Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The 2018 State of the Red Sox: The Midseason Report

The 2018 Boston Red Sox have reached the All Star break and the unofficial midpoint of the season (although they've already played 98 games out of 162). I thought it would be fun during a respite from games and daily recaps to sit back, take stock of where the Red Sox are right now, and assess the team's performance to this point. Please keep in mind that while I am taking as many stats as I can into consideration, I'm also going by what my eyes and brain tell me; because of this, a lot will be my opinion with which you may agree or disagree. As such, I welcome lively debate and discussion either here in the comments section or whichever social media platform you may have reached this post from. With that out of the way, let's begin.

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THE HITTING: 2017 was the first season AO (After Ortiz) and it showed. The team had a power outage and finished dead last in the AL in home runs and struggled to generate a lot of offense for much of the season. Coming in to 2018, the roster wasn't retooled much beyond signing free agent slugger JD Martinez. There were many questions as to how the bats would perform: would Martinez be able to carry over his hot half season from Arizona to Boston? Would the bounceback seasons from Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley that we expected actually happen? Would Andrew Benintendi avoid the sophomore slump and build upon his impressive rookie season? Would Rafael Devers hot half-season translate into a good rookie campaign? Would the Red Sox actually hit a grand slam this season? (They had none in 2017).

I'm happy to report that the answers to most of those questions have trended in the right direction for the Red Sox so far in 2018. I'll tackle them in order.

- JD Martinez has been everything the Red Sox were expecting when they got him, and then some. At the All Star break, he's hitting .328 with 29 home runs and 80 RBI. His OBP is .393 and his OPS is 1.037. He's been a consistent threat in the order and his methodical approach to hitting has rubbed off on his teammates as he's helped elevate their play this season; in short, he's been as much a benefit as a leader as he has been a player. He would easily be considered as the Red Sox player having the best season if it wasn't for the next guy.

- I've just about run out of words to describe the season Mookie Betts is having thus far. We all thought his MVP caliber season in 2016, when he finished second in the AL to Mike Trout, may be his high-water mark. Mookie even said as much after a disappointing 2017 when he admitted that '16 "might be as good as it gets for me." He must have taken those words to heart because what he's doing this season blows away what he did two years ago. He's leading the league in batting average by hitting a whopping .359. He's got 23 HR and 51 RBI, but when looking at those RBI keep in mind that he's hitting out of the leadoff spot; were he hitting out of the 3-5 spots, he'd surely have as many RBI as JD. Mookie's OBP is a gaudy .448 and his OPS is a ridiculous 1.139. He's stolen 18 bases, scored 79 runs, and lest we forget he continues to play Gold Glove defense in right field. Combined with his perpetual smile and infectious personality, Mookie is one of the most exciting players to watch in MLB today. A third Gold Glove and the AL MVP are both within his reach. Regardless, he's already put together one of the greatest half-seasons I've seen in my 30+ years of following baseball and the Red Sox.

- Xander Bogaerts has been a very good player for the Red Sox since he first came up toward the end of the 2013 season, but the knock on his has been that he hasn't taken that next step in his evolution from "very good" to "great." He's typically had good first halves of his seasons before seemingly wearing down over the course of August and September. Last season this was exacerbated by an injury to his hand after being hit by a pitch. His power numbers drastically decreased last season after his All Star season of 2016. The big hope heading into 2018 was that he could repeat his 2016 first half over the course of an entire season. So far, so good. Xander started the season red hot, leading the team in average and home runs before a minor foot injury sidelined him for a few weeks in April/May. Since coming back and getting back into rhythm, he's been one of the team's best and most consistent hitters. He currently sits with a .284 average with 16 home runs (including THREE grand slams!) and 64 RBI. He's also playing much better defense at shortstop. In all, he's having an All Star caliber season and hopefully getting some rest so that he can finish the rest of the season strong. The team will need him if they're going to make any noise in the postseason this year.

- In any other year but 2017 where Aaron Judge wasn't there to hit 51 home runs, Andrew Benintendi would have been the AL Rookie of the Year (he finished second). After his sizzling play upon being called up to the big leagues in July 2016, he put together a great rookie season in '17. Heading into this season, the hope was that he would avoid the sophomore slump and build upon the successful rookie campaign. He got off to a bit of a slow start this year, but since May he has been on a tear and narrowly missed out on being named to his first All Star game. Right now, he's hitting .297 with 14 home runs and 57 RBI. He's swiped 17 stolen bases and scored 68 runs and while his aggressiveness on the basepaths still results in him running into a lot of outs, overall he's having a great second season.

- I'll touch on Bradley and Devers in another section down below.

THE FIELDING: Coming in to the season, the Red Sox were generally considered to have one of the best defensive outfields in the game, while the infield defense left a bit to be desired. While the outfield trio of Betts, Bradley, and Benintendi has definitely lived up to expectations, the infield has been a pleasant surprise. Most people will I'm sure immediately point out that Rafael Devers has more errors (19) than any other third baseman in the league, but I have been impressed with his increased range and his aggressiveness at going after balls. I chalk it up to growing pains and am fine with how he's played as long as he continues to improve. At the other corner infield position, Mitch Moreland has continued to play solid defense at first (remember, he's won a Gold Glove). Xander Bogaerts has been much improved at shortstop and the platoon at second base (especially Brock Holt) has been better than expected in the absence of Dustin Pedroia. As a team, the Sox have committed 46 errors this season for a .987 fielding percentage, both second best in the AL.  

THE STARTING ROTATION: On paper, this looked like a real strength for the team. Chris Sale was coming off one of the greatest seasons for a Red Sox pitcher ever having struck out 308 batters in 2017. Drew Pomeranz somehow won 17 games last year even though he routinely barely made it into the sixth inning. Eduardo Rodriguez had shown glimpses of his talent over the last two seasons and looked to finally be putting it all together. Rick Porcello had a bad year in 2017 but won 22 games and the AL Cy Young award in 2016 and was due for a bounceback. And then there's David Price. A real enigma, he had a very good 2016 season but completely squandered 2017 both to injuries and his behavior. Still, based purely on what they've all done over the past two seasons, it looked as though 2018 was set up to be a great year for the Boston rotation. Reality has been a bit more of a mixed bag. Sale has been his usual brilliant self, entering the break with a 10-4 record, 2.23 ERA, and 188 strikeouts. He'd have even more wins but he's been the victim of a few games where he only gave up one or two runs but didn't receive any run support. Porcello is 11-4 and while his ERA is a bit on the high side at 4.13, he's second on the team with 115 strikeouts and has been the team's second best starter. Rodriguez was having a fantastic first half before he left his final start before the break with an ankle injury. He currently sits at 11-3 with an ERA of 3.44 and 110 strikeouts. And then there's Price. He's 10-6 with an ERA of 4.42 and has struck out 109, but his last few starts heading into the break have been poor and the constant drama and excuses that always swirl around him have made him about the polar opposite of a fan favorite. Still, if the team is going to be successful this season they're going to need him to continue to pitch well and somehow break through his inability to deliver in the postseason (and against the Yankees). 

As for Pomeranz, he's been a disaster. Injured since early in the season, he looked bad before we went down and from all reports has been awful in AAA Pawtucket on rehab assignment. Steven Wright came back from the DL in June and was pitching great out of the fifth rotation spot until his surgically repaired knee caused him to go back on the shelf. Hector Velazquez and Brian Johnson have been ably filling that fifth spot with emergency starts, but with Rodriguez now out for the near future the Red Sox are going to have to rely on these two (or someone else) a bit more than anyone should be comfortable with. This is one area where there is no relief coming from the farm system so the Sox are going to have to patch it together and hope that the trio of Sale, Porcello, and Price can carry them until Rodriguez and either Wright or Pomeranz come back.

