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.

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!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Game 45: Baltimore Orioles at Red Sox (May 18, 2018)

So much for my hope of Drew Pomeranz bouncing back with a good start this game! What a way to kick off the baseball weekend...the weather rained out a workout my oldest daughter had scheduled with a new travel team, so after a nice family dinner around the table I sat down to watch the game with visions of another drubbing in my head. That's exactly what happened...but it was the wrong team doing it.

When Drew Pomeranz walked the first batter of the game on four straight pitches, I knew it wasn't going to be good and I was proven correct. He lived dangerously for the first few innings, giving up what seemed like a ton of doubles and allowing baserunners into scoring position with either one or no outs. He was able to escape relatively unscathed for a little bit...he gave up a run on a Mark Trumbo fielder's choice with the bases loaded in the first to make it 1-0, a run the Sox quickly got back when Mookie Betts smacked a solo shot over the Green Monster in the third to tie it at 1. However, the wheels fell completely off the cart for Pomeranz in the fourth when he gave up four runs, first on a two-RBI double from Adam Jones, which was followed shortly by a two-RBI single from Manny Machado.  Just like that, it was 5-1 Orioles. At that point, I still wasn't too worried because Orioles starter Alex Cobb was 0-5 on the season and the Red Sox smacked him around last time they faced him...surely the Sox could get those runs back quickly, right? Wrong. They picked up a run on Mookie's RBI double in the bottom of the fifth and another later in the inning on an Andrew Benintendi RBI single, but as has been typical this season, as soon as they started pulling closer the bullpen gave up more runs. This time it was Stephen Wright who gave up a solo shot to Jonathon Schoop in the seventh to push the Baltimore lead back to three runs, 6-3. This was repeated again as Eduardo Nunez drove in Xander Bogaerts in the eighth to cut it to 6-4, but in the ninth Trumbo drove in another run to make it 7-4 Baltimore. That's where it ended as the Sox dropped an entirely winnable game to an awful, awful team. Luckily the Yankees lost so the two teams remain tied atop the AL East.

I think it's safe to say that Pomeranz is not going to have a season like last year and that any concerns over his performance are completely valid (and warranted). He's always had a maddening tendency to nibble around the plate and throw very inefficiently, but his command looked even more suspect than usual tonight. Even Dennis Eckersley was commenting on how bad he looked during the broadcast. He once again only went four innings and forced the Sox to use the bullpen a lot's a good thing David Price went the distance last night. Hell, what we saw tonight was the complete antithesis of what Price did last night. Pomeranz only struck out two and walked three, giving up seven hits (all of them hit HARD) and five runs. It was another forgettable outing in a season full of them for Drew so far. Stephen Wright did well in long relief, pitching 4.2 innings (more innings than Pomeranz!), striking out five and giving up two runs. Unfortunately, the hole Pomeranz put them in was too much to climb out of. As far as the offense, for whatever reason, Cobb stymied them and while the Sox piled up the hits, they couldn't get them when it mattered.  Mookie continued to rake going 3-5, while JD Martinez, Eduardo Nunez, and even Christian Vazquez all chipped in with two hits a apiece. Unfortunately, the tendency of the Red Sox making stupid outs on the basepaths continued tonight: Mookie was doubled up off second base on an embarrassing play straight out of Little League, while Bogaerts was easily thrown out trying to steal second base. The combination of bad baserunning to kill scoring chances combined with shaky starting pitching was too much to overcome. Also, Jackie Bradley looked as hopeless as ever, going 0-2 with two strikeouts on very short at bats. I don't know what his deal is this season, but it's starting to look more and more like he may not ever snap out of it. He's got 117 more games to figure it out, assuming they give him that many more chances.

All in all, a forgettable game and another in a month-long string of bad performances against bad teams. The Sox are 13-13 since their 17-2 start and are 2-3 on this homestand when in all honestly they should be 5-0 or close to it based on the quality of their two opponents. The trend of playing down to the level of their competition has  to be as frustrating for them as it is for me. I confess that I'm not sure that I have faith in them snapping out of it for these last two games against the Orioles...we'll see how it pans out this weekend.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Game 44: Baltimore Orioles at Red Sox (May 17, 2018)

Wow, I did not see that coming! If you had told me before this game that David Price would pitch an absolute gem, even against a struggling team like Baltimore, I wouldn't have believed you yet that's exactly what he did. After the disappointing way the Red Sox opened up this homestand by dropping two of three to Oakland, I had no idea what to expect when the Orioles came to town. Given Price's recent struggles and the ridiculousness of the whole video games/carpal tunnel story from last week, nothing would have surprised me...except for what ended up happening.

