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Red Sox Report Card – July 2018

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We might be witnessing something special.

As we enter into the dog days of August, the Red Sox sit atop the AL East with a nice lead over the division rival Yankees. While it seems unlikely that Boston can maintain this torrid pace for another two months, the truth is that if they do, they will have had a legitimately historic season in terms of wins and losses. They’re basically 30 wins away from their best-ever regular season and not many more than that from one of the best seasons in MLB history.

Obviously, there’s a long way to go before we get there. On-pace numbers are among the trickiest in sports. While there are some trash teams out there, the Yankees are looming; Houston and Cleveland, too. Still – there’s a chance of all-time regular season greatness for this squad.

There’s still a lot of baseball to be played, but as we close in on the three-quarter mark of the regular season, it’s starting to look possible. And with a team possessed of a history as storied as that of the Red Sox, any opportunity to see an all-time best is awfully exciting. They keep playing like this and the sky is the limit.

On to the Report Card.

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Hitting – B

It was bound to happen, of course. There was no way the offense could have kept producing at such a high rate for a whole season. There was bound to be regression. Of course, when regression still leaves you in the top five in the league in most offensive regards, your team is in pretty good shape. Boston hovers around third place in batting average and on-base percentage; they sit fifth in slugging. The home run rate took a dip, but guys like J.D. Martinez and Mookie Betts have both continued their season-long batting onslaught. Andrew Benintendi had a stellar July as well. New acquisition Steve Pearce showed some stuff as well, while Blake Swihart has shined in limited duty. Rafael Devers struggled before getting hurt, while Mitch Moreland and Brock Holt slumped badly and Sandy Leon was actively terrible. The acquisition of Ian Kinsler will likely help going forward, but looking back on July, it could have been considerably worse.

Starting Pitching – A-

It seems weird to be giving the rotation this high a grade considering the performance of two of its members, but this pitching staff has had one hell of a July. They’re first in ERA and second in strikeouts. And it starts with Chris Sale, because holy crap was he good in July – in four starts, he went 3-0 with a 0.36 ERA, a 0.80 WHIP and 45 strikeouts in 25 innings. He gave up one run. That’s a performance that buoys a staff, on its own. But then you see Eduardo Rodriguez, who didn’t give up a single run in his three starts – a spotless 17 innings. Heck, Brian Johnson pitched to a 1.80 ERA in four starts. Those performances – along with a seven-shutout-innings introduction to new acquisition Nathan Eovaldi – just about make up for the unfortunate work done by Rick Porcello (5.74 ERA) and David Price (4.97) in 10 starts between them. Of course, their win-loss record in those games is a combined 6-2, so at least they’re choosing the right moments. Still – killer performances by a lot of starters here.

Bullpen – C+

It was an up-and-down July for the Boston bullpen. There were some strong performances, of course. Closer Craig Kimbrel continues his excellent season, converting all but one of his save opportunities and striking out better than a batter an inning, though his ERA and WHIP are lagging a bit from his earlier dominance. Matt Barnes spent most of July close to unhittable, striking guys out at a rate of two per inning. Ryan Brasier has been quietly excellent. On the flip side, Joe Kelly has been absolutely abysmal – he’s basically giving up a run per inning while walking a ton of guys, which as you can tell, is not at all good. Less bad – but still bad – are Brandon Workman and Tyler Thornburg, both of whom put up ERAs above five, though their peripherals hint at least a little bad luck. And in the middle are Hector Velasquez and Heath Hembree, who have been on the good side of OK. Put it all together, you’re pretty average. Maybe a little better.

Fielding – B+

Once again, we talk about the excellence of the outfield defense. Betts and Benintendi are both quality defenders, but the shining star is Jackie Bradley Jr., whose seemingly nightly highlight-reel catches are almost enough to help you forget how bad his bat has been. The infield has been uneven; Devers has had his struggles, while the revolving door at second caused some hiccups. Moreland is still a steady hand at first base, while Xander Bogaerts gets the job done at short. This is another spot where the incoming Kinsler will help – he’s an instant defensive upgrade at second. The glovework is fine.

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