Red Sox could be even better if underachievers bounce back
DETROIT — How many of the core Red Sox players would you say have overachieved this season? By that, meaning they’ve outperformed reasonable expectations.
Mitch Moreland is one. It’s also fair to say Xander Bogaerts and Eduardo Rodriguez have, although the potential was always there. Throw in Matt Barnes, Brock Holt, Hector Velazquez, and Brandon Workman, too.
Mookie Betts? I don’t think so. He finished second in the 2016 MVP race and has always had the talent and drive to accomplish what he has so far this season. A 1.139 OPS will be hard to maintain but he hasn’t wildly overachieved.
The same is true for J.D. Martinez, who is essentially doing what he did last season. Andrew Benintendi is no big surprise, either.
Chris Sale, Craig Kimbrel, Rick Porcello, Heath Hembree and Sandy Leon have done pretty much what you thought they would. With Sale and Kimbrel, the expectations were high but they’ve met them. There’s a reason they’ll be in the Hall of Fame someday.
Now consider the underachievers. There are a surprising number of them for a 68-30 team.
Jackie Bradley Jr., Rafael Devers, Joe Kelly, Eduardo Nunez, Drew Pomeranz, David Price, and Christian Vazquez would almost certainly agree with the idea they haven’t met even modest expectations.
The Sox also have received essentially nothing from Dustin Pedroia, Carson Smith, Marco Hernandez, and Tyler Thornburg because of injuries. All four were considered to be at least potential contributors when the season started. Steven Wright has pitched well when he’s been able to pitch but he’s back on the DL and may be limited to the bullpen once he comes back.
The Red Sox are on a pace to win 112 games. “On a pace” is a wildly overused term in sports writing. But winning 105-plus is not out of the question if players like Bradley, Devers, Price, Kelly and Nunez improve.
Pomeranz, for instance, can make up for Rodriguez being on the DL. Bradley and Devers getting to their previous numbers would fortify the lineup against downturns by others.
Moreland said earlier this week that he doesn’t feel the Sox are playing over their heads. The players, he said, feel their record is about right.
The Sox are 14-8 in one-run games and 4-3 in extra innings. There’s nothing fluky about their record. Moreland is onto something.
That sure makes for an interesting next 10 weeks.
A few other thoughts and observations on the Sox as the season gets started up again:
■ The Red Sox have an interesting dilemma on their hands with Michael Chavis.
They considered the righthanded power hitter a potential midseason addition before MLB suspended him 80 games following a positive test for Turinabol, a powerful and easily obtained steroid.
Chavis has vehemently denied taking the drug, which is usually what players do. That his slugging percentage climbed from .372 in 2016 to .563 in 2017 doesn’t help his case.
Chavis has an .864 OPS in 10 games since returning with six extra-base hits in 36 at-bats. If he continues on that path, he would be a candidate for a September call-up.
Chavis would not be eligible for the playoffs but could help the team down the stretch. But you’d also be sending a message to the rest of your prospects that drug use pays off. How the Sox handle Chavis is sure to cause some debate.
■ Did you know Martinez did not hit a home run in 47 spring-training at-bats?
■ The Elias Sports Bureau came up with an interesting statistic. Sale struck out 1,628 in his first 200 starts, a major league record. Pedro Martinez had the old record of 1,600.
Sale is 97-59 with a 2.94 ERA in 200 starts. Martinez was 108-50 with a 2.74 ERA in his first 200. Opponents have hit .220 off Sale; they hit .210 against Martinez.
That Sale is so close to Martinez’s numbers certainly is impressive.
■ Spring training records are usually not indicative of much other than how many games a team played. But the Red Sox finishing 22-9-1 with victories in 14 of their final 15 games can’t be dismissed given what has happened since.
“We developed a winning attitude,” Martinez said. “I think it carried over. Alex (Cora) talked about what he wanted to do and we did it.”
The Sox are 90-39-1 (.696) when somebody has kept score this season.
■ The idea that every team deserves representation in the All-Star Game has become antiquated and should be scrapped. If so many teams are going to purposely tank as part of a rebuilding plan, they should not be guaranteed an All-Star. The game should be a showcase for the best players, period. Not some “best” player from a lousy team.
■ Cora speaks two languages. His body language also says quite a bit. For instance, when he speaks to reporters after road games in the visiting managers office, he makes sure to step out from behind the desk.
That makes the process less formal and on camera it looks like Cora is having a conversation, not being questioned.
Many fans expressed frustration at John Farrell’s postgame interviews because of the stilted tone and excess words. With Cora, the manager comes across as just talking baseball.
It’s that way with the players, too. The atmosphere is less formal without giving away any authority.
■ Three All-Star Game observations: Other superstar players (Mike Trout, Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, etc.) look at Betts as a peer; the other Sox players were genuinely happy for Moreland, and Kimbrel is never more chill and chatty than he is in that setting. He talked more with reporters for two days in Washington than he did the last three months.
■ Zach Britton is the reliever I would want, and the sooner the better. He’s a lefty, he knows the division, and he’ll be pitching for a contract. The Orioles also can’t ask for too much given that he’s appeared in only 15 games.
■ The Red Sox play their next 10 games against the Tigers, Orioles, and Twins. Now would seem like the time to see what Brandon Phillips can or can’t do. He has played 11 games in the minor and had 40 at-bats. There’s probably not much else to be discovered there.
■ Finally, thank you Joe Sullivan. The former Globe sports editor, who took a buyout earlier this month, cared deeply about making sure the Sox were covered correctly, and always looked out for those of us on the beat. I owe him more than I can recount here.
The department is in good hands with Matt Pepin and maybe now I can convince Joe to come watch a game at Fenway just for fun.