Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Game 74: Red Sox at Minnesota Twins (June 19, 2018)

One would think that after having a much-needed day off Monday following a tough shoulda-been-a-sweep-instead-of-a-split in Seattle that the Red Sox would be refreshed and ready to beat up on the good-but-not-great Twins. We had Chris Sale starting and surely they'd give him some run support. Right? Wrong. In a season that is rapidly starting to feel like the last two under John Farrell, the Red Sox played inconsistent and unintelligent baseball as they dropped this first game to Minnesota. With Houston recently ripping off twelve game winning streak and the Yankees winning again, we now find ourselves a game behind in the division and no longer in possession of the best record in all of baseball. A far cry from 17-2, no?

Before anyone accuses me of panicking or giving up on the season (which I most certainly am NOT doing), I do realize we're still one of the three best teams in baseball and that there are still eighty-eight games left to play; it's a long season and the Sox will still be in the thick of things come October. But it seems as though since the end of April Boston has not been able to consistently put it all together on a consistent basis. They'll have weeks where they'll play .500 ball, then a week where they win every game, and then a week where they lose two out of every three. Rinse and repeat. While other teams (i.e the Yankees and Astros) are putting together long winning streaks and beating up on the bad teams they face, it always seems as though the Red Sox are in a dogfight every night whether they're playing a good team like Seattle or a doormat like Baltimore. Combined with the often bizarre lineups Cora put out there and his stubborn adherence to the rest schedules for players, no matter how red hot they may currently be, and it's fast becoming as maddening and frustrating a season as 2016 and 2017 were, at least for me.

As for the game itself, Sale was phenomenal as usual. He pitched seven spectacular innings, striking out eleven and only walking one. He gave up two runs on three hits...what's that thing I always say about "if your starter only gives up one or two runs...?" Of course, he got no run support from the offense. They plated a run in the sixth when Rafael Devers hit a solo homer and another in the eighth to tie the game at two when Sandy Leon hit an RBI single to drive in Devers. At that point the two runs Sale had given up in the bottom of the sixth on Eduardo Escobar's two-RBI double didn't hurt. But for whatever reason known only to himself, Cora put Robby Scott, who just came off the DL, into a tie game. He has never inspired confidence as a reliever and as expected, he promptly gave up two runs in his 0.1 inning of work. Joe Kelly was equally as bad, failing to record an out as he gave up two more runs. Just like that, yet another fantastic Sale start was squandered and a 2-2 game rapidly spiraled out of control as the Sox went down in ugly fashion to the final score of 6-2. This game had it all: there was even a rare Jackie Bradley error in the outfield. Fun fact: after the game, Scott's ERA for the season was 54.00. Even better news: Alex Cora said after the game that Dustin Pedroia is "not even close" to returning from his knee injury. With the way Eduardo Nunez has been playing lately, I'd almost rather see a hobbled Pedroia out there instead of Nunez. Finally, it wouldn't surprise me at this point if Chris Sale secretly hated his teammates for the way they play when he starts. They'll score ten runs for Porcello or Pomeranz when they give up eight, but when Sale holds the other team to one or two, they'll do nothing. It's the same thing that used to happen to Pedro Martinez in the late 1990s/early 2000s (for those of you old enough to remember) and it's got to be even more maddening for the pitchers as it is for the fans.

I just don't know what to make of this team right now. They have nights where they look unbeatable and sometimes even string a few games in a row together. Then they have multiple nights where they look like the PawSox would beat them. There's been no consistency since April and it really makes you appreciate that 17-2 start. If they had even gone just 12-7 during that stretch they'd be six games behind the Yankees by now. Yes, they're still a great team and yes, they'll most likely be in play for a postseason slot, but the way they're schizophrenically playing (shut out one night, scoring ten runs the next, and so on) doesn't inspire much confidence.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Game 73: Red Sox at Seattle Mariners (June 17, 2018)

