May, a Make or Break Month for Red Sox
The Red Sox are team still struggling to find their identity as they near the midpoint of May.
Having dropped two in a row to the Yankees, the Sox are now back below .500, at 15-16. They find themselves in fourth place in the AL East, and 7.5 games behind the division-leading Rays.
The Red hadn't strung together a winning streak of longer than two games this season, until they swept four in a row from the Angels this week. The offense suddenly awoke, outscoring the Angels 36-16.
But now they've lost two in a row to the Yankees, losing the series before today's game is even played. The Red Sox have proven themselves to be a team of streaks, and the winning variety haven't been long, or frequent, enough.
At this point, the Sox only solace is that the Yankees started 15-17 last season, then ended up with 103 wins and a World Series championship.
But things won't get any easier for the Sox during the rest of May. After this three-game series with the Yankees, the Blue Jays — who are ahead of the Sox in the standings — come to town. After that the Sox go to Detroit, and then to Yankee Stadium. After that, they’re home against the Twins for two games before heading out to Philadelphia and Tampa. All of those teams are over .500, and three are division leaders.
The Sox won't catch a break until May 27, when they return home to host the Royals.
At that point, we should all know if the Red Sox have any chance of competing in the AL East this season. Though they've been without two-thirds of their starting outfield for nearly a month, many would argue that it's already too late for a meaningful recovery anyway.
The Red Sox are essentially relying on the Rays and/or Yankees to collapse – perhaps due to key injuries – to get back into the playoff hunt. But a team wants to chart its own course, be responsible for its own fate, and not rely on another team's demise to provide hope or opportunity. Yet, that's the reality the Sox are facing at this point. They are 1-8 against the Rays and Yanks this year, all at Fenway.
When they leave town Wednesday night, the Sox will have played 23 of their first 35 games at Fenway, where they have traditionally shined. However, they are 9-10 at home this season.
The Red Sox offense has been better than predicted; the Sox are third in the league in batting average, homers, and runs.
However, the pitching and defense – the very things this team was purported to have been built on – have been disappointing, to say the least.
The Sox’ staff ERA is 5.11, putting them near the bottom of the American League. And it's not the bullpen's fault; the starter's ERA is 5.21. This was supposed to be the best starting three, maybe four, in baseball. Not so much.
Adrian Beltre, who was alleged to be the best defensive third baseman in the AL, now has seven errors, and it's only the second week of May. Believe it or not, Beltre has more errors than any other player in baseball. Indeed, Beltre's .327 average has been a welcome surprise, but the Red Sox brought him to Boston for his defense.
Defense begins up the middle, and unfortunately Victor Martinez can't play defense. He is simply a liability behind the plate. Bill Hall doesn't belong in the outfield, and Jeremy Hermida is not a defensive standout either.
May will be a definitive month for the Red Sox. By the end of the month, we will all know whether this is a playoff caliber team, or not. Management may already know, regardless of their optimistic pronouncements.
Theo Epstein and Co. may have to make uncomfortable decisions about players such as David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, and even Martinez by the end of this month, or next. Lowell and Ortiz can't run or effectively play defense, and at $12 million apiece, neither has any trade value.
Martinez will be a free agent at season's end and doesn't appear to be the team's catcher of the future. So, unless the club sees him as a DH or first baseman going forward, they may choose to trade him by the deadline.
The Sox are not in a position to do a salary dump. No club will pick up any meaningful amount of Ortiz's or Lowell's remaining salaries, and JD Drew is also untradable. Even if the Sox believe the season is lost and want to groom Josh Reddick for a spot in the outfield, facing big league pitching, they can't make room for him by moving the $14 million-a-year Drew, who is signed through next season.
The Red Sox may not be able to fix this team by the deadline, and considering that their payroll is already in excess of $170 million, owner John Henry may be unwilling to invest further in a team of overpriced underachievers.
Considering the talent of their chief rivals in the AL East, May is a make or break month for the Red Sox. In just a few short weeks we should know if this team will buyers, or sellers, in July.