THE BULLPEN: My griping about the bullpen will be well known to anyone who's been reading my daily game recaps here. Statistically they're one of the better bullpens in the majors, but apart from Craig Kimbrel at closer, who inspires confidence? The middle relievers who have to bridge from the starters to the closer (because as we all know, starting pitchers almost never go beyond six or seven innings any more) have been the team's Achilles heel for the last few seasons and while it's better this year than it's been in years past, it's not by much. It seems as though right when one or two guys pitch consistently and are ready to take the mantle, they revert back into a pumpkin and set everything back to square one. That's happened with Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes, and Carson Smith (before his bizarre shoulder injury ended his season). Tyler Thornburg is finally back in the majors and in the lineup but has been inconsistent while reacclimating to the game. Alex Cora doesn't seem to trust Brandon Workman unless it's a blowout win or loss. And Heath Hembree...well, the less said, the better. I really hope that either these guys can tighten up and be consistent for the rest of the season or Dave Dombrowski can work some magic at the trade deadline to pick up some middle relief help on the cheap because if there's one area that will be this team's undoing in 2018, it's this one.


Mookie Betts - See above. Quite simply, he's the Red Sox best player and the best player in the AL apart from that Mike Trout fellow who I hear is pretty darn good himself. The Red Sox need to make sure they sign Mookie long term. He's the face and future of the franchise.

JD Martinez - He's been even better than I expected, both as a player and as a clubhouse guy. The fact that he's now saying he's open to restructuring his contract to stay here longer is even better. The Sox need to do what they can do keep him here for a long time as long as it doesn't financially cripple them.

Chris Sale - I was a bit wary of trading for him in the wake of the whole "scissor-gate" thing when he was with the White Sox, but he's been a fantastic competitor on the mound and a great influence in the clubhouse, to say nothing of how dominant he's been. He's the definition of what an ace should be.


Christian Vazquez - His defense hasn't been nearly as good as we were all led to believe this season (the stats say he's actually worse than Sandy Leon) and he's been atrocious at the plate. The Sox pitchers all seem to prefer pitching to Leon, too (Sale and Porcello only throw to Leon). His injury for a broken pinkie finger may be a blessing in disguise for the team as Leon is now the primary catcher. While Sandy is no Johnny Bench, I'll take his solid defense and .242 average over Vazquez' .213.

Drew Pomeranz - He looked awful before his injury and the reports coming out of his rehab starts at AAA Pawtucket aren't good, either. This guy has gobs of talent, but durability and efficiency always seem to be an issue. Last year he put it all together to win 17 games (even though he never went deep in any of those starts). Perhaps that was as good as it's going to get? The Sox need him to be the 2017 version of himself, and fast.

Dustin Pedroia - It's not Pedey's fault, but I think age and injuries, not to mention how hard he's always played the game, may have finally caught up to him. He only lasted three games after coming back from his knee surgery and the word is that he's done for the rest of this year. It wouldn't shock me if he retires after 2018; if he does, it'll be sad but understandable. While I've never thought he was as good a clubhouse guy as a lot of fans did (and I think 2017 showed that once and for all), I always loved the way he comported himself on the field.


The Bullpen - Some nights they look great, other nights they look as inept and bumbling as ever. The only sure thing coming out of there is Craig Kimbrel. The inconsistency has cost the Sox a few games this season, but so far not as many as it did when John Farrell was managing. The team needs one or two of the middle relievers to step up and take the reins as the go-to bridge guys for the rest of the season. I'll be looking for that in the second half.

Jackie Bradley & Rafael Devers - Both of these guys are among my favorite players but have had up and down years. Bradley's defense has been as stellar as ever, but he started off so miserably at the plate that he was benched for a couple of weeks in May/June. He's been on a tear the last month, though, and seems to have turned it around. Devers started off hot with the bat and has been slumping badly since June. His defense has improved but it's still an adventure any time anything is hit to him. I have no doubt both guys will continue to improve and be important parts of the team, but both need to turn it on and trend in the right direction for the remainder of the season.

Sandy Leon - Like Bradley, he started off brutally at the plate but has been hitting really well over the last month. With Vazquez out for 6-8 weeks, he's now the primary catcher again and needs to show that he deserves that (I think he does).


Alex Cora - What a difference from John Farrell. I've written a lot about Cora over the season, but I'll write some more. The team seems to really like playing for him and all seem to respect him; neither of those things were evident in the last couple of years under Farrell. As a tactician, he may not be a Terry Francona or Joe Maddon, but he's a hell of a lot closer to those guys than he is to the bumbling Farrell. If I have one gripe with Cora, it's perhaps his over-reliance on analytics and schedules. He had a tendency earlier in the season to rest guys according to schedule regardless of their performance. This led to some truly strange and/or weak line-ups being trotted out there and also guys sitting who were in the midst of red-hot streaks. The one that always sticks out in my mind is the stretch in June where Benintendi was absolutely tearing the cover off of the ball but ended up sitting a few games in a row because it was "scheduled." In those cases, I don't care if the guy is due for a day or two he's that hot, you keep him in the line-up. These are small quibbles, though, because overall Cora has been great. There's accountability again, there are consequences for things both good and bad, and the team feels like the manager is running things again instead of the tail-wagging-the-dog feel of the Farrell years. Plus, it's hard to complain about a 68-30 record at the All Star break.
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THE VERDICT: How can this first "half" of the season be anything other than a resounding success? The Sox are 68-30, 4.5 games ahead of the Yankees, and have the best record in MLB. They've played the most games of anyone in the league to this point and have 2/3 of their remaining games at Fenway Park. They can play .500 ball the rest of the way and still finish with 100 wins, but no one expects them to only play .500 baseball. The team is fun to watch and the guys seem like they're having a blast playing. They can beat you with their pitching, they can beat you by outslugging you, and they're deep enough so that different guys can beat you on different nights. I was avoiding giving out "grades" during this midseason assessment, but if I were do so it couldn't be anything other than an A+. Are there areas where they could improve? Of course (looking at you, bullpen). But compared to most other teams, the Red Sox flaws are minor and need tweaks more than a complete overhaul. I'm still a bit nervous about how this team will fare in the postseason given their flameouts the last two years, but I'm confident this is the group and manager to get over that hump. In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy the rest of the season when play resumes on Friday. It's going to be a fun race to the finish line, that's for sure.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Game 98: Toronto Blue Jays at Red Sox (July 15, 2018)

Another hot and humid day, another day to stay inside the cool house and watch the Sox. I was able to get outside a little bit this morning when it was overcast and cool to help my son practice pitching. I just got a new catcher's mitt this past week after not having one for years and it has felt so good to help him with his pitching while having a proper mitt. I was a catcher all the years I played ball and it's felt so good getting back into it again. Once it got too hot, though, it was the perfect Sunday to run some errands and relax to watch this final game of the series before the All Star break.

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If there was one game I'd expect the Sox to lose, it would be this one. Brian Johnson returned from the DL to take the mound for Boston. I honestly wasn't expecting too much but will say that I was pleasantly surprised at what we got. He only went 4.2 innings and gave up two runs, but he did an adequate job in keeping the game close which is all you can ask for in a situation like this. Yesterday's hero Xander Bogaerts belted his 16th home run of the season, a solo shot, in the bottom of the first to give the Sox the early lead. Brock Holt followed up with a line drive RBI single to make it 2-0 and it looked like the Sox were on their way. The Jays got both runs back in the third on Teoscar Hernandez' two run homer but the Boston bullpen clamped down and kept Toronto off the board the rest of the way. In the fifth, Jackie Bradley doubled to drive in Sandy Leon and then Xander drove in another run (Bradley) on a fielder's choice. The Sox got some insurance in the sixth when Holt drove in another run with a single to right field. The 5-2 margin was plenty as five Red Sox pitchers out of the bullpen shut down Toronto culminating with Craig Kimbrel picking up his 30th save of the season.

At the plate, the Sox were actually outhit 8-6 in this game, but they made the ones they got count. Mookie Betts shockingly went hitless as did JD Martinez. Instead, the Sox got contributions from Xander, Holt, Leon, and Bradley; these four accounted for every Red Sox hit. While that may seem concerning, the way I look at it this team is so deep and talented that they can survive off days from the heavy lifters in the order. What is even more encouraging is that Jackie Bradley has been hitting great the last month or so and is now at .210 for the season. If he can keep this up and get his average up to around .230-.240 by the end of the season, this lineup will be truly fearsome.

