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!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Game 67: Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles (June 11, 2018)

That was a marathon game, wasn't it? Even though the Sox have played longer games, this one felt like a slog once the pitcher's duel ended after the seventh inning. I had a rare night off with no games or practices to coach, so in a way this was a nice long game for me to relax and watch to the bitter end. The fact that it took such a Herculean effort to beat the team with the worst record in the majors means this wasn't one for the scrapbook, though.

The big news of the night was the return of Mookie Betts after two weeks out. Oh, how the Sox offense has missed him and unfortunately, it still does because there was absolutely nothing going on at the plate in this game. Part of that was due to the excellent pitching duel between Red Sox starter Steven Wright and Baltimore starter Dylan Bundy. Wright made it through 6.2 innings and only allowed four hits against five strikeouts and three walks. He was lifted in the seventh when he loaded the bases with two outs, but Joe Kelly came in to get a big strikeout which kept the O's off the board. Bundy went eight innings for Baltimore, only allowing three hits against seven strikeouts and two walks. Both teams had their chances, especially once it went into extra innings, but it wasn't until the top of the twelfth inning when a runner finally crossed the plate. Brock Holt drove in the first run on a sacrifice fly to center field to bring Xander Bogaerts in. Rafael Devers advanced to third on the play and was driven in by Jackie Bradley via another sac fly. That's how the game would end as Craig Kimbrel picked up the save to preserve the 2-0 Red Sox win.

Mookie was 1-5 in his return but I expect it'll take him a little time before he's back in his groove. For the first nine innings of the game, the Sox only had three hits and four baserunners and it was almost all by Benintendi (2-3 and a walk, getting on base three times to that point). Only Bogaerts joined Benintendi in having a two hit night, while Devers made up the final Red Sox hit. By the time the game went into extras, it didn't look like either team wanted to win as both clubs couldn't get anything going at the plate. Sometimes that's how baseball is, but it's more than a bit concerning that the Red Sox had to expend such effort against a truly awful team like Baltimore. Since the Yankees lost, Boston moved  into a tie for first place. With Eduardo Rodriguez and Sale pitching the next two games, as long as the Sox can start hitting again they should be able to make some hay (and let's just forget about what happened in Sale's last start, shall we?). They'd better, because after the Baltimore series the degree of difficulty in the schedule goes up exponentially. One game at a time, one game at a time...

Monday, June 11, 2018

Game 66: Chicago White Sox at Red Sox (June 10, 2018)

Remember when I said that anything less than a sweep of the lowly White Sox was a disaster? Well, here we are on Monday morning and yes, it was a disaster. It was a cold and rainy Sunday for me and my were cancelled and we stayed inside and relaxed all day. It was a perfect setup to watch the Red Sox but given how it turned out, I almost wish I hadn't witnessed it.

With 8-2 Rick Porcello on the mound, it seemed as though the Sox would build off of the comeback win the day before and take this series before heading out on the road. However, the disturbing tendency Boston has had lately of giving up runs in the first inning continued when Porcello gave up an RBI double to Jose Abreu to quickly put the White Sox up 1-0. Rafael Devers tied it up in the bottom of the inning with an RBI single of his own, but in the third inning Porcello walked in a run (something that is brutal to see no matter what level you're playing at) and gave up another in the sixth. The 3-1 Chicago lead certainly didn't seem insurmountable although the way Boston has been swinging the bats lately, perhaps it should have. When Andrew Benintendi scored on a fielding error in the seventh to pull Boston within a run, it looked like the comeback was about to begin, but despite loading the bases twice late in the game, the Red Sox couldn't capitalize (where have we heard this before?). To add insult to injury, Chicago added two insurance runs in the top of the ninth off Matt Barnes when Daniel Palka scorched a two RBI double to center field. The final score had the Red Sox going down in defeat 5-2.

We all know it's a long season and that it doesn't do to overreact, but this weekend's series against a White Sox team that had only won 20 games coming in was, in one word, pathetic. Embarrassing is also another fitting way to describe it. While Porcello wasn't great, he wasn't bad either, and usually on a day when your starter only gives up three runs you should be in decent shape. It's just that they couldn't muster any offense all day and the lack of timely hits is what really killed them. I had said a week ago that the team's depth showed that they could weather the absence of Mookie Betts and that's been true to a point, but this weekend's lifeless display against an awful team showed that they've perhaps reached the limit of how long they can go without Mookie. They're damn lucky that the Yankees also lost so that they didn't lose any ground in the division. I also wish Alex Cora would stop trying to shoehorn Blake Swihart into the lineup every day. Whether it's been his call or there's been a push from management to try and boost his trade value, Blake just looks lost out there and is not helping (and oftentimes hurts) the team. Looking at the bigger picture, this team continues to bad trend of playing down to the level of their competition and of failing to take advantage of bad teams (especially at home).

