Sunday, May 27, 2018

Game 52: Atlanta Braves at Red Sox (May 26, 2018)

In its own strange way, thank goodness for Drew Pomeranz and the terminal slogs that are his starts. Let me explain: from 9am until about 1:00pm I was out of the house coaching my son at a tournament for his travel team. After the last game, we went and got some lunch before we drove home. And yet, when I sat on the couch and turned the game on, it was only the fourth inning so I didn't miss much of the game at all! I guess Drew's struggles were good for one thing at least, because they sure weren't good for his team.

The biggest story of the day was the return of Dustin Pedroia to the Red Sox lineup, playing second base and batting sixth, which briefly pushed the Hanley Ramirez release from yesterday off of centerstage. Otherwise, while this game got somewhat exciting toward the end it was what I'll call "The Battle of the Bullpens" as both starters were abysmal. Pomeranz only lasted 3.1 innings even though he threw 89 pitches (!). He struck out three, walked three, gave up a homer and five earned runs on six hits. Just awful. I know he didn't have a full spring training and is coming back from injury, but by now he should be rounding into form. Whether it's physical or mental with this guy, I don't know but whatever it is it's clearly not happening. If that means putting him on the DL or moving him to the bullpen until he figures it out, so be it but he is absolutely killing this rotation right now.  Luckily, Steven Wright was fantastic in long relief, going three innings and only giving up two hits. Braves starter Sean Newcomb was just as bad, only lasting three innings on 88 pitches while giving up three earned runs on six hits against four walks and four strikeouts. A pitcher's duel, ithis game wasn't.

The Braves got on the board first when Dansby Swanson hit a two run homer in the second inning. Kurt Suzuki ripped an RBI double to centerfield in the third to put the Braves up 3-0, but Xander Bogaerts got one back in the bottom of the inning when he drove in Mitch Moreland. Blake Swihart, who suprisingly started at DH the day after Hanley Ramirez was DFA'd drove in Xander which was followed later in the inning by Christian Vazquez driving in Pedroia (who walked earlier) to tie the game up at three runs apiece. The Braves got two back to go up 5-3 in the fourth when Freddie Freeman drove Swanson in followed by a sacrifice fly from Nick Markakis. Andrew Benintendi, who was red hot all day (more on this later) hit a solo homer in the bottom of the fourth to cut it to a one run lead and the Red Sox finally took the lead when Moreland smacked a two-RBI double in the sixth to drive in Mookie Betts (who had singled) and Benintendi (who was hit by a pitch). The Sox got a couple more runs in the bottom of the seventh when Benintendi hit a triple to drive in Betts and Eduardo Nunez, and it's a good thing he did because Craig Kimbrel gave up a solo homer in the top of the ninth. Due to the cushion of Benintendi's final two RBI, though, it didn't do any damage and the Sox held on to win 8-6.

The stars of this game for the Sox were Benintendi and Moreland. Andrew went 3-4 with a homer, a triple, a single, two runs scored, and three RBI while Mitch went 2-5 with two RBI and a run scored. It was a quiet day for Mookie although he did score two runs and walk once to go with his 1-4 day. The Sox also continued to get some bonus production from the catcher spot in the lineup with Vazquez' hit. While still trying to process the bizarre Hanley move from yesterday, it got even weirder with Swihart, who has been buried on the bench all season, suddenly starting this game. I have no idea what the Sox are trying to do here with all of this, but whatever it is it doesn't make a modicum of sense. I can only think they're trying to boost Blake's trade value by getting him some playing time because I really don't see anywhere else for him to fit into the lineup other than some spot DH starts. We have two catchers (his primary position) ahead of him and he's a distant fifth (or sixth if you include Brock Holt) in the outfield  rotation (his secondary position) behind Betts, Benintendi, Jackie Bradley, and JD Martinez. This whole saga bears watching as the season continues to unfold.

With the win and the Yankees not playing until tonight, the Sox picked up a half game and sit 1.5 ahead in the division. Just once or twice, I'd like the Yankees to lose on the days we win so that the lead can grow a bit. As the season rolls into June this coming week, though, the race should heat up...this is where the season is going to get really fun.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Game 51: Atlanta Braves at Red Sox (May 25, 2018)

Have I mentioned that I hate interleague play? It's a gimmick that wore out its welcome shortly after it was first introduced two decades ago, but sadly MLB will most likely never do away with it even though I've yet to meet a single fan who isn't either indifferent or outright hostile to it (in other words, I've never met someone who actually likes it). But I digress. Hot on the heels of taking two of three from the Rays, the Sox opened up this series against the team they shared a city with for their first fifty years of existence.

