Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Game 121: Red Sox at Philadelphia Phillies (August 14, 2018)

Both the Red Sox and I had rest days yesterday. For them, it was a much needed break in the middle of a long season; for me, it was the first official day of my vacation and my first day back in my native New Hampshire in over a year. Being back in the heart of Red Sox Nation meant I was surrounded by like minded Sox fanatics so after the day off, I couldn't wait for the team to get back in action with this short two game series against the Phillies. While I hate interleague play (I think I've mentioned that once or twice, no?) I was curious to see how the Sox would fare. The last two games against Philadelphia that were played in Boston back in July ended in a series split with two low scoring games. I wanted to see if those were just flukes or if there was more to Philly than I  had previously thought.

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With Rick Porcello on the mound the Red Sox had as good a chance as ever to win this game. It was scoreless until the third when Sandy Leon hit his fifth homer of the season to put Boston up 1-0. It looked like Porcello was going to cruise through the game and for the most part he did, only surrendering a solo shot to Rhys Hoskins in the fifth. It seemed a shame that he may not get the decision in this one, so he must be thanking Brock Holt because his pinch hit homer in the eighth put the Sox up 2-1 which was enough for Craig Kimbrel. He picked up save thirty-six on the season and preserved the win for Porcello, who earned his 15th. Rick went seven strong innings only giving up two hits, the single run, and struck out ten without walking any. It was as dominant an outing as Chris Sale had two days ago and helped the Sox to yet another win against a good team. They outhit Philly 6-2 in another low scoring affair: in three games against the Phillies this season, Boston and Philadelphia have each scored five runs. They're either evenly matched or (more likely) Philly is just a tough match up for Boston. One last thing: buried in those six Boston hits was a 1-2 day at the plate for Porcello, who looks to be a decent hitting pitcher (remember his bases-clearing double in Washington in early July?).  What can't this guy do?

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The Yankees loss on Monday dropped them to ten games behind Boston in the AL East and that's how the standings remained with both teams winning Tuesday. The Sox will go for the sweep of Philly on Wednesday when Nathan Eovaldi takes the ball and looks to atone for his horrific start in Baltimore last week. That will set the team up for another off day Thursday (two in a week...strange, huh?) before starting a series at home against the tough Tampa Bay Rays. With only six weeks left in the regular season and some challenging series coming up over the next month, the best part of the major league baseball season has just begun. The Red Sox are 86-35 and are chasing history while giving us one of those seasons to remember. Make sure to savor every moment because seasons like this don't come around very often, if ever.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Game 120: Red Sox at Orioles (August 12, 2018)

Having taken the first three games of this series over the last two days, the Red Sox were in prime position to sweep the Orioles. Chris Sale was making his return to the rotation after being on the DL the last two weeks with mild shoulder inflammation and all eyes were on him and how he would pitch. There had been some concern over whether this was his usual wearing down toward the end of the regular season and what this would mean for his effectiveness in the postseason. What better way to ease back into the swing of things than an afternoon start against the woeful Orioles? The caliber of opponent aside, it turned out that the rest may have been exactly what Sale needed.

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The finale was a low scoring affair that was dominated (at least for the first five innings) by Chris Sale; he was absolutely filthy in his limited work. I understand that Alex Cora wanted to limit him in this one to ease him back in, but Sale made the most of his short stint in the game. In his five innings he only gave up one hit and struck out twelve batters without walking any...and he did it all with only sixty-eight pitches. That was more than good enough to lower his ERA to 1.97 and earn his twelfth win of the season. Offensively the Sox had a relatively quiet day, outhitting Baltimore 9-5 while being more effective with the hits they got. Steve Pearce, who's been pretty quiet since the Yankees series, led off the scoring in the first inning with a solo homer. JD Martinez drove in yet another run to add to his league leading RBI total with a double in the fourth that brought in Brock Holt. It stayed 2-0 for a while until Trey Mancini got Baltimore on the scoreboard with a sacrifice fly in the eighth to bring in Cedric Mullins. As they've done all season, though, this Red Sox team responded by scoring in the next inning. Jackie Bradley singled to drive in Eduardo Nunez and then scored when Mookie Betts' double pushed him across. Craig Kimbrel picked up his 35th save of the season by striking out three to secure the 4-2 win and the sweep. Bradley and JD each went 2-4 at the plate while everyone else besides Sandy Leon and Mitch Moreland chipped in with a hit each. It wasn't the greatest display of offensive fire power, but it was enough.