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With the Yankees losing to Cleveland the Red Sox enter the All Star break having won 12 of 13 and with a 4.5 game lead in the AL East. They now have four days off the enjoy some rest and relaxation before starting the stretch run on Friday. Having played 98 games, they'll only have 64 left the rest of the way (and two-thirds of those will be at home). With a 68-30 record, the Sox could play .500 baseball the rest of the way and still finish with 100 wins; however, I dare you to find anyone who thinks they're only going to play .500 ball between now and October. For now, let's join the Sox in enjoying a break before the season rounds toward home. I'm planning on doing a first half recap in the next few days, so stay tuned for that as we bask in the glow of rooting for the best team in MLB.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Game 97: Toronto Blue Jays at Red Sox (July 14, 2018)

After the previous game's debacle I really wanted to see a bounceback performance from the Red Sox in this third game of the series. Eduardo Rodriguez got the start and had been throwing the ball really well lately so I was hoping that would translate into a win to help move on from the end of the streak last night. It was a hot and humid summer day, perfect for staying inside in the air conditioning and watching the game so that's just what we did. My wife spent the afternoon baking cookies with a couple of our kids while I sat on the couch with two of my daughters to watch the Sox.

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JD Martinez got things off to a great start with his 29th home run of the season in the bottom of the fourth, a solo shot to put the Sox up 1-0. The way Rodriguez had been throwing the ball it seemed like that might be enough, but in the sixth inning things got a little scary. Rodriguez was running to cover first on a grounder and ended up colliding with the runner. He seemed to have tweaked his plant ankle and leg on the landing and had to leave the game. It was a real shame as he had been pitching great and had kept his pitch count down, only throwing 67 (47 of them for strikes). In his 5.1 innings of work he struck out five without walking any and only had given up four hits. It ended up hurting the Sox since the bullpen manged to give up runs to Toronto in the seventh (Joe Kelly, what happened?!). Kendrys Morales scored on a fielder's choice to tie the game followed by a Lourdes Guriel RBI single to put the Jays up 2-1. The Sox had a great chance in the eighth to tie the game when Mookie Betts made it to third base with one out, but they couldn't capitalize and so went into the bottom of the ninth down a run. Jackie Bradley made sure that missed opportunity wouldn't linger in the memory when his double drove in Xander Bogaerts (who himself had doubled to lead off the inning). Boston couldn't push across the winning run, though, and the game went into extra innings knotted at two. The major drama came in the bottom of the tenth. Mookie Betts led off the inning and hit a single. The Sox then executed a perfect hit and run with Brock Holt at the plate to put runners on the corners. With one out, the Jays intentionally walked JD to load the bases for Xander. At this point, all he needed to do was loft a deep fly ball to the outfield to win the game on a sacrifice fly; instead, he crushed a pitch to dead center field for a dramatic walk-off grand slam. Incredibly, that was his third grand slam of the season (and the team's seventh overall). The crowd went crazy at Fenway Park and so did we in my living room!

Every Red Sox hitter had at least a hit except for Sandy Leon and once again Mookie was a one-man wrecking crew. He went 3-4 and raised his average to a sizzling .362; the way he's been hitting this season, maybe he'll make a run at .400. It may seem crazy but the highest batting average for a right handed hitter in the post-WWII era was Nomar's .372 in 2000...Mookie has a real shot at breaking that. Xander went 2-5 and scored two runs, but it was the four RBI he drove in with a single swing of the bat that were his biggest contributions. The Red Sox are an incredible 67-30 after this game and yet still only 3.5 games ahead in the division because the Yankees are winning at almost an equivalent clip. Brian Johnson will be back from the DL and getting the spot-start for the series finale. Let's get a win and have some nice momentum heading into the All Star break, shall we?

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Game 96: Toronto Blue Jays at Red Sox (July 13, 2018)

It had to end eventually, didn't it? I just didn't think it would be at the hands of Rick Porcello. David Price? Sure. Whoever is filling the fifth rotation spot? Absolutely. But Porcello? I can only chalk this one up to his being due for a bad start after his predominantly stellar season thus far. I sat down on the couch with my oldest daughter after dinner to watch the game and we ended up watching a rollercoaster of excitement until it got away from the Sox at the end.

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The Sox scored first when Mookie Betts scored from third on a throwing error on a ball hit by JD Martinez. Mookie had led off the game with a triple so it was a quick strike to put the Sox up 1-0. Seeing as how the Blue Jays had a recent call-up pitching and that the Red Sox had only lost four of the games this season when they scored first, it seemed a foregone conclusion that it would soon be eleven straight wins. Baseball is a funny game, though, and the Blue Jays must have missed the memo. Kevin Pillar doubled to bring in a run in the very next inning to tie the game. A sacrifice fly and a single by the next two batters put Toronto up 3-1. Porcello hadn't looked sharp all game and his pitches just didn't have the movement they usually do. Walks were also hurting him...this is a guy who averages a little less than three walks per game but had already reached that amount in the first couple of innings. The Sox came storming back in the bottom of the inning starting with Jackie Bradley's RBI single. Mookie was up next and missed a home run by about six inches, settling for his second triple of the game while driving in two to put Boston back in front 4-3. Brock Holt drove Mookie in, stole second, and advanced to third on an overthrow. That was a huge sequence as Xander Bogaerts singled to drive him in and make it 6-3. At that point, I was sure the Sox had this game in the bag. We scored one in the first, Toronto got three in the second, we scored over, right? To their credit, the Jays didn't pack it in and kept fighting. The third inning ended up being the one that did the Sox in as Toronto scored five of their own. Pillar continued to hurt the Sox with a two-RBI double after Justin Smoak's solo homer. At this point Porcello should've been pulled but for whatever reason Alex Cora left him in the game. Toronto made him pay when Dwight Smith smacked a two run homer to make it 8-6 Jays. Mitch Moreland drove JD in with a single in the top of the fourth and it looked like it was going to be one of those back-and-forth games but both teams quieted down for a while after that. Toronto made sure the game was out of reach starting in the eighth when they scored three runs; they followed it up in the ninth with two more on another Smoak home run. Joe Kelly and Robby Scott were the bullpen culprits in those last two innings and this ended up being a game to forget as the Sox went down 13-7. Streak over.

Porcello had a brutal night, giving up eight runs on seven hits in only two innings of work. He struck out two but walked four which is highly unlike him. The bright spots for Red Sox pitching were the innings put in by Hector Velazquez, Ryan Brasier, and Tyler Thornburg. This was Thornburg's first Red Sox appearance where he looked like the guy we've been expecting since we traded for him two years ago. At the plate, Mookie continued to be otherworldly going 3-4 with two triples and a single, a walk, two RBI, and two runs scored. His average is now up to .357 and there's no way anyone can say he isn't right there with Mike Trout in the conversation for AL MVP. Everyone Sox batter had a hit in this game except for Sandy Leon but it doesn't matter how many runs you score if your pitching can't keep the other team from scoring more. At least there was no damage done in the standings as the Indians beat the Yankees last night; our lead remained at 3.5 games. I'm looking for a bounce back today with Eduardo Rodriguez on the mound. A couple of wins (or at least a series win) heading into the All Star break would be some nice momentum to have.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Game 95: Toronto Blue Jays at Red Sox (July 12, 2018)

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If any game was going to stop the Red Sox winning streak, I had predicted it'd be this one. It was a new series against a Toronto team that always plays them tough and we had David Price on the mound. Even irrespective of his two shaky starts prior to this game, there's just something about the guy that doesn't inspire confidence at all. After taking my oldest daughter to her practice, she and I were both excited to watch the game and see if the Sox could keep their streak going when we got home.

