With Wednesday’s victory officially in the books, the Red Sox are officially halfway through the 2018 season. This is the obvious time to take a step back and evaluate what we’ve seen so far and what we can expect moving forward. There’s probably not going to be anything too eye-opening here, but these are my main takeaways from the first half of this Red Sox season.
They’re really freaking good
This is the most important thing. I expected the Red Sox to be good this year. I picked them to win the division. I did not expect them to be as good as they’ve looked in the first half of this season. Wednesday’s win over the Angels gave Boston their 54th win of the season, which means they’ve won exactly two-thirds of their games and puts them on pace for 108 wins. Is it likely they stay on that pace all year? Probably not! No Red Sox team has won more than 105 games and only 11 teams in MLB history have won at least 108 games. That being said, these wins are in the bank and the Red Sox have earned this record. They sure look like a 100-win team, and I didn’t see that coming before the season. This is a good baseball team, tbh.
J.D. Martinez is absurd
We knew coming into the year that the offense was going to be improved. The returning players couldn’t be as bad as they were in 2017, and Martinez was going to add a thump in the middle of the lineup. We did not know that Martinez would be this good. He has been everything the team could have hoped and more, which is a rarity lately with the Red Sox and big free agent signings. At the halfway mark, he is hitting .329/.396/.654 for a 181 wRC+. For reference, when he signed many of us were saying that he was really good but probably wouldn’t repeat his crazy run to end the year with the Diamondbacks. By wRC+, he’s actually been better in Boston than he was in Arizona. The power in particular has been wild as he hit his 25th home run on Wednesday. Not only is that a Red Sox record through the month of June (and there are three more days left in the month), but it is also more than any Red Sox hitter hit all of last year. The change in the lineup is not just Martinez, but he has clearly made a major impact.
Mookie Betts is a Capital-S Superstar
I think most of us knew this heading into the year, or at least we were hoping this was true. However, Betts was coming off a somewhat disappointing year. Granted, he showed that with his defense, plate discipline and baserunning that he had a super high floor, but it was at least possible that 2016 was going to be the peak for his overall game. Instead, he’s come back this year and is arguably the MVP favorite halfway through the year. I don’t know if he’s going to win the award, and as long as Mike Trout stays healthy I’m going to assume the latter will deserve it, but whether or not Betts is MVP is neither here nor there. He’s a franchise cornerstone and should be the face of the franchise for a long time. This isn’t really new news, but he’s made sure we really know if with his first half this season.
The rotation, it’s good
My big thing heading into the year was that, while the lineup should improve, the rotation was going to be the difference for this team. That’s not as true as it once was — the lineup has outplayed my expectations — but the rotation can still separate this team from the Yankees. We’ve seen what it looks like when things are clicking. Chris Sale is in the conversation for best pitcher in the American League. David Price is in the conversation for best number two in baseball. Eduardo Rodriguez, while inefficient, can put up number two-caliber numbers on a per-inning basis. Rick Porcello seemingly has a floor of four runs over six innings, and is often much better than that. The fifth spot is in flux, but even the depth options are passable. The Red Sox will need to hit, but their rotation may be the biggest reason for optimism for the second half.
Alex Cora’s first year hasn’t been perfect, but it’s been damn good
There are always going to be things to quibble about with any manager. We all have our own opinions about every issue, and it’s nearly impossible to find someone who agrees with you every single time. The key for liking a baseball manager is finding one who agrees with you more often than not and also gets good results. That’s been Cora for most of us. Has he played Eduardo Núñez too much? Yeah. Does he have weird bullpen management habits sometimes? For sure. Does he have his team on its best win pace in franchise history in his first year at the helm? You betcha. Cora clearly has a strong rapport with his players, and he’s changed the culture of this lineup in a noticeable and effective way. We will all continue to find reasons to complain about Cora, and that’s fine as long as we continue to acknowledge that, all things considered, he’s been great.
The Red Sox still have areas to improve
For all of the positives that have come out this season, perhaps the biggest takeaway should be that this is not a complete roster. That’s not uncommon, but if this team gets to where they should be and where they want to be, improvements need to be made. Matt Barnes and Joe Kelly are fine relievers and have spots on playoff teams, but finding someone to put between them and Craig Kimbrel would go a long way. Finding a right-handed bat would not only lengthen the bat and the lineup, but it would also counteract the team’s performance against left-handed pitching. Depending on how things go with Dustin Pedroia soon, they could also potentially use a more stable option at second base. This is a highly competitive American League field, and the Red Sox certainly belong. They have a chance to win the whole thing if the right moves are made in the next month.