This season is starting to take on a weird vibe whereas a month ago it seemed like this was the antithesis of the last two John Farrell-led years. 2018 is starting to feel a lot like the Farrell years where the Sox were in contention all year but never felt like they gelled. That cohesive and fun feeling they had throughout April feels so long ago now, doesn't it? It does to me at least.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Game 65: Chicago White Sox at Red Sox (June 9, 2018)

I still had a bad taste in my mouth from the previous game as I got ready for the Sox to play this one. I had coached my son's team's final rec league game in the blazing heat in the morning and then drove an hour to watch our oldest daughter play in her travel tournament all day, so I was watching and following the Sox from the road. If they couldn't get a win against an awful White Sox team when Sale pitched out of his mind the night before, I admit I wasn't so confident that they'd win this one with David Price on the mound.

It looked like it was going to be more of the same when Price gave up two runs in the top of the first on an RBI double to Jose Abreu and a fielder's choice to Kevan Smith. JD Martinez knocked in the first Red Sox run in the bottom of the inning when he grounded into a double play but was safe at first on a throwing error which allowed Andrew Benintendi to score. Jackie Bradley tied the game in the second when he hit a solo home run and just like that, it was 2-2. It seemed to have all the makings of a sloppy, poorly pitched game on both sides, but Price clamped down and the White Sox didn't get on the board again. The tie was broken in the bottom of the fifth by (who else?) JD when he crushed his 21st homer, with Xander Bogaerts on base, to right field. JD has hit more homers this season to the opposite field than he's pulled which is remarkable and almost unheard of. That would be it for the bats in this game as the bullpen sealed the 4-2 Red Sox win.

Price's final line was six innings pitched, six strikeouts, three walks, and two runs given up on five hits. After JD's go-ahead home run, Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes, and Craig Kimbrel nailed down the win for the Sox. They remain a half game behind New York in the division with one more against Chicago before they start the rugged part of their schedule. Hopefully they can keep the momentum going from this one and take the final game of the series behind Rick Porcello. One more it too much to ask that the freaking Yankees lose once in a while on the days that the Red Sox win?! 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Game 64: Chicago White Sox at Red Sox (June 8, 2018)

We have a new contender for worst loss of the season for the Red Sox. On a night when Chris Sale did everything you'd ever want out of your ace, the Sox turned in one of their most pathetic and embarrassing performances of the season. I turned the game on when I get home after coaching my youngest daughter's softball game and I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It still blows my mind to think about this game even after a little time has passed.

There's not much to write about for this one. Sale pitched eight full innings, striking out ten and walking one. He gave up one run, in the seventh inning, and for his troubles he got the loss. It's been an old saying of mine for years and years and I know I've said it here and elsewhere, but if your starter is only giving up one or two runs, you'd damn well better be winning those games. Especially when they're against one of the worst teams in the league in the White Sox, a team that is intentionally tanking the season and going through a tear-it-down-to-the-studs rebuild. Even worse is that Boston only mustered a measly three hits the entire night: one from Andrew Benintendi, one from Andrew Bogaerts, and one from Rafael Devers. The lone Chicago run came on an RBI single in the seventh from Trayce Thompson. Sale deserved better and so did Red Sox fans.

I place an equal amount of blame on Alex Cora in this one. Yes, the Red Sox are still one of the best teams in the league and yes, he's a huge step up from John Farrell as a manager. But he has a maddening tendency to over-rest players and after the way he seemed willing to just throw away that final game against Detroit, I expected better for this series. He put one of the weakest lineups of the season out on the field (and that's saying something!) and he's managed the last two games as though they were up ten games on the Yankees in late September and the playoff seeding was set. Well, now they're behind New York! Someone online during the game said that Boston is going to have the most well-rested team to miss the playoffs and while it was in jest, there's a kernel of truth to it, especially if they keep doing what they're doing. As I said yesterday, the schedule gets absolutely brutal for the rest of the month following this White Sox series. I proclaimed, somewhat exaggeratedly, that anything less than a sweep of the lowly White Sox would be a disaster. I guess the Sox put it to me right away with this debacle, huh?

Friday, June 8, 2018

Game 63: Detroit Tigers at Red Sox (June 7, 2018)

This one had the feeling of a game the Sox were kind of intentionally throwing away from the get-go, didn't it? It sure did to me, at least. Alex Cora gave the start to Jalen Beeks who has been tearing up AAA with the Pawtucket Red Sox, and while the timing seemed a bit strange, it was the resulting performance and the reaction to it that made me scratch my head. When I sat down to turn the game on after coaching my son's travel team practice, the Sox were already down 5-0 and didn't seem too bothered about it which didn't make me too excited to keep watching (but I did anyway).