After a long day at work and then coaching my son's travel baseball team, I got home to see the Red Sox take an early lead off of JD Martinez' two-run homer in the bottom of the first. He has been absolutely scorching with the bat over the last few weeks...this is the guy we were hoping to get during the offseason and he hasn't disappointed. He did have to leave the game later with what was described as "an illness," but after the game Alex Cora said it was precautionary and that he should be back in the lineup for the next game. Andrew Benintendi drove in Jackie Bradley with a sacrifice fly in the fifth to make it 3-0, and then Xander Bogaerts gave a repeat of last night's performance by crushing a three-run homer over the Green Monster later in the inning to open it up to 6-0. Three-run homers on back-to-back nights...I think Xander is back to where he was before he injured his ankle in April. That was all the offense David Price would need as he absolutely cruised through the game. It was one of the most efficient and dominant performances he's had in a Red Sox uniform. Price went the distance, throwing a complete game without walking anyone, striking out eight and only surrendering five hits (two of which were in the top of the ninth). He did it all on only 95 pitches and was this close to tossing a shutout. After giving up a double in the ninth, he had two outs and two strikes on Manny Machado before Manny belted a homer over the Monster to make it 6-2. Price got the next batter to fly out to centerfield and the game was over. I was hoping to see him get the shutout, but the win was the most important thing. Additionally, by going the distance Price gave the bullpen a much needed night off, which is something they needed with all of the 4-6 inning starts the starters have been turning in lately. Since Drew Pomeranz is due to start the next game, it's good that they'll be well-rested since anything more than five innings from him is a bonus.

The Red Sox offense was solid in this one...besides the homers from JD and Xander, Mookie Betts went 3-4 (raising his average to .364), Hanley Ramirez and Xander both went 2-4, and we even got some production from the catcher spot thanks to Sandy Leon's 2-4 night. Jackie Bradley continued to struggle, going 0-3 with a walk and a run scored, but his defense in centerfield was a joy to watch as usual. If he could finally get on one of his hot streaks at the plate, this offense would be even better than it is. Due to the Yankees being idle again last night, the Sox pulled into a tie for first place in the division with this win. With three more home games against the O's before they hit the road, the Sox should be able to keep pace with or vault over the Yankees in the standings. The main things I'll be looking in the next game are whether Pomeranz bounces back after his disappointing previous start and if the offense continues to heat up. Could the next hot stretch of baseball be right around the corner for these Red Sox? We shall see...

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Game 43: Oakland Athletics at Red Sox (May 16, 2018)

Heading into this game, I wanted to see two things: A) Chris Sale have another dominant pitching performance and B) the Red Sox avoid getting swept at home. Thankfully, the Sox won and avoided what would have been an embarrassing sweep at home, but Sale didn't look great (by his standards). It looked as though he was going to be the recipient of poor run support again before the team finally opened up a lead for him in the middle of the game. It was a rare night off for me, with no practices or games to coach, so after spending some time with my oldest at the cages getting some work in we got home and settled in to relax and watch the game.

On what was another cold and damp night at Fenway Park, Chris Sale pitched only five innings and really seemed to labor just to make it that far. He struck out nine, but also walked four and gave up a couple of runs. Nothing looked like it came easy for him and whether his control issues were caused by the weather or whether he was purposely nibbling around the plate the way Drew Pomeranz frustratingly does, Sale racked up a lot of pitches (80+ after four innings) and only went five. I know I hammer the Sox bullpen for their poor performance, and rightfully so as they've been maddeningly inconsistent, but at the same time I'll acknowledge that with the starters routinely only going 4-6 innings, the relievers are logging a lot of innings. Gone are the days of my youth (and before) when pitchers almost always went 6-8 innings and the relievers only had to pitch an inning or two. I'm not even that old (not quite 40) and pitching has changed so much since I was growing up. Guys throw fewer pitches, fewer innings, and yet they still seem to get hurt more often (and more seriously) than they used to. But I digress...after Sale left the game, Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree, and Joe Kelly came on in relief. One of these pitchers gave up a run on a solo homer...can you guess who? (Hint: his initials are H. H.). Given his track record, I'm not sure why Cora continues to put Hembree out there, but the fact of the matter is that he's an unreliable and mostly ineffective pitcher who I'd like to see a lot less of as the season goes on. No lead is safe from him, not even four runs. Craig Kimbrel came in for the ninth inning and picked up his 12th save, although he too gave up a solo homer. At least the Sox had built a large enough lead by then to withstand the two runs the bullpen gave up.