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When Price gave up a two run homer in the first inning to Teoscar Hernandez, it seemed as though my concerns were fully realized. He'd collapsed against the Yankees, pitched poorly against the doormat Royals, and was now going to get roughed up by the Blue Jays. Right? Well, in a way he hasn't really done in his Boston tenure, Price buckled down and ended up quieting the Jays down for most of the night. His final line was 6.2 innings pitched with eight strikeouts and no walks. On its own that's a great line although he did give up three runs on six hits (two of the home runs) and his ERA is a mediocre 4.42. Still, it ended up being good enough for him to earn his tenth win of the season. But it was how the Sox got there that ended up being the most thrilling part of this game. The Sox got a run back in the bottom of the fourth when Sandy Leon drove Xander Bogaerts in on a fielder's choice. The epic event of the night was later in the inning: with the bases loaded, Mookie Betts battled and battled through a thirteen pitch at bat before launching a ball over the Green Monster for a grand slam. He knew it right away, too, as he was pumped the second he left the batter's box. It was absolutely electric to witness on my TV...I can only imagine how incredible that must've been in person at Fenway Park. I've been in that ballpark for quite a few moments like that myself and I can tell you, there's nothing like it. With that single swing of the bat, Mookie brought the Sox back and put them ahead 5-2. The Jays wouldn't go away quietly, though. Kendrys Morales hit the Jays' second homer off of Price in this game, a solo shot in the seventh. But who came to the rescue again in the bottom of the inning? If you said Mookie, you're right. He drove Jackie Bradley in with an RBI single to make it 6-3 Boston. It got a little dicey in the eighth when Matt Barnes allowed a single followed by a double that scored a run for Toronto. The play itself was a bit strange as a fan reached far over the fence to catch a ball that Jackie Bradley would have been able to make a play on. The umpires allowed the runner to score from first and gave Justin Smoak (the hitter) a double while the fan was tossed. With one out, a runner in scoring position, and the tying run at the plate Matt Barnes came up with two huge strikeouts to get out of the jam and preserve the two run lead. That was all Craig Kimbrel needed as he came in to pick up save number 29 and close out the game.

Getting back to the offense, this game was all about the incredible Mookie Betts. He went 2-4 with five RBI and pushed his average up to .352. Jackie Bradley had a 2-2 night himself and is now hitting .208. Overall, the offense had a decent night although they did get outhit by the Jays 11-8. Still, it's not the number of hits but how many runs you drive in with them. It only took Mookie two hits to drive in five, after all. The one bit of bad news in this game was that Steve Pearce left early after taking a fastball to the shins. That pushed Blake Swihart into subbing at first base and he did a good job, especially at the plate. He went 1-3 and has his average over .200 now. We'll be seeing a lot more of him with Vazquez out and especially now if Pearce is out for any significant amount of time.

With this tenth straight win the Sox pushed their record to an incredible 66-29. You may remember a week or two ago that I mentioned how it'd be nice to see the Sox sweep through this final week of games heading into the break. You may also remember how I said it probably wouldn't happen. I'm happy to say that they just might prove me wrong at this point. Toward the end of this game my daughter and I checked the score of the Yankees game and saw they were tied with Cleveland. We were hoping the Indians would help us out, but unfortunately the Yankees came back to win so the Sox lead in the AL East remained at 3.5 games. Still, this is one of the most thrilling and exciting Red Sox teams I can remember in a long time. The fact that they're winning games in different fashions and having fun doing it makes it even more interesting and exciting to watch as a fan. I don't want to get ahead of myself, but with Rick Porcello starting in the next game, do I dare look forward to eleven straight? We shall see...

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Game 94: Texas Rangers at Red Sox (July 11, 2018)

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It was a beautiful night last night, both in terms of the weather and the Red Sox game. After dinner I took my son to the cages to get some swings in and have him practice pitching (as an aside, it felt damn good to be a catcher again!). After that, we headed home and were able to watch the Sox as they looked to win their ninth straight and sweep their third series in a row. With Chris Sale on the mound against Bartolo Colon (I was a high school senior when he made his debut, that's how long he's been around), the Sox looked to be set up nicely to pick up the sweep, especially with how dominant they've been the final game of a series this season.

As they've been doing lately, the Sox got on the scoreboard early when Eduardo Nunez reached on a fielding error by Rougned Odor which allowed Xander Bogaerts to score. It was 1-0 Boston and it stayed that way for quite a while. With Sale pitching, it might have been enough but I was nervous as it's always tough to win those one run games no matter who you're playing. JD Martinez must have heard what I was thinking because he smacked a double to left that drove in Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi in the bottom of the fifth to give the Sox a bit of breathing room and a three run cushion. Xander followed that up by hitting a triple to drive JD in and make it 4-0 Boston. It was his second triple in as many games which is not an easy thing to do! He's really been having a great season and flying under the radar in the American League. The big test will be to see if he can keep it up after the All Star break because he's typically been hot in the first half before flagging badly in the second half (and yes, I know last season his hand was hurt in the second half, but go back to 2016 for a prime example of what I mean). It ended up being a good thing they had the 4-0 lead because once the bullpen came in, Texas scored some runs. First, Nomar Mazara drove one in in the eighth inning with a single off of Heath Hembree (gee, what a surprise), and then Kimbrel walked in a run (an inherited runner, but still ugly) after coming in and inheriting the mess Hembree left. Kimbrel pitched a clean ninth inning to pick up his 28th save and secure the win for the Sox.

Chris Sale was dominant yet fact, it's getting to be so routine that I hope we Red Sox fans don't start taking it for granted. He went seven innings and struck twelve batters out while only walking one and allowing no runs. It lowered his ERA to 2.23 and was his tenth win of the season...imagine how many more he'd have if he'd gotten even a modicum of run support in a handful of his other starts. Heath Hembree was, unfortunately, Heath Hembree: the guy only pitched two thirds of an inning and gave up three hits and two runs. Why they keep going to him in anything other than a blowout win or loss (the Brandon Workman treatment) is beyond me. I'd rather see Joe Kelly or Matt Barnes in there any day of the week and neither of those guys inspires 100% confidence either (but they're better than Hembree!).

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The incredible Mookie Betts pushed his average up to .350 with a 2-3 night and Benintendi got his average over .300 with a 2-4 night of his own. How he didn't make the All Star game, I don't understand. The only thing I can think of is that six Red Sox All Stars would have been more than MLB fan voters wanted to see. Rounding out the top hitting performances of the night, Xander went 3-4 and has his average approaching the .300, sitting currently at .283. All in all it was a great night for the Sox; even with the Yankees finally managing to beat Baltimore (hah!) the division lead remained at 3.5 games. The final series of the first half of the season begins tonight against Toronto: four games that are ripe for the picking before the Sox get some much deserved time off. Having played the most games of any team in the first half of the season (as well as the most road games), Boston should have a decided advantage in the second half in terms of the schedule and the home/road split. It's going to be a fun ride, but first they need to take care of business against the Blue Jays.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Game 93: Texas Rangers at Red Sox (July 10, 2018)

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If there was one game in this series that the Red Sox were going to lose, it was going to be this one. With the fifth spot in the rotation a revolving door since both Drew Pomeranz and Steven Wright went down with injuries, it's typically been a spot-start-and-then-turn-it-over-to-the-bullpen type of game. For this second game against Texas, it was Hector Velazquez' turn to fill in. I was supposed to drive my oldest daughter to her two and a half hour travel team practice, but it was cancelled at the last minute so after our family ate dinner I was able to sit down and watch the game. 

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When Texas scored first off of Rougned Odor's solo homer in the second inning, I thought my fears may have been confirmed, but the combination of Boston's offensive firepower and Texas' shaky pitching showed me there was nothing to worry about. Jackie Bradly's RBI double in the third tied the game and a couple of batters later, Andrew Benintendi drove him in for the lead. The Sox added more that inning when Mitch Moreland's single drove Benintendi in and Xander Bogaerts triple drove in two more. Just like that, the Sox were up 5-1 and it never felt in doubt after that. The Rangers added a run in the fourth on a fielder's choice, but Boston added one in the bottom of the fifth on a Moreland sacrifice fly. Texas made it interesting in the sixth when Joey Gallo's double drove in two to make it 6-4 Red Sox, but Jackie doubled again in the bottom of the inning to drive in Blake Swihart (who surprisingly started at catcher). Benintendi's double in the seventh drove in Mookie Betts and made it 8-4 which was how the game ended. The Sox outhit the Rangers 12-7 and every batter had at least a hit except for Rafael Devers. Mookie, Benintendi, Bradley, and even Swihart all went 2-4 and the game showed the relentless attack this team has when the whole order is clicking like they're capable of.