Beeks gave up five runs in the top of the first in a variety of ways. He gave up RBI doubles (Jeimer Candelario) and RBI singles (John Hicks) and home runs (Leonys Martin) and just like that, the Sox were in a 5-0 hole. Strangely (or perhaps not so strangely), Cora left the kid in there to pitch four full innings. Beeks gave up another run in the third on a Jose Iglesias RBI double, while the Sox only mustered a single run in the bottom of the first on Andrew Benintendi's 11th home run. Xander Bogaerts drove in another run on a fielder's choice in the fifth, but that was it for Boston. Detroit tacked on a meaningless run in the eighth when Iglesias drove in another and the Sox went down meekly on this night, 7-2.

The loss actually put the Yankees ahead in the division based on winning percentage (since the Sox have still played more games than them) and while I understand wanting to get Beeks some big league experience, it kind of left a bad taste in my mouth. From the moment I saw the starting lineup, this game screamed throwaway and that's what Cora seemed to be going for. He didn't pull the kid after the disastrous first inning and he certainly didn't put the best lineup out there behind him: no Bradley or Holt, and starting Blake Swihart, Sam Travis, and Eduardo Nunez all on the same night? JD Martinez also left the game late with the same back tightness he had earlier in the week, although after the game he said it was just precautionary and not as bad as it was last time (which is a relief). Since the Sox were so cavalier about tanking this game, they'd better sweep the White Sox, who are one of the worst teams in all of baseball, at home this weekend because after that series they've got an absolutely BRUTAL schedule: a tough road trip against two good teams (Seattle and Minnesota) and the lousy Orioles (who always seem to play them tough) followed by home series against the Angels and Mariners before they go back on the road to face the Yankees and Nationals. That is a tough stretch of games where all the teams they'll face are either first in their respective divisions (Washington, Seattle, New York for now) or within striking distance (Minnesota and Los Angeles). The only dog in that entire stretch are the woeful Orioles. Give the competition over the next month and how tight the division race with New York is going to be, the Sox had better hope this "meaningless" game against Detroit doesn't come back to bite them in October.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Game 62: Detroit Tigers at Red Sox (June 6, 2018)

Sixty-two games down, one hundred to go. Can you believe it? I can't. When I came up with this crazy idea to write a game recap and season diary for every Red Sox game this season, I swore to myself that I'd do it for as long as I could but also added the caveat that it may very well peter out after a certain point due to how busy I was or how much my desire waned. I'm happy to say that I haven't missed a single game and I'm as excited as ever by this team and the season they're having. Here's to the next hundred games...and hopefully beyond!

After returning home from my business trip late yesterday afternoon, it was good to spend time with my family...even after only three days, I'd missed them so much. My wife and I then went to watch our oldest daughter's practice for her new travel team and then it was time to watch the Sox. I was expecting another good outing of Eduardo Rodriguez and he didn't let me down (although I wish he could go deeper into games), but what really pleased me was how the offense, still missing Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia, continued to roll. The Tigers got on the board first when former Red Sox shortstop Jose Iglesias drove in Jacoby Jones to make it 1-0 Detroit, but that was the only run they'd get as the rest of this game was all Red Sox. Christian Vazquez had a big night, driving in the first run for Boston on a double in the third. The red hot Andrew Benintendi drove in Vazquez with a double of his own which was followed by Xander Bogaerts doubling to drive in Benintendi and Jackie Bradley. Just like that the Sox were up 4-1, but they weren't finished. Benintendi hit his tenth home run of the season, a solo shot, in the fifth while Vazquez struck again with his own solo homer in the seventh. Sam Travis finished off the scoring for the Sox in the bottom of the eighth with an RBI single to drive in Mitch Moreland. The seven runs were plenty for Rodriguez who went 5.2 innings on 107 pitches, striking out five and only walking one. The bullpen took care of the rest and the Sox cruised to the easy 7-1 win. Benintendi and Bogaerts going off in this one weren't the surprise; that would be Christian Vazquez and it was nice to see him have a big night. If he can keep it going and Sandy Leon continues to stay hot, the bottom of the Sox order (along with the resurgent Bradley) will be dangerous. Rafael Devers also seemed to break out of his weeks-long slump, going 2-4 with a run scored. 

While the win was the fourth straight for the Sox and they have the best record in the majors at 43-19, the infernal Yankees also won so the Sox lead in the division stayed at one game. The margin for error in this division is going to be so slim that I predict all it's going to take is for one team to go on a small losing streak of 3-4 games for the lead to open up. Hopefully it will be Boston who expands that lead because whoever finishes second in this division is going to be a Wild Card with a better record than the other two AL division winners.

And now, onward to the next one hundred games!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Game 61: Detroit Tigers at Red Sox (June 5, 2018)

I'm writing this game recap from the road as I've been traveling for work this week, but nothing can keep me from watching the Sox (or writing about them!). After a long day of work, dinner, and a few drinks with my colleagues, I retired to my hotel room to watch the Sox on my phone. There was news earlier today that Drew Pomeranz was placed on the DL, so Steven Wright got the start in his place. As with most knuckleball pitchers, Wright is either unhittable or he's up there pitching BP. Luckily for the Red Sox, on this night he was the former.

