Sunday, September 30, 2018

Game 161: New York Yankees at Red Sox (September 29, 2018)

After Friday's night's embarrassment, I was hoping for a better showing from the Red Sox in the middle game against the Yankees. Unfortunately, it was more of the same. Before I get into the meat of the recap, I want to rant a little bit here. I've gotten into several heated debates (or arguments, in some cases) with other Red Sox fans who argue that these games are so meaningless and "unimportant" that they don't care how the team looks in these final few weeks or how many games they win. They seem to think the team will just flip a switch and be back to their dominant selves the instant the ALDS starts next Friday. They also incessantly point to the record and cry "107 wins!" as if that means something. Let me take these points one at a time. First, if these games are so meaningless, then why aren't the Indians, Astros, or Yankees mailing them in like the Red Sox are? Second, the record is a bit of fool's gold and this is something I've thought throughout the season. The Sox got off to an historically great start (remember 17-2 in April?) and outperformed just about every statistical projection the analytics folks (see: their Pythagorean win total) computed. While I still think this is a damn good Red Sox team, I don't think they're as good as their record. They certainly don't seem as dominant or well balanced as, say, the 2004 team and besides, in October everyone starts at 0-0 again. Finally, baseball is a game of rhythms both at the plate and on the mound. These final couple of weeks weren't important to Boston in terms of standings or the implications of any postseason seeding, but they were most definitely important for getting them team firing on all cylinders and in a good rhythm heading into the ALDS. While every other team (especially the Yankees) is rounding into form, the Red Sox have been staggering to the finish line for the better part of a month. The hitting has been inconsistent and the pitching, both starting and relief, has been atrocious. In October, the pitching gets better and you play a lot more 2-1 and 3-2 games than you do 10-8 and 12-9 slugfests. This Red Sox team is not built to win low scoring games. The end of this season is a bad repeat of the way they finished the 2016 and 2017 regular seasons, and we all know how those postseasons turned out.

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I'll end my rant there, but I'll warn you if you didn't watch the game that it was pretty ugly. Giancarlo Stanton got the Yankees on the scoreboard early with an RBI double in the first inning. Jackie Bradley did exactly the same in the second to tie the game at a run a piece, but as is typical the Yankees answered while the Red Sox didn't. Greg Bird doubled to drive in Didi Gregorius in the fourth and was followed by Gleyber Torres hitting a homer to make it 4-1 New York. Andrew Benintendi shaved a run off the Yankees' lead with an RBI single in the bottom of the inning, but the Yankees came storming back in the next inning and came away with three more runs. Miguel Andujar doubled to drive in two, Austin Romine singled to drive in another, and suddenly the game was out of reach for Boston. The best thing that happened all game was when Stanton hit a solo homer in the seventh inning (no, seriously...bear with me) and the fan who caught it on the Green Monster threw it back at him and actually hit him with a one-hop as he rounded second base! If you didn't see it when it happened, you must watch the video; it has to be seen to be believed. That was a throw most major league players would have a hard time making on the first try and this fan threw a bullseye. (He was ejected from the game, but what a moment!). The Sox tacked on a few runs too late to matter in the eighth when Blake Swihart drove one in on a fielder's choice and then in the ninth when Brock Holt smacked a two-run homer. It was irrelevant as the Sox went down to the Yankees again to a final score of 8-5.

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Nathan Eovaldi started the game and only went two innings but was pretty good, whiffing four without walking anyone and only giving up a single hit and run. Alex Cora spent the rest of the game tinkering with the bullpen, getting Eduardo Rodriguez extended time in long relief; it came to naught as Rodriguez (along with Brandon Workman) was the worst Red Sox pitcher of the day. Each of them had identical pitching lines where they gave up three runs on four hits while striking out two. While I get what Cora was doing, I wish he and the team would have a little pride and try to win some of these games. If the season ends on Sunday with the Yankees finishing off the sweep and winning the season series, this team should be embarrassed. They've already failed to prevent the Yankees from winning 100 games on the season (a milestone they hit with this victory) as well as gifting them home field advantage for the gimmick play-in game against Oakland. To lay down and throw away the season series in the name of resting players and coasting to the finish would be a tough pill to swallow. Rick Porcello will make his final start of the season in the finale Sunday and I expect him to have a truncated outing. With the way this team has been pitching, hitting, and playing the last month, I think their stay in the postseason may be truncated as well. Prove me wrong, guys. 

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Game 160: New York Yankees at Red Sox (September 28, 2018)

Here we are at the final series of the regular season...can you believe it? When I had first seen the schedule back in February and noticed that the season ended with three games at home against the Yankees, all I wanted was for the Red Sox to be more than three games ahead of them by the time it came around. I harped on it for most of the summer when the division race was close, and now here we are with Boston up by nine games having sewn up the division more than a week ago. As such, these games don't mean much in terms of standings and playoff seeding, but there was still a lot for the Sox to play for in my mind. First, they could do some damage to the Yankees chances of playing at home in the gimmick play-in game. Second, they should want to take the season series (the Sox only need one win out of the three games to clinch that). Third and finally, after the way they ended the seasons in 2016 and 2017, the Red Sox need to finish this season strong and on a positive note with some momentum heading into the ALDS next Friday, especially since they'll most likely be seeing these same Yankees again.