The Braves had been rebuilding (i.e. tanking) for the last several years but their youth movement seems to be paying off this year as surprisingly they're leading the NL East at the moment and playing some good baseball.  However, the big Sox-related story of the day was the team designating Hanley Ramirez for assignment (in other words, cutting him). While I've been hoping that the Sox would consider making Mitch Moreland the everyday first basemen and platooning Hanley at DH with JD Martinez, I never saw this move coming at this moment although I did predict there would be some sort of reckoning eventually this season. Hanley is due to make $22 million dollars next year if his option vests, an option contingent on him making 497 plate appearances this season. He was well on pace to do this, but his diminished production after the first few weeks of the season combined with his poor defense in the field made this less than attractive for the team. In layman's terms, the Sox were never going to pay that kind of money for a player in decline like Hanley, In addition to freeing up payroll, the move also allowed a roster spot to open for Dustin Pedroia, who was activated today. Perplexingly, though, this means they've decided to cast their lot with Blake Swihart (most likely in order to build his trade value) who most people figured would be the one DFA'd to make room for Pedroia. Add in the news that Alex Cora seemed to push Dave Dombrowksi to make this move and it was just a weird day all around for the Sox. And that's off the baseball field...

So what about the actual game? Eduardo Rodriguez started for the Sox and apart from a shaky third inning when he gave up two runs, he did very well. He pitched 5.2 innings, giving up six hits and the two earned runs against three walks and seven strikeouts. However, after those six hits the Braves were no-hit by the Sox until the top of the ninth when Dansby Swanson hit a double off of Craig Kimbrel. In between, Heath Hembree, Joe Kelly, and Matt Barnes held down the fort while the offense came back and scored some runs. Apart from Nick Markakis' two-RBI double in the third, this game was all Red Sox when it came to scoring. JD hit a solo shot in the bottom of the fourth and Xander Bogaerts hit one of his own later in the inning to tie the game at 2 runs apiece. In the fifth, Andrew Benintendi hit a sacrifice fly to drive in Jackie Bradley and the Sox took a lead they wouldn't relinquish. Mookie Betts continued to show why he's the best player in the league when he crushed a two run homer in the seventh, his league-leading 17th, to give the Sox some breathing room. Moreland added a solo shot of his own in the eighth and that was all they needed as the bullpen helped them cruise to a 6-2 win. Once again, almost all of the runs were driven in via home runs, but a win is a win and that's always the most important thing. Unfortunately, the Yankees were able to squeak out a win tonight so the Sox weren't able to add to their lead in the standings. For a even more encouraging news, Bradley went 1-3 tonight and finally seems to be turning the corner and coming out of his slump. If he can continue to get hot and stay hot, this team is going to score even more runs than they already have, especially if Bradley's power numbers come back as well.

It was a busy day for me even though I worked from home...after a few meetings over the phone, I replaced the brakes on my wife's car, mowed and weed-whacked the yard, and took my oldest two daughters to the cages and pitched them some batting practice. But while all of that exhausted me physically, it's still trying to process this wild and unforeseen Hanley move that wore me out the most mentally. I understand the move and while I liked him as a player personality-wise, he was slumping badly and his lack of hustle on the basepaths and low contributing value make this move a reasonable one. It's just the timing and the weird vibes behind it, the whole Cora/Dombrowski thing, that make it so confusing. As any longtime Sox fan knows, though, this is typical of this franchise...nothing is ever done in an easy or commonsense way. It'll be interesting to see how it shakes out in the coming days and whether any more information comes to light. In any event, in purely on-field baseball terms this was a good day for the Red Sox.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Game 50: Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays (May 24, 2018)

I suppose it was too much to ask for a sweep, especially given how tough the Rays have played the Sox all season. I was coaching my son's travel team last night so I didn't get a chance to turn the game on until about halfway through and by that time I wish I hadn't.

