Boston Red Sox: 5 Players Who Need to Step Up ASAP After Poor Start

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistMay 25, 2017

Boston Red Sox: 5 Players Who Need to Step Up ASAP After Poor Start

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    Right-hander Rick Porcello.
    Right-hander Rick Porcello.Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

    The Boston Red Sox entered the 2017 season with first-place expectations. Entering Thursday, they've gotten third-place results.

    At 24-21, the Sox are one game back of the Baltimore Orioles and 3.5 games behind the rival New York Yankees in the hypercompetitive American League East.

    Boston's slow start can't be pinned on any one player, but here are five who could reverse the club's mediocre fortunes by stepping up sooner rather than later.

Pablo Sandoval, 3B

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Pablo Sandoval sparked optimism with a back-in-shape spring narrative. So far, the Kung Fu Panda has fallen flat, hitting .213 in 17 games and landing on the disabled list with a knee injury.

    He's been playing rehab games with Triple-A Pawtucket, meaning a return could be imminent.

    Boston fans have a right to be skeptical. Sandoval has done little right and a whole lot wrong since inking a five-year, $95 million deal with the Red Sox prior to the 2015 season.

    A healthy, productive Sandoval, however, would plug the hole at third base and boost an offense that ranks almost exactly in the middle of the pack in runs scored.

    He's just 30 after all, and he was a two-time All-Star and three-time champion with the San Francisco Giants.

    You may say fat chance. We say that joke is too easy.

Drew Pomeranz, LHP

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    An All-Star with the San Diego Padres last season, Drew Pomeranz has wobbled since being traded to Boston in July 2016.

    Pomeranz sports a 4.73 ERA during his Red Sox tenure and an even less flattering 4.97 mark this year.

    He's failed to reach five innings in each of his past three starts and hasn't managed more than six innings all season.

    The Red Sox don't need Pomeranz to be an ace as much as they do the other pitchers on this list, but they need him to capably man the back of the rotation.

    He's not inspiring much confidence.

Jackie Bradley Jr., CF

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    Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

    Jackie Bradley Jr. has always been a wizard with the glove. The question was whether he could hit.

    He answered it last season, as he slashed .267/.349/.486 with 26 home runs. This year, his line is an anemic .200/.277/.360.

    There's an element of misfortune in his struggles. Bradley is stroking the ball with authority but hitting into outs at a higher-than-normal clip, as MLB.com's Mike Petriello explained using Statcast data:

    "Bradley has put 49.3 percent of his batted balls in play with an exit velocity of at least 95 mph, and that's the 20th-best in baseball, which is outstanding. ... But for Bradley, even though he's had 49.3 percent of his batted balls qualify as 'hard hit,' only 32 percent of his batted balls have been 'productive,' and the gap between those two numbers is the largest of any player in the bigs right now."

    That gives the Red Sox cause for optimism, but results are results. Up to now, they haven't been there.

Rick Porcello, RHP

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    Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

    At the risk of tooting my own horn, I tapped reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello as a regression candidate back in March.

    As I noted: "[Porcello] induced less soft contact than at any point in the last four seasons [in 2016] and yet endured the lowest BABIP against (.269) in his big league career.

    "That screams unsustainable luck and suggests Porcello's 2017 is the aberration, as opposed to his lifetime 4.20 ERA."

    This season, Porcello owns a 4.35 ERA in 62 innings and opponents are hitting .296 against him. 

    Lefty Chris Sale, acquired over the winter, has been a strikeout-slinging revelation for Boston, but the Red Sox need at least one more ace-level arm to emerge.

David Price, LHP

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Speaking of which, David Price has yet to pitch an inning this season because of a balky left elbow.

    Price made his third rehab start for Pawtucket Wednesday but coughed up six runs on seven hits in 3.2 innings, per ESPN.com's Scott Lauber.

    "He came out of tonight's game feeling fine physically," said Red Sox manager John Farrell, per Lauber. "He got to maybe the goal number of pitches thrown."

    Talk about damning with faint praise. Remember, this is a five-time All-Star and former AL Cy Young Award winner, and a guy who's taking $217 million of Boston's money.

    He needs to do more than meet pitch-count goals and avoid further injury on the farm. He needs to throw like a rotation-anchoring stud, and he needs to do it posthaste.

         

    All statistics current as of Wednesday and courtesy of MLB.com and Baseball Reference.

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