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With the division lead remaining at 9.5 games, the Sox will get two days off this week which is a true rarity. After resting Monday, they'll begin a two game series against the Phillies in Philadelphia before getting Thursday off. From there, the schedule gets much more difficult with two series against Tampa Bay (one home, one away) and a series with the Cleveland Indians for the first time this season. After games against the Miami Marlins and Chicago White Sox, another rugged stretch unfolds as the bulk of September is taken up with series against tough teams like the Houston Astros, Yankees, and Indians. There are some series mixed in with cellar dwellers like the New York Mets, Orioles, and Blue Jays which will give them opportunities to pick up some easier wins in the midst of the stretch run. No matter what happens, this has been an incredible season so far and looks like it's going to be exciting all the way to the end.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Game 119: Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles (August 11, 2018)

Well folks, it's JD Martinez' world...we're all just living in it. After taking the early game in this doubleheader, the Red Sox were trying to sweep the day and win the series by taking the first three games against the Orioles. With Hector Velazquez getting the start and recent call up Dan Butler starting at catcher to give Sandy Leon some much needed rest, it wouldn't have been at all surprising if the Sox dropped this game and split the twin bill. But as we've seen time and again with this team in 2018, there is no quit in them no obstacle seems too insurmountable for them to overcome. Leading the way was the best slugger in the league who put the Sox on his back and delivered when it mattered most.

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When the O's scored first in the second inning off of Renato Nunez' double, it seemed as though the Orioles just might win a game in this series. Trey Mancini added to the lead with an RBI single of his own in the third. JD was having none of that and added to his league leading home run total by hitting number 36 in the fourth to cut the Baltimore lead in half. Butler's sacrifice fly tied the game in the fifth and in the sixth the go-ahead run for Boston scored on a wild pitch ball four to Rafael Devers that allowed Steve Pearce to score. However, the usual suspect (Heath Hembree) allowed a home run to Joey Rickard which tied the game. For everything that Alex Cora has done right this season, which is almost everything, I will never understand why he continues to go with Heath Hembree game after game and especially in close situations. He has been utterly brutal this month and I would honestly rather see a struggling Joe Kelly, an inconsistent Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Brandon Workman, ANYONE else out there besides Hembree. Lucky for him, JD saved him from being the goat when he crushed his 37th home run of the season, this one with Pearce on base to break the tie and give the Red Sox some breathing room. Brock Holt added an insurance run in the ninth when his hit drove in Mookie Betts (though Holt himself was erased at second trying to stretch it out). Mancini hit a solo shot in the bottom of the ninth off of Craig Kimbrel, but Craig picked up his 34th save of the season (and the 100th of his Red Sox career) by striking out three and slamming the door shut on the 6-4 Red Sox win.

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While Mookie had a good game (2-5 and pushing his average up to .351), JD was the hero in the nightcap. He was an on base machine, going 2-2 with two runs scored, three RBI, and two walks while bumping his own average up to .332. He added to his league leading totals in home runs and RBI and is currently second in average behind Mookie...a legitimate Triple Crown threat. This guy has been worth every penny the Sox paid him (and probably more) not only for his hitting prowess but his leadership in the clubhouse. He's one of those rare players (like Mookie or Mike Trout) where every at bat is a must see just so you don't potentially miss seeing something incredible. The doubleheader sweep increased the division lead over New York to 9.5 games and sets the Sox up nicely to sweep the O's with Chris Sale pitching in the finale. While I wouldn't be surprised at all to see some rust on Sale given his layoff, with as good and deep as this team is (and as bad as Baltimore is) I'm confident that another win is in the cards.

Game 118: Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles (August 11, 2018)

Balance and order have been restored to the universe after last night's slugfest. After putting up a score worthy of an NFL game, these two teams got back to playing normal baseball for the afternoon half of a day/night doubleheader. David Price was on the mound and looked to continue his (mostly) strong run of recent pitching. With the news that Chris Sale's start was pushed back to Sunday (Hector Velazquez will start the nightcap of the doubleheader), it was important the Sox earned at least a split. So far, so good.