With Rick Porcello on the mound, it seemed that the Sox would have a great chance at the sweep as he was 6-1 heading into the game and apart from one bad outing had pitched great all season. Sadly, it wasn't his night as he was tagged for six runs in only 3.2 innings of work. Granted the errors behind him didn't help his cause, but he only struck out two and walked two while giving up eight hits...that's not going to cut it regardless of who you're facing. The bullpen actually held down the fort and held the Rays scoreless the rest of the way, but by then the damage was done and it was too much for the Sox to overcome. The Rays got on the board in the first on a Sandy Leon catching error at home to make it 1-0 which was followed by a sacrifice fly by Brad Miller to make it 2-0. Surprisingly, it was a throwing error by Mookie Betts that let in the next three runs on a routine single (!) in the second. That one play cost the Sox dearly by quickly jumping the lead from two runs to five. Matt Duffy drove in another run in the fourth to make it 6-0 Rays and that was all the offense they'd need in this one. It wasn't until the top of the seventh when Rafael Devers drove in Eduardo Nunez that the Red Sox finally got in the scoring column. They'd add a couple more in the ninth off a Mitch Moreland solo home run and an RBI double by Devers to again drive in Nunez, but it was too little too late as the Sox went down to the Rays 6-3. With the Yankees idle, the Sox only lost a half game in the standings and are still a game ahead in first place.

This was just an ugly game all around for the Sox with the errors and the offense non-existent until the end (the Rays outhit them 12-7). Nunez and Leon each went 2-4 and Moreland continued to stay hot, but otherwise it was a quiet night for the bats and it cost them, epsecially on a night when Porcello wasn't sharp and the defense was shaky. Still, taking two of three from the Rays on the road is good and sets the Sox up nicely heading into the next series at home against the surprising Atlanta Braves (have I mentioned how much I hate interleague play?). With this tough stretch of games against the Braves, Blue Jays, and Astros it'll be a good test to see how they respond against better competition.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Game 49: Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays (May 23, 2018)

It was an incredibly busy night for us: after work, I took my oldest daughter to a tryout for a new travel team, my wife took our youngest daughter to her game, and both the Red Sox and Celtics were playing. I managed to listen to most of the first half of the Celtics game in the car and watched most of the second half at home. As for the Red Sox, I was able to follow the game updates on my phone from the softball field and caught the last two innings on TV once we got home. Luckily what I saw was the most exciting and important part of the game!

There wasn't much scoring in this game until the very end. Hanley Ramirez put the Sox on the board in the sixth inning when he grounded into a double play with the bases loaded. Fortunately there weren't any outs so Christian Vazquez was able to score to make it 1-0 Red Sox. The Rays immediately got that run back in the bottom of the inning when CJ Cron doubled off of David Price and drove Denard Span in. This hearkened back to last season when it seemed as though every time the Sox took a lead in a game, they immediately coughed it up in the following half-inning. As for Price in this game, he was decent going six innings and only giving up the one run on three hits. He struck out nine and only walked three and continued to look very good. I'm hoping that the struggles he had in between his good start to the season and his last few starts were just a bump in the road, but with this guy you never know. I'll need to see several more good starts and some overall consistency in his performance before I can make that judgment on a more permanent basis.

It seemed like we were headed to extra innings until the top of the ninth when the Sox exploded for three runs. It was Xander Bogaerts who got it started when he hit an RBI double to drive JD Martinez home. Later, Eduardo Nunez hit a sacrifice fly to centerfield to drive Xander in and move Rafael Devers over to third. Finally, a passed ball during Jackie Bradley's at bat allowed Devers to score and just like that, it was 4-1 Sox. Craig Kimbrel earned his 15th save of the season by throwing a strong bottom of the ninth, striking out two and not allowing any hits or walks. Combined with the Yankees loss, the win put the Red Sox 1 1/2 games ahead of New York in the division.  It was a quiet offensive night for both teams, with the Sox only getting five hits to the Rays' three. Mookie Betts went 0-2 but also walked twice. Surprisingly, almost half of the Sox' hits in this game from the bottom two spots in the order as Bradley and Vazquez both went 1-4. 

Dare I hope that the Sox are carrying over the momentum from the Orioles series and are starting to get on another hot streak? I realize the competition hasn't been particularly good, but seeing the way they struggled with some bad teams throughout May (Oakland, anyone?) it's still encouraging. After wrapping up this series with the Rays, the Sox head back home to take on the surprisingly hot Braves and then the Blue Jays before heading to Houston to face the defending champion Astros. It should be a fun stretch of games and a good test to see if the consistently strong play of April is truly back.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Game 48: Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays (May 22, 2018)

After a much needed day off for the Red Sox (and me!), they were back at it with this short three game road series against the Rays. My oldest daughter had a game so it wasn't until after it was done that I got home to catch up on the Sox. With Chris Sale starting, I was hoping that they could take this first game against the pesky Rays and actually score enough runs to support him. In the end, it was close but they got the job done.

