Well, the Red Sox are struggling right now, but they are most certainly not out of it. In fact, they are very much in it. For as bad as things are right now — and they are, undeniably, Capital-B Bad — Boston remains inside of two games away from the top spot of the division, and if the season ended today they’d be the top wildcard. Unfortuantely for us and them, the season does not begin today and there are about two more months with which they have to deal. And so, they need to play well.
In order to maintain their position or, more hopefully, move back up to the lead in the AL East, they’ll need to get strong performances from throughout the roster. But there’s always one player who sticks out above the rest. For this week’s roundtable, I asked the staff who was the most important player on the roster for this final stretch of the season.
Eduardo Rodriguez is going to be the most important player for the Red Sox down the stretch. His underlying metrics look great, and I remain convinced that he’s going to be a stud for this team in the second half, but my patience is starting to thin. (Ed. Note: This answer was submitted before Rodriguez’s start on Wednesday.) We’re now into August and he still hasn’t been able to put it together. The Red Sox are in desperate need of some solid starting pitching performances, and E-Rod needs to regain his old form if the Sox are going to contend for the division.
Chris Sale. The bullpen has been very good, the bats have been very good (on the season, at least), the starting pitching has been bad. There’s a reason the Red Sox have so many come-from-behind wins, and the starting pitching, outside of the first month-plus, is that reason. It’s also probably a lot to expect Chris Sale to come to be the savior as there is a ton of evidence the road back from Tommy John surgery isn’t totally smooth, and there will probably be a transition period back into form. But if there’s one person I’d bet on to beat those odds it would be Sale. If the Red Sox are going to make a deep run though he’ll need to be front and center.
I think the most important player down the stretch is going to be Eduardo Rodriguez. I feel confident in Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Sale, whenever he returns. I also feel that Nick Pivetta and Martín Pérez (to some extent) can be fine back-end starters. However, if E-Rod is as good as his last outing, it will give the bullpen that all important rest day before Pivetta and Pérez take the mound. However, if the “bad” Rodriguez returns, the ship is sunk.
The most important player on the Red Sox roster going down the stretch is Xander Bogaerts. After recent comments about the team’s skid and lack of offense, the shortstop was vocal in speaking on behalf of the team for what he and the rest of the roster need to address to continue winning baseball games. As a veteran leader and the longest-tenured player on the roster, there is no better individual to lead the charge in steering the ship straight than Xander. Many of the younger members of the team look up to Bogaerts as a mentor and can turn to him in times of offensive dry spells.
It is increasingly clear that Xander is the face of the franchise, and while his comments earlier in the week did not immediately spark the team’s offense, it was evident that he has embraced the role as being the voice held accountable for what has been a widespread lack of offense. When he spoke and did not immediately produce results after mentioning the sense of urgency to score runs, he stuck by his word and one at a time, each respective player on the team has contributed in one way or another. The franchise clearly has more than one leader in the clubhouse, but Xander will continue to speak out and address any setbacks that may occur throughout the remainder of the summer.
It has to be Eduardo Rodriguez, right? The Red Sox’s offense has been a bit sluggish the last couple weeks, but I expect they’ll figure things out. However, the starting pitching has been tenuous and even if Chris Sale comes back in 2017/2018 form from the jump, the Red Sox need every starter to pitch their best. It’s been such an up-and-down year for Rodriguez, but as he showed against the Tigers on Wednesday, when he’s on, nobody can stop him. Having a top three of Sale, Nathan Eovaldi and Rodriguez pitching well while getting solid efforts from Martín Pérez and Nick Pivetta would go a long way in ensuring the Red Sox comfortably lock up a playoff spot rather than jostle for one until the last game of the season.
After a miserable last seven days, the 2021 Red Sox season is at a bit of a crossroads and the starting pitching will need to determine if it is heading towards the promised land. Four-plus months seems like plenty of time to evaluate Garrett Richards and Martín Pérez, and they simply aren’t getting it done at this point in time. There could be a hockey-style line change coming with Chris Sale making his final rehab start this Saturday and Tanner Houck being called up for a doubleheader start on the same day.
But, what do we make of Eduardo Rodriguez? The ups and downs of this season have been a microcosm of Rodriguez’s career, and, while understandable coming off a missed 2020 due to COVID and myocarditis, he currently sits with a 5.33 ERA through 21 starts. Out of the 69 pitchers who have thrown 100 innings or more in 2021, Rodriguez’s ERA is 64th. However, his ERA indicators are in some cases a full two runs lower than his actual ERA, with a FIP of 3.38, an xFIP of 3.29, SIERA of 3.49, and an expected ERA of 3.61. In addition, of that same group his strikeout rate is 6th, with 11.3 K/9. In his past seven starts (removing the one-inning, one-run Migraine Game), E-Rod has three quality starts and two others where he got through five innings without allowing a run, including a beautiful ten strikeout performance in Detroit on Wednesday evening.
We all know how good Rodriguez can be when he’s painting corners, and he has the playoff experience to boot. If Rodriguez can slot in as the number in a playoff series, behind Sale and Eovaldi, then he will prove to be the most important player down the stretch for the Red Sox.
Given what Chris Sale brings to the table he’s the biggest position upgrade the Sox can get this season. But even swapping those starts out isn’t enough to make him the most important player down the stretch. That’s still Xander Bogaerts. He’s the shortstop and there really is no backup. He’s in a virtual tie for the WAR lead and is likely to be the top offensive player by that measure along with traditional stats. If Xander goes down or slumps there’s no one to pick up the team from that particular hole. He’s the veteran presence too, in Boston through a few competitive cycles. For whatever that brings to the clubhouse it’s his domain. As Xander goes go the Sox.
I do think the real answer here is Eduardo Rodriguez, for all of the reasons given above. But in the interest of a little diversity in answers here, I’m going to throw out the name J.D. Martinez. I’m pretty confident that Bogaerts and Rafael Devers will be fine. They’re too good not to. With Martinez, last season is still in the back of my mind, making any slump this year more worrisome. This offense really runs on their three core bats at or near their best. If Martinez gets back to where he was early in the season, then I think this group can still outscore teams often enough to feel good about their playoff position given their cushion, even considering all of the other issues on the roster. If not? Well, I’m very nervous.
So the way I’m taking this is to pick the player that can put the team on his back for two months and lead them to a division title and that guy is Rafael Devers. This offense has been top-heavy for most of the year, being propped up by outstanding seasons by Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, and Devers, but I think Devers is the guy most capable of going on an MVP-type run down the stretch where he does something absurd like hit 20 home runs in two months. Bogaerts has the potential to go wild, too, but I think Devers’ extreme upside is a bit higher due to the massive raw power and his ability to take any pitch yard.