasn’t among the half-dozen arms Cora called upon. That may have raised some questions, but Hembree handled the ninth inning in two of the wins against the Tigers, notching a save in the second, so for now it seems a solid season has survived an elbow strain.
20. Steven Wright (NR): The knuckleballer hasn’t done much — or been asked to do much — since returning from his 80-game drug suspension. He’s appeared in five games, four of them losses, and surrendered three runs over five innings. His track record suggests he could be a weapon, given the variety of holes the Sox staff has to fill at every level, but Wright first needs to verify he’s effect and reliable enough to be trusted.
19. Marco Hernandez (19): He’d played five innings in nine days that included a couple of transatlantic flights, and hadn’t seen the field in Toronto until the ninth inning of Thursday’s rubber match — but when Cora called on him in a tied game, he went with a fastball and drove it over the left-field wall to give his team the run they’d need to win the series. Since a game-tying homer at Baltimore on June 16 he’d made only three starts and played just seven games, but reached in seven of 17 plate appearances. He may deserve steadier playing time, but for now his professionalism makes an excellent option as a reserve.
18. Rick Porcello (13): The right-hander surrendered at least four earned runs in four of his six June starts, posting a 6.46 ERA for the month — despite factoring in seven scoreless innings at Minnesota. His first start of July (six earned runs, 5.2 innings) was even worse. As long as the Sox are relying on Velazquez et al. to start at least once a turn through the rotation, that level of performance is unacceptable.
17. Marcus Walden (17): Walden’s season ERA spiked almost a full run when he surrendered a four-spot to the Yankees without recording an out last Sunday, and he’s yielded way too many baserunners over the past month (25 in 12.2 innings since June 6), but he competes, and as such he remains a go-to guy for Cora in the middle innings. At least until things reshuffle with Nathan Eovaldi’s insertion.
16. Nathan Eovaldi (24): In 2005, after putting his body on the line in pursuit of a championship the previous October, Curt Schilling was converted to the closer’s role when the Red Sox had a need. Beginning July 14, he held the job for roughly six weeks, going 4-3 with nine saves in 11 chances and a 5.18 ERA before ceding the job to Mike Timlin. Would the Sox sign for that as they transition Eovaldi to a similar role? It might be enough to settle things elsewhere among the relief corps.
15. Brock Holt (16): Once again, a need emerged, the Sox plugged in Holt as an everyday player, and he performed. In his first 21 games after coming off the injured list in late May, he hit .366. However, he was forced out of a game with hamstring tightness on June 23, and since that date he’s played just 41 of Boston’s last 110 innings. Durability (and subsequently sustainability) is always the question with Holt — and it now appears accompanied by some doubt from his manager about his ability to hit left-handers, as well.
14. Eduardo Rodriguez (12): As with Porcello, the state of the bullpen and Eovaldi heaps pressure on the southpaw, and a 4.79 ERA isn’t good enough as the Sox seek a reliable No. 3 starter — but he was a bit better in June (4.38 ERA), and he battled to give Boston what it needed over fine innings on Friday night in Detroit.
13. Ryan Brasier (14): His ERA leaked over four for the first time in his Red Sox career on June 4, but over the next month he posted a 1.69 while collecting four saves and a hold. Sunday’s appearance in which he allowed two runs while recording two outs notwithstanding, his recent usage and performance suggests he’s returned to the group of relievers Cora trusts in a tight game.
12. Andrew Benintendi (11): “We need him to feel hitter-ish again,” Cora said in explaining why the Sox gave Benintendi a night off on Thursday, then another on Friday. That break interrupted an 0-for-12 skid that meant the left fielder would fly from Boston to London to Toronto to Detroit between hits. He responded by going 4-for-6 with a couple of extra-base hits on Saturday night, but it only began to salvage an overall disappointing offensive first half. Benintendi hits the break with a .784 OPS; last year he rolled into the midsummer siesta with an OPS of .897.
11. Jackie Bradley Jr. (15): According to Baseball-Reference, over the four weeks leading into the Fourth of July, Bradley trailed only Rafael Devers among Red Sox hitters in batting (.318), on-base percentage (.400), slugging (.580), and OPS (.980). His rough start still rank his overall numbers as a below-average hitter this season, but including May and June, he’s delivered an OPS of better than .800 in five of his last six full months.