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This game was all Red Sox once the scoring started. Ironically, given the glut of scoring last night, there weren't any runs scored until the fifth inning of this one. Eduardo Nunez hit a two run homer followed by Jackie Bradley's solo shot to make it 3-0 and that was all Price needed. The Sox tacked on an insurance run in the sixth when Xander Bogaerts hit a double, stole third, and scored on a throwing error. In the ninth inning Jackie Bradley hit his second homer of the game (his 11th of the season) and Boston easily rolled over the Orioles to the final score of 5-0. Price pitched an efficient six innings, giving up five hits and walking no one while striking out ten. With the Yankees win, the division lead stayed at nine games. The Sox still have a chance to pick up a half game in the second half of the doubleheader, but quick and easy wins like this are exactly what the Sox need, especially when playing four games in three days against Baltimore.

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Saturday, August 11, 2018

Game 117: Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles (August 10, 2018)

Was that a football game or a baseball game? What it was was absolute insanity. In a season where we've seen just about everything from the Red Sox, this first game in the series against Baltimore might have been the wackiest game yet. I was at the Pawtucket Red Sox game in Indianapolis rooting on the Sox AAA team last night and watching the big league club on my phone at the same time. While the minor league game was a more typical baseball game that Pawtucket won 3-2, the parent club's game had so many wild swings and so much back and forth that I could barely keep up. It certainly wasn't what I was expecting against a bottom feeder like Baltimore, especially with the way Nathan Eovaldi had been pitching lately.

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Speaking of Eovaldi, let's get it out of the way right now: he was awful. 2.2 innings pitched, ten hits and eight runs given up (four of them earned), no strikeouts and two walks. He just didn't have it on this night, but let's face it: no pitcher on either team did. A pitcher's duel this wasn't. It actually looked like the Sox would be the ones running away with it early in the first inning when Xander Bogaerts clubbed a three run homer (his 17th of the season) to put the Sox up by three runs. The Orioles came storming back in the second beginning with Chris Davis' solo homer. Owner of perhaps the worst contract in all of baseball (at least from a team perspective), Davis pretty much only hits homers or strikeouts out...unfortunately he did the former. Cedric Mullins doubled to bring in a run and then Adam Jones singled to drive in two more. Just like that, Baltimore was up 4-3 and the madness was only getting started. A rare fielding error by Jackie Bradley (I guess he's human after all) resulted in a run scoring on a Caleb Joseph hit. It was a ball Bradley absolutely should have caught and I'm still stumped as to how he didn't, but no one's perfect so just chalk it up to happenstance. It hurt the Sox, though, because Baltimore plated a few more runs beginning with Mullins singling one in. This was followed by Jonathan Villar using a sacrifice bunt to push one across before the scoring finally ended with Tim Beckham's single. After that nightmarish sequence, the O's were up 8-3 and Eovaldi's night was finished. Bradley atoned for his error with an RBI triple in the fourth and subsequently scored on a passed ball during Mookie Betts' at bat. Brock Holt hit a solo homer in the sixth and Mitch Moreland's sacrifice fly brought in Bradely and the Sox were only down a run. With the bases loaded later in the inning, Xander walked to bring in the tying run and Rafael Devers walked to bring in the go ahead run. It's been a long time since I've seen consecutive walks with the bases loaded...that's usually what happens in my son's Little League games, not in the majors. Holt singled to bring in two and help clear the bases and give Boston the lead at 11-8. It was a lead they wouldn't give up the rest of the night, but they certainly weren't able to sit on it either. In the bottom of the sixth Beckham hit a homer and Davis hit a sac fly to pull Baltimore within a run, but it was in the seventh when Boston finally began to run away with it. Andrew Benintendi hit a three run homer to give them some breathing room and then in the eighth Mookie doubled to clear the bases. To wrap up the Red Sox scoring, JD Martinez hit his 100th and 101st RBI of the season when his single brought in two to make it 19-10. The O's got one in the eighth on Mark Trumbo's homer and one in the ninth when Villar singled, but that would be it (finally!) as the Sox held on for the 19-12 win. In one more bizarre twist to this game, who got the pitching win for the Red Sox? Drew Pomeranz.