Before I get to the offense, I want to point out what a great job Wright did and how different he was to Pomeranz. Wright went seven innings and only gave up two hits. He threw 96 pitches and stuck out six against three walks. And, he worked quickly; this game was finished in less than three hours. Compare that to Pomeranz who labors to throw 90+ pitches in four or five innings and gets hit a lot harder and you'll see why my call for switching Drew to the bullpen and Wright back to the rotation doesn't sound so crazy after all. This game was also the return of Brandon Workman who hadn't pitched yet this season. After Hector Velazquez pitched a scoreless eighth inning, Workman closed the game out with a hitless ninth. For the game, the Sox had ten hits while holding the Tigers to only three.

So what about the offense? The Sox rolled to an easy 6-0 win and got contributions from a lot of guys. The Sox jumped all over Tigers rookie starter Artie Lewicki in the first when JD Martinez hit his league leading 20th homer, a two-run shot to give them a quick 2-0 lead. They added two more in the fourth when Eduardo Nunez and Rafael Devers both drove in runs, although Devers' RBI came on a fielder's choice double play with the bases loaded and no outs. The Sox loaded the bases again with two outs later in the inning but came away empty handed. It didn't matter, though, as they kept Detroit off the bases and plated two more runs in the fifth when Xander Bogaerts hit a solo homer and Brock Holt drove in a run on a fielder's choice. That 6-0 lead would hold and help the Sox go a game ahead of the Yankees in the division. Jackie Bradley also had a two hit night which tells me the last couple of games were probably just a normal dip and that he's on one his hot streaks for the time being.

I realize that the Tigers aren't particularly good this year, but the fact that the Sox have been able to win or split every series they've played in the absence of Mookie Betts tells me this team is even deeper and more dangerous than we thought. If they can play this well with Mookie, Dustin Pedroia, and Pomeranz out, with Chris Sale not pitching at his best, and still have the best record in baseball, then there's no telling what they can do when everyone is back contributing. 

Monday, June 4, 2018

Game 60: Red Sox at Houston Astros (June 3, 2018)

The Red Sox provided a great end to the weekend. Sunday was pretty great: the weather was awesome, I got to spend the afternoon coaching my son's travel team in their doubleheader, we got to meet Patriots legends Adam Vinatieri, and my daughter's travel team won a medal for winning their bracket at their tournament. We had dinner, watched some of the Women's College World Series, and then the Red Sox finale against the Astros. Again, no Mookie and no Pedroia, but it would prove to be no problem as the Sox offense exploded and they picked up a hard fought split.

The Red Sox momentum from the night before carried over as they got on the board first again when Mitch Moreland crushed a ball over the center field fence with Andrew Benintendi on base in the top of the first to stake them to a quick 2-0 lead. The always dangerous George Springer answered with a solo shot of his own in the bottom of the inning, but Benintendi answered with his own solo homer in the fifth to make it 3-1 Red Sox. Brock Holt, who has done a nice job over the last couple of weeks, stayed hot with a 2-RBI triple in the sixth before he was driven in by Blake Swihart and just like that, the Sox were up by five runs. Alex Bregman has hurt Boston in this series and he did it again when he knocked two in with an RBI single in the seventh, but that was all Houston would get as Holt drove in another in the eighth. Heck, even recent call-up Sam Travis contributed, driving in Sandy Leon and Xander Bogaerts with a two-RBI single in the ninth. It got a bit tense in the bottom of the ninth when Heath Hembree walked two batters in a row, but he managed to survive and closed out the win without giving up any runs (like I always say, no lead is safe from Hembree). While the Yankees were rained out yesterday, the win still kept the Sox in second place since they’re 0.002 percentage points behind the Yankees having played six more games than New York thus far. The quirks of a long baseball season...

It's been great to see the Sox offense produce in the absence of Betts. Benintendi has been carrying a lot of the load and he went 2-5 with an RBI and two runs scored, but just about everyone contributed. Boston had fifteen hits while Houston only had five, and everyone chipped in apart from JD Martinez (who left the game in the ninth with what looked to be tightness in his back...concerning...) and Jackie Bradley (three strikeouts...I hope he's not reverting back to his early season form!). Bogaerts went 2-5, Holt was 2-4, Travis, Leon, and Swihart all had a hit, and Moreland and Eduardo Nunez both went 3-4. And I haven't even talked about the pitching yet...Rick Porcello went 6.1 innings, striking out five and walking two. All five Houston hits were off of him and he gave up three runs (two of them earned). Matt Barnes and Hembree kept Houston hitless for the final 2.2 innings of the game. With no need to use Kimbrel and an off day Monday, he should be fresh and ready to go when the Sox start their next series against the Tigers.

