The Red Sox stink right now. For the last two months, they’ve been just plain bad at baseball, and there’s little room for optimism that they’ll turn it around. Sure, they look good on paper, and they could probably go on a decent run if everyone stays healthy. Whatever run they go on, though, it’ll likely be too little, too late. This is a team that’s ten games under five hundred and nine games behind the division-leading Rays. It’s a team that’s produced a -57 run differential — the fifth worst mark in baseball — and has somehow outperformed it’s first-order Pythagorean record.
Even with this rough season, we’re still going to watch. Maybe not as many games as we would if this team was contending, and maybe not as intensely as previous seasons, but more often than not we’ll have the game on. We’re stupid like that. Luckily for us, there are more than a few reasons why watching this team can still be fun, even if it doesn’t end with a miraculous playoff trip.
Any conversation about the pleasures of the 2015 Red Sox begins with the young shortstop. After wowing everyone with his talent and poise in the 2013 World Series run, Bogaerts ran into a bit of trouble in his first full-season facing major-league pitching the following year. Although the patience and power aren’t where they’re expected to be when he’s fully matured, the 22-year-old looks much better than he did a year ago. Most notably, he’s brought his strikeout rate all the way below 15 percent, and he’s not being completely fooled by breaking balls anymore. He’s looked especially good in the month of June when he’s hit .323/.344/.435 in 64 plate appearances. There’s still a long way to go in his development, but he’s moving in the right direction in 2015, and it will be fun to watch him continue along this path.
Remember when I mentioned Bogaerts’ impressive debut followed by his stumbling in his first full season? (You should, it was like 30 seconds ago.) For a while, it looked as if Betts was in the second portion of that progression, but he’s done it in a much more encouraging manner. In fact, his total numbers suggest he’s exactly what a reasonable person could have expected prior to the season — a league-average bat. There have been all the ups and downs one would anticipate from a 22-year-old in his first full season, but he’s already shown an ability to dig himself out of a slump. Even beyond his development, which is reason enough to pay attention, he’s just a fun player to watch. He hits the ball hard, runs quickly and smartly, and is exciting to watch in center field despite picking up the position just one year ago.
One of the few cool things about watching a team that’s likely going nowhere is you can worry less about whether or not a performance is sustainable and just enjoy the ride. Is Holt really a 140 OPS+ caliber hitter who can play at least average defense at nearly every position? Probably not! Does that mean you can’t enjoy it while it lasts? God, I’m sad for you if that’s the case. Against all odds, he’s become at least an average hitter who is as versatile as any Red Sox player I’ve ever seen. He can do a little bit of everything, as his cycle from earlier in the week can attest. Holt currently sports a .398 batting average on balls in play that is certain to come down at some point. For now, though, he’s deservingly playing every day and doing something that virtually no one else in the game can do. And we can just sit back and enjoy every minute of it.
There aren’t many bright spots on this pitching staff, but at least we have Rodriguez to enjoy. For all of the (mostly deserved) criticism Ben Cherington has gotten for some of his moves with this roster, taking Rodriguez from the Orioles in the Andrew Miller deal is a huge point in his favor. No, he’s not the savior he looked like in his first three starts in which he gave up just one run in 20-2/3 innings while striking out 21 batters. What he is, though, is an extremely talented young pitcher. There are going to be some bumps along the way — look no further than his last outing against Toronto — but that’s less of a big deal on a struggling team. This is a bleak pitching staff with very few bright spots looking forward, but we get to watch one big one a lot over the next few weeks.
If I’m not going to be happy with my favorite team’s performance, than I sure as hell don’t want anyone else to be either. That goes double for fans of other American League East teams. The Red Sox have 45 games remaining against divisional opponents, and have enough talent on the roster to hurt the playoff chances of each of them, even if their record won’t reflect it. Obviously, it’d be better to be the team fighting for the playoffs, but the schadenfreude associated with knocking someone else out of the race is a nice consolation prize.
Other Teams’ Stars
The cool thing about baseball is that even if the Red Sox are miserable to watch, there is another team that is also playing. In the same game! Aside from the divisional opponents who we see ad nauseam, the Red Sox have plenty of other exciting match ups down the road. They’ll be facing off against Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor and the entire starting lineup for the American League All Stars, among others. If the match ups break correctly, they could also get a look at Chris Sale, Felix Hernandez, Matt Harvey, Jacob DeGrom and Noah Syndergaard. My extensive research showed me that, surprisingly, Bogaerts, Betts and Rodriguez aren’t the only exciting young players in the game. It’ll be cool to see some other ones.
They Can Still Make a Run
Am I confident that the Red Sox will work their way back into the playoff chase? Of course not. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, though. There are still 94 games left in this season, which is a whole lot of baseball games. The offense could easily catch fire for a month or two, and the rest of the division could just as easily slump. The chances are slim that all of it happens at once, but yes, I’m telling you there’s a chance. The reasons listed above are all good and fun reasons to keep watching this team, but really, the biggest reason is because there’s some chance they can claw their way back in the race. And who would want to miss that?