The Underachieving Red Sox & Cubs
The Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox have several things in common—they’re big-market teams, they have passionate fan bases and both had high expectations coming into the 2017 baseball season. As of mid-May, they have something else in common—both are underachieving between the lines.
The Red Sox are 19-18 with the Cubs at 18-19, the very definition of mediocrity. It’s not what was expected from a Chicago team that was a top-heavy favorite to win another World Series and Boston, priced as a co-favorite with Cleveland in the American League.
Market belief in both teams is unshaken. The Cubs remain the 5-1 betting favorite to win it all in October, even as they need to look up at the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds—to say nothing of the St. Louis Cardinals—in a tight NL Central. The Red Sox still have odds of a short 8-1 to capture their fourth title since 2004. And while the Yankees are now a slight favorite to win the AL East, the Red Sox are only available at 21-20 in that race—not exactly a value bet in a battle that will include the Baltimore Orioles.
So if you want to cut against the grain with either team, it’s necessary to believe that they were overrated and to move into a “go against mode” on both before the market catches up. Thus, we must ask—why are the Cubs and Red Sox playing so far below expectations and are these things likely to correct themselves over the course of a long season?
The answers to questions like these is always filled with nuance and my final decisions are proprietary for clients. I can, however, share with you some factors to consider…
Cubs: The offense is lacking, ranking seventh in the National League in runs scored. Anthony Rizzo is the only player you can circle as being highly likely to pick it up. The other players whose lack of production is most notable are Ben Zobrist, Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez and Addison Russell. Zobrist is 36-years-old. The other three players have good reputations and every chance to get their bats going—but also lack a sustained track record.
Jake Arrieta will pitch better than his current 5.44 ERA. But the staff overall ranks fourth in the NL in ERA and it’s tough to see how much higher they’ll go.
Red Sox: Another offense that ranks seventh in its league is a culprit here after the retirement of David Ortiz. Production from Jackie Bradley Jr. and Sandy Leon has tapered off from last season with neither having a long track record that makes a revival seem imminent.
The Sox pitching is also seventh in the AL and will certainly benefit if David Price returns from the disabled list in June. But it is worth noting that as good as Chris Sale is, his ERA almost surely ends the year being higher than its current 2.15. And Eduardo Rodriguez, with a 2.80 ERA, may see a slip as well.
It’s a long season and by no means should any underachieving team hit the panic button. We’ve also got nearly forty games to evaluate and no baseball bettor can ignore what’s going on—particularly when the market seems to be doing just that.