Christian Vazquez tags out Leonys Martin.

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Two moves Red Sox must make to win World Series, and one that'll never happen

Jim Hackett
June 12, 2018 - 10:20 pm

Make no mistake, the 2018 Red Sox are significantly better than the 2017 Red Sox and will be at or near the top of the league vying for postseason positioning all season long. We got that feeling early on and that vibe still remains. There's more good news… they're fun to watch, have star power, can hit the ball out of the ballpark and appear to be unified. Manager Alex Cora is easy to root for. All good things… however, there are some fatal flaws that if left uncorrected, will most assuredly lead to an all too familiar and unfulfilling October. Despite the overall improvement and progress made over last year, this team as presently constituted, seems poised to offer its fan base a similar underwhelming postseason result; one that has become far too familiar in recent Red Sox memory.

The Sox have two major issues, the Astros and the Yankees. If you match up their rosters side by side, the Red Sox do stack up with their fiercest competitors. Their 1-2 punch in the lineup of Betts and Martinez, as well as the 1-2 punch in the starting rotation, with Sale and Price, on paper, is as good as any in Baseball. The Sox have a dominant shut down closer and the roster is pretty solid 1-25. Again, that's the good news and what the Sox have can sustain them as a top contender all season long. However, when the autumn temperatures start to dip and runs become harder to come by and protect against, this Red Sox team could struggle mightily and there's more than a few reasons why. Some issues are obvious, others more subtle, but with the Trade Deadline less than two months away and fall baseball on the horizon, all of these issues are equally perilous.

Let's start with the bullpen. More concerning than the glaring need for another late inning set-up reliever (or two), is the sad reality that the Red Sox don't have the assets to acquire one. Dombrowski's purging of the Minor League system has left the Red Sox ill equipped to compete for the necessary talent needed at the Trade Deadline. Both the Yankees and the Astros have more money and more prospects to offer, each is positioned to get what they need. The Red Sox aren't and unless Tyler Thornburg walks in and locks down that 8th inning role, they'll have trouble getting the help they need. So what do you do? If you can't beat them at the deadline, then you have to get there first, you have to act right now.

You may recall the 2003 Red Sox and their misguided "closer by committee" experiment. That failure didn't even make it to June; on May 29 that year, the Red Sox acquired reliever Byung-Hyun Kim. The move for Kim ended up being a failure, but the reason I bring it up is because 15 years later, the Red Sox find themselves in that exact same position, forced to act before the deadline just to be in a position to get what they so desperately need.

If the Red Sox wait to acquire bullpen help on July 31st, you can bet that they'll be competing for the second or third best available reliever on the market. They simply can't make as compelling of an offer as Houston or the Yanks. I say strike first, strike now and at least take a shot at getting some help. Kim was a bust, but the actual move to acquire him was the right one.

If the Sox are going to fortify that bullpen, they need to do it right now. Short of striking gold with Brandon Workman (whom I like) and getting a best case scenario out of Tyler Thornburg (unlikely), they're left with no other option. Unless you think competing for the third-best available bullpen arm is enough. I don't. Sometimes it's better to be first and good than great and late. The time is now.

Then there's second base. I'm not confident that we'll even see a fraction of the Dustin Pedroia of old and I'm starting to believe we may not see him at all. It's not his bat I miss, it's his defense. It's hard to score runs in postseason, but equally as important is protecting runs from scoring and to do so, you have to get every single available out. Eduardo Nunez is a problem defensively and will cost them valuable outs in crunch time, he's doing it now. Whether it's during an awkwardly late tag on an attempted stolen base, or trying to knock down a lead runner, he just doesn't have the necessary skill needed to make these plays smoothly and doesn't evoke any confidence that he can improve. Teams run like wild horses against the Red Sox and it's not because of their catchers, it's because of Nunez. They need to tighten their second base defense or they'll be chasing from behind in the postseason.

As for coming from behind, you're now talking about a Red Sox roster that has nobody with any postseason success at the plate since releasing Hanley Ramirez, so playing catch up will most assuredly be a recipe for disaster. Furthermore, if you give extra bases to the Yankees or Astros in the postseason, you know damn well those teams are built to make you pay and they will.

My vote is to turn second base over to Brock Holt right now because a least he can field his position. Also, he's presently hitting more consistently than Nunez, so what's the downside? I'd rather shore up the defense and protect every out I can.

Finally, there's the bench. It's thin. It's skinnier than JJ from Good Times. Putting Holt in full time at (in the absence of Pedroia) accomplishes three things:

1. Improves the infield defense.

2. Sends a versatile player to the bench in Nunez.

3. Creates an opportunity for Nunez to push third baseman Rafael Devers, who looks lost.

I have some other thoughts on the bench. There's a pretty big bat available on the waiver wire, his name is Hanley Ramirez. Do-over anyone? If you like me are starting to get the sense that Blake Swihart may in fact be useless, than why prolong the misery? Will you miss his .150 average? Perhaps you'll miss the safety and security of having a third catcher? I'm good thanks. I've seen enough. Provided Hanley hasn't acquired a bad Drakes Cakes habit over the last 3 weeks, I'm keen to say "Wanna come back? We're paying you anyway."

If you could sell him on a reduced role, I sure wouldn't hate seeing that bat back in the lineup a couple of times per week and suddenly your bench has gone from feeble to downright mighty! The more I write, the more I like this idea. Swallow your pride, Dave Dombrowski, and make the call. What are you afraid of? Losing Blake Swihart? I think I covered that one above…

These are the core issues that could prove fatal to these Red Sox this fall and it's a shame because this is a good ball club that could compete with a couple of important tweaks. Bullpen help is available to them if they get aggressive and beat their competition to the punch. This needs to be a now priority otherwise it won't work. Like a vulnerable bullpen, defensive miscues and a lean bench become glaring holes when autumn rolls along. If the Red Sox want to be a real contender when it matters, you will see these problems addressed. If they don't, then I advise tempering your expectations for this fall and getting your Patriots and Celtics gear out a little early.