Take a wild guess who got the scoring started in this one? If you said "Mookie Betts" (and of course you did), then you get a cookie because this guy is just dominating. He hit a three-run blast in the top of the third with Sandy Leon and Jackie Bradley on base to quickly make it 3-0, which was a good thing because while Sale pitched really well, he did give up some runs in this one. Willy Adames hit a solo shot in the fourth and Daniel Robertson drove in a run on a sacrifice fly to cut the lead to 3-2. Thankfully, Rafael Devers hit a solo homer in the sixth to push it back up to 4-2 where it would end as the Red Sox won behind 7.2 strong innings from Sale. Chris struck out nine, walked two, and only gave up those two runs on four hits. Craig Kimbrel made it interesting in the ninth by giving up two hits and walking a batter, but he held on to get his 14th save of the season. With the win, the Sox moved a half game ahead of the Yankees for the AL East lead.

There were some very encouraging things from this game: Sale returning to form and going almost eight innings to give the bullpen a much needed. break, Mookie continuing to do Mookie things, and perhaps nothing bigger than some production out of the bottom of the lineup. Sandy Leon continued to hit, going 1-3 with a walk, and Jackie Bradley (finally!) went 2-4 and only struck out once. I am really hoping that this is the start of Jackie snapping out of his prolonged slump and getting hot because if it is, combined with his defense it will make this Sox lineup even more potent than it already is. Speaking of that, Mookie is once again in sole possession of the league lead in home runs as well as batting average (.368). What seemed like maybe just a hot start to the season has so far encompassed the first two months; barring an extended slump, this seems like it's what Mookie is going to all season. Red Sox fans should sit back and enjoy the show, while the rest of the league should be very worried.

One final thought from this game...once again, every Red Sox run was driven in by the home run, as were half of the Rays' runs. I've been harping on this one-dimensionality for the last week, but this is the modern game and for better or worse this is where baseball is at right now. I guess there's nothing I can do but shrug my shoulders and move on (although you can be sure that I'll continue to point it out throughout the season).

Monday, May 21, 2018

Game 47: Baltimore Orioles at Red Sox (May 20, 2018)

This was one of the rare Sox games this season where I wasn't able to watch any of it. I was at the baseball field all day coaching my son's travel team for their doubleheader. The Sox game fell right in the middle of when our two games did, so I was only able to keep up with the phone updates until late last night when I could watch some highlights. Even so, I liked what I saw and was really glad the Sox were able to end this homestand on a high note after how poorly they started it.

The big story in this game was JD Martinez, who belted two home runs to tie Mookie Betts for the league lead with 15. His first one was a solo shot in the bottom of the second, while his second was a two-run blast in the fifth. Combined with Andrew Benintendi's two-run homer earlier in the fifth, it put the Sox up 5-0 which was all the offense they'd need. Eduardo Rodriguez pitched 5.2 innings and while he gave up nine hits, he struck out seven without walking anyone and most importantly, kept Baltimore off the scoreboard. It begs the question, though: will Red Sox starters ever consistently pitch 6-8 innings? Irrespective of the talent in the bullpen, the constant need to get 3-5 innings out of the bullpen every game is going to wear them down before the summer is over. Surprisingly in this game, the Orioles outhit the Sox 13-12, but the Sox got the ones that counted. Besides JD continuing to stay hot with his 2-4, 2 HR day, Benintendi also remained hot going 3-5 and raising his average to .285. Even the last two spots in the lineup, which have been a black hole all season, chipped in with a hit each: Christian Vazquez went 1-4 while Jackie Bradley went 1-3 with a double, a run scored, and a walk (but also two more strikeouts). With the 5-0 win, the Sox finished this homestand 4-3 and have a day off before beginning their next series in Tampa on Tuesday. Since the Yankees also won, the Sox remain deadlocked with them atop the AL East. As I've said before, it looks like it's going to be one of those seasons where the two teams fight atop the standings until/unless one of them pulls away from the other. It should make for a fun summer!

One last thing touching on what I mentioned yesterday: all the home runs. This game was yet another where EVERY run was driven in via the long ball. I know I'm old school (even though I'm not old), but for me that makes it a little boring. Home runs used to be more exciting because they were a bit rarer and more special When so many are hit, especially by guys who aren't typically considered power hitters, it takes a bit of the luster off of them (again, this is just my opinion).  Now, I'm not saying that it'd be better to go back to the days of a century ago where the league leader was only hitting 15 homers in a season, but when so many players are crushing 20-40 homers in a season the numbers tend to not mean as much as they used to. Whether this is solely due to the "launch angle" revolution or also has to do with MLB juicing the balls (which I tend to think is definitely happening, as do a lot of the players) I don't know for certain, but I do know that eventually the game will even itself always has. Like I said yesterday, this home run issue will probably be the focus of a longer post which I'll write sometime later, but I just wanted to add this bit since this game against the Orioles seemed to be the perfect microcosm of the home run issue as I see it.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Game 46: Baltimore Orioles at Red Sox (May 19, 2018)