As for the offense, Hanley Ramirez started off the scoring for the Sox in the bottom of the first by driving Mookie Betts in, which was promptly followed by JD Martinez blasting a two-run homer to give the Sox an early 3-0 lead after one inning. JD has been red hot the last couple of weeks and I hope this is a sign of things to come as we head into the summer. If the Sox can get the kind of production out of him that he had last season, that would be a huge help. The A's got a couple of those runs back when Marcus Semien hit a two-run shot of his own in the third and it was starting to look like the Sox were just snakebitten against Oakland this season. Xander Bogaerts thankfully gave the Sox some much needed breathing room when he crushed a three-run homer over the Green Monster in the bottom of the sixth to open up the lead to 6-2. It was a good thing, since Matt Joyce hit the aforementioned solo shot off of Hembree in the seventh and Matt Olson hit his in the ninth off of Kimbrel. The Sox held on to win 6-4, but personally it never felt like a comfortable win until the final out. For whatever reason, the A's have played the Red Sox incredibly tough this season, winning both series against them and finishing the season with a 4-2 record.

It certainly wasn't the way I'd hoped or expected the Red Sox to start off this homestand and it seems like a huge missed opportunity to pick up some games in the standings with the Yankees being constantly rained out this week (their game last night against Washington was suspended due to weather). As it stands right now, the Sox are a half game out of first and begin a four game series with the dreadful Orioles tonight (tonight was originally an off-day, but they're making up a rained out game from April). I know I've been saying it all season, but these games against the cellar dwellers are the ones the Sox need to win. Teams like the O's are the ones you should feast on to pad your record with wins so that you can go head to head with other contenders without needing to sweep every series just to stay in the race. After this four game set against Baltimore, the Sox play a series against Tampa Bay (again? This will be the fourth series against the Rays already this season!) who always play them tough, followed by three more series against very good teams in the Astros, Braves (I hate interleague play), and Blue Jays. Now that they've gone 12-12 since the 17-2 start, I'm hoping the Sox can shake out of this recent rut and get back to playing winning baseball on a consistent basis. There's no time better to start than tonight against Baltimore.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Game 42: Oakland Athletics at Red Sox (May 15, 2018)

On a night when the Celtics played up to the level of their competition and won a thrilling Game 2 in their Eastern Conference Finals series, the Red Sox played down to the level of their competition and lost yet again to the sub-.500 A's. The game was delayed ninety minutes due to rain so the first pitch wasn't until 8:30pm, the same time that the Celtics and Cavaliers tipped off across town at the Boston Garden. I spent most of the night flipping between the two, although I confess I watched mainly the Celtics game before switching for good to the Sox in the seventh inning after the C's were finished. From what I was seeing early in the Sox game, though, I didn't miss anything worth watching.

What this game was from the beginning was ugly. Eduardo Rodriguez started for the Sox and only got through five innings on 98 pitches. He struck out four and didn't walk anybody, but gave up three earned runs and made everything look like a real chore. He gave up a two-RBI double to Matt Chapman in the first and a solo home run to Stephen Piscotty in the second, and that 3-0 lead just felt insurmountable all night (and it was). JD Martinez scored in the fourth and Andrew Benintendi hit a solo homer in the fifth to cut it to 3-2, but as has been this team's bane of late, they let the lead get away from them shortly after. Stephen Wright made his return from the DL and pitched 2.1 innings of effective relief, although he left the game after giving up two consecutive singles in the eighth. Bobby Poyner, also back from the DL, came in and promptly gave up a two-RBI double to Mark Canha to make it 5-2 A's. Mookie Betts drove in Rafael Devers on a groundout in the ninth, but the Red Sox again went quietly and dropped this game 5-3. With the loss, the Sox have lost the series and fall another half game behind the idle Yankees (who were rained out). The Yankees now have a one game lead in the division and they didn't even have to play a game.

