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The Flyby - How We Doin’?

A few days ago, I asked everyone how they thought the 2017 Red Sox were doing, and we got one response.

Boston Red Sox v Toronto Blue Jays
Very common sight for us this season.
Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

This weekend, only one person responded to Fanpost Friday, and it was a gimme. Maybe people just don’t want to share opinions or maybe I need to give you better prompts. If you have a suggestion, let me know in the comments below. How can we improve it and get you involved?

The one who did respond, Walt in Maryland, believes there should be more to this team than there presently is.

Naturally, all good things this season start with Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel. The top acquisition from a year ago, and the top one from this past off-season, have gelled to form one of, if not the best, 1-2 punch in the majors. It feels like a good formula. Have Sale go 8 innings, and then Kimbrel will close it out. Amazingly though, out of the 17 games Sale has pitched in, Kimbrel has only appeared in 7 of them. In games where both appear, the Red Sox are 7-0, winning by an aggregate score of 51-20. Generally, when either is in the game, things are going well. When both are in, you might as well call it a ballgame.

Minnesota Twins v Boston Red Sox
There might be a debate about this, but I really view Chris Sale to be the central leader of the Red Sox right now, outside of Dustin Pedroia. His intensity on the mound seems contagious.
Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

But for as nice as it is to have both players, they can’t play and win every game for the Sox. Removing the 7-0 record in games where both appear, the Red Sox are 6-4 when Sale pitches without Kimbrel, and 26-2 in games where Kimbrel pitches without Sale. The Red Sox, as a result, are 39-6 in games where either or both appears.

This means that the 48-35 Red Sox are 9-29 in games where neither appears. While that’s skewing the numbers a tad (Sale can only pitch once every five games, and as a general rule of thumb, Kimbrel won’t come in when we’re winning by 20, or losing by a big number either, being the closer), it comes to show a bit of a reliance on both players. In Sale, you have a player who is saving the bullpen to pitch other games. In Kimbrel, you have a shutdown reliever who is very good at what he does. But Kimbrel can’t pitch every game, and he’s going to feel the strain the deeper you get into the season.

This is a good team, and as Walt points out, the inconsistent offense is what keeps a good team from being a great one. You can blame whatever you want, injuries to key performers, less power in the lineup, a lack of production at third... in the end, the results speak for themselves, and this team is far from perfect.

They currently lead the AL East, and pretty handily. But I can understand if it doesn’t feel like it.

Personally, I think the Sox are doing pretty well, all things considered. The Red Sox presently (as I write this) occupy first place by 2.5 games over a surprising Yankees team. Boston looks to be a good team, middle of the pack offensively with a really good pitching staff despite all the injuries.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Boston Red Sox
If David Price can get back to what he was doing last season (his most recent start is encouraging), then I think this team will be in great shape down the road.
Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

When Price went down, people got worried. When Thornburg went down, the mood further shifted. But there have been some surprising first-half heroes that I think are worthy of recognition. Just a note, all stats listed below are accurate up until before the start of the series against the Rangers.

Mitch Moreland - It’s been written about a ton, already, but this team has gotten so much more production out of Moreland than I think anyone really expected, and a lot of us seemed to like the deal the longer the day went. A few early knee-jerk reactions to Moreland not being Joey Votto or an unrealistic talent aside, the signing of Moreland over Encarnacion not only kept the team more flexible, but possibly allowed us to fit under the LT once we traded for Chris Sale, which, as established, has been a very good move.

Xander Bogaerts - OK, so a lot of people expected the world of Xander, and he hasn’t brought his power bat back, but he’s sneakily been one of the best players on the team, and somehow isn’t getting as much fanfare as a player of his caliber should be getting. He’s right there, in the top 5 in hits, and has been one of the two or three best shortstops in the American League on the whole (by fWAR). There’s been some talk of his defense being mediocre, but of the 17 shortstops in the AL with 200 innings played he slots in at number 9. With a -.4 UZR/150, he essentially is as close to average as it gets at the position in the AL (Tim Beckham being the only one closer to 0). He has not been good with the glove, but not as bad as I’ve seen some people claim. He’s been acceptable there, while providing positive offensive value.