All in all, a successful series against the Astros which showed all of us that the Sox are for real and will be a contender to be reckoned with all season.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Game 59: Red Sox at Houston Astros (June 2, 2018)

Let me tell you, after a full day of being out in the hot sun I was ready to relax inside and watch this Sox game. My oldest daughter had four tournament games and I had to coach my son's rec game, so by the time the Sox and Astros started, I was exhausted! The pitching matchup of David Price and Justin Verlander looked good on paper, but with the way Verlander has been pitching and how maddeningly inconsistent Price has been since he joined the Red Sox, it didn't seem like it would go Boston's way. As the old saying goes, that why they play the games...

For the first time in this series, the Sox got on the board first when JD Martinez drove in Andrew Benintendi with an RBI single in the first inning. As has been the team's bugaboo for the last few years, though, they gave it right back in the next inning when Marwin Gonzalez drove in Yuri Gurriel with a triple. When Alex Bregman hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the third to put Houston up 3-1, it looked like the Astros were going to run away with it. Thankfully, Price pitched well enough to keep it close so that JD could bring them within a run with another RBI single in the sixth. This was followed by perhaps the biggest hit of the night when Christian Vazquez hit a solo homer in the top of the seventh to tie the game. I call this the biggest hit of the game because the Sox finally tied it up and the momentum seemed to finally be going their way. Later in the inning, Benintendi hit the other biggest hit of the game when he launched a two-run homer to right centerfield to bring in Jackie Bradley and put the Sox up 5-3. Heath Hembree pitched a clean seventh inning and Joe Kelly was mostly good in the eighth, although he did allow Jose Altuve to reach base after which he promptly stole second and third. This was followed by Gurriel driving the reigning AL MVP in to cut the Sox lead to 5-4. Kelly was able to get the final out and Craig Kimbrel shut down the Astros with two strikeouts in the ninth to pick up his 19th save of the season.

David Price held up his end of the deal, going six innings and only giving up three runs on five hits. He struck out seven against only one walk and while he wasn't lights out, he was very, very good. He went toe to toe with Verlander, who also pitched six innings, striking out six and walking two while giving up two runs. With Chris Sale struggling, this outing from Price was just what the Sox needed. Offensively, the heroes of the game were JD, Vazquez, and Benintendi. It was nice to see the Sox get some clutch hits and score some runs with Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia out. Let's hope they can do it one more time to earn a series split when Rick Porcello and Charlie Morton square off in the finale tonight.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Game 58: Red Sox at Houston Astros (June 1, 2018)

So much for winning this series...hopefully the Red Sox can salvage it and get a split, right? I had a rare night with no practices or games to coach, so I enjoyed a nice family dinner with my wife and kids before sitting down to watch the game. With Chris Sale on the mound, I'm sure I wasn't alone in thinking that the Sox were in good shape to win the game, even with Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia out again. How wrong I was...

Sale has historically been very good against Houston, but for whatever reason he just didn't have it in this one. It's part of a more concerning pattern where he's given up twelve runs over his last two starts. A bizarre wild pitch strikeout led to the first Astros run in the bottom of the first which was followed by an RBI single from Yuli Gurriel. Just like that, the Sox were down 2-0. They got one back in the second when Brock Holt drove in Eduardo Nunez with an RBI double, but the Astors got it back off of George Springer's solo homer in the bottom of the third. Gurriel struck again with another RBI to make it 4-1 Astros and it looked like the rout was on. However, Mitch Moreland and JD Martinez hit back-to-back home runs in the fourth to pull the Sox within one. It seemed as though the Sox were going to finally break through and take a lead until the wheels fell off in the eighth inning. Carlos Correa, who has been killing the Sox this series, hit a homer in the eighth which was followed a bit later by Evan Gattis' two-run homer to blow it open for the Astros, 7-3. That's how it ended as the Sox dropped their second straight. With the Yankees winning, the Sox are now a half game out of first place in the division.

There were a number of concerning things to come out of this game. Chris Sale again didn't pitch up to his high standards. He went six innings and struck out six while only walking one, but the four runs he gave up were not what we expected at all. Joe Kelly seemed to revert back to his early season form, giving up three runs on two homers. Offensively, there wasn't much to write home about apart from Moreland and JD going back-to-back and Jackie Bradley pushing his season average to .200 with another hit. Even more bad news came out after the game when it was announced that both Mookie (oblique strain) and Pedroia (left knee soreness) were placed on the 10-day DL. For Mookie, I am hoping this is just precautionary and I'm not too worried (at the moment) given how young and durable he is, but for Pedroia I can't help but wonder if this is the end of the road for him. This is the knee he had surgery on and rehabbed all winter and spring and for him to go on the DL only a week after coming back, especially given his age, is very worrying.