It's officially time to be concerned with this team. Since the 17-2 start, they've now played sub-.500 baseball, going 11-12. They continue to play down to the level of their competition...coming into this series, Oakland was 19-21 yet they're now a .500 team thanks to these two wins. The fact that the Red Sox have lost two very winnable games at home is enough of a cause for concern, but how they've looked doing it has been even worse. The starting pitching has been bad, the bullpen continues to quickly let games get away from them, and there are still too many mental lapses. In this one, it was Andrew Benintendi making yet another out on the basepaths when he overran third base, got caught in a pickle, and was easily picked off to end the first inning. It's a shame, too, because in addition to his homer he had a 3-5 night and has been swinging a hot bat lately. Mookie Betts, though, went 0-5, which is not going to help, especially when he's the leadoff hitter. Xander Bogaerts and Mitch Moreland both had two hit nights, but the team's situational hitting has been non-existent lately and the aggressive-but-smart approach at the plate that scored so many runs in April has morphed back into the long (and unproductive) at bats of previous seasons.

As if all of this wasn't bad enough, word came through before the game that Carson Smith suffered what could be a "significant" injury to his throwing shoulder last game when he...threw his glove down in the dugout. Folks, you just cannot make this stuff up and as I've said for my entire life, this type of stuff could only happen to the Red Sox. I guess one way of looking at it is that it's just another way in which the bullpen is letting this team down as Smith was one of the few (relatively) consistently effective relief pitchers the team has. Now we'll have to hope Wright can take his place for the near future. With Chris Sale pitching tonight, I hope they can avoid the series sweep, but given how they supported him in his last start, I don't have any idea of what to expect. One thing is for sure: we'll see how different of a manager Alex Cora really is from John Farrell by how he navigates the team through this stretch. Losing the first two games of a homestand to Oakland is inexcusable, but getting swept would be even worse. We'll know a lot more about the 2018 Red Sox tomorrow, that's for sure. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Game 41: Oakland Athletics at Red Sox (May 14, 2018)

After coaching my son's baseball game in sweltering heat and humidity (and it's only mid-May!), it was time to relax and catch the Sox as they opened a new series against the A's. I got home and turned the game on in the fourth inning after following the game via phone updates from the ballfield. This was a prime opportunity to start off the short homestand with a win against a mediocre opponent and to get some revenge on A's starter Sean Manaea for no-hitting the Sox back in April. However, by the time I turned the game on in the fourth, the Sox were already trailing 4-2 and the lead would remain just out of their grasp for the rest of the game.

Undefeated 2018 Rick Porcello looked more like 2017 Rick Porcello in this game when he gave up a first inning home run to Matt Joyce, but thankfully Andrew Benintendi tied it in the the third with an RBI single to drive in Mookie Betts. The Sox even took the lead when Hanley Ramirez drove in Benintendi with an RBI single of his own. Unfortunately, the 2-1 Red Sox lead was short lived and would be their only one of the night. A's catcher Jonathan Lucroy smacked a two-RBI double the next inning to put the A's ahead for good and Dustin Fowler then hit a triple to drive in Lucroy. This was the moment I got home and turned the game was 4-2 Oakland and they'd never trail again. The Sox kept chipping away, but every time they pulled within a run Oakland would add another to increase the lead back to two. Hanley drove in a run in the fifth to make it 4-3, but Matt Olson hit a solo homer the next inning to make it 5-3. Rafael Devers hit a solo homer in the seventh to make it 5-4, but the next inning Khris Davis hit a solo homer (on the very first pitch Carson Smith threw) to make it 6-4. Can you see where this is going? In the bottom of the eighth JD Martinez hit a solo homer to make it 6-5, but the Sox couldn't do anything after that and went very quickly to finish that inning and the ninth. The final score was 6-5 and with the Yankees idle, the Sox now sit a half game out of first place.

Rick Porcello was handed his first loss of the season and didn't look particularly sharp. He pitched six innings and struck out five without walking any, but he also gave up nine hits and five earned runs which is just dismal. He was due for a bad start after his hot start and this was it. As for the always shaky bullpen, the script was flipped this game with Heath Hembree and Brian Johnson surprisingly effective while but Carson Smith was not. Smith's very first pitch Khris Davis was belted over the fence for a homer that ended up being the difference in the game, once again showing how this bullpen has cost them games and will continue to do so until something drastically changes. As for the offense, while scoring five runs is fine, the aggressiveness at the plate that has served them so well thus far seemed to be detrimental this game. They gave Oakland a lot of easy 1-2-3 innings by hacking away at the first pitch or when they were early in the count. It was just one game so it's nothing to be concerned overly about, but it was definitely noticeable. Everyone got at least one hit except for Xander Bogaerts (who has definitely cooled down after coming back from his injury) and Blake Swihart who started at DH. What to make of Swihart? He went 0-4 and looked bad each and every at bat. Going back a few years, I've never been particularly high on the guy...he was never good enough defensively as a catcher to play in the big leagues and his bat was never enough to compensate. The reason he's even on the team taking up a roster spot this season has been confusing as it's apparent Cora has zero confidence in him as a catcher or even as a substitute outfielder. He's also not really needed at DH with Hanley and JD flip-flopping in that spot. So why is he even on the team? If it's simply because he's out of options, that seems a pretty poor reason given that it's a spot that could be better used for another legitimate bat off the bench (or even a serviceable reliever). I don't know the reasons but I hope we don't see him in the lineup  unless he's our absolute last resort.