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...and instead we got exactly the opposite. I've been a fairly vocal critic of Alex Cora taking his foot off the gas too early (as in two weeks too early) and this opening game against the Yankees continued that trend. It's really my only complaint with Cora this entire season and I'm hoping that the team can flip the switch come playoff time, but I'm skeptical seeing as it didn't work the last two years and it typically doesn't work in any sport (with rare exceptions). This game was over almost from the very beginning. Cora trotted Brian Johnson out there to make another spot start and he wasn't able to replicate his past successes this season against the Yankees. Gary Sanchez, who isn't even hitting anything close to his weight, crushed a solo homer in the third to get the night's prodigious scoring started for the Yankees. This was followed a bit later by Giancarlo Stanton singling to center field to drive in a run and end the inning with New York up 2-0. The Sox finished their crash and burn in the fourth, this time with William Cuevas on the mound. Gleyber Torres doubled on a disputed call (which the Yankees won upon review...big surprise) to drive in two and was followed by Andrew McCutchen's single which drove Torres in and made it 5-0. This entire inning was like a slow motion trainwreck and my oldest daughter and I sat there in disbelief at how badly it unfolded for Boston. After Aaron Judge reached base, Aaron Hicks finished New York's big inning when he belted a three run homer to make it 8-0 Yankees. It seemed like the Sox were just going to pack it in, especially because to that point they had squandered some excellent scoring chances (how do you put runners on the corners with no outs and come away with nothing? Not even a sacrifice fly?!). However, in the bottom of the sixth with the bases loaded and two outs, Steve Pearce hit a grand slam into the Green Monster seats to halve the lead to 8-4. At that point I was hoping the momentum would shift and the Sox could get to the Yankees bullpen (which they've beat up on all season). Instead, as they've maddeningly done the last few years, they gave runs right back the following inning. Luke Voit (who has hurt the Sox badly this month since going to New York in a trade with the Cardinals) hit a solo homer off of Drew Pomeranz to push the Yankee lead back up to five runs. The horror show continued when Sanchez hit a grounder to Xander Bogaerts that he booted allowing Didi Gregorious to score. Then in the eighth Judge hit a moonshot to center field to put the game out of reach at 11-4. The Sox tacked on a couple of garbage time runs, one in the bottom of the eighth when Pearce drove one in with a single and another in the ninth when Bogaerts walked with the bases loaded to bring in Sam Travis, but this was a thorough embarrassment as the Yankees walked all over the Red Sox to the tune of 11-6. They outhit the Sox 13-6 and other than Pearce, no one did any real damage at the plate. The pitching continued to be atrocious, too, with Cuevas giving up six runs and Pomeranz and Joe Kelly continuing to show why they need to be former Red Sox after this season. At least we shouldn't have to see either of them ever pitch for this team again after Sunday's game.

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Every Red Sox fan should be angry about this game. While there wasn't anything to play for in terms of standings or seeding implications, the reasons I listed at the beginning of this recap were absolutely in play and they fell flat on their face in every single one of them. The win gifted the Yankees home field advantage in the gimmick play-in game which increased the odds that they'll play the Sox next Friday in the ALDS. I can at least forgive the pitching because the team didn't have their best guys out there, but again that's Cora being okay with throwing a game away in the name of "rest" and coasting to the finish line. The Yankees played terrible baseball for most of the summer but look like they're starting to round into form and peak right as the season is ending; Boston has done the opposite, tearing through the league all summer and stumbling to the end over the last month. Right now the Sox have little to play for except pride and bragging rights against the Yankees, but given how much more postseason success these young Yankees have had over the last two seasons (remember, they made it to game seven of the ALCS last year before losing to the eventual champion Astros) and given that the Sox will in all likelihood play them in the ALDS (unless the banged up A's pull off a miracle), the Sox had a chance to eat the Yankees lunch and instead ended up with egg all over their face. Now it's up to Nathan Eovaldi in the middle game of the series to see if he'll finish the regular season strong and lead the team to a season series clinching win against their hated rival.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Game 159: Baltimore Orioles at Red Sox (September 26, 2018)

Well, that was a bit unexpected, wasn't it? After pummeling the Orioles into submission in the matinee, it seemed like it would be more of the same in the nightcap, especially with Chris Sale poised to make his final start of the season with no restrictions. Even with a bizarre empty-the-bench lineup put out there by Alex Cora, it didn't seem as though the Red Sox would have any trouble with the pathetic Orioles. Instead, the tables were turned and the O's returned the favor with a blowout of their own. It wasn't exactly what any Red Sox fans were predicting.

