Excitement. Embarrassment. Pride. Shame.
It has been a roller coaster of emotions for Sox fans this season, so it is helpful to take a step back and take a good look at where they are right now.
There have been far more failures than achievements for the Sox since 2005. After being “mired in mediocrity” (as GM Rick Hahn so eloquently put it) for so long, it is hard to consider a 17-19 start a success. However, this season feels different. It should feel different, or so we are told. The Sox have publicly declared that they are “rebuilding” after trading their two best players: Adam Eaton and face-of-the-franchise Chris Sale. There are very low expectations this season. It is hard to tell what management would do if they were to compete for a playoff spot this year, but after losing seven of their last ten, this is looking like less of a concern.
Therefore, we can focus on the good and the bad thus far. I will likely write more in-depth about several of these issues going forward, so consider this a brief primer.
First things first: Avisail Garcia has been incredible this year. Even after cooling off following a scorching start, he is currently slashing .336/.387.542, with a 1.7 WAR. There is no way to know if this is just a fluke (my money is on yes), and his defense is still below average, but let’s just enjoy this while it lasts. His approach has improved drastically, now it is time to see if he can stay focused over the 162 game grind.
While they do not have the same power numbers as Avi, Yolmer Sanchez and Leury Garcia are putting together seasons that are making me second-guess my assumption that they would never be more than borderline utility players. Sanchez – newly-equipped with new goggles and a new first name – is slashing a fairly impressive .324/.354/.459 and has put up a 1.3 WAR. It will be interesting to see how these two do throughout the season, and if they can play themselves into roles going forward.
The bullpen has been fairly good thus far. Specifically, 31-year-old journeyman Anthony Swarzak has been lights out. He has yet to allow a run in 19.2 innings this year, while putting up an 11.0 K/BB ratio. Obviously he cannot keep up this pace for a full year, and is due for some (significant?) regression. However, he has been a pleasant surprise to this point. Tommy Kahnle has been another good surprise, but he has been coming back down to earth, allowing runs in each of his last two games.
I am a fan of Rick Renteria so far. He seems to communicate well with the players, and the players appear to respond. The team looks like it is having fun and playing with passion for the first time in a long time. While nearly anything is an improvement over Robin Ventura, credit is due to Renteria for changing the culture.
Also, after a decent start (better than I expected), the recent losses could be a good thing long-term. A worse record means a better draft pick, which can help them when they are ready to compete. If they get back on track, the good news is they are currently only three games behind the Twins (who predicted that?) for first place in the A.L. Central. With several players on the Disabled List, and some insane talent waiting in the wings (Moncada, Burdi, etc.), a postseason push, while unlikely, is not out of the question.
I will not go in depth about it in this article, but it is also worth noting that several top prospects are tearing up the minor leagues right now. This also makes this year’s mediocrity different and more bearable.
Todd Frazier has been bad. (Disclosure: I am biased because I drafted him for my fantasy team.) Frazier is slashing an abysmal .173/.278/.316 and is showing few signs of the power that salvaged his otherwise poor showing last year, with only 3 home runs in 115 plate appearances thus far. This is bad news for Sox fans, who have seen the “old-slugger-deteriorates-before-our-eyes-while-making-millions-of-dollars” routine at least two too many times (at least his name isn’t Adam this time; thanks Dunn and LaRoche), not only because he is bringing the team down, but also because he has little to no trade value at this point. While his $12MM salary is off the books after this year, the Sox would have liked to get something of value in exchange for him at the deadline. This is still a possibility, but he will have to get healthy and figure things out quickly.
Tim Anderson has been bad as well. It may be that the pressure of his contract extension is getting to him. It could also be that he was never that good and Rick Hahn jumped the gun on the extension. It is too early to tell, but I would bet on the former. He is also dealing with some family issues that may be affecting things, so it is better to pass judgement on his situation for a while.
The catching situation has been less-than-ideal, but what do you expect when the plan was to rely on 34-year-old-Cub-reject-with-the-yips Geovany Soto with unproven minor leaguers as a contingency plan? The Sox are clearly just killing time until 2016 first-round pick Zack Collins is MLB-ready, which makes this an insignificant concern going forward.
The thing I am really concerned about is the injury situation. Historically, the Sox have been excellent about avoiding the DL; a testament to trainer Herm Schneider. However, things have changed this year. James Shields, after an excellent start (which surprised me after last season), has been sidelined for almost a month with a lat issue. Carlos Rodon (who I expected big things from this season) has yet to make a start this year, and his timetable has kept moving back, with cryptic answers about it from Rick Renteria. Charlie Tilson, who tore his hamstring in his debut last season and was set to be the opening day center fielder, is now on the 60 Day DL and has not seen the field since his two plate appearances last year. The injuries have been discouraging, and I just hope that this is just an anomaly and not a trend.
Finally, there have been some questionable decisions by management this year, as there always are. What did the Sox see in Cody Asche? Why start him over Matt Davidson? What does the organization see in Mike Pelfrey? How many more games will they throw Dylan Covey on the mound? It seems like a situation where management is throwing things at the wall and hoping something sticks. I understand that this is part of the rebuilding process, but some of these moves are too reminiscent of the incompetence that has overshadowed the organization for several years.
Overall, there is a lot to be excited about. There are also just enough problems and doubt to make fans feel uncomfortable. The rebuilding process will be an interesting ride, so hold on tight and try to enjoy it.