After the 17-2 start, the Sox seem to be settling into the same kind of aggravating ball they've played the last two seasons: stretches where they look unbeatable alternating with stretches where they seem to sleepwalk. Realizing that it's a long season and you can't win them all, it's still unacceptable to me that they would open a homestand against a middling team (Oakland was 19-21 before the game) with such a flat performance. The Yankees have been beating up on good teams (albeit while playing the most home games in the majors so far) while the Sox have been struggling with the middle and lower tier teams. I've no doubt they'll bounce back (hopefully starting tonight), but it sure is frustrating seeing a team this talented sstruggling to play consistent baseball after that hot start. Since the no-hitter in Oakland that stopped their 17-2 start, the Sox have played .500 ball with an 11-11 record. We now know they weren't really as good as 17-2, but they're also not as bad as 11-11. We're a quarter of the way through the season, so it's time for them to put it all together on a daily basis and play up to the level of their talent, not down to the level of their competition.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Game 40: Red Sox at Toronto Blue Jays (May 13, 2018)

First of all, a very Happy Mother's Day yesterday to all of the moms out there, including the special ones in my life. The kids and I had a relaxing day around the house and took care of Mrs. Chemist, making her lunch and dinner, some cupcakes, and letting her relax however she wanted to. I had time to watch the Sox game in the afternoon and as I sat down on the couch, I was hoping that they could continue their solid play and leave Toronto with a series win.

Drew Pomeranz started for the Sox and even though he didn't get the win his last start in the Bronx, he pitched very well so I was hoping he would carry that over against this less fearsome Blue Jays lineup. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. I used to complain about how Jon Lester used to labor just to get through five or six innings, but Pomeranz makes Lester look like Chris Sale. EVERY INNING of this start was an absolute slog, with Pom only pitching four full innings and topping 100 pitches. He pitched into the fifth before being lifted having not recorded an out so he wasn't eligible for the win and while he struck out six, he also walked five and was responsible for three earned runs. That was a shame because to that point the Sox had built a 4-0 lead for him. JD Martinez continued to swing a hot bat by crushing a two-run homer to rightfield in the first, and he added an RBI single in the fifth to drive in Mookie Betts. Combined with Mitch Moreland walking with the bases loaded after an epic battle of an at bat, the Sox were sitting pretty at 4-0 as the bottom of the fifth started. However, Toronto would pick up three on a Justin Smoak RBI double that drove in two runs followed by Russell Martin driving in Smoak. It remained that tight until Xander Bogaerts drove in Andrew Benintendi in the eighth for a much needed insurance run. The bullpen was surprisingly good in this game, with Hector Velazquez, Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree (no joke), and Joe Kelly combining to hold the Jays scoreless and preserve the 5-3 win. Unfortunately, the Yankees annoyingly won again, so the two teams remain tied atop the division.

What else can I say about Drew Pomeranz? When the Sox game started at 1pm, I figured it would be just about over when the Celtics game started at 3:30pm, but it still had another hour to go when the C's tipped off! The guy has some nasty stuff, but he works so slowly that it's almost enough to drive me crazy. I typically resist any efforts by MLB to change the game in order to speed up the pace of play unless it means reducing the commercial breaks (which is never going to happen), but maybe Rob Manfred could ban Pomeranz from pitching instead (I kid, I kid). He has a tendency to nibble around the plate which makes for long at bats and really runs up his pitch count. Any time he gets into the sixth inning is a shock. For his sake and the team's, I hope the coaches can somehow teach the guy to be more efficient and to attack hitters more. He's got the stuff to do it, especially with that incredible curveball he has...he just needs to harness it properly and efficiently. 