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I'll get it out of the way right now: it seems as though something truly is wrong with Chris Sale. The conventional wisdom since he went on the DL in July was that while there probably was some truth to the shoulder soreness, the Sox were just being overly cautious and shutting him down for some extended rest to end the season. He looked good, but not great, in his last couple of outings as they gradually ramped up his workload and the hope was that he would now hit the ground running and go as long as necessary in this final start. Instead, he looked slower than normal (topping out in the low 90s) and his command wasn't sharp. It was fairly evident from the beginning when Trey Mancini ripped an RBI triple off of him in the first. Baltimore added another run shortly after when Renato Nunez' sacrifice fly pushed Mancini home to give the birds a quick 2-0 lead. The Sox got one back in the bottom of the inning when Brandon Phillips, hitting with the bases loaded and two outs, poked a grounder to shortstop Jonathan Villar that was bobbled allowing Jackie Bradley to score. Tzu-Wei Lin (who has been swinging a good bat this past week) tripled in the fourth to drive in Sam Travis and tie the game at two runs, but Baltimore took the lead back in the fifth on Adam Jones' RBI double. The back and forth continued in the bottom of the fifth when Blake Swihart singled to drive in Rafael Devers and tie it at three. It seemed like it would be nip and tuck to the end, but the Boston bullpen showed up to ruin it all. Even against a lousy Orioles team, they couldn't hold the lead which doesn't inspire much confidence heading into the postseason. Matt Barnes gave up a two-RBI single right up the middle to Mancini in the seventh and then surrendered an RBI single to Nunez allowing the O's to go ahead by three runs. Things really fell apart in the ninth when Craig Kimbrel loaded the bases (with walks!) and allowed a run to score on a wild pitch. Then Robby Scott (why is he even on this team?) gave up two runs on a two-RBI double to John Andreoli and an RBI single to Steve Wilkerson. In the space of a few innings, the bullpen allowed a close 3-3 game to turn into a 10-3 blowout loss. The Sox were outhit 10-6 and seemed a bit tired which was surprising seeing as they had Tuesday off and will get to rest again Thursday. Yes, it was a meaningless game in a series the Sox had already won and they sat all of their starters except for Jackie Bradley (who sat in the first game), but still I would have expected a better showing from the team (mainly the bullpen). Eduardo Rodriguez made another appearance out of the pen and was excellent, striking out three without any walks or hits in his 1.1 innings of work. The big goats were Barnes, Kimbrel, and Scott. I'm not too fussed about Scott since he's not going to make the postseason roster anyway, but Barnes and Kimbrel are two of the best options out of the pen and both were atrocious. Barnes gave up three runs in 0.1 innings of work on four hits while Kimbrel was charged with four earned runs in 0.1 innings without giving up a single hit...but issuing three walks. Again, I realize this game means nothing but to be that bad against an Orioles team that has lost 112 games? That troubles me, as does Sale. Yes, he struck out eight and only walked one in his 4.2 innings, but he gave up three runs on four hits and most worrisome, his velocity was down. I'm hoping he was just being overly cautious and wanted to save his arm for the ALDS next week, but that's not typically his style and my fear is that something more serious is wrong with him. For now we can only wait and see what the Red Sox say about it (or if they say anything about it).

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The final series of the season (can you believe it?) begins on Friday when the Yankees come to town for three games. Clinging to a 1.5 game lead in the race to host the Wild Card play-in gimmick game (I hate this two team Wild Card system), I'd love to see the Red Sox try to win the season series (currently at 9-7 Red Sox) and do some damage to the Yankees in the standings. If the Sox could be the cause for the Yankees to have to travel cross country to Oakland for that game, it would be so delicious (he says with an evil grin). Rick Porcello, another guy who needs to get back into midseason form, will make his final regular season start and can hopefully help to make that a reality. My guess, though, is that Cora will ease off the throttle and manage these games the same way he's managed the last two weeks. It's not what I would do (or what I want to see), but it's not my call.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Game 158: Baltimore Orioles at Red Sox (September 26, 2018)

Originally scheduled for the day before, this game was postponed due to rain in Boston and ended up being rescheduled as the first game of a day/night doubleheader on Wednesday. In a way, it was a blessing for the Sox since it gave them an extra day off with another off day scheduled for Thursday. True, they'll have to play two games on Wednesday, but sandwiched between two off days doesn't seem too bad. David Price was scheduled to pitch the matinee after getting rained out Tuesday night and most likely enjoyed the extra day of rest. The sun was finally out in Boston and it looked to be a beautiful autumn day for baseball at Fenway Park as I listened on the radio in my office.

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With the first inning the Red Sox had, it seemed like this would be a laugher of a game. They batted through the order and put up five runs in a seemingly effortless manner. After Andrew Benintendi and JD Martinez got on base, Xander Bogaerts ripped a double into left field to bring them in for a quick 2-0 lead. Later in the inning with the bases loaded, Rafael Devers smoked a double of his own to clear the bases and make it 5-0 Sox. It looked like it was going to be a runaway rout, but Baltimore had a little something to say about that in the top of the second. First, Trey Mancini hit a solo homer off of Price. Okay, no big deal. But later in the inning Renato Nunez homered with a man on to cut the Boston lead to 5-3 and it looked like it was going to be one of those days where neither side could pitch to save their souls. Price threw a lot of pitches in the second and at one point had the bases loaded with only one out, but he worked out of the jam to prevent any more scoring for the O's. JD crushed his 42nd homer of the season in the fourth with Mookie Betts and Benintendi aboard to push the lead to 8-3 and from there, the rout was well and truly on. In the fifth, the severely slumping Ian Kinsler smacked a double to left field to drive in Mitch Moreland and was subsequently driven in by a Devers RBI single. In the sixth inning Xander crushed a homer of his own (his 22nd) with JD on base to make it 12-3 Boston, but incredibly they weren't done yet. Devers hit a solo homer in the seventh for his 20th on the season and was followed by Blake Swihart doing the same. Then, Benintendi doubled in Tzu-Wei Lin and when the dust settled, it was 15-3. At that point I figured they'd just cruise through the final two innings in order to end the game and get ready for the nightcap, but they had other ideas. Devers clubbed home run number twenty-one in the eighth while Lin doubled later in the inning to drive two more runs in. The scoring finally ended when Benintendi singled to drive Lin in. Not even the Red Sox bullpen could blow that lead as the team absolutely pummeled the Orioles to the tune of 19-3. Everyone got in on the act, but it was nice to see Benintendi break out and get back on track after a power outage that goes back to the All Star break (although he's still only hit two homers since then). The real star was Devers who went 4-5 with six RBI, two runs scored, and two home runs. Price wasn't at his best but was more than adequate to get the job done, striking out six (but walking three) and giving up those two home runs (and three earned runs total) in his five innings of work.

