Tomase: We're not talking about Red Sox' biggest area of postseason need as trade deadline nears

John Tomase
July 13, 2018 - 12:31 pm

USA Today Sports

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The list of Red Sox needs prior to the trade deadline goes something like this: reliever, second baseman, reliever, reliever, reliever, backup catcher.

But here's a useful item missing from that shopping cart: right-handed starter.

The American League is essentially a three-team race between the Red Sox, Yankees, and Astros, who are each on pace to win well over 100 games. Even though they're not playing to that level, the Indians should be taken seriously in October, given their postseason pedigree. No offense to the Mariners or A's, but we're not buying.

Of the remaining big three, the Yankees and Indians -- though not as much the Astros -- share a characteristic that should concern Boston's decision-makers: they hammer left-handed starters.

This is relevant because the Red Sox as currently constructed will almost certainly start three lefties in the playoffs -- ace Chris Sale, wild card David Price, and the unpredictable Eduardo Rodriguez, with righty Rick Porcello likely slotting second. Another left-hander, Drew Pomeranz, started a playoff game last year.

While that group has carried the Red Sox to the most wins before the All-Star break in baseball history, our primary concern should be how well-positioned they are to win in October. And that's where things get dicier.

The Yankees, in particular, are a handful, and that's before they potentially add superstar slugger Manny Machado. New York is 23-6 vs. left-handed pitching, far and away the best record in the majors. Their OPS of .862 vs. left-handed starters is also the game's best by a wide margin.

Price (5 HRs) and E-Rod (5 ER), need no reminder of what New York can do. Each saw the Yankees tee off during a Bronx beatdown two weeks ago. Sale silenced them because he's Sale, but we'll see if he maintains his stamina into the fall.

New York's sluggers feasts on left-handed starters, from rookie Gleyber Torres (7 HRs, 1.145 OPS) to Giancarlo Stanton (11, 1.080) to Gary Sanchez (6, 1.002) to even Aaron Hicks (7, 1.016). Defending home run champ Aaron Judge (16, .953) appears run of the mill by comparison.

Machado, meanwhile, owns a .905 OPS and six homers vs. left-handed starters. The man he'd presumably be replacing, rookie Miguel Andujar is actually better, hitting .321 with seven homers and a .996 OPS.

The Indians aren't that extreme, but they're second in the AL with a 16-9 record against southpaws. They own a .779 OPS vs. left-handed starters, with the trio of Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and Michael Brantley each hitting over .300. Lindor's OPS stands at 1.040, with Ramirez right behind at 1.038, and Brantley checking in at .891.

The Astros are a slightly different story. Though their 21-14 record vs. lefties ranks third in the American League behind New York and Cleveland, they actually hit right-handed starters (.772 OPS) better than lefties (.758).

That said, their 41 homers against lefty starters are tied for third in baseball, and the quartet of Alex Bregman (.923), George Springer (.896), Carlos Correa (.838) and defending MVP Jose Altuve (.795) remains dangerous against anyone.

So what can the Red Sox do? Unfortunately, this doesn't look like a strong market for right-handed starters, especially since Boston is constrained by a desire to remain below the highest luxury-tax threshold.

Tampa's Chris Archer could become available, and he's affordable through 2021, with a team option for $8.25 million. Another possibility is Detroit's Michael Fulmer, whom the Tigers acquired at the 2015 trade deadline from the Mets for Yoenis Cespedes in one of Dave Dombrowski's final transactions before being fired a week later. It's worth noting that Archer (3-4, 4.41) hasn't posted an ERA below 4.00 since 2015, however, while Fulmer (3-8, 4.11) has seen his ERA climb for three straight seasons since being named 2016 Rookie of the Year.

Boston's best hope might be internal. Knuckleballer Steven Wright suffered a recent setback in his return from a knee injury that has left his timetable uncertain, but when healthy he was lights out. He allowed just one run in his first three starts before surrendering 10 vs. the Mariners and landing on the DL.

Whatever Dombrowski and Co. decide, they should be careful. Blitzing through the regular season is one thing. Being properly positioned to handle the Yankees in October is another, and the more left-handed they are heading into that hypothetical series, the worse their chances.

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