Offensively, the team continued to get the hits (mostly) when they needed them. Mookie Betts continued his torrid season with two hits and also made a spectacular diving catch to end an inning. JD Martinez drove in three of the five Red Sox runs and even Jackie Bradley got a hit and scored a run (no, seriously!). Bradley also made a couple of excellent plays in centerfield, showing us why he needs to get his hitting in order so that he can be back in the lineup on an everyday basis. One last note on this game...the Sox were VERY aggressive on the bases, stealing four times on Jays catcher Martin (two for Mookie, one for Benintendi, and one for Bradley). Brock Holt got caught stealing third which was a bit surprising because Martin's weak arm was the reason the Sox ran like crazy, but the replay showed Brock didn't even get a jump...he just took off from his standing lead. I hope to see more of this at long as it's done smartly (Holt's was not a good idea...he had hit a leadoff double and it ended up costing the Sox a chance for an easy run as Bradley hit a single right after). Overall, though, the baserunning has been better as of late so let's hope that continues.

Starting tonight is a seven game homestand (including a make-up game from earlier in the season) against two bad teams, Oakland and Baltimore. As I said yesterday, this is a good stretch for the Sox to feast on two bad teams and pile up some wins. It'd also be nice to get a little revenge on Athletic's pitcher Sean Manaea, who no-hit them in Oakland a few weeks should be a good game with Rick Porcello on the mound for the Sox. I can't wait! 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Game 39: Red Sox at Toronto Blue Jays (May 12, 2018)

As the stink of the previous game still lingered, I was fully prepared for the Sox to either win this one or lose it in gruesome fashion. Anyone who has been a fan from before they broke the curse will tell you that winning a few World Series in the last fifteen years didn't take that ingrained mentality away. I had a busy day yesterday coaching softball in the morning and baseball after lunch, but I was home in time to catch this game from the first pitch. With David "Video Game" Price on the mound and Fortnite-gate still swirling around, I fully expected the worst, but thankfully he exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations as well as those o, I suspect, the majority of Red Sox Nation.

The Sox got the scoring started in the third inning with an Andrew Benintendi double that drove in Mookie Betts. Hanley Ramirez followed this up with a two-run homer to quickly make it 3-0 and it looked like the Sox were on their way to an easy victory, especially because Price looked surprisingly good. Not great, but good. He cruised through the first five innings and only gave up two runs, although he did walk three against only six strikeouts. An RBI single from Rafael Devers in the sixth gave the Sox another run, but an RBI single from the Jays' Anthony Alford in the fourth and a solo homer from Justin Smoak in the sixth cut it to a 4-2 Red Sox lead. The bullpen came in after 5.1 innings from Price and managed to hold the Jays scoreless the rest of the way, even though there were a few threats. Carson Smith, Hector Velazquez, and Joe Kelly held down the fort until the ninth. In the top of that inning, Andrew Benintendi drove in an insurance run to push the lead to 5-2 and that's how it would end. Craig Kimbrel struck out two and nailed down the save as the Sox atoned for their awful loss the night before.

There were a lot of good things to take away from this game, most notably Price's performance. While it wasn't the performance of someone considered (at least in name only) the #2 starter in this rotation, it was solid and a million miles away from the past few he's had which had been unmitigated disasters. The offense was solid, with everyone hitting except for JD Martinez (0-3, but everyone has a bad day now and then) and Jackie Bradley (0-4...more on this later). Mookie and Benintendi both went 3-5, while Devers went 2-4 and everyone else apart from Jackie and JD chipped in with a hit.  What to make of poor Jackie Bradley, though? He was back in the lineup after a few games on the bench and the hope was that the layoff would help snap him out of his slump. Instead, it only seemed to exacerbate it and made him look even more lost at the plate. The 0-4 was bad, but they included two very ugly strikeouts where even 89 mph fastballs down the middle of the plate blew right past him. He seemed to be quickly down 0-2 in the count every time (and he pretty much was). It was so bad that even Jerry Remy sounded depressed about it on the broadcast. I have no doubt it's just a bad slump, but usually guys in slumps still tend to walk or hit sacrifices to contribute in some small way. When Jackie isn't striking out (24 in his last 50 at-bats, they said on TV), he's not even putting the ball in play effectively. It will be curious to see how much longer (or often) the Sox can afford to keep his struggling bat in the lineup regardless of his defense.  Also, while Price's performance was nice, the whole ridiculous theatre this past week of his carpal tunnel syndrome being attributed to his binge video game playing (of Fortnite in particular) and his ill-advised comments on the matter just further contributed to the strange aura that has swirled around this guy since he came to the team in 2016. As long as he pitches well, fans and the media will (mostly) overlook it, but five innings per start isn't going to cut it, especially for a guy who has been known as a dominant innings-eater throughout his career. The jury is still out on the 2018 version of David Price.

