This Red Sox season has been a lot like a M. Night Shyamalan movie. Just when you think they’re headed in a particular direction, they throw in a twist and go down a completely different path, often leaving you incredibly disappointed and wondering why you ever watched to begin with.

Winning eight of nine to close out the first half of the season has given us some serious “I see dead people” vibes, pumping us up for what could be an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride of a second half. But a schizophrenic offense, a rotation featuring only three starting pitchers, and another month without some key players has us simultaneously bracing ourselves for a twist that’s more reminiscent of the last ten minutes of The Village. 

We’ve seen about as many Haley Joel Osment moments from this team as we’ve seen Bryce Dallas Howard moments. They fight, then they fold. They dominate good teams, then they deteriorate against weaklings. They shock us with their resiliency, then disgust us with their ineptitude. 

The only sure thing about this Red Sox season thus far has been that there are no sure things. Well, except injuries maybe. I feel that this team is just as capable of bearing down and gutting out a legendary second half as they are of falling on their faces and embarrassing themselves to the extent that both Chaim Bloom and Alex Cora find themselves unemployed. Win or lose, I predict that this season will go out with a cinematic bang that rattles the foundation of Boston sports. 

And what would such a Shyamalan-y season be without some unexpected misdirection at the end?

After a first half that was so hard to predict, what kind of dramatic, polarizing twist can we expect from M. Night Bloom between now and the finish line? 

 

Another Hot Streak

In addition to winning eight of their last nine, which is the best record in MLB since June 30th, the Red Sox also own the American League’s best record since June 14th and now find themselves only two games out of a playoff spot. This team, which had hovered within a game or two of .500 for what felt like an eternity, has soared to five games above mediocrity for seemingly the first time since Yaz, Lynn, and Evans patrolled Fenway’s outfield.

Chaim Bloom is hated by the majority of Red Sox fans, and we’ve seen quite a few developments this year that have lent credence to that point of view. The 2023 Red Sox play shortstop as well as Aroldis Chapman plays house. The lack of a dependable offseason starting pitcher acquisition has rendered the staff ridiculously shorthanded. The Kiké Hernandez and Corey Kluber signings have aged like milk. And a legion of crackpots still miss Hunter Renfroe and his .293 OBP like Paul Simon misses Joe DiMaggio.

But for all the hatred Bloom’s 2023 bridge-to-the-future philosophy has gotten, he’s also netted his fair share of wins.

James Paxton (5-1, 2.73 ERA, 64 Ks in 56 innings) has inexplicably returned to the ace form we all thought was long gone three years ago. Masataka Yoshida (.316 BA/.382 OBP/.492 SLG/.874 OPS) has his 5-year, $90 million contract looking like the steal of the offseason, exposing just how clueless certain baseball executives truly are. Justin Turner (.842 OPS, 13 HRs, 52 RBI) has anchored the offense for the better part of two months. Kenley Jansen (19 saves in 22 attempts, Boston’s lone All Star) and Chris Martin (1.57 ERA, 23 Ks, 3 walks in 28.2 innings) have been as formidable a shutdown bullpen tandem as you’ll find in the sport.

As tired as many Red Sox fans are of hearing about Chaim Bloom’s plan for the future, the experienced pros he brought in to help now have been primarily responsible for keeping the team afloat this season.

Yet despite all of the success stories we’ve seen, a pile of banged up muck continues to drag this team down like a lead life preserver.

 

A Farewell to Arms

Tanner Houck, fresh off having a metal plate inserted in his face, just resumed eating solid foods five days ago. He hasn’t thrown since Kyle Higashioka drilled him in the face with a line drive, and he won’t even set foot on a pitcher’s mound for at least another two weeks. Trevor Story, currently prepping for a rehab assignment, hopes for a mid-August return to the Red Sox lineup. IL connoisseur Chris Sale won’t be eligible to return until August 1st, and Adalberto Mondesi would be wise to save him a seat in the trainer’s room even after the long lefty is finally activated. Word is that Sale’s next trip to the IL will come with a free set of steak knives.

Feeble veteran James Paxton, rookie sensation Brayan Bello, and young swingman Kutter Crawford are holding down the starting rotation all by themselves. Nick Pivetta has been a de facto fourth starter of late, relieving the opener du jour every fifth day to eat some valuable innings. Pivetta’s success in this semi-starter role has saved a lot of strain on the arms of the other guys in the bullpen, who are still short a Schreiber, a Bleier, and a Kluber themselves.

As Pat pointed out on yesterday’s podcast, a three-man starting rotation is no recipe for MLB success. At this rate, it’s only a matter of time before even more pitchers get hurt. With no in-house starting pitching reinforcements due back for three weeks at the earliest, what recourse do the Red Sox possibly have?

