MLB: What’s the Real Problem With the Boston Red Sox in 2019?

After a dream season in 2018 that saw Mookie Betts AL MVP Award and the team capture the World Series, the Boston Red Sox are struggling mightily in 2019. It’s been a tough year for the boys from Beantown as they’ve underperformed and gotten some bad news about one of the franchise’s all-time great players.  

How did a team that won 108 games last year en route to a championship fold so quickly the next season? There are multiple reasons any team succeeds or fails, and the Red Sox are no different.

Let’s take a look at what the real problem is with the Boston Red Sox in 2019. (Note: all stats and win totals for the 2019 season are as of June 9)/

They aren’t as good as their direct competition

The Boston Red Sox have several shortcomings in 2019.
Boston’s offense isn’t terrible, but it’s not as good as last year. | Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

First, the most obvious problem: Boston hasn’t been nearly as good as the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays, two teams that have outplayed Boston this year and look good enough to make the postseason.

As the Rays and Yankees battle for first place in the AL East at 40-24, Boston trails them both by seven games at 34-32.

Boston’s record against the Yankees this year is 1-4. Their record against Tampa is 4-5. They’ll certainly have plenty more opportunities to play both teams down the stretch, but they’ll likely need to end up playing well over .500 against both teams if they want any shot of decreasing the gap between them.

The lineup isn’t quite as good as last year

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Let’s do it again.

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Last year the Red Sox had a .339 on-base percentage with 208 home runs. They led MLB in runs scored, RBIs, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS.

This year? They haven’t replicated last year’s success. They’re fifth in runs scored, 13th in home runs and slugging percentage, fourth in hits, 10th in total bases, eighth in RBIs and batting average, seventh in on-base percentage, and 11th in OPS.

None of those totals are particularly alarming, and they make for an offense that is somewhere near the back half of the top 10 to possibly in the middle of the pack overall. But it’s a far cry from the juggernaut Boston put together last year.

The offense isn’t Boston’s biggest issue, however. To find the real problem, we have to go to the other side of the diamond: pitching.

The starting pitching has been bad

Pitching is part of the problem for the Boston Red Sox in 2019.
Eduardo Rodriguez and the rest of the starting pitching staff are a problem for the Boston Red Sox, | Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Boston’s starting pitching is the main reason it’s struggling this year. Consider these stats:

  • According to Sports Illustrated, Red Sox starters this year are 15-22 with a 4.77 ERA and a .431 slugging percentage against.
  • They’re averaging 5.1 innings per start, down from 5.4 last year.
  • Due to injuries, Nathan Eovaldi has appeared in only four games and 21 innings. They’ll need him to come back as the fifth starter if they hope to contend.
  • Chris Sale, the team’s ace in the past, has been a shell of his former self. The team is 3-9 in Sale’s starts, which included an embarrassing 8-0 shellacking at Yankee Stadium in April. In that game, Sale’s counterpart in pinstripes, James Paxton, fanned 12. Sale’s ERA before the first two innings this season is 2.63; after that, it jumps to 5.28. He’s simply not getting through lineups more than once.
  • The rest of the Red Sox rotation — David Price, Rick Porcello, and Eduardo Rodriguez — have pitched anywhere from average to bad at various points throughout the first half. Porcello looked unhittable at times last year; this year he’s 4-6 with an ERA of 4.86.

Ultimately, if the Boston Red Sox want to contend, they’ll need to get more innings out of their starters. Their bullpen has sustained massive losses in free agency as both Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly departed, so the starters can’t afford to short change the relievers. Sale will need to find his command, and Eovaldi will need to return to form. Barring a trade for an ace that would necessitate giving up a large number of prospects, the team has no other recourse.