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Boston was outhit in this game 17-16 but they made the ones they got count more than Baltimore did. There's absolutely nothing of note to say with the pitching in this one other than it utterly and totally stunk. As far as hitting, this game was a batter's dream as both teams seemed to be doing little more than pitching live batting practice to the other. Mookie went 3-4 with three runs scored, three RBI, two walks, and raised his league leading average to .352. Benintendi only went 1-5 but picked up the three RBI on his home run. He also scored three runs and walked once. JD and Mitch Moreland each went 2-5, Bogaerts went 1-4 (but with four RBI), Holt went 3-4 (three RBI, three runs scored, two walks), and Jackie Bradley went 3-4 with four runs scored, an RBI, and a walk. The important thing is that the Sox showed no quit and fought back in a game that was a pitching disaster (against an awful team) in order to take advantage of a night when the Yankees were also getting crushed by a bad team (the Rangers). The end result was Boston adding a game to their division lead and pushing it back up to nine games. The win also mathematically eliminated the Orioles from the postseason.

The series continues with a doubleheader on Saturday. David Price will get the ball for the first game and Chris Sale is supposed to return from the DL and pitch the nightcap (although that seems up in the air now). A split would be nice but a sweep of the day would be even better. I'm not concerned at all with the Sox trying to tie or break the single season record for wins, but I do want them to keep the pedal to the metal and keep the Yankees far enough back in the division to let them (New York) worry about the Wild Card play-in game. As I mentioned yesterday, the schedule gets tougher for the Sox after this week so taking advantage of teams like the Orioles and picking up easy wins is paramount, no matter what style of play it takes.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Game 116: Red Sox at Toronto Blue Jays (August 9, 2018)

This Red Sox team has been so good all season that we just expect them to win every game. Over the course of my entire life I can't remember a Sox team this good where I felt it was just a given that they were going to win every time they took the field. The 2004 team, as great as they were, didn't feel like that because of the historical baggage the franchise still carried. The 2007 and 2013 teams were excellent but even they didn't have the swagger and aura that this year's squad has. The only problem is that when they lose, it's almost a shock to the system. After taking the first two games against Toronto and clinching a win in this series it seemed like a foregone conclusion that they'd go for the sweep, especially with Rick Porcello on the mound. Coming off of his best start of the season, everything was in place for a third straight win over the Jays, but as we all know there's a reason why the games are played on the field.

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Things seemed to be continuing apace for the Sox when they scored two quick runs in the first off of a two RBI single from Eduardo Nunez. Unfortunately Porcello gave those right back in the bottom of the inning when Justin Smoak (who has been a royal pain in the neck for the Sox in this series) singled in a run followed by a Randal Grichuk fielder's choice that tied it up. From there it got away from Porcello. A Blue Jays run scored on a Nunez error in the second and Teoscar Hernandez (another pesky Jay in this series) homered in the third to make it 4-2 Toronto. The Sox tied it up in the fifth with a JD Martinez homer and a Brock Holt RBI single, but once again Toronto responded in the next half inning with more scoring. Smoak (him again!) doubled in a run and was followed by Grichuk belting a two run homer to put the Jays up by three runs. All of this was done off of Porcello who just didn't have it on this night. His control was spotty and he left far too many pitches hanging in the zone. I don't care how bad the other team you're playing is, if you leave stuff up, you're going to get hit hard. Toronto tacked on an insurance run in the sixth on a strange little play when Devon Travis singled to left field to bring Curtis Granderson in to score. The throw home was off target but Sandy Leon astutely threw to second when Travis was trying to stretch it into a double. They got him out but the run counted. It turned out to not matter since the Sox couldn't mount enough of a comeback anyway. The big highlight of the night was in the top of the ninth when Mookie Betts smacked a solo home run (his 27th of the season) to complete the cycle. He became the first player in the majors this season to hit for the cycle when he singled in the first, tripled in the second, doubled in the fourth, and homered in the ninth. Even in defeat, Mookie did something amazing that kept everyone watching. His 4-4 night also came with a walk, RBI, and two runs scored and boosted his average back up to .347. No one else on the team did much at the plate other than Nunez who had a nice 3-4 night with two RBI and a run scored. The real downer was Porcello, though. He only lasted four full innings (pitching into the fifth) and got smacked around to the tune of six hits (two of them homers), seven runs, five strikeouts, and three walks. It was just a bad night against a team that had his number. On the plus side, Tyler Thornburg worked the eighth and looked pretty good, allowing two hits but also striking out three. With the Yankees win, the Boston lead in the AL East is down to eight games but I'm not worried.