 

Lame Ducks

The only way to bolster the rotation before Houck and (potentially) Sale return is to trade for an arm or two, and you can’t trade for an arm or two without giving up something in exchange. The Boston Red Sox are not good enough to give up anything of value without essentially waving the white flag on 2023.

Ever since he arrived in Boston, Bloom’s priority has been on building a winner in 2024 and beyond. In other words, he won’t be dealing any good players that are signed past this season. Trading away young talent to load up for a 2023 playoff push when this team has shown no ability to contend would be antithetical to everything Chaim has done here. That leaves a select few lame ducks, whose contracts expire at the end of this year, as potential trade chips.

Paxton and Turner are on expiring deals, but they’re too crucial to this season’s success to ship out. Giving either of them up in exchange for pitching help would be robbing Peter to pay Paul. Hernandez and Kluber are also on their respective ways out, and Red Sox fans would step on each other for the honor of driving them to the airport. The problem is their dreadful performances this year, not to mention their recent injury histories, which have sunk their trade value. Even if Bloom were to package them both along with a mid-tier prospect, he could never net a decent starting pitcher in return.

 

The Duvall Equation

Adam Duvall could be an attractive piece for a contending team in need of a righthanded power threat who can play good outfield defense. He was one of the most dangerous bats in the National League as recently as 2021, hitting 38 home runs and leading the league with 113 RBI. In the preseason, I predicted that he’d be the second most productive hitter in the Red Sox lineup. He started out that way too, until he broke his wrist 10 games into the season. He hasn’t hit his weight since returning from the IL in mid-June, and the burden of getting him at bats has made him the fifth wheel in what has blossomed into a sensational outfield. Yoshida and Alex Verdugo have thrived this season, Jarren Duran has miraculously evolved into one of the most dynamic players in baseball, and Rob Refsnyder morphs into Ty Cobb whenever a lefthanded pitcher toes the rubber.

While Duvall is clearly the odd man out, dealing him creates a couple potential problems. Having just returned from a broken wrist into a prolonged slump, his trade value is nearly as low as Kiké’s. Dealing him now would be trading from a position of weakness that is unlikely to generate a productive return on the market.

The other issue is the potential contributions the Red Sox could receive from a productive Duvall. Aside from Justin Turner, this team is bereft of righthanded threats. As we saw at the start of this season, Duvall is a streaky hitter who is capable of going on tears that can carry a team for long stretches of time. Trading him away means missing out on any of those patented Duvall hot streaks that may be in store for the rest of this year.

Contrary to popular belief, forcing Duvall into the lineup, which forces Duran, Yoshida, and/or Triston Casas to the bench, has been more than just an effort to showcase Duvall as trade bait. It’s also been an effort from Chaim Bloom and Alex Cora to insert a strong righthanded presence into the lineup. If Duvall can heat up at the plate and produce, a trio of he, Turner, and a returning Trevor Story would give the Red Sox offense the kind of righthanded punch it has lacked all season long.

 

Anticipating The Twist

With three weeks until the trade deadline, there’s no clear path to starting pitching help without compromising a Red Sox future that looks far brighter than the present. The only foreseeable way to remain in the hunt through July is to ride out the current ankle-deep starting pitching situation while hoping the offense carries the load through the upcoming series with the Cubs, A’s, Mets, Braves, and Giants.

This fanbase is starving for a winning team. Unless the Red Sox offset their recent winning streak with an embarrassing skid, a routine which has been their calling card all season long, a fire sale will not be tolerated under any circumstances.

Turner (who actually has a player option for 2024), Paxton, Jansen, and Martin are untouchable.
Hernandez and Kluber are untradeable.
Depending on his performance through July, Duvall seems to be the litmus test that will determine the Red Sox’ strategy for the final stretch of the season.

The 2023 Red Sox are in a very similar situation to the one they found themselves in at this time last year. In many ways, it’s the worst possible position to be in. They’re not good enough to load up, yet they’re too good to blow it up.

Thus, the question remains: what will Chaim Bloom’s climactic twist be for the 2023 season?

If he buys, he will sacrifice a modicum of future success for the sake of committing to an unlikely playoff push.
If he sells, he will quadruple down on his mission to focus on the future.
If he straddles the line like last season, the rhetorical holy war between the Bloominati and the Bloom-and-Gloomers will reach new heights.

Whichever twist he opts for, there’s only one certainty … a certainty that Bloom’s tactics share with many of M. Night Shyamalan’s films.

Once the twist is revealed, a whole lot of people are going to be pissed.

By Luke

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