First and foremost, a happy Father's Day to all of the dads out there! I hope you were able to spend the day with your loved ones, those who call you dad and/or the man you call dad. I was fortunate enough to spend the day watching my oldest daughter's travel team play in and win their tournament! It was sweltering hot and humid with temperatures in the 90s and 55%+ humidity and we spent almost thirteen hours at the fields playing games and grabbing any scrap of shade and relief we could. There was much water and Gatorade consumed (by both players and parents!) and a lot of sweat and dirt. Through it all, I was lucky enough to spend time with my girl, not only watching her play and rooting for her and her teammates, but having some really great bonding time with her in the car and between games. She and her teammates played great all weekend and even though they were hot, sweaty, dirty, and exhausted by the championship game they played hard and fought off a very tough opponent to win the whole thing by a final score of 3-2. For the weekend, my girl hit a whopping .833 with 2 triples, 3 singles, a walk, and 3 runs scored. She also played a stellar third base and made several outs for her team. All in all, it was one of the most fun and exciting Father's Days I've ever had, capped off by having dinner and ice cream with my wife and the rest of our kids (who smartly chose to stay home in the air conditioning!). I am truly blessed and I look at Father's Day as a way to be thankful that I am my children's father as much as I'm thankful for my own dad, grandfathers, and uncles.

Now on to the Red Sox. After the previous two disasters, I was really hoping they could still salvage the series with a split. In a turnabout that was the polar opposite of their anemic showing at the plate the previous game, they exploded in this one. Mitch Moreland got things started with a two RBI single in the top of the third to push the first runs of the day across for the Sox. Rafael Devers followed this up with a three run homer and just like that, the Sox were up 5-0. However, as we saw two nights ago Seattle is more than capable of coming back from a deficit like that (and the Red Sox bullpen is more than capable of blowing a lead like that). The pesky Nelson Cruz got the Mariners on the board with a solo shot in the fourth while Jean Segura drove in a run on a fielder's choice an inning later. Thankfully, the Sox didn't let up and continued to pour it on starting with Jackie Bradley's solo shot in the seventh. Xander Bogaerts hit a home run of his own later in the inning, a two run blast that also brought in Andrew Benintendi and when the dust settled, it was 8-2 Boston. Benintendi tacked on the final Boston run when his sacrifice fly brought in Christian Vazquez. There were no bullpen meltdowns in this one and even the final Seattle run in the eighth off a Ryon Healy double didn't hurt as the Sox cruised to the 9-3 win. With the Yankees loss, the Sox are now tied atop the AL East with New York; the Yankees' winning percentage is still slightly higher, but the Sox are even in games so MLB is saying they're tied now (whereas last week they were saying the Yankees were in first in the same situation). I'll take it.

What a difference a day makes. The Sox couldn't buy a hit the last game and in this one they belted thirteen of them. Every starter had at least one in this game except for Mookie Betts, who looks like he's still trying to get back into rhythm after his long layoff from injury. Benintendi continues to be incendiary and went 3-4 with an RBI and 2 runs scored. Bogaerts and Devers each had two and it's great to see their power returning on a regular basis...ditto Jackie Bradley who has had a few homers over the last week. On the other side of the ball, Eduardo Rodriguez is quietly having a phenomenal season. He picked up another win and ran his record to 9-1 (am I the only one who didn't realize he'd already won this many games?!). He pitched six innings, striking out nine and only walking one. He gave up two runs on six hits and has stealthily been having one of the best seasons among Red Sox starters. If they're going to keep getting quality pitching from him and Steven Wright at the back end of the rotation, the Sox will be right there in the thick of it come October. For now, it's on to Minnesota as the road trip continues.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Game 72: Red Sox at Seattle Mariners (June 16, 2018)

What is it that I always say about how "if your starting pitcher only gives up one run, you'd damn well better win the game?" And how many times have I written that this season? Far too many if you ask me, and the Red Sox gave me another reason to fume on this tangent. On a day when I had to coach my son's travel team in a doubleheader on an absolutely scorching hot and humid day, I was looking forward to cooling off in the AC and watching the Sox bounce back from the previous night's debacle and win this one against the M's, but they obviously had other more unfortunate plans.

There's really not too much to write about with this one. Steven Wright was again fantastic, pitching seven solid innings and only giving up a single run in the third inning on an RBI single from Nelson Cruz. Wright gave up that single run on five hits while striking out four and walking two. Unfortunately, for whatever reason Seattle starter Wade LeBlanc completely stymied the Red Sox offense. He only gave up two hits (yes, you read that correctly...TWO hits) and struck out nine Boston batters without allowing a single walk over 7.2 innings. The only Sox who got on base were Mookie Betts and Eduardo Nunez, both of whom reached on singles. That's it. Game over, Seatttle won 1-0.