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As for the pitching in this one, it was ugly but it got the job done. Velazquez only went three innings before Alex Cora turned it over to the bullpen and it took five more pitchers to wrap up the win (don't you just love modern baseball?). Only Jalen Beeks pitched more than an inning (he went 2.1); everyone after him pitched an inning or less. It was Beeks who gave up the most runs to Texas with three scored off of him, but on a night where the bats were hot and there was plenty of run support they were able to withstand it. There were some sterling defensive plays in this game, too, perhaps none as important as Mookie robbing a sure two-run home run right at the wall in the fifth inning. Had Nomar Mazara's hit gone over the fence, it would have been 5-4 Red Sox and the entire complexion of the game may have changed.

The win put Boston's record at an incredible 64-29 and was their eighth win in a row. With the Yankees losing in extra innings to Baltimore (when I was sure they were going to win) the Red Sox opened up a 3.5 game lead in the AL East. While no lead will feel safe against the Yankees this season, I'm all for increasing it by whatever means possible. With Chris Sale going up against the ageless Bartolo Colon in the series finale, the Sox are in great position to sweep their third series in a row before heading into the last set of games against Toronto before the All-Star break. I keep telling myself that this team needs to play this way in the postseason before I'll truly believe in them, but when they're this good and this fun to watch I'm going to just enjoy the journey of the regular season.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Game 92: Texas Rangers at Red Sox (July 9, 2018)

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Other than some time at the batting cages with my oldest daughter after work last night, I took advantage of another free evening to relax and watch some baseball. My one concern heading into this game was that with a six game winning streak and back-to-back series sweeps on the road, the Red Sox might have a bit of a letdown and play down to the level of their competition in this game. Think of the classic NFL "trap game" and you'll understand my fears about this series opener against Texas. It's certainly what I would have expected from the 2016 or 2017 Red Sox, but this 2018 just feels different right now and they proved that to me yet again.

Steve Pearce has been one of the best midseason acquisitions the Sox have made in years and he continued to show his worth when he socked his first home run as a member of the team, a two-run shot in the bottom of the first to quickly get the team in the scoring column. That was really all that the team and Eduardo Rodriguez needed as they blanked the Rangers. JD Martinez wanted in on the fun, though, and clubbed his league leading 28th home run of the season with Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi on base. It was a nice punctuation to a dominating 5-0 Boston win. Rodriguez was good, not great, but enough to get the job done. As is his wont, he didn't even make it through six full innings (sadly, I think the days of starters routinely going 7 or 8 innings are gone for good) and wasn't particularly dominating. He only struck out five while walking three, but it was more than enough against Texas. Rodriguez has the same problem that Drew Pomeranz does, namely that they're both very inefficient and labor to only get through five or six innings while throwing a ton of pitches. I suppose that as long as they're effective and as long as the offense gives them support, it's not worth complaining about, but it sure is irritating to watch. The Sox had nine hits in this game, but eight of them came from the top four in the order, with Mookie, Benintendi, JD, and Pearce each going 2-4. Sandy Leon had the only other hit for the team. Speaking of Leon, his hot bat has come at the right time for the team, especially with the news that Christian Vazquez will be out 6-8 weeks after having surgery on his broken pinky finger. Knock on wood, but the Sox have been relatively immune from the injury bug this season, so hopefully the Vazquez injury won't be anything other than a small bump in the road for the rest of the season.

The Yankees split their doubleheader with the Orioles, so the Red Sox picked up a half game in their division lead and sit 2.5 games ahead. This win over Texas made it seven straight and pushed their MLB-best record to an incredible 63-29. It boggles the mind to think how many more wins they would have had they played in May at the same clip they did in April and June. Still, there's not much to complain about with this team right now. Dare I hope for a third series sweep in a row with these next two games against the Rangers? Hector Velazquez will be the next man up in the rotating fifth spot of the rotation, but he's been damn good this season; he's followed by Chris Sale in the series finale so it's a real possibility. One game at a time, though, right?

Monday, July 9, 2018

Game 91: Red Sox at Kansas City Royals (July 8, 2018)

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This beautiful Sunday afternoon, it was all about sitting on the couch watching the Sox after a busy morning of playing in the yard with the kids and running errands (and sneaking out on a date lunch!) with my wife. With Rick Porcello on the mound, I was fully expecting the Sox to sweep the Royals before heading home to Fenway Park. However, the Royals have been a lot peskier this season than their record would suggest; this is a team that won back to back pennants in 2014 and 2015, winning the latter World Series in the process. Still, with as good as the Red Sox are I was looking for a victory as well as a shutdown performance from Porcello.

Unlike the previous game, the Sox got on the board first in this one when Steve Pearce drove Mookie in with a sacrifice fly in the top of the third inning. Shockingly, Kansas City got that run back and more in the bottom of the third when Jorge Bonafacio doubled to drive in two. Porcello looked good but not great at this point and didn't seem to have his best stuff, but he powered through. Eduardo Nunez tied the game in the fourth with an RBI single to drive in Xander Bogaerts, but once again KC went up in the bottom of the inning when Adalberto Mondesi singled to push Alex Gordon across. Porcello kept grinding which would eventually pay off as the Sox went up for good in the fifth. First, Mitch Moreland drew a walk with the bases loaded and then Xander drove Andrew Benintendi in with a sacrifice fly. Even though the Sox had the bases loaded with one out and only managed to plate two runs, they'd finally taken the lead by more than one. Moreland helped add to it with an RBI single in the seventh; Xander answered as well with a two-RBI double and Eduardo Nunez finished off the scoring for Boston by knocking Moreland in. The Sox were up 7-3 and seemingly in great shape. Porcello got into a big jam in the seventh, allowing runners to get to second and third with no outs. Alex Cora was all set to bring Heath Hembree in, but upon reaching the mound Porcello shook him off and insisted on staying. Having already thrown close to 100 pitches, it was a gutsy move and he made the manager's faith in him pay off. He got two huge strikeouts followed by an inning-ending flyout to center field to strand those two runners and escape unharmed. That scrappy bulldog mentality is one of the things I love about Porcello and stands in stark contrast to the way David Price comports himself in those situations. The final twist in this game was when Tyler Thornburg made his second-ever appearance for the Sox in the bottom of the ninth. I have to say, I wasn't impressed at all. I realize he's coming back from major arm surgery and that this was only his second appearance at the major league level since 2016, but his stuff didn't look good out there and he got hit and hit hard. After giving up a couple of hits and a run of an RBI single from Whit Merrifield (who had a terrific 5-5 day), Cora had to bring in Kimbrel to preserve the win. Craig earned his 27th save of the season by allowing one hit and striking out two. With that, the Sox swept their second consecutive series and finished this grueling road trip at a sparkling 7-2.

What else can I say about Porcello? On a day where he wasn't at his top notch best, he still went seven strong innings and struck out nine batters against only one walk. He gave up three runs on nine hits and earned his 11th win the hard way, by grinding it out over 111 pitches and using his guile as much as his stuff. Every Boston hitter except for Sandy Leon had at least one hit and Andrew Benintendi ran his streak of getting on base to ten at bats over the last two games before finally striking out in his last plate appearance of the day. Even so, he went 4-5 in this one and scored two runs. Another weird thing about this game was that the Sox outhit the Royals 14-12 and didn't hit a single home run, but the 7-4 score wasn't really indicative of how close this game wasn't once Boston took the lead for good. I will tip my cap to Kansas City, though...even in the midst of a miserable season, they were scrappy and tough and made the Sox work for these three wins. Now Boston gets to head home to play three against the last place Texas Rangers followed by four against the fourth place Blue Jays before getting some rest at the All Star Break. I'd love to see their lead over the Yankees grow before then...there's still work to be done!