With the Yankees also winning, the Sox remained tied atop the AL East. After the series finale against the Jays come two home series against the A's and Orioles, so if there was ever a time for the Sox to feast on some bad teams and pile up some wins, this coming week is it.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Game 38: Red Sox at Toronto Blue Jays (May 11, 2018)

On a night when Chris Sale pitched nine full innings, didn't walk anyone, gave up only three runs, and struck out fifteen batters you'd think the Red Sox would have won the game, right? Well congratulations, you thought wrong. Because these are the 2018 Red Sox and they have an awful, awful bullpen. I had someone once again tell me I was an idiot because "the numbers" show that it's a top 5 bullpen in MLB. I challenge any of the analytics-heads to watch tonight's game and continue to argue that.  This was a Friday night after a long week at work and a rare night where I didn't have any practices or games to coach. All I wanted to do was relax and watch the game, so to have it pan out the way it did was not how I wanted to go into the weekend...

Beyond Sale's blistering performance, the Sox only managed to muster three runs and six hits against a good but not great starter in Toronto's Aaron Sanchez. The Sox struck early in the first when Mookie Betts scored, but the Jays got it right back in the bottom of the inning. Toronto pushed across another run to go up 2-1 in the second, but the Sox got two in the fourth including a solo home run to straightaway centerfield from Xander Bogaerts to take a 3-2 lead. That's where it stood until the bottom of the seventh when Sale gave up a solo shot to Toronto catcher Luke Maile, who hadn't hit a home run in a calendar year (literally...his last one was in May 2017).  It would remain knotted at 3-3 after the ninth inning. Some excellent defense by the Red Sox (including a textbook cutoff to throw Kevin Pillar out at third when he tried to stretch a double into a triple) kept the game tied up. Matt Barnes and Carson Smith both pitched scoreless innings in extras and the Sox had their chances a few times but couldn't get anything. At that point in the top of the twelfth inning, the camera cut to Brian Johnson warming up in the bullpen. I turned to my two oldest daughters who were watching the game with me and said "if he comes in, we're going to lose...he's terrible." Sure enough, that's exactly what happened. Johnson walked the first batter on four pitches, none of which were even close. His next pitch, to Maile, resulted in the ball ending up on the other side of the centerfield fence. A two-run walkoff home run given up to a guy who hadn't hit any in a year before tonight. I can excuse the first one he hit off of Sale because, well, he's Chris Sale and he struck out fifteen; Brian Johnson gets no such benefit of the doubt. Ballgame over, Jays win 5-3.

The Red Sox missed a golden opportunity to go up a game in the division tonight with the Yankees losing earlier to the Athletics. Chris Sale seems to be afflicted with what Pedro Martinez suffered from: a lack of run support. When your starter only gives up 2-3 runs and is as dominant as Sale, you’d damn well better be winning the game. For those of you who have been fans before 2004, remember how many 2-1 and 3-2 games Pedro used to lose? That’s Chris Sale’s curse so far in his 1+ seasons as a Red Sox pitcher. To pitch the way he did and come away with a No Decision is a travesty.

More than that, though, this was another in a long string of games the bullpen has botched and lost for this team this season. This cannot continue to go on if the Sox want to remain World Series contenders. Carson Smith is actually rounding into form and Craig Kimbrel, despite his occasional hiccups, is an automatic save 99% of the time and one of the top closers in the league. It's the rest of the bullpen that is just consistently inconsistent and usually downright bad.  If you can't get the game from the starter to Kimbrel without giving up the lead, you don't have a bullpen, period. Heath Hembree, Matt Barnes, Brian Johnson, Joe Kelly...these guys have talent but they don't have the mental makeup to harness it in an effective way and time after time, watching them come on in relief is a rollercoaster ride that usually ends badly. At this point, there's nothing the Sox can do except to ride it out and hope that if/when Tyler Thornburg finally throws a major league pitch for the Red Sox that he'll be as good as he was before they traded for him. Since he's never thrown a pitch for the Red Sox, we don't know what we have in him yet, but I've got to believe it's better than what we currently have. Steven Wright is another guy who should be back from injury soon and could help. Right now, these are the only viable options the Sox have because the guys they have right now just aren't cutting it. At all.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Game 37: Red Sox at New York Yankees (May 10, 2018)

Last night's game was another nail-biter in the Bronx to close out the series, and this time the Red Sox held on for the win...finally! I was coaching my son's team and then chatting with the head coach (who is also a good friend) so I got home to turn the game on right before the rain delay. I was in a good mood, though, because from the updates on my phone I saw that the Sox had started off the game strongly. That would change over the next couple of hours, though...