Jackie Bradley Jr. - I’ll be honest, I expected some regression on good ol’ JBJ’s part in 2017. Thus far into 2017, it’s arguable that he’s actually become a more well rounded hitter, and a better overall talent. The one part of JBJ’s game that might have taken a step back is surprisingly his defense. On a team that is in first place, with many good players, Bradley has come into his own as a cornerstone of the team’s offense.

Detroit Tigers v Boston Red Sox
Don’t look now, but JBJ is somehow playing better offensively than he was last year. If he can keep this up, it would be incredible.
Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Mookie Betts - DUH.

Chris Sale - Read the above DUH, and make it about twenty times louder.

Craig Kimbrel - This is the last time I’m going to say it, but DUH.

Drew Pomeranz - Somehow, Pomeranz has managed to be one of the most frustrating members of this team while also being one of the big contributors to one of the top 5 starting rotations in the American League. With Rick Porcello taking a huge step backwards, the outburst of Pomeranz has been well-timed. The main flaw with his game is he’s not getting to the sixth (or even the fifth) every time out, which can complicate matters for the bullpen a tad. But when he’s in, he tends to be dealing more times than he’s not.

Eduardo Rodriguez - While he is one of the many players to suffer an unfortunate injury this year, E-Rod should be back fairly soon as he is in the midst of rehab in the minor leagues. Before said injury, Rodriguez had emerged as that secondary pitcher that Pomeranz can’t quite become. Not only was he typically getting into the 6th, he was getting through it (7 of his 10 starts saw him get through 6). In May, the last full month he pitched before the injury in June, he mustered a 2.81 ERA while pitching 32 innings in 5 games. Upon his return, the hope is he can get back into that shape before the playoffs, and give the Red Sox a legitimate 1-2 punch to sock to any playoff team.

Boston Red Sox v Oakland Athletics
Get well soon, E-Rod. He could very well be the true #2 on this team, with Pomeranz not able to go deep in games, and Price and Porcello both struggling.
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Joe Kelly - The last player to get a mention of being a first half hero is going to a man who I’ve grappled with for the past few years. Long the daily reminder that we traded John Lackey for basically nothing (Allen Craig was released recently), Kelly had gone from being a mediocre starter, to being a mediocre reliever, to being a total afterthought. 2017 Joe Kelly saw a revitalization that has made him into the obvious set up choice for ace closer Craig Kimbrel. My hat is off to Joe Kelly. He’s really earned this appreciation.

The fact I had to list so many players (and I could have spoken about others from Benintendi to Robby Scott), shows that this is still very much a team dominated game, and that this team has a lot of players that can put the team on their back when it’s their turn.

There’s a lot I expect out of this team in the second half. I expect third base to be resolved, whether by the DFA of Sandoval and the acquisition of a better talent, or through an internal promotion of Rafael Devers (or through the continued surprise production of Tzu-Wei Lin). I expect E-Rod to come back healthy and be a key player down the stretch. I expect the bullpen to actually continue its excellence, especially once Carson Smith comes back (ETA right now is probably late July, now that he’s in the early stages of a throwing program).

Minnesota Twins v Boston Red Sox
It remains to be seen if Tzu-Wei Lin can continue to be good enough offensively to be anything more than a short-term answer at third base, but his exciting play of late has made him into a contender at the position.
Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

In all, I expect this to be a team that can win the division, and possibly more, if the few major holes are plugged.

Despite this, I do not expect a busy deadline for the team. A fringe acquisition or two to shore up the back end of the rotation or bullpen might be in the cards, but I don’t see any significant prospects moving, and certainly no one in our top 3, unless a surprise player becomes available.

I think the 2017 Red Sox have been a great story to watch, and I think the second half is going to somehow be more exciting than the first.