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Besides going into the record books as the team's 107th win of the season, the big milestone came when Mookie stole second base in the second inning to earn his 30th theft and become only the second Red Sox player in history to have a 30/30 season (Jacoby Ellsbury being the other one, in 2011). It's hard to see how he won't win the American League MVP award this season and the scary thing is that his numbers could be even better if he wasn't hitting leadoff; it boggles the mind. Chris Sale will go in the nightcap and hopefully be allowed to pitch a full game (which these days means 5-7 innings) in his final tune up before the ALDS starts next week.  I enjoyed the day game on the radio and plan to relax on the couch and watch the nightcap...two games in a day, does it get any better? Count me as among those old enough to remember scheduled doubleheaders and as someone who wishes Major League Baseball would have more of them throughout the season. Anyway, on to the second game...

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Game 157: Baltimore Orioles at Red Sox (September 24, 2018)

As expected, a visit from the absolutely pathetic Orioles was exactly what the Red Sox needed. After dropping the final two games against Cleveland, both in extra innings and both extremely winnable, the Sox came home to Fenway Park to open their final home stand of the regular season with a series against the birds from Baltimore. It was hardly a marquee match up and the same could be said for the two starters going against each other, Nathan Eovaldi and Dylan Bundy. Still, with the Sox seemingly backing their way into the postseason like they've done the last two seasons, some wins against a hapless Orioles team to get them back in rhythm (and to clinch home field advantage throughout October) would be just what the doctor ordered.

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From the beginning of the game this one was all Boston. Brock Holt got things started with an RBI double in the bottom of the second inning and was followed by Christian Vazquez bringing him home with an RBI single. Mookie Betts then crushed his 32nd home run of the season over the Green Monster to bring in Vazquez and make it 4-0 Red Sox. That was enough to knock Bundy out of the game and get to the Baltimore bullpen. In the fourth, Andrew Benintendi drilled one right into the shift but the resulting hop deflected off the glove of Jonathan Villar which allowed Jackie Bradley to score. Xander Bogaerts then hit a line drive to left field to drive Mookie in and extend the Boston lead to 6-0. The O's got on the board in the fifth when Eovaldi uncorked a wild pitch during Steve Wilkerson's at bat which allowed Tim Beckham to run in and score from third base. It never felt like the Sox were in trouble, though, and the same held true when Adam Jones drove in the final Baltimore run in the eighth with a sacrifice fly off of Ryan Brasier. Matt Barnes continued his journey back from injury to pitch a clean ninth and seal the deal. It was an easy 6-2 win for the Sox who earned their 106th victory of the season, breaking the franchise win record and clinching the best record in the American League (and thus, home field advantage). There was no drama and some nice performances, chiefly from Eovaldi who pitched five solid innings, striking out ten without a single walk and only allowing the one run on four hits and a wild pitch. Eduardo Rodriguez pitched out of the bullpen in preparation for his new role in the postseason and did a good job. At the plate, every starter recorded at least one hit except for JD Martinez (0-2 but with two walks) and Rafael Devers. Granted, the competition wasn't particular good, but even so it was nice to see given how erratic the hitting had been against good and even bad teams this past month.

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My fear now is that Alex Cora will really take his foot off the gas and ease up on these final five games. The Yankees series later this week which closes out the season would be a nice opportunity to win the season series and hopefully do some damage to their Wild Card travel plans. I'll be interested to see how Cora handles that. As for this series, David Price will pitch the middle game and hopefully continue his string of excellent second half performances as he heads into October. With these last five games, it should be all about finishing strong and being in a good groove before the intensity really ramps up.

(You'll notice I didn't make too big a deal out of the Sox setting the team win record. That's because A) in the grand scheme of things it doesn't mean much when everybody starts the playoffs at 0-0, and B) anything less than at least an ALCS appearance will be a crushing disappointment this season. I don't think we need to be reminded of that by continually pointing out how many regular season wins they had. Still, it earned them home field advantage, it's a great accomplishment, and I feel blessed to have been able to witness it).

Monday, September 24, 2018

Game 156: Red Sox at Cleveland Indians (September 23, 2018)

After letting a winnable game slip away in extra innings the night before, the Red Sox looked poised to bounce back in the series finale against the Indians. Mookie Betts was back in the lineup and while they had Hector Velazquez making a spot start, there was no reason to think they couldn't sneak out of Cleveland with the series win. For the first two games they fielded a lineup made up mostly of call-ups and bench players and split with the Tribe so surely they'd be able to get the job done, clinch home field throughout the postseason, and head back to Fenway Park on Monday with the franchise record for wins, right?

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Things seemed to be off to a good start in the first inning when Mookie scored on a wild pitch from Indians starter Adam Plutko during Rafael Devers' at bat. The Sox added another run in the third when Devers hit into a fielder's choice that brought Christian Vazquez home. The 2-0 lead didn't last long, though, because Cleveland picked up three runs in the fourth starting with an RBI single off the bat of Edwin Encarnacion. That was enough to chase Velazquez from the game and bring in Steven Wright. Wright wasn't able to stem the bleeding and allowed Melky Cabrera to drive in two with a double to give the Indians a 3-2 lead. Mookie wasn't having any of that and in the fifth inning he smacked his 31st homer of the season to tie the game at three. For the second game in a row the score remained knotted after nine innings and so we were treated to bonus baseball. William Cuevas did a great job in long relief, going 5.1 innings and keeping Cleveland off the scoreboard, but his carriage finally turned back into a pumpkin in the bottom of the eleventh. After loading the bases, he was lifted for Robby Scott who surrendered a game winning RBI single to Greg Allen. The Red Sox lost 4-3 and squandered another golden opportunity to win a series against a very good team, secure home field advantage throughout October, and set the franchise win record. The three errors the team committed certainly didn't help the cause, but I have to say in general this Cleveland team scares me a lot less than it has in recent years. I'm not saying they're a pushover, but of the big four teams in the American League, I'd place them either third or fourth (depending on how the Yankees finish the season). Mookie was a monster, accounting for half of the Red Sox' eight hits with a 4-6 night. To go along with those four hits, he scored two runs and drove one in. No one else did much of anything at the plate, though, with only Jackie Bradley, Xander Bogaerts (who left the game with a sore shoulder), Tzu-Wei Lin, and Vazquez each picking up a hit. The team as a whole left a whopping twenty-six runners stranded on base and you know what I always say: it's difficult to win a game when you don't take advantage of that many opportunities to score.