I know I had said going into this series that'd I'd be happy with a split, but if you look at this game and the blown victory from the previous night, the Sox could have (and should have) easily taken the first three games of this series. While they're still in great shape on the season overall, it's starting to get frustrating when they string together losses like this. I need to see them play with some urgency and some fire because I haven't seen that over these first three games in Seattle. Here's hoping they can salvage a split and win tomorrow's finale before heading off to Minnesota. 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Game 71: Red Sox at Seattle Mariners (June 15, 2018)

To borrow from a happier, more famous moment in baseball history: "I don't believe what I just saw!" On a Friday night where my youngest daughter's softball season came to an end (we just didn't have it and got knocked out of the playoffs but finished fourth out of thirteen teams) and where my family went out to see a movie afterward (Incredibles 2...wonderful!), we got home and turned the game on to see the Red Sox leading 6-3. They seemed to have the game well in hand so imagine my surprise when I woke up this morning and saw what the final result was!

I watched the middle innings of the game on TV before succumbing to sleep, something which I needed to do since I had to coach my son's travel team the next morning on a day that's going to top out around 95 degrees with some nasty humidity. I did follow updates on my phone when I was out with my family and saw that the Mariners took a quick 3-0 lead in the first two innings. Jean Segura hit a solo homer in the first followed by Ben Gamel driving in a run on a fielder's choice in the second. Mike Zunino got an RBI in the same fashion a couple of batters later and just like that, Rick Porcello had given up three early runs. Brock Holt drove in the first Boston run with an RBI single in the third which was followed by a fielding error on a Mitch Moreland hit to bring in Mookie Betts and Brock Holt. In an instant, it was tied at three. When Xander Bogaerts crushed a three run home run immediately after to put the Sox up 6-3, it looked like they were well on their way to the easy win. They'd knocked James Paxton out of the game and put up six runs in a hurry. Surely they'd hold on for this victory, right? have been watching the middle relievers all season, right?

The remainder of this game was like watching a slow motion car crash. Seattle picked up a run in the fifth on a Mitch Hangier single to chip away at the lead and Zunino hit a solo homer in the seventh to cut it to 6-5. In the bottom of the eighth, Denard Span (him again?!) hit an RBI double to drive in two and just like that, it was suddenly 7-6 Mariners. Span had hurt the Sox earlier this season when he was with the Tampa Bay Rays, and now he hurt them again after his trade to Seattle. That's how the game ended as Boston somehow managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in this one. With the Yankees winning (can they ever lose on the days we actually win?!) the Sox are tied in the win/loss column but still in second place based on winning percentage. 

Rick Porcello wasn't particularly sharp but he was adequate in this one. He went six innings and while he gave up four runs, he also struck out nine and only walked one. It was the bullpen that completely and utterly blew this game. The always wretched Heath Hembree walked one and gave up a run in the seventh while the Jekyll and Hyde experience that is Matt Barnes had his Mr. Hyde moment, giving up two runs in his inning of work. Alex Cora also trotted a strange lineup out, with the red hot Andrew Benintendi sitting and the struggling Eduardo Nunez at DH. Still, the lineup certainly produced enough to put six runs up on Seattle and should have been more than enough for the win. Also, I understand (even if I don't agree with) Cora's approach to resting guys throughout the season, but to bench a guy who has been hitting as well as Benintendi has been just because it was his "scheduled" day off seems ludicrous to me. You don't take a bat as good as that out of the lineup and potentially mess up his rhythm at the plate just because it was penciled in for him to rest that day. The kid is 23 and healthy...playing him in this game wasn't going to hurt him.

This one is over and done so I'll stop agonizing over it now. While it was frustrating, it's time to move on to the next one. I'll be looking for the Sox to bounce back tonight and grab a convincing win (I hope).

Friday, June 15, 2018

Game 70: Red Sox at Seattle Mariners (June 14, 2018)

I fully expected to watch very little of the series against Seattle what with the late west coast start times, but last night I was inadvertently in the perfect situation to watch almost the entire game. My youngest daughter's softball team had another playoff game for me to coach and we won it handily. We play two more tonight and if we win those, we play for the championship Monday! After her game, my oldest daughter's travel team had a scrimmage at the diamond directly next us so we moved over there to watch. They played a full seven innings and while we lost the scrimmage, my girl went 2-3 with a double, single, RBI, run scored, and walk hitting out of her usual spot second in the order. By the time we got home, it was 10pm and none of us had eaten dinner since the first game had started at 6pm. We threw the Red Sox game on the TV, I ordered some pizzas, and we had a late dinner and watched the game. Good thing the kids are on summer break from school...I was the only one who had to be up early this morning!

