The Red Sox’s Playoff Chances are in the Hands of the Vaccinated

Hernandez (middle) celebrates in the outfield prior to the Red Soxs outbreak

Michael Dwyer

Hernandez (middle) celebrates in the outfield prior to the Red Sox’s outbreak

As the United States faces the fight to get people vaccinated, so does the professional sports community. One of the leagues hardest hit by COVID-19 is Major League Baseball (MLB), including the Boston Red Sox, as teams race to clinch a playoff berth or compete for a wild card spot.

The Red Sox currently have one of the lowest vaccination rates in the MLB. In order to be deemed fully vaccinated by the league, a team must be at least 85 percent vaccinated. About two-thirds of MLB teams have reached this mark, the Red Sox not being one of them. Vaccinations are not 100 percent effective—as seen with the case of the New York Yankees back in May when nine fully vaccinated players and staff tested positive. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even though vaccines are not completely effective, they prevent big outbreaks, like the outbreak the Red Sox currently face. 

On Aug. 27, the Red Sox outbreak began when their starting center fielder, Enrique Hernadez, tested positive for COVID-19, despite being fully vaccinated. Even though Hernandez was out, the team still had hope that they could chip away at the Tampa Bay Rays, who were leading the eastern region of the American League. Prior to the All-Star break, the Red Sox were ranked fifth in the league. Since the outbreak, they have moved down to ninth.

Hernadez’s positive test was followed by a string of more positive tests and close contacts over the next two weeks. The Red Sox have now had nine players and two coaches test positive, along with a few close contacts in quarantine. Some of the team’s best performing players including Xander Bogarts and Christian Arroyo have contracted COVID-19 and have been away from the team. This outbreak is at a critical time for the Red Sox as they are only a game back in the wild card race. 

Along with fielders on the Red Sox, pitchers have also been affected by the outbreak, disrupting the pitching rotation. An MLB team typically has between four and six pitchers in their starting rotation but two of the Red Sox’s starters, Matt Barnes and Nick Pivetta, have contracted COVID-19 in the past two weeks but are expected back within the next week. Pitchers are critical to a team’s defense; so without two of their best starters and three of their closing pitchers, the Red Sox will likely continue to struggle defensively. 

To try to solve this problem, the Red Sox brought up a handful of players from their minor league team, the Worcester Red Sox. However they could not get a break, and one of the players brought up, Yairo Muñoz, tested positive for COVID-19.  The Red Sox have lost nine of the 17 games since Hernandez tested positive, but are set to return the majority of their roster by early next week. They need to find a solution for the outbreak—whether it be vaccinations or masks—in order to save their playoff chances.