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I've gone on record as not being a fan of coasting to the finish line of the regular season, regardless of the sport. I hated John Farrell's approach to the end of 2016 and 2017 and I'm not really a fan of Alex Cora doing it this year, although it does feel a bit different this season. Unlike the malaise and fatigue that seemed to hover over the final two Farrell teams, this team still seems vibrant and joyous. I just believe that you want to finish the season strong so that the momentum can carry over to the postseason. In my opinion, the time to rest guys and ease completely off would have been on Monday with the lowly Orioles coming to Boston for a three game series; it would have been nice to make a statement and take two or three games in Cleveland (which they easily could've done as all three were there for the taking). What's done is done, though, and for now it's time to move on to the Orioles and a new series. Nathan Eovaldi will get the start for the Sox in what should be his final tune-up before October. At this point I wish we could just fast forward to the ALDS, but there's still a little bit of business for the Red Sox to take care of with the Orioles and Yankees

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Game 155: Red Sox at Cleveland Indians (September 22, 2018)

Since clinching the division on Thursday and tying the franchise record for wins on Friday, the Red Sox don't have much to play for the remainder of the regular season. Other than breaking the team win record and clinching home field advantage throughout the postseason with one more win (or a Houston loss), Alex Cora and his squad seem to be mainly focused on resting key players and getting everyone back into a good rhythm in preparation for the ALDS. It's been kind of fun to see some of the recent call ups and bench guys play and many of them were instrumental in defeating the Indians in the series opener on Friday. It was more of the same Saturday in the middle game with Mookie Betts sitting again while the rest of the Killer B's made their way back into the lineup. The thing I was paying attention to the most in this game was Rick Porcello's performance. After a first half of the season where he looked to be recapturing his 2016 Cy Young-winning form, he's been inconsistent and, at times, downright awful since the All Star break. As a key component of the rotation, he's going to need to be pitching at his best in October and it needed to start now with this game against Cleveland.

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Unfortunately, he continued his string of poor performances by giving us another stinker of a game. Five innings of work (I'm old enough to remember when pitchers routinely went six to eight innings every damn game...and I'm not that old), four runs on eight hits, and two walks with only one strikeout. It was another disappointing and ineffective performance that absolutely needs to stop happening. One thing I'll say for Rick is that he was damn lucky the offense eventually got him off the hook for the loss. Of those runs he surrendered, the Indians jumped out to a two run lead in the bottom of the second when Yan Gomes doubled to drive in Josh Donaldson. That was followed by Francisco Lindor singling to bring Melky Cabrera in, while the Sox were able to throw Gomes out at the plate trying to score behind him. Rafael Devers continued his mini hot streak with a solo homer in the third (his 19th long ball of the season), but Porcello gave up an RBI single to Donaldson in the bottom of the inning to allow Cleveland to push their lead back up to two runs. That was the theme of this game for the earlier innings; every time Boston pulled closer, Cleveland answered with a run. That held true when Blake Swihart hit a solo homer in the fourth (so many solo home runs...welcome to Major League Baseball in 2018) which was answered by Lindor singling in another run in the bottom of the inning: 4-2 Indians. Boston finally broke through to tie the game in the eighth inning; with runners on second and third and two outs, Andrew Benintendi hit a flare to left field that drove in Tzu-Wei Lin and Jackie Bradley to tie it up at four. The teams then traded outs (with Brian Johnson doing an excellent job holding down the fort and even Joe Kelly, who made it look as difficult as ever, escaping by the skin of his teeth) until the eleventh. The Red Sox had had some chances but couldn't do anything and it cost them when Michael Brantley drove in the winning run in the bottom of the eleventh with a single to push Rajai Davis across. He did this against Drew Pomeranz who looks beyond lost (and if I'm being honest, seems disinterested and perhaps angry out there). A bunch of Red Sox fans online wisecracked that Cora put him in the game because it was getting late and he just wanted to go home. Mission accomplished. It was a winnable game that really didn't mean anything to the Sox and it ended up being a 5-4 defeat in extra innings.

