Say what you want about the 2016 Boston Red Sox. It’s better than last year, and that’s pretty damn refreshing. The team’s 49 wins at the All-Star break didn’t come exactly how Dave Dombrowski and Co. drew it up. But you know what they say. A win is a win is a win.
And after David Price's dominant start Sunday against the Rays, the Sox enter the All-Star break on a four-game winning streak and are just two games behind the Baltimore Orioles for first place in the AL East.
They'll resume play on Friday night in the Bronx, embarking on a two-and-a-half month battle to advance to the postseason for the first time since 2013. I know, saying that last sentence over and over makes it sound like we’ve been deprived of playoff baseball for decades.
We all know that’s not the case. But since winning the World Series in 2013, the Red Sox have been living in the basement of the AL East. With 71 wins in 2014 and 78 wins in 2015, they’ve finished in last place in the division in each of the last two seasons. That sample size of failure is large enough to know that it wasn’t exactly a championship “hangover.”
It was a straight-up, two-year suckfest. And the biggest issue was easy to recognize: they couldn’t pitch.
That didn’t improve when Jon Lester and John Lackey — two absolute beasts during the 2013 championship run — were traded at the 2014 trade deadline. And in 2015, the Red Sox didn’t even have an ace. As much as that rotation wanted to poke fun at media criticism by wearing T-shirts that read “He’s the Ace,” the fact of the matter is, there wasn’t one. So that certainly didn’t help pull them out of last place.
This year’s rotation had a different feel entering the season. It had an ace. His name was David Price. The Sox signed him to a seven-year, $217 million contract. He was the best pitcher on the free agent market. And understanding the team’s biggest need, Dombrowski pounced.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Wait a minute, Price didn't really pitch like a guy who’s making $31 million a season through most of the first half.” And you’re right. For that money, and for what we all know he’s capable of, he needs to be more dominant, more often. Like he was on Sunday against Tampa Bay.
That said, the Price signing certainly can’t be considered a failure. He’s still a guy who is top-five in all of Major League Baseball in strikeouts. And even when he hasn't lived up to the money he’s making, he’s pitched much better than anything the Red Sox had last season and the second half of 2014.
Price is a much-needed improvement. And combined with the unexpected success of All-Star — yeah, I said All-Star — Steven Wright, and Rick Porcello’s renewed confidence, the Red Sox’ pitching has improved enough to where they find themselves right in the middle of a divisional race with the Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays.
Even the biggest optimist will tell you there’s a whole lot of baseball left. But all I’ve ever asked from this group is to be in contention by the time we get to the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline. And well, we’re almost there.
Given their relentless offensive attack, I’ve seen enough out of these Red Sox to know that they’ll still be in a playoff race for at least the next couple of weeks, which would give Dombrowski and general manager Mike Hazen all the incentive in the world to go out and pull the trigger on a trade that would land them a top-of-the-rotation arm.
Who that will be, and what exactly they would have to give up to get him, remains to be seen. But if Price can do more of what he did on Sunday, the Red Sox will be playing baseball once again in October.
And nobody will be complaining about that.