After having one of the most exhausting (yet incredibly fun) "relaxing" Saturdays in recent memory, by the time the Red Sox game started at 7pm I was pretty tired. My morning started when I woke up at 6:30am to prep for the day. Three of my kids had team photos in the morning, followed by my coaching my youngest daughter's team in our thrilling comeback win. I then dashed over to the other side of town to help coach the final inning and a half of my son's rec game. This was followed by getting in some work in the batting cages with my oldest daughter. I finally got home around 5pm and promptly fell asleep on the couch, waking up just in time to catch the start of the Sox game. Phew!

At least it was hot and sunny where I was Boston, it was cold and drizzly. Having sat through a few games like that at Fenway Park in the past, I was for once happy to be in my living room instead. Rick Porcello took the mound for the Sox hoping to help the team bounce back after the previous night's disappointing loss. For the most part, he was great, pitching six innings while striking out nine against three walks. He did give up three earned runs on six hits, but he kept the game within striking distance until the Sox finally broke through with some runs. The Orioles got on the board first in the top of the third when Chance Sisco doubled, advanced to third, and was driven in by a sacrifice fly from Jonathon Schoop. In the bottom of the fourth, though, Rafael Devers muscled a ball over the Green Monster to tie the game at 1. The real excitement came in the bottom of the fifth when Sandy Leon doubled, followed two batters later by Mookie Betts crushing a pitch over the Monster to make it 3-1 Sox. Andrew Benintendi immediately followed Mookie's blast with a solo shot to rightfield to make it 4-1. The Orioles made it interested when Pedro Alvarez hit a two-run shot to cut the Sox lead to 4-3, but Benintendi put it out of reach when, with Leon and Jackie Bradley on base in the seventh, he drilled a single up the middle to drive both in and make it 6-3. That's where it stayed as Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes, and Craig Kimbrel (who got the save) held serve and kept the Orioles off the board.

We've run out of things to say about Mookie this season, but I'll try. He only went 1-4 in this game, but that one hit was huge as he broke the 1-1 tie and started the momentum that resulted in the Sox pulling away for good. His average dipped a bit during the .368. He's leading the league in just about every offensive category (including a ridiculous OPS of 1.205)...and oh yeah, he plays Gold Glove defense, too. Benintendi continues to stay hot...he went 2-3 with 3 RBI and a walk. It was a quiet night at the plate for pretty much everyone else, though; the team only had six hits total, with the other three coming from Leon, Eduardo Nunez, and Rafael Devers (who all had a hit apiece). And while Jackie Bradley got on base twice via walks, he also struck out twice and looked so bad it was almost painful. It was even depressing hearing Dave O'Brien and Dennis Eckersley calls his at bats on the broadcast. He was getting blown away by straight fastballs down the middle and went down on four pitches once and three pitches the other time. They weren't even at bats where he battled...when he fought off pitches in his other at bats, he eventually walked. His average is down to .161, yet Alex Cora and the rest of us in Red Sox Nation hope he can figure it out soon because his defense is just that good.

Since the Yankees also won, the Sox remained tied with them atop the division. They've got Eduardo Rodrigeuz on the mound for the series finale and then a day off Monday before they begin the next road trip on Tuesday. One final thought from this game and on the modern game in general: the prevalence of home runs (in this game specifically, but also across the entire league in general) has really made baseball a bit boring and one dimensional, taking away a bit of the enjoyment for me. I had an interesting discussion with like-minded longtime baseball fans about it during the game which will be the basis of a separate post, but in a nutshell we all agreed that it gets a bit tiresome seeing almost every RBI in a game being due to a home run. Homers are fun and they're exciting, but they're not the be all/end all when it comes to hitting. That's why Benintendi's two-RBI single late in the game and the perfectly executed hit-and-run they had in the earlier innings were so exciting to me: in combination with home runs, THAT is real baseball. Home runs are a part of the offensive game, but there's so much more that's being pushed aside with this focus on power and "launch angle" and "exit velocity." Batters would rather take a strikeout if they can't hit a home run, and to me there's zero interest in an approach like that. As I said, this will be the focus of a standalone post later on, but I wanted to just get that off my chest a little bit.

In closing to book on this game, it's been an up and down month for the Sox since the 17-2 start, but one thing we can all say with certainty is that it hasn't been boring!