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Game 90: Red Sox at Kansas City Royals (July 7, 2018)

A dogfight with the Royals that turned into a blowout...who would have thought? Even though he melted into a puddle at Yankee Stadium last weekend, David Price had been very, very good overall this season so I and I'm sure most Red Sox fans expected him to have no problem with the Royals. Boy, were we wrong. We had one of the nicest summer days I can ever remember in terms of weather, so it was spent outside doing yard work and playing with the kids. Once the game started, I was tired enough to just want to sit on the couch and watch it. It wasn't until the middle innings, though, before I was truly relaxed with what was happening on the field.

As I alluded to, Price just didn't have it in this one. He looked good in the first inning, but after that he seemed very tentative, nibbling around the plate and hanging far too many pitches. The Royals made him pay, first when Lucas Duda hit a solo homer in the bottom of the second and then when a series of hits punctuated by Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez made it 3-0 by the end of the third. The Red Sox had threatened in each inning by getting runners into scoring position, but kept stranding them. It started to feel like it was going to be one of those games until the top of the fifth when the Sox finally broke through. After two at bats where he failed to move runners over, JD Martinez came through with an RBI single to drive in Mookie Betts (who had a great game). Xander Bogaerts then doubled with the bases loaded to clear them and put Boston ahead 4-3. Of course, as they usually have done the last few years, they gave it right back the next inning when Price hit Duda with the bases loaded to walk in a run and tie the game. Luckily, that was the closest KC got the rest of the night. In the seventh, the Sox went up for good when Mitch Moreland drove in Andrew Benintendi with a sacrifice fly. The bottom of the lineup finally got in on the act when Christian Vazquez' single drove in two. In the eighth, Andrew Benintendi hit his 14th homer of the season which made it 8-4. At this point, I figured it would be a quick ninth and the game would be over, but the Sox had other plans scoring seven more runs! Jackie Bradley drove in Rafael Devers on a fielder's choice which was followed by a Mookie double to drive in two more. Benintendi's double brought Mookie in and even Blake Swihart, pinch hitting for JD, drove in a run with a double of his own. At this point, the Royals bullpen was depleted so they brought in backup catcher Drew Butera to pitch. He walked Brock Holt and Devers both with the bases loaded to bring in runs and gave up  a hard hit RBI single to Sandy Leon before finally getting Bradley out on a sharp liner to second base.

Price did strike out nine and only walked one, but he didn't look sharp at all and only made it through 4.2 innings while giving up those four runs on six hits. It wasn't his worst outing, but it certainly wasn't what I expected against such a bad team like Kansas City. The bullpen held down the fort admirably, didn't give up any hits or runs, and only walked one. At the plate, Mookie was a monster with a 4-6 night, scoring two runs and driving in one to raise his average to .343. JD, Moreland, and Xander each scored two runs as well, while Benintendi was an on-base machine going 2-2 with four walks and scoring four runs. It was more than enough to excuse his baserunning blunder in the first that rubbed out the Sox first scoring chance.

The win was the Sox fifth in a row and kept them two games ahead of the Yankees in the division. Rick Porcello will be on the mound for the series finale so the Sox are set up nicely for sweep to end the road trip before heading home for their final home stand before the All Star break. 

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Game 89: Red Sox at Kansas City Royals (July 6, 2018)

The long road trip continued with the first game of a series in Kansas City against the lowly Royals. Coming off a sweep of the Nationals and a much needed day off, the Red Sox were in prime position to feast on a bad team and pick up some wins (and hopefully some breathing room in the standings). I only worked on Thursday and Friday this week, but I was still exhausted after being so busy during my mini-vacation. It was a good night to relax and watch the game and with the Sox beating up on the Royals, it was pretty entertaining, too.

With Chris Sale squaring off against Jason Hammel, it didn't seem like a fair fight from the very first pitch...and it wasn't. Mookie Betts, as he's done so often this season, got the Sox on the scoreboard right away when he launched his 100th career home run into the left field seats in the top of the first. Later in the inning, Brock Holt continued his torrid hitting when he drove in JD Martinez and Steve Pearce with an RBI single. Before continuing on, I want to point out what a great acquisition Pearce has been. He was brought in as a backup for Mitch Moreland and to add some depth on the bench, but he's been pressed into more regular use with Moreland's back flaring up. All he's done is play solid defense while getting on base just about every game. What looked like purely a cheap depth pickup has turned out to be a valuable member of the team, at least thus far in his Red Sox tenure. Back to the first inning and speaking of guys who have been swinging a hot bat, Sandy Leon continued his scorching play at the plate and kept it going when he drove Xander Bogaerts in with a single. After one inning it was 4-0 Boston and they never looked back. JD hit his league leading 27th home run in the second, this one of the two run variety, which was followed shortly by Xander hitting his own two run shot (his 14th) and just like that the Sox had doubled their lead. Kansas City finally got on the board in the bottom of the second when Alcides Escobar lined a single to left to bring in a run. The Royals wouldn't score again until the seventh when Adalberto Mondesi drove in a run on a fielder's choice. Boston added more runs in the eighth when Jackie Bradley (another guy who has been hot with the bat lately) doubled to drive in Eduardo Nunez. Mike Moustakas homered in the bottom of the eighth to drive in two more, but it was far too little too late for the Royals. Pearce knocked in the final run of the night for the Sox when he doubled to push Blake Swihart across. Whit Merrifield drove in a run in the bottom of the ninth for KC but the final score of 10-5 showed that the game wasn't even as close as it suggested. 

Chris Sale had another dominating night and in the process picked up his 100th career win. Yes, it was against one of the worst teams in all of baseball, but still if it was so easy to strike twelve guys out and only walk one, why isn't everyone doing it? This game also finally gave us the long awaited Red Sox debut of Tyler Thornburg (so he does exist!). He pitched the seventh inning and gave up a run and a hit, but at least he finally threw a pitch for the Sox. Hopefully he can shake the rust off and be an effective arm out of the bullpen because with the way Travis Shaw has been hitting in Milwaukee the last two seasons, we definitely lost on this trade so far. Every single Red Sox starter had at least a hit in this one and several had multi-hit games. Birthday boy Andrew Benintendi went 2-4, JD went 2-5, Steve Pearce went 3-5, and Brock Holt went 2-5 (and is hitting .297 on the season). Again, I know the Sox were playing a terrible team, but these are the games that good teams need to win so that they can be in good shape when they go up against other elite teams like the Yankees and Astros. 

With this victory, the Red Sox became the first team in MLB to reach 60 wins this season. Combined with the Yankees loss, the Sox are now even in the loss column with New York and two games ahead in the standings. Boston is 8-2 in their last ten games and riding a four game winning streak. Given how well they're playing and how bad KC is, I fully expect a series sweep or at the very least taking two of three. David Price will be on the mound for the second game and needs to show all of Red Sox Nation that even though the Royals are a bad team, he can bounce back after his disaster in the Bronx. I know I'll be watching him closely to see how he does. However, if the Red Sox continue to mash like they have been lately, I could probably pitch and win for them!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: You Never Give Me Your Money: The Beatles After the Breakup

Back around 2011 or so, I kept hearing about this great new Beatles book called You Never Give Me Your Money. I had no idea what it was about but I was told repeatedly that it was one I absolutely  had to read, especially as a serious Beatles fan and scholar. Well, I got a copy and devoured the book; I absolutely loved it and it instantly became one of the best Beatles books ever written, at least in my mind. I lauded it far and wide with other fans and read it multiple times. For some strange reason, though, I recently realized that it had slipped through the cracks insofar as I hadn't yet reviewed it. With that in mind, I gave it yet another fresh re-reading for the purposes of this review.

