BOSTON — Forget the Yankees, Astros, Mariners, A’s and Indians for the moment. Injuries are the biggest obstacle standing between the Red Sox and a fourth trip to the World Series in the last 15 years. And so far, the Red Sox have been handling them as well as the rest of baseball.
The right mix of luck and quality depth is essential to any team that has World Series aspirations.
So far, these Red Sox have certainly shown the ability to overcome the uncontrollable factor of injury with a remarkable quality of organizational depth. For all the talk of a depleted farm system and the lack of assets to pull off a big trade at the deadline, the Red Sox have had huge contributions from players not necessarily projected to do so in March.
Sam Travis lit it up in spring training with a team-high six homers and 17 RBI and made a serious run to make the team out of spring training before returning this week with the bereavement leave of Andrew Benintendi. Bobby Poyner, Hector Velazquez and now Ryan Brasier have helped provide depth in arms until presumable reinforcements arrive at the deadline.
When Eduardo Rodriguez was placed on the 10-day disabled list Sunday morning with a right ankle sprain, it marked the 20th time a Red Sox player landed on the injury sheet since Opening Day, covering 17 different players on the big league roster. Entering Sunday, only the Angels (23) and the Rangers (20) had more.
After the game, a 5-2 win that elevated the Sox to a season-best 38 over .500 at 68-30, Cora sounded a fairly ominous tone that would suggest E-Rod isn’t coming back anytime soon.
“There is some serious damage to the ankle,” Cora said. “No surgery required. He is going to have a boot for two weeks and then we will re evaluate after that. Some ligament damage, yeah.”
The Red Sox already have overcome injuries stints to Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts while Dustin Pedroia has played exactly three games and his season is in serious doubt. Christian Vazquez is out until at least September with a fractured right pinkie.
Depth isn’t an option with the Red Sox. It’s mandatory.
“It is important. It is very important,” Cora told me before Sunday’s finale before the All-Star break. “We’ve been tested the whole season and we are where we are. Brock and Eduardo (Nunez) have done a good job at second base without Pedroia.”
That ball is gonna hurt in the morning. pic.twitter.com/y4ZPtwqrnr
— Boston Red Sox (@RedSox) July 15, 2018
“Pitching-wise, Hector (Velazquez) and BJ (Sunday starter Brian Johnson) have done a good job and they’re going to have to keep doing a good job throughout the season for this to happen,” Cora added. “The bullpen, (Matt) Barnes and Joe (Kelly) – I know Joe has struggled lately – at one point – those three were pretty automatic, 7,8,9 and move onto the next day.
“We’ve been tested throughout the season. No Drew (Pomeranz), we are where we are. So, it’s a testament to the organization, player development. We’re in a good spot.”
To Cora’s point, Brock Holt has been having a first half reminiscent of his 2015 first half that earned him a spot as Boston’s only All-Star in Cincinnati.
But this is a much better Red Sox team and he’s had a big, big role in baseball’s best record to this point. He’s batting .285 with 25 RBI and has started 31 games at second, 11 at short, four in right field and once at first.
Then there’s the pitching staff. Drew Pomeranz, considered the regular No. 4 starter heading into the season, made just eight starts before left biceps tendinitis sidelined him. Rodriguez is spending his second stint on the DL this season. Steven Wright has also been on the list twice.
“Going into the season, we knew we had a good team and were going to start off the right way because we were playing well. I’m a believer that in spring training, if you play well, you’re start off well. I’m not saying record-wise because most of the time, you win and lose (spring training) games in the last part of the game where all the kids are in and they’re the ones deciding the games. We felt we were playing well and we’ve been consistent in what we do. It feels like on a daily basis that whoever’s on the mound is going to stop a losing streak or is going to continue a winning streak, and that’s a good feeling. The bullpen has done a great job.”
There’s virtually no team that can make it through the season without getting hit with the injury bug. The 2004 Red Sox, a team that made it through without missing a single start in the rotation due to injury, is most certainly the exception to the rule.
❌ gave it to ’em pic.twitter.com/VOjTYY6S7k
— Boston Red Sox (@RedSox) July 14, 2018
Hitting the break at 68-30 obviously means the Red Sox have had plenty of contributors not named Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez and Chris Sale. Xander Bogaerts is delivering more power and Craig Kimbrel is closing down games at a record pace. The Red Sox have four starters with at least 10 wins.
“I do feel that what you guys call “The Shuttle” from Triple-A to here is helping out. They’ve done an outstanding job from (Bobby) Poyner to Waldy (Marcus Walden) making the team out of spring training to (Brandon Workman) working his way back here. They’ve been outstanding.
“Obviously, offensively Mookie and J.D. have carried the offense but little by little, everybody is contributing. Xander has 62 RBIs, and that’s his total from last year. He’s having his best offensive season and that’s good. Benny has been outstanding. Little by little, everybody is contributing and it’s a good feeling offensively right now.”