It won't get any easier tonight with David Price going up the always-tough Justin Verlander. Even by his historically high standards, Verlander is pitching incredibly this season. We in Red Sox Nation hope Price and the bats are up to the task because if not, the Sox are going to drop this series and fall further behind the Yankees in the division.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Game 57: Red Sox at Houston Astros (May 31, 2018)

No Mookie, no Pedroia, no problem? That was the big news last night before the game started. Mookie Betts was held out for a fifth straight game with the "side tightness" the team keeps mentioning, while Pedroia was a late scratch with knee soreness. Seeing as the soreness is in the same knee he had surgery on and rehabbed all spring, that's not good news. Losing two of your best players and going up the defending champion Astros on the road made it seem even more daunting. Add in the maddening Drew Pomeranz as the Sox starter, and this had all the makings of a disappointing game...and it was.

I was coaching my son's travel team but because of the game's 8:00pm start, I was able to watch most of it when I got home. Things looked grim when the Astros went up 2-0 in the bottom of the first on Carlos Correa's two run homer, but the Sox tied it on Xander Bogaerts' two RBI double in the top of the third and it looked like we had a ballgame. They couldn't hold the lead, however, as in the bottom of the fourth the Astros pushed two more runs across on an RBI single by Tony Kemp and RBI bunt from Jake Marisnick. Things got a bit tense in the bottom of the eighth when Sox reliever Steven Wright had the bases loaded, but they got the force out at home and then Wright struck out Marwin Gonzalez after going down 3-0 in the count to escape. The Sox threatened in the top of the ninth when they had two on and two outs thanks to walks to Jackie Bradley and Brock Holt, but Blake Swihart lined out to end the game and the Sox went down 4-2. With the Yankees idle, the Sox only lost a half game in the standings and are still ahead by 1.5 games. 

It was a pretty light hitting night for the Sox overall, with the team only getting six: two from Andrew Benintendi and one each from Bradley, Bogaerts, Devers, and Leon. This is where Mookie is sorely addition to his stellar production, he's the sparkplug and energy at the top of the order that the team feeds off of. This team is still dangerous when he's out, but it's not the same. He's a special player and any time he's out of the lineup, it completely changes the tenor of the game. The pitching was also weak, with Pomeranz giving up those four runs in five innings of work. He struck out five and walked two while giving up six hits, and surprisingly did it all in less than 100 pitches (he threw 87 in this one). Still, he continued to nibble and just didn't look sharp at all. I'm not sure how much longer the team can keep sending him out there every fifth game when it puts them in such a hole each time. Unless he starts rounding into form soon (one more start? two? three?), it might be time (as I've said countless times before) to send him to the bullpen or the DL so they can figure out what his issue is and whether it's mental or physical. Whatever the problem, it's just hurting the team at this point. 

Chris Sale will be on the mound for the Sox tonight so hopefully this skid ends at one game and the Sox can get that winning momentum back after sweeping the Blue Jays. I'd be happy with a split this series, especially on the road. It should be a good one tonight!

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Game 56: Toronto Blue Jays at Red Sox (May 30, 2018)

Another rare midweek day game...maybe they're not as rare as I think? I was able to listen to the game on the radio as I worked which is a treat I enjoy whenever the Sox play on a weekday afternoon.

With a big four game series in Houston starting the next day, the Red Sox still had a game against the Blue Jays to wrap up the series. Eduardo Rodriguez looked to bounce back from his last few disappointing starts while the Sox would have to continue to hit without Mookie Betts who was held out again as a precaution (Mookie should be back in the lineup for the Houston series). That wouldn't prove to be a problem as the offense again came through with run support. The suddenly hot Jackie Bradley got the Sox into the scoring column with an RBI double in the third and Eduardo Nunez added a solo homer in the fifth to make it 2-0. With the way Rodriguez was cruising along, it seemed that might be all the offense the Sox needed, but in the top of the sixth Teoscar Hernandez hit a two run homer to tie the game up at 2. That was quickly erased when JD Martinez hit an moonshot to left centerfield with Andrew Benintendi on base to put the Sox back up by two runs. With that home run, JD tied Mike Trout for the league lead with 18 homers. The Sox added some insurance runs with Nunez' flare RBI double to right field and Brock Holt's RBI single in the eighth. It was a good thing, too, because the Jays got two back in the top of the ninth off of Craig Kimbrel who inherited runners while again had to come into the game to clean up someone else's mess (more on that below). After that, Craig got the final outs and the Sox held on to win the game 6-4 and earned the series sweep. Unfortunately, the Yankees also won so the division lead stayed at two games. 