The Mariners have been playing great ball this season and have surprised the American League and especially the AL West by passing the Astros for first place in that division. It's always tough to play on the road, especially against a good team, and heading into this one I was hoping for the Sox to get a split. They got that off to a good start when Jackie Bradley hit an RBI double in the top of the second to drive in Rafael Devers. The Mariners' Guillermo Heredia drove in their first run in the fifth on a sacrifice fly to tie the game. The hero of the night was Xander Bogaerts who socked his tenth homer of the season, a solo shot, to put the Sox ahead 2-1 in the top of the sixth. That's how the game would end as Boston held on for a tough but satisfying victory. With the Yankees winning, the Sox continue to find themselves a game ahead in the standings yet in second place. Eventually this will correct itself but it's still such a strange (and frustrating) situation to be in!

The Sox outhit the Mariners nine to six with four guys contributing two hits each: Xander, JD Martinez, Devers, and Christian Vazquez all had two hits while Bradley had the other Boston hit. As for the pitching, David Price continued to pitch great as he went seven strong innings striking out seven, walking none, and only gave up the one run on five hits. That ran his record to 8-4 and lowered his ERA to 3.76. If he can keep this up and the Sox continue to get the production from Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright at the back end of the rotation that they've gotten over the last couple of weeks, they'll continue to be among the best in the American League. They're certainly a better starting rotation than the Yankees which should be a huge advantage come playoff time (assuming Sale, Price, and Porcello can finally start winning games in the postseason).

With two more softball playoff games to coach tonight, it looks like I might be in good shape to stay up late again to watch game two of this series!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Game 69: Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles (June 13, 2018)

For the series finale, the Red Sox had a 3pm start time; seeing as it was a getaway day with the next series starting in Seattle, it made sense. And it was another day and another weird lineup from Alex Cora. This time Mookie Betts was back and hitting leadoff as normal, but Brock Holt was at first base. I'm at the point where I'm going to give up trying to understand Cora's logic when it comes to the lineup and batting order, but as I said in the beginning of the season I do wish he'd settle on a more or less finalized version to give the team and players some consistency. It's probably not going to happen, though, so I guess I'll just keep complaining about it as the season goes on!

Last night I coached my youngest daughter's team in their third tournament game. It was a hard fought battle that saw us come back from an 11-0 deficit to pull within a run. Heading into the bottom of the last inning we were down 12-11, had all of the momentum, and looked like we would take the game, but the other team stopped us and we came up just short. Yes, we got screwed by a couple of blatantly incorrect umpiring calls and yes, the other team was cutthroat in a way that beggared belief for 8U softball, but we were so proud of our girls. Since it's double elimination, we're still in it and play again tonight so I'm looking for us to bounce back with a win. I was grateful for the early Red Sox start time: I was able to listen to the first few innings on the radio (i.e. my phone) at work and then watch the rest of the game when I got home before heading the ball fields to coach.

Unlike the last time he pitched, Chris Sale did get some run support in this one. He went six innings and struck out nine while walking four and only giving up two hits. He was charged with only a single earned run on a batter that Brandon Workman inherited after he left the game. The way Sale left the game was fairly comical: he'd been squeezed all afternoon by home plate umpire Brian Knight and was lifted in the seventh after walking two batters on very questionable calls. After Cora gave him the hook, he started barking at Knight when walking to the dugout and promptly got tossed. He then continued to berate the ump from the dugout before heading into the clubhouse. I love to see that fire and intensity, especially from our best pitcher. As far as the Red Sox offense, Mookie got things started with a solo homer in the third to give the Sox an early 1-0 lead. Xander Bogaerts returned the favor by driving in Mookie with a sacrifice fly in the fifth. Boston added two more runs that inning on RBI singles from Rafael Devers and Eduardo Nunez. To cap off the scoring, JD Martinez crushed yet another opposite field homer, his 22nd, in the seventh. Apart from a sac fly to drive in a run in the bottom of the seventh, Baltimore didn't do anything at the plate, only getting four hits to Boston's nine. With the 5-1 win and the Yankees loss, the Red Sox find themselves in the peculiar position of being a game ahead of the Yankees in the standings, but still in second place based on being 0.002 percentage points behind New York (by virtue of having played six more game). In my more than thirty years of following baseball, I can't recall ever seeing a situation like this. Very bizarre!