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Normally a game like this would irritate me to no end, but my biggest takeaway is a measure of satisfaction that for the second time in as many nights a mainly AAAA Red Sox lineup of call ups and bench guys went toe-to-toe with Cleveland's A-team, winning one game and nearly winning another. Mookie will be back in the lineup for the series finale Sunday (at least that's what Cora said before the game) although with Hector Velazquez making another spot start it doesn't seem as though Cora is going to stop easing off the gas any time soon. If it were up to me, I'd go all out to win Sunday night to clinch the best record in the league (and home field advantage) and then completely ease up in the home series against Baltimore that begins on Monday. They don't pay me the big money to manage the team, though, so I'll be curious to see how Cora handles the remaining games against the Orioles and Yankees this coming week.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Game 154: Red Sox at Cleveland Indians (September 21, 2018)

With the Red Sox clinching the AL East on Thursday night, it rendered the remaining nine games of the season relatively meaningless. They're guaranteed a postseason spot and home field advantage tin at least the ALDS, so other than trying to break the franchise record for wins (105 by the 1912 Red Sox) and clinch the best record in the American League, they really have nothing to play for. Even so, I want to see them play to win these games for two reasons: first, because I'm a super competitive person and I want to win them all, and second because I'm a big believer in positive momentum heading into the postseason. That's the case in any sport and something I harped on in 2016 and 2017 as well. In both of those years, the Sox were played their worst baseball to finish those seasons and it carried over into the playoffs. I'm not saying I want the Sox to go 9-0 to end 2018 (although I wouldn't mind that at all), but I'd at least like to see them get into a groove where the pitching and hitting are near peak performance heading into the ALDS.

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Chris Sale made his third start since coming off the DL and was again looking at a gradual increase in his work load. Opposite him on the mound was Trevor Bauer and the dangerous Indians lineup. Alex Cora sat the Killer B's with Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley all getting the night off for some rest. That didn't seem to matter when the Sox chased Bauer from the game by the third inning (although I'm sure Terry Francona was managing as hard as Cora was, meaning not very). Sam Travis hit his first career major league homer on a ball that hit the top of the right field fence and bounced over to give the Sox a 1-0 lead. That was quickly erased when Sale gave up a solo blast to Josh Donaldson in the following inning. (As an eerie aside, NESN had literally put a graphic saying that Donaldson had the most career homers off of Sale seconds before the pitch. They jinxed him!). The Indians added some more in the inning off of my personal boogeyman when it comes to relievers...can you guess who? If you said "Heath Hembree," you're correct. He served up a fat pitch that Yan Gomes smacked into center field for a two-run homer to give Cleveland a 3-1 lead. Bobby Poyner gave up a sacrifice fly in the fifth to Jose Ramirez that brought in Francisco Lindor and increased the Sox deficit to 4-1. At that point, it seemed like it was time to pack it in; after all, what was the point in trying too hard to win when there was nothing at stake (and especially with mostly bench players playing)? It still felt that way when Rafael Devers hit his 18th home run of the season to cut it to 4-2 in the top of the sixth. However, in the seventh inning the Sox finally got to Indians pitcher Shane Bieber (who had been cruising along for the most part since coming into the game in the third). With two outs Travis doubled with two men on to tie the game. That was followed by a swinging bunt from Tzu-Wei Lin that hit Bieber's foot and allowed Travis to score which gave the Sox the lead. Devers then singled to drive in Lin and increased the lead to two runs. Boston loaded the bases for Steve Pearce and seemed poised to blow the game open but weren't able to capitalize. Cleveland got one back in the seventh off of Drew Pomeranz when what should have been a routine fly ball for out number three fell in front of Travis to allow Michael Brantley to score. I don't blame Travis for that miscue, though...the wind was blowing in hard from Lake Erie and that ball ended up getting blown from the warning track in about halfway to third base. Still, it hurt in that it cut the lead to 6-5. The Sox bullpen got out of a huge jam in the eighth when they managed to keep Cleveland off the board after they put runners on second and third with no outs...even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, as the old adage goes. Lin capped off the night by joining Sam Travis in hitting his first career major league homer to give Boston a bit of a cushion in the ninth. Craig Kimbrel slammed the door shut on the win and earned his 42nd save of the season as the Sox prevailed 7-5. No Killer B's, no problem!

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The win tied the 1912 Red Sox for the most in franchise history, but more importantly it moved the Sox one step closer to clinching the best record in all of baseball and guaranteeing them home field throughout the postseason (all they need is for Houston to lose one more game this season to secure it). More importantly, at least in my mind, is that the team carried over the momentum from Thursday night's game and played better than they have lately. Even with a cast of mostly bit players, they hit, pitched, and looked better than they've been doing over the last month. That was the most encouraging aspect of this game...that and winning, of course. Also, Chris Sale looked to be just about back to full strength, striking out seven and not issuing any walks in his 3.1 innings of work. The two runs on five hits were a bit worrisome but I'm going to be a glass half full kind of guy for the moment and chalk that up to the last vestiges of rust being shaken off. It will be Rick Porcello's turn to get back into fighting shape in preparation for October when he'll face off against Mike Clevinger in the second game of the series Saturday night. As long as the pitching can get back to where it needs to be and the bats return to form (as they're seemingly doing), I'll feel better as the team builds positive momentum toward the finish line. 

Friday, September 21, 2018

Game 153: Red Sox at New York Yankees (September 20, 2018)

See? I told you this wasn't a repeat of 1978, didn't I? While the angst over how poorly the Red Sox have played over the past month was completely warranted, there was no reason for anyone to worry about them letting the division lead slip away. With a 9.5 game lead and ten games to play, it was only a matter of when, not if, the Sox would clinch. However, after blowing the opening game of this series and getting shellacked in the second game, a sweep at the hands of the hated Yankees looked like a real possibility. With another tough series in Cleveland immediately following the sojourn in the Bronx, it behooved Boston to wrap up the division as soon as they could so that they could rest players and tinker with the bullpen to see if they could patch something together that might be halfway effective in the postseason.