Eduardo Rodriguez pitched very well, going 6.2 innings on 100 pitches, striking out seven and only walking one while allowing 2 runs on three hits. Matt Barnes pitched an inning and a third of strong relief. Once again, though, Brian Johnson screwed things up and forced the Red Sox to use Craig Kimbrel for the second straight day when they shouldn't have had to. Heading into the ninth with a four run lead, Kimbrel again had to come in to clean up somebody's mess, entering the game with runners on the corner and no outs. Kimbrel was squeezed by the umpire on a full count to load the bases with no outs. After giving up an RBI double (both runs were charged to Johnson), he settled down and earned his 18th save of the season. I'm not sure why Johnson is still on the roster apart from being out of options, because he is atrocious and has been just about every time he comes into a game. Why Cora continues to go to him apart from him bring a lefty I'll never understand, but I hope we don't see him in any situations other than blowout wins or losses. By having to use Kimbrel in the ninth when they didn't plan on it two games in a row, I hope it doesn't impact his availability in the next series against Houston. On a positive note, Jackie Bradley continued his torrid week by going 2-3 with an RBI and has just about gotten his average (.196) over the Mendoza Line. Blake Swihart surprisingly started at first and shocked me by going 2-3 as well...I'm not sure why he got the start other than to give Moreland a day off, but that was an unexpected surprise. With Mookie coming back to start the Houston series, I hope Cora can get back to putting our best lineups on the field.

This next series against the Astros should be exciting! Four games against the defending champs will be a great test for the Red Sox and with the Astros on a bit of a skid, it just might be the perfect time for the Sox to be facing them. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Game 55: Toronto Blue Jays at Red Sox (May 29, 2018)

For the third straight game, Mookie Betts was absent from the lineup with the word from the Red Sox being that he'll miss two more games as a precaution. I'm hoping that they're just being overly cautious and that it's not something more serious because losing him for any extended time would be a huge blow to the team. I was able to tune into the game about halfway through after getting back home from my oldest daughter's game. With the always tough Blue Jays at Fenway Park for two more games, I was hoping the Sox could take one more in order to win the series. As if hearing my thoughts, they didn't disappoint.

Rick Porcello got the start for the Sox and he was very good, pitching 6.2 strong innings. He struck out five against two walks and gave up five hits and three runs (two of them earned). He did give up a home run, something he's had trouble with over the last few seasons, but in all it was a solid effort as he ran his record to 7-2 and his ERA to 3.65. Given his rather poor previous starts in the last week or two, this was a welcome sight. It was the offensive explosion in this game, though, that paced the Sox and propelled them to the win. Mitch Moreland got things started in the bottom of the first with an RBI double; this was promptly followed by JD Martinez driving Moreland in with an RBI double of his own. In keeping with the theme, Andrew Benintendi continued to stay red hot with an RBI double in the second to make it 3-0 Boston. Porcello gave up the aforementioned homer to Justin Smoak in the fourth, but the Sox got that run back in the bottom of the inning when Jackie Bradley hit an RBI single. Bradley's emergence from his slump is so nice to see and a reminder than baseball is a long season with peaks and valleys, some more pronounced than others. For everyone who wanted to give up on him a few weeks ago, I hope there's been a change of heart, however slight. Sandy Leon chipped in with an RBI single in the sixth and also smacked a two-run homer via a line drive in the eighth, while Xander Bogaerts added a solo shot of his own in the bottom of the seventh. Those eight runs were all the Sox were need...even two runs given up due to a Porcello throwing error in the seventh didn't hurt. The Sox won by the same score as the previous night, 8-3, although it got a bit hairy in the top of the ninth when Hector Velazquez let the Jays load the bases with no outs. That was a shame as the Sox had warmed Kimbrel up in the eighth before sitting him down after Leon hit his home run. With Velazquez getting into that jam, the Sox needed Kimbrel to bail them out and he promptly retired the side without allowing any runs to score, earning his 17th save of the season in the process.

With the win, the Sox take yet another series with the chance to sweep. Lately, they've had trouble closing out a series with a sweep so it'll be interesting to see how they fare with Eduardo Rodriguez on the mound in the finale (which is a rare midweek day game). Boston also looked well on their way to adding a game to their division lead last night with the Yankees down 5-3 to the Astros in the ninth inning, but unfortunately New York came back to win and keep the division lead at two games. It's a tough situation for Red Sox fans to be in with a four game series against Houston coming up next: would we rather have the Astros help us out by beating the Yankees, or have the Yankees help us out by beating up on the Astros? It's just another reminder that in sports, just as in life, you can only control what you can control, so it doesn't work to sweat what anyone else is doing. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Game 54: Toronto Blue Jays at Red Sox (May 28, 2018)

First of all, I hope everyone enjoyed the Memorial Day weekend and took some time to reflect on the meaning behind the day and to be thankful for our freedoms as we remembered those who lost their lives fighting for it. I spent the day with my family at a cookout with friends, enjoying the hot and humid weather (well, sitting in the shade enjoying cold beers and conversation!) while my kids played kickball, whiffle ball, and dodge ball with their friends. This was followed up by taking my oldest two daughters to the cages so that one could practice her catching with a pitcher friend while I threw BP to the other. With such a busy day, I managed to follow the Sox game on my phone and watch the highlights as they happened and I liked what I saw, especially after yesterday's disappointment.