10. Matt Barnes (7): The Sox’ best bullpen arm surrendered multiple runs five times in June, including three of his final four appearances. Not coincidentally, he walked 10 in 13 innings for the month. However, there’s still reason for optimism: According to xFIP, which attempts to evaluate a pitcher’s performance independent of defense, luck, and circumstances, Fangraphs says Barnes’s 2.18 rates as the majors’ second-most effective reliever to throw at least 30 innings this season. It’s critical for the Red Sox, then, that Barnes’s results regulate. And soon.
9. Christian Vazquez (10): Over the two months since his average slid to .218, he’s hitting .335 with an .904 OPS and nine homers. In 49 games, that’s one more than he totaled in 177 games over the past two seasons, and behind the plate he’s done a good job of throwing out attempted base stealers, eliminating 37 percent. The one blemish is that, with 32 wild pitches and six passed balls, Sox pitchers began the Tigers series giving up a free bases once every 12.7 innings when Vazquez is the receiver. With Leon, it was once every 20.9 innings.
8. Michael Chavis (9): Between June 8 and July 4, Chavis had at least a hit in 20 of 23 starts, batting .296 overall, and offsetting 37 strikeouts with five homers and 19 RBIs. His last three blasts have been three-run bombs, and Thursday’s comeback catalyst was his fourth that gave the Sox a lead. Overall the rookie has slugged 15 taters, including seven as a first baseman, and seven as a second baseman. That versatility and pop has been vital to this point.
7. Brandon Workman (8): Wins and losses aren’t always indicative of a pitcher’s contribution, but Workman’s 8-1 record is well-deserved. He’s been Boston’s most dependable bullpen option of the first half, and even when he experiences command issues (Thursday night he threw just 20 of 38 pitches for strikes), he has the guile and curveball to avoid major trouble. He came back to nail down Thursday’s win after giving away the lead in the eighth — indicative of the resiliency that has marked what’s been an unorthodox Sox career now in its seventh season.
6. Chris Sale (2): After getting knocked around by the Blue Jays, Sale said he was “as frustrated as I’ve ever been playing baseball.” And this is a guy whose frustration once boiled over so much that he cut up all the throwback jerseys his team was supposed to wear. The exasperation is the result of another struggling stretch from the southpaw, who sports a 4.04 ERA through 18 starts. Over the middle nine of those starts, his ERA is 2.05 and opponents are batting .154. Totaling up the first five and last four, in those nine starts his ERA is 6.75 and foes are hitting .299.
5. David Price (6): It was June 18 that Cora lifted Price after five innings and 73 pitches. Subsequently he posted a pair of six-inning, two-run victories — then Sunday he nailed down career win No. 150 with one run in five frames. That means by the end of the All-Star break he’ll have thrown just 17 innings and 289 pitches in a span of roughly four weeks. That type of midseason de-throttling is straight out of the Terry Francona-Pedro Martinez/Jon Lester playbook.
4. Mookie Betts (5): After a 30-30 season in which he won a batting title, Betts has taken some heat for the reduction in his production. Even after a big series against the Tigers, Betts enters his fourth straight All-Star game hitting .272 and on pace for began Friday on pace for 24 homers and 18 steals. It’s a drop, yes, although Betts still leads the league in runs scored, ranks fifth among AL players in on-base percentage (thanks to taking the second-most walks), and 10th in wins against replacement (WAR), according to Baseball-Reference. He’s a worthy All-Star, and one torrid two-week stretch from returning to darn near 30-30 projections.
3. J.D. Martinez (4): Finishing the first half with five multi-hit games in his past eight, the designated hitter hoisted his average up to .304 as he headed to Cleveland. His slugging and OPS were both inside the American League top 10, and his OBP of .376 was just outside. Also worth noting: His current numbers are similar to those he had through the first half of 2017, before he became the best hitter in baseball later that season.
2. Xander Bogaerts (1): According to the Red Sox, going into Thursday’s game Bogaerts led AL shortstops in OPS (.922), OBP (.388), XBH (44), doubles (28), runs (64), RBI (58), and walks (49). Per the Fangraphs calculation of WAR, he was the major leagues’ most valuable shortstop as a result — and after that he knocked home six more runs against the Tigers, bringing his total to 65 for the season. That’s the most by a Red Sox shortstop before the break since Nomar Garciaparra in 2002. Thankfully, justice was served. The guy belongs on the All-Star team.
1. Rafael Devers (3): Following a tour de force first half, Devers finds himself among the AL top six in batting (.334), slugging (.546), OPS (.923), runs scored (69), total bases (184), doubles (25), RBIs (62), and offensive WAR (3.4). Meanwhile, he’s at a pace just shy of 30 homers. Devers doesn’t need the acknowledgement to announce his arrival as a star.