I'm glad the Sox swept the Orioles after that disastrous series against the White Sox; they picked up three valuable wins and have some good momentum heading into a very tough part of their schedule. First up will be the surprising Seattle Mariners who are leading the AL West and are playing great baseball. The first matchup of David Price against Felix Hernandez looks like a good one on paper...I hope Price can continue to pitch as well as he has lately and keep the Sox close. The only downside to these next four games are the late start times. West Coast games starting at 10pm are always tough and with as busy as I've been lately and with as little sleep as I've gotten it'll be a challenge, but it's one I'll do my best to meet head on. Maybe I should start placing bets on which inning I'll fall asleep in for each game? 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Game 68: Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles (June 12, 2018)

That's more like it, Red Sox! I coached my youngest daughter's softball team in their two tournament games last night so I didn't get home to watch the Sox game until the last half, but what I saw on my phone updates had me very pleased. Before I get to recapping the game, please indulge me as I recap my daughter's team's games last night. I'm so proud of these 7 and 8 year old girls for how they played. We went into the tournament with the second best record in the league and played against a very good team for the first game. After getting in an early hole, we rallied and pulled away for an easy 12-6 win. The second game pitted us against the team that was in first who had been beating up on the rest of our league all season. They had already beaten us this season and when we went down early to them 4-0 our girls started to get down. I and the other two coaches kept their spirits up and reminded them we finished with the same record as them (they were ranked higher because they had the head-to-head tiebreaker). We started chipping away at the lead: after the second inning it was 4-2 and we exploded for four runs in the third to go up 6-4. We added another in the top of the fourth to go up 7-4 and victory seemed within reach until our opponents scored three quick runs to tie it at 7. It looked like they were going to score the winning run but we made a great out at third base to preserve the tie. In extra innings, we plated one run and then held them off in the bottom of the fifth, getting the last out on a pop fly to win 8-7 and take sole possession of the top seed in the tournament. We play again tonight, but I'm not exaggerating when I say that it was one of the best games I've ever seen/coached any of my kids playing. The girls on both sides played their hearts out...the hitting was great, the defense was great, and the best part for me was seeing how much fun they were having the whole time. The smiles, the cheers, the looks on their faces when they made a great play or a great hit...THOSE are the moments that make coaching kids so worthwhile. It was a great life lesson for the girls, too, on never giving up and trying your very best. I'm so, so proud of all of them!

Thanks for letting me digress a back to the Red Sox. The first thing that caught my eye before the game started was what a bizarre lineup Cora put out there. No Mookie Betts (understandable...need to ease him back in), with Nunez as the DH...leading off?! I have no idea what the thought process was behind that, but okay. When Baltimore's Joey Rickard hit a solo homer in the bottom of the first it seemed like it was going to be another one of those nights, but Rafael Devers put that fear to rest when he belted a two-run shot in the top of the second to put the Sox up 2-1. Andrew Benintendi stayed scorching hot and smacked a solo homer (his twelfth of the season) in the third to add to the Boston lead. Of course, as is their wont the Sox gave it right back the next half-inning when Danny Valencia drove in Rickard with a single. However, Benintendi struck again with another RBI, this time walking with the bases loaded to bring Brock Holt in. A rare balk happened in the next inning, bringing Christian Vazquez home. In the sixth, Vazquez hit an RBI single to drive in another run and suddenly it was 6-2 Red Sox. It was a good thing, too, because it got a bit dicey in the bottom of the ninth when Mark Trumbo crushed a two-RBI double off of Craig Kimbrel to cut the lead in half. Kimbrel settled down enough to preserve the 6-4 win against the pesky O's.

Eduardo Rodriguez pitched a solid game, going 5.2 innings and only giving up two runs. He only walked two and struck out four while allowing eight hits. He threw 109 pitches and while he wasn't spectacular, it got the job done. I sure would like to see the Red Sox starters routinely go deeper into games and pitch six, seven, eight innings and give the bullpen a break. That's probably a pipe dream as this is the way pitching in MLB is today, sadly. With the news yesterday that Carson Smith will be having season-ending shoulder surgery (all from slamming his glove down in the dugout...remember?) the already shaky bullpen needs as much rest as it can get. At the plate, everyone on the Sox had a hit except for Jackie Bradley. By clinching the series against Baltimore and keeping pace with the Yankees, the Sox remained tied atop the AL East and have a chance to go for the series sweep with Chris Sale on the mound today. Here's hoping they can actually score a run or two for him this time!