The premise of this book is that it examines the Beatles' split and the aftermath, as well as how it impacted the four individual Beatles from that fateful day in 1970 through to the present (i.e. the year the book was published). Beginning with the band's cessation of touring in the summer of 1966, Doggett's book follows the creation and triumph of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and marks the final show of unity in the Beatles' career as the Magical Mystery Tour film and album at the end of 1967. From here, he chronicles the well known deterioration of their friendship, working relationship, and business partnership through the formation of Apple Corps, the death of Brian Epstein, the arrival of Yoko Ono, and three of the Beatles choosing Allen Klein to manage the band's affairs. While all of this has certainly been detailed elsewhere, Doggett writes in such a way that I hung on every word because of how impactful and incisive every sentence was, no matter how long or short. He also unravels and introduces numerous small new bits of information and presents them in such context that the overall effect makes the well known story even richer and more fascinating.

While the way Doggett presents the gradual and eventual split of the Beatles in 1970 is unique and richly detailed, it's the way he chronicles the labyrinthine path that happened afterward that really makes this book. He manages to take all of the myriad lawsuits, companies, and business and personal entanglements and weave them into a fascinating, understandable, and gripping narrative. By writing objectively and pulling all of the disparate facts together to form his narrative, the author shows how McCartney was right all along about Allen Klein and how the rush to appoint him manager by the other three tied the four Beatles together long after they ceased to be a band and how it took many years for Harrison, Lennon, and Starr to acknowledge their mistake. Doggett is also unafraid to shatter numerous Beatles myths, including Lennon and Ono's "storybook" marriage, Lennon's flitting from one pet cause to the next, Harrison's general miserliness and perpetually curmudgeonly bitterness after the split, and Starr's often grumpy persona when not in the public eye. This book basically pulls the curtain back on the band during their final years and the decades since April 1970, but never in a salacious or sensationalistic manner.

There are a few quirks unique to this book, chief among them the fact that Doggett always refers to Ringo Starr by his real name of Richard Starkey. This is explained as being done not out of disrespect, but to honor and respect Ringo's statement in a 2009 interview of "don't call me Ringo." Also, as mentioned above, he's not afraid to call facts facts even if they chip away at the Beatles mythology. Lennon in particular comes off pretty badly in spots: Doggett shows how Lennon was the least commercially successful of the solo Beatles, how Yoko was a net negative influence on his relationships (both working and personal), and how his peacenik public persona was directly at odds with his materialistic and often aggressive and violent private life. Harrison also comes off as perpetually grumpy, overly concerned with money, and bitter and spiteful. In neither case, though, does the author come off as biased as he uses facts to bolster both the good and bad qualities of all four Beatles. There are also numerous tantalizing scraps of information showing that had things fell just a little bit differently (or certain people not caught wind of it), two or more of the Beatles very well could have and probably would have gotten back together to make new music together (three guesses as to to which two it would have been and who thwarted it).

The book overall comes off as a real labor of love by Doggett and it stands as the definitive history of Apple Corps from its inception in 1967 to the present. It's extensively researched and has copious endnotes which themselves make for some fascinating reading. This is a book that bears repeat readings not only because it's enjoyable, but because each time some new fact or morsel of information is either rediscovered or comprehended in a different light; something new is always learned. That's certainly been the case with my own multiple readings and I'm sure it will be for those of you who pick this book up. It's one of the best Beatles books in my library and one of the few (along with the Lewisohn books in particular) that I consider to be absolutely indispensable and essential book for any fan of the group, no matter how hardcore or casual you are. I highly recommend this book and consider it a top ten Beatle book of all time...a real triumph for Peter Doggett and for fans of the Fab Four.

MY RATING: 10/10

Game 88: Red Sox at Washington Nationals (July 4, 2018)

I hope everyone had a great Independence Day! My family and I decided to stay inside and beat the ridiculous heat and humidity, especially as we've had enough of that lately with all of the time spent at ball fields watching the kids play. We took in one of the free movies at the local theater this morning and then came home to relax. With an 11am start time, I watched the Red Sox finale against the Nationals in my air conditioned house, relaxing on the couch with some snacks and cold drinks...does it get any more American than that? I don't think so!

Eduardo Rodriguez was looking to bounce back from his last two rough starts against the Mariners and Yankees and on that count, he passed with flying colors. He went six scoreless innings and only allowed three hits while striking out six and walking one. He did it all on only eighty-four pitches and I would have liked to have seen him go one more inning, but that's modern baseball: managers don't like starters to go deep into games because they'll face the same hitters a third time. Oh well. The game was actually scoreless until the seventh inning when Jackie Bradley hit a sacrifice fly on a foul ball to left field that brought Rafael Devers in. Devers tagged up and slid into home awkwardly, seemingly hurting his shoulder, but he stayed in the game so I don't think it was too bad. A couple of batters later Andrew Benintendi drew a walk, but ball four was a wild pitch that went to the backstop allowing Eduardo Nunez to score from third base. That made it 2-0 Red Sox and while it felt like it might be enough to hold off Washington, I was relieved when they tacked on an insurance run in the ninth. Bradley smoked a double to the gap in right center field to drive Nunez in and make it 3-0. Craig Kimbrel made it a bit interesting in the bottom of the inning when he gave up a couple of singles, but he struck out two (including Bryce Harper) and with the tying run at the plate he induced a foul pop up to Christian Vazquez to end the game. Harper had a miserable series to go with his miserable season and while I hate to make the obvious comparisons, while Mike Trout and Mookie Betts play with such infectious fun, Harper looks so joyless out there. Whether that's an artifact of his rough season or whether that's how he is now, I don't know but both are a shame to see as the game (and his team) are a lot better when he's performing up to his usual capbilities.

The series sweep put the Red Sox at 59-29, an amazing thirty games over .500, while it dropped Washington to 42-43. With series against the Royals, Rangers, and Blue Jays coming up before the All Star break, that's ten games that the Sox should be able to win. I'm not saying they'll win all ten, but they have a very good shot at doing so and being on the cusp of seventy wins by the break. With Benintendi (who only came in to pinch hit in the seventh) and Moreland getting some rest, they should be ready to go for this stretch (assuming Moreland's back is feeling alright). While I do think the division race is going to go down to the wire, I feel as though the Red Sox will be in good shape if they're still leading when they break for the All Star game. On to Kansas City now!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Game 87: Red Sox at Washington Nationals (July 3, 2018)

First of all, Happy Independence Day! While the Red Sox will be playing later today, I'd like to wish everyone a safe and fun fourth of July. The name of the game for me yesterday was relaxing. My wife and I ran some errands with the kids and then came back to our house and the comfort of air conditioning. It was so disgustingly hot and humid that all I wanted to do after dinner was to plop down on the couch and watch the Red Sox game which is exactly what I did. I think the Red Sox were excited to play on the fourth because they got the fireworks started a day early!

Eduardo Nunez got the party started when he hit a three-run bomb in the top of the second to instantly put the Red Sox up 3-0. The Red Sox wouldn't relinquish the lead the rest of the way, even with Brian Johnson pitching. Johnson was actually pretty good, pitching 4.2 innings (more on this in a bit) and only giving up two runs. Washington made it close in the fourth when Mark Reynolds and Tanner Roark hit RBI singles to cut it to 3-2, but they'd never get closer. The Sox blew it wide open with a six run fifth inning started by Brian Johnson getting on base with the first hit of his major league career. I will say that the first two games of this series have shown some good hitting from the pitchers on both sides. Between Porcello's bases-clearing double last night and the important hits by both pitchers in this game, it was almost enough to make me want to get rid of the DH in the AL. Almost. (For the record, I like it the way it is, with both leagues having slightly different rules). Back to the fifth inning, JD Martinez drove in Johnson and Mookie Betts with a single while new addition Steve Pearce (who came into the game in the second inning after Mitch Moreland had some back spasms) drove in a run with a single of his own. Xander Bogaerts provided the exclamation point on the inning with a three-run blast to center field. 9-2 Red Sox and it was smooth sailing from there. Even when Washington pushed a couple of runs across (on a Pedro Severino solo shot in the sixth and a Brian Goodwin solo shot in the ninth), it didn't matter. As if to prove the point, JD hit his 26th homer of the season, of the two-run variety, in the top of the ninth. He now leads the league in both home runs and RBI (71), all while hitting .325. The final score was 11-4 Red Sox and it never even felt that close.

