By Terry Cushman — @cushmanMLB
CHRIS SALE: So many players not just when they arrive in Boston, but in a lot of markets end up struggling and having an “adjustment” period. Most notably on the Red Sox Rick Porcello and David Price both had tumultuous first years. Craig Kimbrel doubled his career average as a reliever (more on him later), and if you thought really hard about it, you could probably come up with a dozen or so more names. Chris Sale has been everything that was advertised. No starter in Red Sox history has averaged 13 strike outs in his first three games. He has owned that mound in his Red Sox uniform and been the talk of MLB. I fully expect Sale to be named the starting pitcher in the All Star Game this summer for the second year in a row.
RICK PORCELLO: Some experts are ringing alarms with respect to Porcello’s early struggles, but that’s a typical April for him. Last year in spring training his ERA was 9.77. This year it was only a couple runs lower. His ERA was north of 4.00 for the first two months last season. I’m personally not worried at all. He might never duplicate his 2016 season, but I fully expect Porcello reign himself in and show flashes of dominance in 2017. It’s only a matter of time.
DAVID PRICE: At this point I will TRIPLE down and say I still do not expect him to pitch a single start at the major league level in 2017. The Red Sox have been very vague on his exact injury. He’s almost ready for a “rehab start” but won’t throw his off speed stuff from a mound. The writing on the wall suggests inevitable surgery. I don’t expect he will be a factor in 2017 one way or the other.
POMERANZ/E-ROD: Health is the biggest question for both of these starters. E-ROD has by far the best stuff, and I’m still very excited about his potential to have an EPIC breakout year. His second start was much more promising than his first, and a truer indication of how I feel he will peform. Pomeranz struggles at times with control, and giving up home runs. On the upside, his strike out rates are very high and has shown the ability to rattle off strong starts. Health is Pomeranz’ biggest question mark. He has yet to pitch 200 innings, and I’m highly skeptical he will reach that in 2017 following his stem cell injections. Having Pomeranz on this very talented rotation is a bonus, and the Red Sox will hopefully maximize him as much as they can.
BULLPEN: I’m the most pleasantly surprised by their performance so far. One thing the Red Sox couldn’t do very much of in 2016 is win close ball games. It’s been the exact opposite in 2017. They’re holding down very narrow 1-2 run leads without giving up any runs in return. Heath Hembree & Matt Barnes have emerged as the 7th/8th inning guys respectively, and pitched extremely well. Joe Kelly got off to a rocky start, but is seemingly dialing in and pitching LIGHTS OUT the last several games. Kimbrel has been up and down, but is trending sharply in the right direction, especially in this Tampa series. The bullpen was my biggest concern by far this past off season, and I couldn’t be any more thrilled with it’s performance thus far. If it continues, Carson Smith & Tyler Thornburg will be able to ease their way in with little to no pressure whatsoever given the talent around them.
LINEUP: There has been much-to-do about the lack of home runs by the Red Sox lineup overall to start 2017, but as the weather heats up, so will the bats. This area of the team was the most ravaged by the flu that went around. Most notably Mookie and Xander have come around and become highly productive in recent days. Mitch Moreland has been a nice addition to the team. Last I checked he’s still leading all of MLB in doubles. Fenway Park seems to suit him very well. Hanley Ramirez has been clutch in certain moments, and very fortunately avoided serious injury with his hamstring on Sunday. Perhaps the most encouraging of all has been Andrew Benintendi. I figured it would be a tall order to pick up where he left off last season, especially where he was only drafted in June of 2015. But Benintendi has done just that, and has been by far the most consistent hitter on the staff. If his torrid production holds up as our AL East opponents get second and third looks at him, we will be 100% certain Benintendi is the real deal. Its just a little too early in his sophomore season to cash the check JUST yet. Pablo Sandoval has been the only serious disappointment. There is no obvious replacement for him. Moreland is a lefty, and Hanley certainly won’t be playing third base. Sam Travis could be an option this summer if his defensive skills get more polished, but he’s not a viable immediate solution. Holt could possibly platoon with Sandoval, but being a former World Series MVP, I’m willing to give Sandoval every possible chance to succeed. It certainly doesn’t appear to be a lack of effort, and quite frankly Sandoval still has a lot of upside.
All things considered, I will give the Boston Red Sox a grade of a solid “A.”