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Things got off to a good start in the first inning when JD Martinez drove in the Red Sox first run with an RBI single. In the second, Mookie Betts drove in two with a single of his own and the Sox raced out to a quick 3-0 lead. However, the suddenly pesky Luke Voit (who hit two home runs on Wednesday night) struck again when he hit a two run homer to shave the lead to one run. Brock Holt answered in the third with a solo shot to put Boston back up by two runs and it looked like the Sox had finally broken out of their scoring doldrums. And then...(if you didn't watch the game, have you guessed what happened next?)...the bullpen struck again. In the fourth inning Heath Hembree (there's nothing more I can say about this guy that I haven't already said that would be appropriate for a family website such as this) came in with the bases loaded and had the very first pitch he threw launched into the center field seats by Giancarlo Stanton for a grand slam. Just like that, the Yankees were up 6-4. With one pitch, Hembree managed to drain the blood from every Red Sox fan's face and conjure up the very real spectre of getting swept in New York. Even on a night where the team finally scored some runs, the bullpen (read: Hembree) seemed destined to derail it. Unlike in recent weeks, though, the Red Sox responded and kept on hitting. There was a prime opportunity in the fifth inning to put a lot of runs on the board with runners at the corners and no outs, but JD grounded into a double play. It drove in Mookie from third base but snuffed out any further potential rally. In the seventh, Jackie Bradley crushed a ball into the second deck in right field to tie the game at six and give the Sox some life. Later in the inning with the bases loaded, Xander Bogaerts lofted a fly ball to center field that looked like it would be a routine sacrifice fly. It did indeed bring in Tzu-Wei Lin from third base, but Aaron Hicks' throw skipped into the stands which allowed Andrew Benintendi to score. Just like that, the Sox had a two run lead. While Steven Wright held down the fort beautifully out of the bullpen, the team added some insurance runs in the eighth when Mookie crushed a ball into left field with two outs for a three run homer and an 11-6 lead. All that was left was for Craig Kimbrel to seal the deal and he did. Even though he gave up a lead off triple to Andrew McCutchen, he managed to induce two quick outs via a strikeout and a foul out before whiffing Giancarlo Stanton and getting him to swing at three pitches that all bounced in front of the plate. That gave the team the victory and clinched the AL East for the third consecutive season (a franchise record).

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The Sox bashed their way to this win, outhitting the Yankees 13-7 and finally hitting some home runs (three in this game). Mookie was a beast and went 4-5 with five RBI, three runs scored, and a huge home run late in the game. Benintendi and Rafael Devers both had nice nights with two hits each and Bradley went 1-3 with two runs scored, an RBI (off his big game-tying homer), and a walk. On the pitching side, Eduardo Rodriguez was awful in only lasting 3.2 innings. He was charged with five earned runs and walked seven batters while only striking out four. Some of that was the inconsistency of the home plate umpire, but he also just looked out of sorts the entire time. Hembree was vintage Hembree (i.e. awful)...this guy is the opposite of what they used to call a "fireman" in baseball parlance. Instead of putting out fires, Hembree pours gasoline on them (metaphorically speaking, of course). Wright and Ryan Brasier were much better, only allowing one hit between them in their combined four innings of work. This was the first game in a while where the bats were able to pick up the pitching on a night where the starter stunk...hopefully it won't be the last (and hopefully the starting pitching will get back to where it was for most of the summer). For now, the team and all of Red Sox Nation can bask in the victory and the added bonus of clinching at Yankee Stadium. Then, it's off to Cleveland for the next series where Chris Sale will continue his conditioning toward October when he goes up against Trevor Bauer in the opener. Hopefully the hangover (which I mean in both the figurative and literal sense) won't be too much for the Sox to overcome and they can continue to tune up and get back to playing better baseball before the postseason. With the division wrapped up, the most important thing now is making sure the team is at peak performance come October.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Game 152: Red Sox at New York Yankees (September 19, 2018)

First of all, let's get it out of the way and dispense with the inevitable comparisons. This is 2018, not 1978, and the Red Sox are not going to blow this. They're going to win one more game of their final ten, the Yankees are going to lose one of their final ten, and Boston will clinch its third straight AL East division title. With that being said, though, there is some very valid and very serious cause for concern with this Red Sox team. Unlike the Dodgers and Astros (to name but two teams) who are playing their best ball of the season right now, the Red Sox have been playing their absolute worst for the better part of a month. The starting pitching has been erratic, the bullpen atrocious as always, and the potent high-scoring offense has been silent apart from a few small bursts here and there. It all came to a nadir in what may be simultaneously the most embarrassing and enlightening Red Sox loss of the season Wednesday night.

David Price was starting for the Red Sox and trying to exorcise some of his demons at Yankee Stadium. He'd been the Red Sox best pitcher by far since the All Star break so it looked like everything was lining up for him to finally have a strong outing in the Bronx. Opposite Price was Luis Severino who has been a complete trainwreck since the break. It looked set up perfectly for Boston to win and clinch the division, but as always games are played on the field and not on paper. The night got off to a bad start in the bottom of the second when Miguel Andujar hit a solo homer to get the Yankees in the scoring column first. The lowest point was later in the inning when Eduardo Nunez horrifically botched an Aaron Judge grounder at third that allowed two Yankees to score. It was a Little League error, through the legs on a routine grounder and it might be the most embarrassing error of the season (and with as many gaffs as Rafael Devers has made at third this season, that's saying something). Luke Voit hit a solo shot in the fourth to put the Yankees up 4-0 and the Red Sox looked dead, dead, dead. There was a bit of hope in the fifth when Nunez hit a double and Sandy Leon got his first hit of the month to drive him in, but any rally the Sox may have mounted was snuffed out by Severino in what ended up being the calm before the storm. That tempest came in the next inning when Voit hit another home run, a two-run version this time, in the sixth and the rout was on. Joe Kelly came in for Price and promptly gave up a two-RBI triple (shocker, I know) to make it 8-1. Finally, in the eighth Alex Cora waved the white flag (which he'd already done by putting Kelly in as far as I'm concerned) and put William Cuevas in who proceeded to cough up two more runs to the Yanks, one on a Greg Bird fielder's choice and the final one on Aaron Hicks' RBI single. The final humiliation was a 10-1 loss to a Yankees team that looked like dead men walking up until two nights ago and now look like they've woken up and are rounding into form as October approaches. You know, basically the exact opposite of how the Red Sox have played since mid-August.