Hanley Ramirez got things started early with an RBI in the first to give the Sox a 1-0 lead. He struck again in the third with another RBI single, driving in Mookie Betts for the second time. Following Andrew Benintendi scoring later in the third, Hanley got in on the act one more time with a solo homer in the fourth to push the Sox lead to 4-0 before the heavens opened up and dumped a ton of rain on Yankee Stadium in the fifth inning. It was a shame, too, because Eduardo Rodriguez was pitching great and the layoff from the delay would eventually force him to leave the game. He ended up going just the full five innings, giving up no runs and striking out eight while only walking three and allowing one hit. As has been usual, though, Heath Hembree came into the game in the seventh and made things much, much worse. He loaded up the bases on two hits and a walk and as has been the norm during his entire Red Sox career, he came into a situation and made it ten times worse. I can't stand this guy and hope the Sox can somehow stop using him or get rid of him. Even a four run lead isn't safe from that guy. Speaking of which...Joe Kelly was called in to clean up Hembree's mess and fared even worse if it can be believed, walking in a run, giving up an RBI single to Judge and an RBI on a fielder's choice to Didi Gregorius, and uncorking a wild pitch that brought in another run. When all was said and done, the score was knotted at four heading into the eighth and I sat there with my mouth open, shaking my head at the horror I had just witnessed. The seventh inning, and the Red Sox middle relief, were both complete disasters. It looked like all of the momentum was shifting the Yankees' way...after only mustering a single hit to that point, their bats had come alive. On a personal level, it brought back far too many flashbacks of the Sox choking away a lead in horrifying fashion and finding yet another way to lose. (For Red Sox fans who came aboard during and after 2004, you won't understand what I mean).  Luckily, JD Martinez reversed the tide with a solo home run in the eighth to put the Sox back in the lead 5-4. Kelly, pitched a clean eighth (with a particularly nasty strikeout to end the inning) and Craig Kimbrel atoned for his disastrous performance the night before and earned his tenth save of the season. Final score, Red Sox 5, Yankees 4.

The win pulled the two teams even in the division and also snapped the Yankees' home winning streak at nine games. Still, I can't help but be disappointed that the Sox didn't take at least one more, if not both of the previous games; again, it's experience of being a Red Sox fan who remembers what it was like before '04 that keeps me cynical. Both were winnable and there for the taking late in the game until the bullpen flat out lost them. It looked like it was going to happen again in this one until JD hit that homer (which wasn't without a little controversy...the replay showed that a fan appeared to reach over the fence and help it over as Judge was trying to make a play on it. While the Yankees didn't challenge it, the fan was kicked out for interference). I suppose it's better to leave New York tied for first than down a game, but the Sox could/should also be up one or two...such is life during a long season. There were some good things to take away from this game (and series): Rodriguez pitched brilliantly, Mookie Betts continued to mash, going 3-4 with two runs scored, Benintendi seems to be getting back to last year's production at the plate, and the offense continues to remain potent and able to usually make the clutch hits when they're needed. However, the bullpen is still a MAJOR issue and as I mentioned yesterday, I reject what the stat-heads say about how good analytics say the bullpen is when my own eyes tell me otherwise on a daily basis.

On a slightly downbeat note, this was the second night in a row that Jackie Bradley sat out and, apart from his stellar defense I can honestly say he wasn't missed. It certainly was nice to not have two gaping holes at the bottom of the order...even with the significant defensive downgrade of having JD in the outfield, it was more than compensated for by having Ramirez, Mitch Moreland, and JD all hitting together. Whether the layoff will help Bradley get his head right with his hitting or whether this is the beginning of the end for him remains to be seen, but right now having him and Christian Vazquez both be automatic outs at the bottom of the order was killing the team. It'll be interesting to see how the Bradley situation plays out over the remainder of the season.

Looking at the bigger picture, I still feel really good about this team. I am viewing it this way: the Sox were red hot to start the season and went 17-2 while the Yankees scuffled; since then the Sox have scuffled while the Yankees have been red hot going 17-1. It's a long season and these sort of things tend to even out over 162 games, so I think both teams are where they belong. This was a fantastic series for so early in the season, with all of the drama and tension you'd expect in September and October, and the division promises to be an total dogfight for the next several months. Anyway, now it's on to Toronto and Chris Sale before we can all collectively hold our breath and see what happens with David Price's next scheduled start on Saturday...