Here's where the Red Sox sit one-third of the way into the season

May 27th, 2024

BALTIMORE -- In any baseball season, there are milestone markers for a team. Memorial Day has long been one.

But Monday represented a more significant one for the Red Sox in that this 11-3 loss to the Orioles signified that the season is now a third over.

At 27-27, it has obviously been a mixed bag.

“We have to continue to pitch,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “We have to be better defensively. I think the other aspects of the game are going to be fine. Obviously, we’re missing three big bats in the lineup. But the guys who are playing are doing an outstanding job. We feel good where we’re at. Obviously, it’s not enough, but I feel really good with the group and what we have been able to do in this first [third of the season].”

Here is a closer look at what has gone well so far and what needs to get better.

Despite Cooper Criswell’s rough outing (four innings, six hits, six earned runs) against the high-powered Orioles, pitching has been the overwhelming strength of the season for the Sox. Only the Phillies and Yankees have a lower ERA than Boston’s 3.22 mark.

Considering that Lucas Giolito didn’t throw a pitch all season and Garrett Whitlock’s season ended on April 17, that is pretty impressive.

Tanner Houck has turned into an ace who is only lacking one thing -- run support. Kutter Crawford was dominant early while trailing off a little of late, but he still falls under the pleasant surprise category.

Brayan Bello was named the Opening Day starter after signing a $55 million contract extension in Spring Training. Thus far, he hasn’t been quite as good as he was in the middle months of last season. But there’s plenty of time for the 25-year-old to get there.

“Man, they've been so, so good,” outfielder Rob Refsnyder said of the pitching staff. “I think they're the reason why we're at .500. Just really, really good arms. They keep us in every game. As an offense, we’ve got to step it up, honestly.”

Refsnyder said it. The offense, as injury-hampered as it is these days without Trevor Story (out for the season), Triston Casas and Masataka Yoshida, needs to produce more, particularly with runners in scoring position. Boston’s .239 average w/RISP ranks 21st in the Majors. The team's .709 OPS ranks 22nd.

Overall, the numbers show that Boston has been a middling offense, capable of exploding some days while getting completely shut down on many others. The Sox have scored two runs or fewer in 15 of their 27 losses.

“We’re working behind the scenes and trying to get better at it and I think a breakthrough is coming, honestly,” Refsnyder said. “The young guys are figuring it out. I like where we’re at, honestly. I feel like we’ve got some good baseball ahead of us.”

Even with the injuries, the Sox still have some weapons, none more significant than Rafael Devers, who recently had a heater in which he homered in six straight days. The athletic duo of Jarren Duran and Wilyer Abreu has sparked the top of the order. Tyler O’Neill was the team’s best hitter the first couple of weeks of the season but has slumped lately and is now dealing with some right knee soreness.

The Sox have a pair of 23-year-olds playing every day in Vaughn Grissom and Ceddanne Rafaela, and need more offense out of both of them going forward.

There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Defense is the biggest reason the Sox haven’t been able to leverage their strong pitching into a better early-season record.

The Sox have made the second most errors in MLB with 39. They lead the league in a category nobody ever wants to, and that’s unearned runs (37).

In May, there’s been slight improvement, as Boston is tied for the ninth highest total at 14 while allowing 10 unearned runs, tied for the 12th highest total.

The outfield has generally played stellar defense. The infield will need to tighten up for the club to compete for a playoff spot

Yes, health has been a factor. And there should be some significant help on the way when Casas comes back from torn cartilage in his left rib cage. The earliest he is eligible to return is June 21, and the first baseman has set that day as his goal to be back. Yoshida could also return at some point in June from his left thumb strain.

Any pitching reinforcements would have to come from the farm system or trades.