clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The danger of a suddenly successful Red Sox team

New, 55 comments

The Red Sox are on a tear these past couple months, but that doesn't mean they're ready for 2016, or even close to it.

Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

At 71-77, the 2016 Red Sox are a long shot to even make .500. They'd have to finish the season 10-4, which would be their best 14-game stretch of the year. They simply dug the hole too deep early in the year to have any hope of climbing back out.

But that's not to say they haven't made the effort. The Red Sox' last hopes died with a disastrous 2-9 start to the second half that saw them drop to 44-58. Since that point, however, the team has gone on a 27-19 run. That's good for a .587 winning percentage, which would have them atop the American League and behind only the two central powerhouses in the National League.

What's more, the Red Sox haven't just been beating up on a weak part of their schedule. Yes, they had some series against teams like Philadelphia, but the overall winning percentage of their opponents is actually .507. They've taken series from division leaders in the Mets and Blue Jays, and split one with the Royals. And with a +55 run differential, they haven't just been squeaking past teams either.

This late revival stands in stark contrast to the performances of the 2012 and 2014 Red Sox teams, which both went away fairly quietly. Where both those teams went into the offseason with the clear understanding that a major overhaul was needed, It can be tempting to look at this team and think that, with nearly two months of 95-win-pace baseball behind them, the 2016 team doesn't need to be built so much as it needs tinkering.

This, I feel, is dangerous thinking. Not necessarily wrong, but also not clearly correct enough that it should be taken as gospel. This Red Sox team is riding high on big performances from unlikely candidates. Jackie Bradley Jr. is hitting to a .900 OPS while striking out 30% of the time. Travis Shaw has hit more major league homers over these last couple months than many might have guessed he'd manage in his entire career. Joe Kelly started August with an ERA over 6.00, then won eight consecutive starts. Rich Hill has 23 strikeouts in two games. Rich Hill!

I'm not saying the Red Sox should ignore these late-season performances. At least not all of them. It's hard not to give Jackie Bradley Jr. a starting spot at this point, particularly considering how high his floor is thanks to his glove. Travis Shaw, too, has to be in the first base mix simply because, with Hanley Ramirez stuck on the payroll and headed to first, there's plenty of need for insurance at first but no real ability to invest in a more expensive, more reliable player.

But particularly when it comes to the rotation, letting second-half success wipe out first-half struggles would be a mistake. As is, the Red Sox are winning with a patchwork rotation held together by toothpicks and bubblegum, and they're actually winning because of that rotation often enough. And, frankly, it's going to be difficult to make significant changes with the Sox locked in on so many bodies. If the Red Sox don't move anyone, they'll have to find room amongst Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Joe Kelly, and Eduardo Rodriguez in the majors and Henry Owens, Brian Johnson, and Steven Wright in the minors just to add someone. But add someone they must, because that starting five just isn't good enough. There's too much risk in relying on bounceback seasons from so many players just to get to a solid mid-level rotation.

And of course there's the bullpen, but at least they're not making things complicated. Nobody is going to argue that there's not significant work to be done there.

Frankly, Dave Dombrowski might have a more difficult task in front of him now than Ben Cherington did before 2013. Not because the current talent level is lower--that 2012 team was a sight to behold--but because to get from the current product to a successful 2016 team requires him not only to find the right players to bring in, but also find ways to fit them in, likely by getting some other teams to take on some of our less desirable players. Where Cherington had a blank canvas, Dombrowski has one that's 95% full but only 75% complete. Figuring the right 20% to cut away will prove a good first test of the ability to scout major league talent that he was brought here for.