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Red Sox Roller Coaster Performances

David Hamilton smiles on defense while playing for the Boston Red Sox.

The Red Sox have been hovering around .500 all season. The manner to which they have gotten there has been up high, down low, then up again.

Depending on the day you choose to watch the Boston Red Sox, you will have very different opinions on the quality of the 2024 team. This past month of the season has featured 12-run wins, seven-run losses, and very few close games. The flashes of brilliance show reasons to be excited about the future. The losses highlight reasons for concern. Only time will tell which side of this team fans should expect on a nightly basis. Let’s take a look at the reasons behind the roller coaster of a season thus far.

Reason 1: Injuries and Lack of Depth

Injuries are inevitable during a 162-game season. The difference between teams crippled by injuries and those that can weather the storm is the depth of the team. Depth is something teams can control. As unfortunate as the injuries have been for the Red Sox, the bigger problem is their lack of depth to compensate. By now, everyone is aware of the players that are out for the season. In case you missed it, SP Lucas Giolito and SS Trevor Story are out for the year. 1B Triston Casas and DH Masataka Yoshida played in 22 and 25 games before going on the IL. 2B Vaughn Grissom has only played in 23 as well. Yoshida returned on June 11, but Casas is still out. At least he is doing batting practice without a bat, if that helps.

These injuries have been a problem, but so have the daily issues that continue to add up for the team. OF Wilyer Abreu joined the IL on June 4 after rolling his ankle in the dugout. In spite of that clumsy move, he should continue having more success than fellow Abreu (José), who’s career downslide resulted in a demotion to Triple-A and then a release. Another outfielder, Tyler O’Neill. is a perpetual question mark for the lineup. At least OF Jarren Duran has consistently been in the lineup every game this season.

Other minor things continue to hamper the lineup, which is to be expected. The problem is the depth is not there to allow players to miss time and the team to continue on efficiently. It is never good to see that the lineup has three players batting in the .100s. If all these guys get hits on the same day, the offense looks good. If each guy plays to their average, the team is a mess.

Reason 2: Pitching Problems

The first point is not a problem, but rather a clear statistic about how few close games the Red Sox play. CP Kenley Jansen is one of the best in history. Sadly, this year he’s only had 13 saves. The Sox franchise has been all about efficiency lately, so how is it efficient to pay a closer $16 million a year for so few saves? Seems like a luxury the penny-pinching Sox would have gotten rid of a while ago. Jansen is getting old but can still climb some rungs on the all-time saves list, so maybe it is time to let him join a true contender. Jansen called the dugout to enter in the eighth inning versus the New York Yankees. Clearly, he still wants to be in big games.

The actual problem for the Sox is that one night the pitching staff is able to close out a dominant outing by SP Tanner Houck. But the next night is a crapshoot for what to expect out of the starter. In games when the starter performs, the bullpen tends to finish the job. When the starter struggles, the team doesn’t bother to show up and games are over early. Part of this is also tied to injuries, but SP Brayan Bello has yet to pitch like he did at the start of last season.

Bello could be the outlier who has not benefited from Andrew Bailey’s philosophy of avoiding fastballs like the plague.  Last year, Bellow threw four seamers 20.6% of the time. This year he has removed it from his arsenal, only throwing sinkers, changeups, and sliders. He earned an extension earlier this year, so now is the time to start earning it. Houck cannot continue to be the only sure thing in the rotation if the Sox plan on playing meaningful games.

Reason 3: Schedule

In their defense, the Sox have been playing some high caliber teams lately. Surprisingly, the Sox spilt a two game series versus the Atlanta Braves and won two of three versus the Philadelphia Phillies and also the Yankees. In between the Braves and the Phillies, the Sox played four games against the Chicago White Sox. That series was a chance to bank some wins. Instead, it was a split where the Red Sox scored 14, 2, 1, and 6 runs each game. I am sure you can guess the games they won. The weekend series against the Yankees featured a stinker in game one, but then two dominant wins at Fenway Park. Maybe a little rivalry renewal after a couple muted seasons.

Reason 4: Different Strengths Than Past Teams

Change can be a good thing, or it can be a bad thing. This year the Sox have changed from their historic identity of a power hitting team and have become a speed team. They set a franchise record with nine stolen bases against the Yankees this past weekend, breaking a record set in 1940. SS David Hamilton led the way with four swipes. He could put up numbers Boston hasn’t seen in the steals department since the days of Jacoby Ellsbury.  In the same game, they drove in eight runs with 13 singles and a triple. Alex Cora deserves credit for helping this team embrace a different identity than the one teams earlier in his tenure possessed.

Keep the speed show going and it just may make Sox Nation believe. The Sox are currently +13000 to win the World Series, so when I say believe, I do not mean a title. However, I do believe the pieces could be in place to have a fun summer, and maybe even a fall with meaningful baseball.

Close It Out Kenley

What do these games tell us about the Red Sox this year? As a young and inexperienced team, they will ride the roller coaster for better or worse each night. When things start good, everyone’s confidence is on the rise, and everything clicks. When things start poorly, the self-doubt creeps in and everyone second guesses themselves. A season where the Sox dominate when ahead and struggle when they are down likely means this .500 ball will continue. But, as mentioned above, the times could be changing after winning back-to-back series versus the Phillies and the Yankees.

To end on a positive note, if someone told me in March the Sox would be above .500 in mid-June after all their injuries, I would have checked to make sure they had not gotten hit in the head by a foul ball. Therefore, since they are over-performing, it has been nice to see whispers that they could get a wild card spot. Will the Sox make a strong push at the deadline to get over the hump? Not likely, but at least there is the illusion of hope for now, which is growing every day.

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