David Price got the start in this one and as usual, I had no idea what to expect. With Mookie Betts missing a second straight game due to "side tightness," I was concerned the lineup would again have no pop, but thankfully Cora had JD Martinez and Rafael Devers back in their rightful places. Once again, though, it was the red hot Andrew Benintendi who was the star of the day. He had a 3-5 day with 4 RBI and a run scored, but nothing was bigger than his three-run homer in the bottom of the fourth. Prior to this, JD drove in a run on a fielder's choice in the first inning to get the Sox on the board first, but Kendrys Morales tied it up for the Jays in the top of the fourth. In the bottom of that inning, Brock Holt drove in a run on a sacrifice fly followed by a Jackie Bradley RBI double to make it 3-1 Sox. Then Benintendi hit his blast to put the Sox up big, 6-1. That was all the support Price needed...even giving up a run in the fifth didn't matter, and the Sox got it right back in the bottom of the inning when JD hit his 17th home run, a solo shot, to tie Mookie for the league lead and make it 7-2 Red Sox. Benintendi added one more RBI with a triple in the bottom of the sixth (finishing the game a double short of the cycle) to give the Sox eight runs and while the Jays got one in the seventh, it didn't matter as the Sox cruised to the 8-3 win. With the Yankees losing to Houston, the Sox lead in the AL East went back up to two games. 

David Price was solid but not spectacular, going only five innings on 95 pitches, striking out four but also walking four against four hits and two earned runs. Heath Hembree and Steven Wright both pitched two innings of relief and were aided by some excellent defense, none better than Jackie's incredible catch in deep centerfield in the triangle. If you haven't seen it yet, go watch a highlight video of it now because it was one the best catches I've ever seen. With his bat now starting to heat up (he was 1-3 with two runs scored, a walk, and an RBI double) and his always stellar defense, the Sox lineup is becoming even more potent. Everyone got at least one hit today except for Brock Holt, but he still chipped in with two walks and an RBI on a sac fly. If the Sox are able to do this on a consistent basis, even with Mookie out, just imagine what they can do once he's back? Granted this was only one game (and against a Tornoto team that is fading fast), but this bodes very well for the big series coming up in a few days against the defending champion long as the Astros can keep beating the Yankees before we play them! 

Monday, May 28, 2018

Game 53: Atlanta Braves at Red Sox (May 27,2018)

First of all, I hope we all take some time on this Memorial Day to reflect upon and honor those who gave their lives so that we could have our freedom. It's always a particularly somber day for me as I lost a great-uncle who I never met in WWII and a childhood friend in Iraq. With that being said, yesterday (Sunday) was the day before Memorial Day and another busy one for me and my family as I first coached my son's travel team in the second day of their tournament on a hot and sweltering day. We then spent the entire afternoon and evening at our friends' house for a cookout and pool party that was capped off by an outdoor showing of The Sandlot. In total, it was a great day.

Sandwiched in between all of that was a Red Sox game that I was able to watch most of in the cool of my air conditioned house. With the Sox taking the first two games of this series and Chris Sale on the mound, it seemed like a sweep was well within reach. Fate had other ideas, though, as Sale had an uncharacteristically poor outing only lasting 4.1 innings. He struck out eight but walked three and gave up six earned runs on five hits, none bigger than Tyler Flowers three run bomb in the top of the second. The Braves added three more runs in the fifth inning to go up 6-0 and with the weak lineup Alex Cora trotted out there, it made the task of coming back against the Braves for a third straight day insurmountable. Mookie Betts was a late scratch from the lineup so the reshuffled outfield had Benintendi in centerfield, Jackie Bradley in right, and Blake Swihart in left. Again, I don't understand what they're trying to do with Swihart at this point, but whatever it is it didn't work for this game. Rafael Devers was back in the lineup, but at DH while Eduardo Nunez took Devers' spot at third base. No JD Martinez and no Mookie meant that this lineup would have to rely on Swihart, Nunez, and a newly returned Pedroia, who was only in his second game back, to pick up the slack. The end result was fairly predictable as the Sox only mustered four hits the entire game and scored a single run off of Mitch Moreland's RBI triple in the sixth. The Braves tacked on another urn in the ninth but it didn't matter as the Sox went down meekly in this one, 7-1. With the Yankees winning, the Sox lead in the division is down to a single game again. In all, a forgettable game but one that didn't hurt too badly as the Sox still took two of three from Atlanta.

I hope that Cora isn't going to start forcing Swihart into the lineup at the expense of other guys who are more productive, especially if the end goal is to just increase his trade value. I know it's only been two games since Hanley Ramirez was jettisoned, but he went from being the 25th guy on the bench to all of a sudden starting two games which seems a little strange to me. As cliche as it sounds, every game counts this season. The Yankees are going to be breathing down our necks all summer and this Red Sox team can't afford to experiment with lineups at the expense of winning games or losing ground in the division. I'm going to temper my concern at the risk of coming off too reactionary since it's only been two games so far, but this is something I'm definitely going to keep a close eye on as the most important part of the season (June through August) unfolds before us.

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.