Tanner Roark was in the tough position of taking one for the team for the Nats, who needed to rest their bullpen. Even though he was getting knocked around and gave up nine runs, he stayed out there and took his lumps giving his team seven innings of work. On the flip side, I'm not sure why Alex Cora felt the need to take Johnson out of the game with two outs in a seven run game. It robbed Johnson of the win and just seemed more than a little unnecessary. Conversely, I have to give Cora some credit because before the game started I was very critical of his lineup for this game, but they proved me wrong. While both teams ended the game with twelve hits, the Sox got the ones that did the most damage. The Yankees unfortunately also won, so the Sox lead in the division remained at a game. They go for the sweep of Washington this morning and I can't think of a more patriotic thing to watch today than a team from the birthplace of America playing our national pastime in the nation's capital. Go America and go Red Sox!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Game 86: Red Sox at Washington Nationals (July 2, 2018)

Run support? Rick Porcello says he'll make his own run support, thank you very much! As much as I hate interleague play (I believe I've mentioned that before, no?), I will grudgingly admit that it's nice to see the Sox play against some of the teams and players I don't normally get to see them go up against. In this case, even though he's having a miserable season, I was interested in seeing Bryce Harper play. We spent a full day visiting with my parents before my youngest daughter and I played in the parents vs. kids game to wrap up her softball season (it was a lot of fun!). We got home to watch the Sox in what turned out to be an interesting game.

The pitching match-up looked great with Porcello taking the mound against his former teammate, the phenomenal Max Scherzer. Rick got the first and last laugh, though, when he launched a double with the bases loaded in the second to give the Red Sox a quick 3-0 lead. While I don't have a problem with the DH rule as a lot of older fans (like my dad) do, especially since it's all I've ever known in the AL, I will say that it was very cool to see a pitcher get a big hit like that. Talk about helping your own cause! Anthony Rendon got the Nationals on the board with a solo shot in the fourth and Daniel Murphy did the same in the sixth. Mookie Betts answered those two with a solo shot of his own (his 21st of the season) in the top of the seventh. By then it was 4-2 Boston, and Mookie's home run looked a lot more important when Bryce Harper hit a solo blast off of Joe Kelly in the bottom of the eighth. It was too little, too late though as the Sox held on to win 4-3. With the Yankees losing to the Braves in extra innings, the Sox are back atop the AL East with a one game lead. 

The Sox were outhit in this game 9-7, but there was no hit bigger than Porcello's double. Brock Holt had a great game, going 3-3 while every other Sox player who had a hit in the game only had one. The win was Porcello's tenth of the season and he went six strong, striking out five and walking two while giving up two runs. Scherzer was also great, going six innings and striking out nine, but I'm sure he'd like to have the one he gave up to Rick back. Craig Kimbrel picked up his 25th save of the season and while the Sox continued to roll, the Nationals miserable season got worse. They're now only a game over .500, in third place in the NL East, and 2-8 in their last ten games. Combined with Harper's abysmal season, they look ripe for the Red Sox to take two of three if not sweep the whole series. Here's hoping that Boston does just that!

Monday, July 2, 2018

Game 85: Red Sox at New York Yankees (July 1, 2018)

Thank goodness the rest of my day was great and that it balanced out the putrid performance of the Red Sox. I spent the day at the softball fields with my wife, kids, and my visiting parents watching my oldest daughter play in her tournament. Her team played extremely well over the entire weekend and ended up finishing in second place out of eight teams. They went 5-2 for the weekend and lost a hard fought championship game. She brought home another trophy and while she was hot, dirty, and exhausted by the end I couldn't be more proud of her. Upon returning home, I turned on the horror show that was the Red Sox and for some bizarre reason, watched all the way to the bitter end.

I now know that I was foolish to have thought that David Price might finally prove all of us in Red Sox Nation wrong and actually deliver in a high-pressure situation on a national stage. Instead of standing tall and dominating, he was like a candle under a heat lamp, melting into a puddle of goo. It was a disaster from the beginning as Aaron Judge launched a solo homer in the bottom of the first, followed by a three-run blast from Gleyber Torres. 4-0 Yankees and it was all over from there. Price gave up another homer, a two run shot to Aaron Hicks in the second, and then gave up two more home runs in the fourth: a solo shot to Kyle Higashioka and another to Hicks. By then it was 8-0 and David Price's reputation as a choker in clutch situations was cemented beyond repair. Unless he someday goes undefeated during an entire run to a World Series and absolutely dominates, his reputation will be in tatters forever. The guy just doesn't have that IT factor that so many others do. The rest of this game was mop-up duty from the bullpen. Justin Haley gave up a couple more runs and Hicks hit his third home run of the game in the eighth off of Hector Velazquez. The Red Sox avoided the ultimate embarrassment of being shut out when Rafael Devers drove in Sandy Leon on a fielder's choice in the ninth. The final score was 11-1 Yankees and now we're all tied up in the division again. For the Yankees, Luis Severino was masterful and the Red Sox bats couldn’t do anything all night. They were partly to blame for the loss, but when your starter gets blasted the way Price did, it just makes it that much harder. 

The Red Sox loss was ugly enough on its own, but that's baseball and they're still in great shape overall. It was David Price confirming all of his critics that he just can't handle pitching in Boston and on the biggest stage. His final line was disgustingly ugly: 3.1 innings, eight runs on nine hits (including FIVE home runs), and only striking out three. Pathetically, it would have been more shocking had he pitched well than the final result which we were all expecting (and which we got). There's nothing to do but move on from this one and go into the next series looking to win more games. Still, the stink of Price will linger around this team all season and mark my words, it will bite them in the ass come playoff time. The guy just can't win when it matters.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Game 84: Red Sox at New York Yankees (June 30, 2018)

Hey Boston sports media, how do you like your overreaction now? A day after the Boston websites and talk show hosts were saying that the Red Sox "just aren't good enough to beat the Yankees," the Sox made both the talking heads and the Yankees look foolish. I spent the day getting ready to meet my parents (who are visiting from Boston) at the airport while my wife was watching our oldest daughter play in a travel tournament (her team swept all three of their games!). By the time we all gathered after the games at our house, we enjoyed dinner over some pizzas and watched the Red Sox return the favor by absolutely pummeling the Yankees.

Chris Sale was the anti-Eduardo Rodriguez in this game...he was utterly brilliant. He threw seven innings of one-hit ball, striking out eleven and only walking one. The Yankees couldn't get anything going against him and it was hopefully a harbinger of things to come from Sale in the postseason. The only other hit the Yankees got was in the ninth off of Hector Velazquez...otherwise, the team that hit everything the night before couldn't hit anything. Boston jumped all over Sonny Gray and the Yankees in the top of the first when Rafael Devers hit a grand slam to open up 4-0 lead. Andrew Benintendi and JD Martinez each drove in a run in the second to widen the gap and the rout was on. Starting in the sixth inning, the Red Sox kept piling it on; JD drove in another run in the sixth while Sandy Leon launched a two-run bomb in the seventh to make it 9-0. In the eighth, JD drove in another run and Brock Holt finished it off in the ninth with a single down the left field line (literally). The final score was 11-0 and it was delicious to embarrass the Yankees at home a day after they beat us pretty badly. Every Red Sox player except Mitch Moreland and Eduardo Nunez had at least a hit in this game and as a team, Boston outhit New York 17 to 2!

With this demolition, the Red Sox went back up a game in the division with one more to play before heading to Washington. Worst case scenario, they leave the Bronx tied with the Yankees. Best case, they leave up an extra game from when they came in. This is baseball at its best, when these two teams are both good and battling each other for supremacy. I only hope that David Price can finally break through and have a clutch performance in a high-pressure situation...he's the real wild card in all of this. We'll know a lot more about his makeup after the next game, that's for sure.

(By the way, I have the book in the Amazon ad above and it's great! I recommend it if you're interested).