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This was one of those games where you just have to brush it off and move on to the next one. In this case, that means starting a new series in Baltimore where the two teams will play four games in three days (the doubleheader on Saturday helping to make up the aborted game from a couple of weeks ago). It will be interesting to see if Nathan Eovaldi can keep his hot streak going, but more than anything it's a prime opportunity for the Sox to pick up some wins against a truly terrible team. After this series, the Sox will get two days off next week which will be helpful as there's a bit of a rugged stretch with series against the Phillies, Rays (twice), and Indians before they finish the month with some layups against the Marlins and White Sox. The schedule doesn't get easier in September, so the time to make hay is now.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Game 115: Red Sox at Toronto Blue Jays (August 8, 2018)

There was no shortage of interesting story lines to follow in this second game north of the border. The Red Sox were able to overcome Drew Pomeranz' putrid start the night before to win in extra innings, so how would they fare with Brian Johnson taking the mound for this middle game against Toronto? Johnson was very good against the Yankees his last time out and has been giving the Sox what they need in spot starts. This game also marked the return of Rafael Devers from the DL; he'd been scuffling a bit before being put on the shelf. How would he fare in his first game action in two weeks? All of those questions were emphatically answered by the time this game was over...

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...and the answers were very, very encouraging. We'll get to both of those talking points a bit later because this game was almost all Red Sox from the very start. Andrew Benintendi has been quietly having an excellent season in the shadows of Mookie Betts and JD Martinez and he got things started with a sacrifice fly in the third with the bases loaded and no outs to get Boston on the scoreboard first. Mitch Moreland followed a couple of batters later with a double ripped over Kevin Pillar's head to the center field fence that brought in two more, followed by a sac fly from Xander Bogaerts to bring Moreland in. That made it 4-0 Red Sox and it was nice to see them do some damage with the bases loaded because far too many times this season they've come away empty handed in those situations. (As an aside it seems strange to find things to complain about with this team, but they've been so good that sometimes that's all you can do!). Xander picked up another RBI in the fifth when he walked with the bases loaded. Devers showed he was back in a big way with his second hit of the night, a towering two run blast to center field that made it 7-0 Boston. With the way Johnson had been flummoxing the Jays, it seemed a comfortable lead. However, the Jays managed to get on the board when Teoscar Hernandez hit a two run shot in the sixth followed by Randal Grichuk hitting a three run homer in the seventh. Xander added an RBI double in the top of the seventh so heading into the eighth, it was suddenly a lot closer at 8-5. As this team has done all season, though, they responded to put the game out of reach in the later innings. JD Martinez socked an RBI single in the top of the eighth and a few batters later Benintendi scored on a wild pitch from Joe Biagini. Ryan Brasier and Joe Kelly each pitched an inning to close out the game as the Red Sox cruised to the 10-5 win.

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Back to Devers and Johnson, both of them were really good in this game. Devers made some nice plays at third and looked good at the plate. He went 2-4 with a double and the two run homer, scored two runs, and walked once. He had been slumping in the weeks before his stint on the DL, so it looks like the time away to recover and clear his head may have been all he needed to get back on track. It's only a one game sample size, but I'm hoping this is indicative of how he's going to hit the rest of the season. As for Johnson? He was excellent and really, he only threw two bad pitches all night. Unfortunately, they both just happened to land on the wrong side of the fence. Besides the two homers given up, he was superb over seven innings, giving up six hits while striking out six and only walking two. I think he's earned the fifth spot in the rotation for the time being and with Nathan Eovaldi in the fourth spot it would be a good time to demote Pomeranz to either the bullpen or the "DL"(read: Pawtucket). When Eduardo Rodriguez comes back Johnson will head back to the pen as Eovaldi will slide into the fifth spot, but for now he (Johnson) is giving them exactly what they need at the back of the rotation. The final two Sox I want to highlight are Benintendi (2-2, an RBI, a run scored, two walks, now hitting .305) and JD (3-4, an RBI, a walk, a run scored, now hitting .332 and catching up to Mookie). Both of these guys have been having stellar seasons and with Mookie's average dipping to .340, JD has a real shot at the Triple Crown this season. The Sox will go for their seventh win in a row and the series sweep with Rick Porcello on the mound. Boston is an incredible 81-34 on the season and at this point we need to just sit back, enjoy the ride, and see how they can amaze us next.