by Bill Murphy

Major League baseball is heading into the last third of the 2017 season. The non-waiver trading deadline of July 31st is always a warning to teams, that IF you have holes, this is the time to solidify your roster. You may still add players, through September 1st if they pass through waivers, BUT, such a possibility is often blocked by a claim. This is also often a time, when a contender will often become desperate and give up a prospect or two which could make help make a teams future.

It is likely the American League East champion will surface due to pitching and defense. This should make Red Sox fans breathe much more easy. HOWEVER, the Red Sox brass, and hopefully ownership, realize that their current power numbers are heading the team to an at best, early ouster in October. The Sox score runs, BUT, there are just too many times they are shutout OR go through long stretches of low run games, BECAUSE, although they hit, there are way too few balls hit out of the park.

When the current edition of the Boston nine was put together, everyone inside and outside the organization, knew that David Ortiz’ retirement would cause a void, BUT, they also thought the 170 home runs produced a year ago by players not named Ortiz, would still be on the ledger and they could make an addition or two, which would bring the total somewhere near last year’s 208. Presently, the team is on pace for 150 balls to leave the yard and that is way too short.

One thing which was tough to take into account while projecting such totals, was the Ortiz pitching effect. Obviously every hitter in the line-up is affected in one way or another by the sluggers absence. One thing is certain, now that they don’t pitch around Ortiz, a myriad of players who come to the plate, get much less ripe offerings to hit than were tossed their way one year ago.

As we present this case, these players are presently projected on their current pace to fall below their totals of 2016 (2016 total is followed by 2017 pace:

Mookie Betts                    31/27

Hanley Ramirez               30/27

Jackie Bradley, Jr.            26/18

Xander Bogaerts              21/10

Dustin Pedroia                 15/10

Then there is one more somewhat significant absence in Travis Shaw. Of course, he is in a different time and a different place and despite the clear picture in hindsight, you may think you have on what he would have brought to the Boston table this summer, (despite his huge drop-off in the second half of 2016) there is really no way you could have forecast his present contribution in Milwaukee.

Taking things a step further, the Sox had 836 Runs Batted In in 2016 and they are presently headed for 675 RBI’s, which even subtracting Ortiz’ 127 from a year ago, leaves the team short of the previous total, without any significant addition from new players. Presenting the RBI numbers with drop-offs from last year to this with the like projected numbers as above:

Hanley Ramirez              111/60

Mookie Betts                   113/93

Xander Bogaerts              89/66

Jackie Bradley, Jr.            87/60

The one player, who has done his job comparable to last year in the RBI department is Dustin Pedroia, who finished 2016 with 74 and projects to 81 this season.

Now that the trade deadline has come and gone and no significant power bat has been added (Edwin Nunez has started with a bang, BUT, don’t expect that production to last), everything for the Red Sox will come down to pitching and defense. THUS, they will cross their fingers that the projected power numbers will show some type of growth, BUT, pitching will be the end game. Double crossies are not suppose to be good luck, HOWEVER, good health will be needed for this unit to bring home the bacon.

Everyone knows the pitching staff begins and ends with Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel. Those two hurlers are in place and lead the staff and what a way to start this discussion.

Like him, hate him, OR have no idea about him, David Price has to line up with a healthy body, if not mind, for the Sox to have any hope to pull off what the Sox did in 2004, 2007 and 2013. IF he could bounce back to be who he was ten days ago, on the mound, the 2017 Sox stand a chance.

Drew Pomeranz is the surprise of this staff. I find an incredible number of fans, who still haven’t joined his bandwagon. Chances are IF the Bostonians end up winning it all, this guy will be the difference maker. Dave Dombrowski saw something other than damaged goods and refused to send him back. Hip, hip, hooray.

In the post season, most contending teams need four starters, THUS, IF the three aforementioned pitchers are ready to go, the Sox will need to find one more effective arm for the rotation for October. I personally think, Rick Porcello might be their best bet. He still gives his team innings, BUT, he certainly has been in line for every bit of bad luck imaginable. For the most part, he keeps his team in games. IF he can do that, and the restocked bullpen can continue to be one of the best in the game, Porcello may be good enough to complete the staff.

Now with Addison Reed on board to set-up Kimbrel, Matt Barnes and a healthy Joe Kelly, can take care of the seventh inning slot, with an occasional appearance in the eighth IF NEEDED and a reinvented Brandon Workman (what a difference he makes) and a couple of more from the list of  Heath Hembree, Blaine Boyer, Robbie Scott and Fernando Abad (could this team enter the post season without a lefty reliever?) the roster should be in place to contend.

All this, without mention of Eduardo Rodriguez, who IF, he is able to coordinate mind and body, could be an additional starter or reliever, as the final piece to the puzzle.

In the end, the Sox could win in October, BUT, there are a wheelbarrow full of question marks, still to be pushed forward and those punctuation marks start with a home run or RBI needed when they count most. Can this group perform the task?