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Price wasn't horrendous in this game, but he wasn't good either. Yes, he was charged with four earned runs but he wasn't responsible for the two Nunez gifted New York. What was more concerning was his control; he only struck two batters out, but he walked four. The bullpen continued their season-long trend of being awful by surrendering four runs on six hits, but let's not absolve the offense. It's been over a month since they've consistently put up 4-6 runs per game and during that stretch they've been mostly silent. Apart from the odd burst of runs in an inning or two here or there, there's been no urgency, no clutch hitting, and no sustained rallies to speak of. It doesn't matter how good or bad your pitching and bullpen are, if you're only scoring one or two runs a game, you're most likely losing. The lone bright spots in the batting order were JD Martinez (3-3) and Nunez (2-4, one run scored). Otherwise, even though the Red Sox were only outhit 11-9, they stranded twenty-three and didn't make anything happen.

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This team is continuing the ignominious tradition of the final two John Farrell teams by playing their worst, most listless baseball of the season at the end as they once again back into October. Regular season win-loss records mean nothing when everyone starts the postseason 0-0 and right now based purely on their play, the Red Sox are not the best team in baseball (that would be Houston). Given how they've played most of this season up until now and how the last two years ended, anything less than an appearance in the ALCS would be an unmitigated disaster; however, with how this team has looked the last month I don't even see that happening. They'll look to Eduardo Rodriguez to turn things around in the series finale Thursday night as he'll go up against Masahiro Tanaka. After that, it's on to Cleveland to play another very good playoff team. I don't mean to be fatalistic, but since I 'm old enough to actually remember the bad old days pre-2004, I can't help it: the way this team is stumbling to the finish line, it might not be until the Baltimore series next week before they finally clinch the division. I know that's hyperbole and that probably won't be the case, but nothing I'm seeing right now is inspiring confidence. At all.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Game 151: Red Sox at New York Yankees (September 18, 2018)

Red Sox vs. Yankees in a late season tilt...is there anything better? Well, yes...when they both actually have something to play for. There wasn't a lot of drama coming in to this series with the Sox up 11.5 games in the division with twelve remaining, but there was the goal of clinching the division at Yankee Stadium left to accomplish. Also, the Yankees are fighting for their Wild Card lives trying to fend off the Oakland's A's so any damage to that the Red Sox could do would be an added bonus. Still, for the most part this game was relatively meaningless. That being said, it's always good to beat the Yankees (especially on their field), so I and the rest of Red Sox Nation went into this game hoping for an victory so that the team could celebrate clinching the division right in New York's faces. However, that never happened and if you watched the game then you know it was for the same tired, predictable reason.

(A quick aside: this game was originally scheduled for a 1pm start on Tuesday due to it being Yom Kippur, but they ended up pushing the time back to 7pm because of rain in New York). 

Have you guessed yet? Let me set the scene. JD Martinez drove in the first Red Sox run in the third  inning off of JA Happ with a sacrifice fly that brought in Ian Kinsler. The Red Sox had other scoring chances throughout the game but couldn't capitalize. Nathan Eovaldi pitched a really good, gutsy game with some big moments. Perhaps none was bigger than striking out Giancarlo Stanton with runners on the corners in the sixth inning; it was a huge moment that quieted the New York crowd and seemed to show everyone how much more talented and composed the Red Sox were. Up to that point Eovaldi had only given up two hits while whiffing five and walking two. He'd thrown eighty-three pitches and seemed like he'd be good to go for one more inning, yet for some inexplicable reason Alex Cora decided to lift him and sent Brandon Workman out for the seventh inning instead. As it has done all season, the bullpen proved to be this team's undoing. Workman looked terrified on the mound on the big stage of New York and while he did get absolutely squeezed in Gary Sanchez' at bat (I have no idea how the umpire called what should have been strike three a ball, but it ended up costing them since it resulted in a walk), he put two on before being replaced by Ryan Brasier. Brasier worked the count full against the light hitting Neil Walker before hanging one over the plate that ended up in the right field stands. Up to that point the Yankees looked dead, tired, and defeated, but with one swing of the bat Walker gave them life and a 3-1 lead. There was some drama in the top of the ninth when the Yankees seemed determined to give the game away by botching two straight double play balls and allowing Brock Holt to score on a Zach Britton throwing error, but the third time was a charm as they turned two on Ian Kinsler's grounder to escape with a 3-2 win. The Red Sox clinch party was postponed for another night while the Yankees acted like they won the pennant or something.

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There isn't anything bad you can say about Eovaldi, who showed a lot of guts and nerve in his performance. If that's anything to go by, he'll continue to be an asset for the team in the postseason especially in the bullpen where they desperately need help. As for what not to like, the initial take would be to pick at the team's quiet night at the plate. They outhit the Yankees 5-3 but only had the one run to show for it until the ninth inning and squandered a few opportunities along the way (most notably runners on the corners with one out in the seventh that resulted in nothing). However, this loss lies squarely at the feet of the bullpen and I'll tell you why. Pitching in the postseason is better and scoring is lower, so a 1-0 game heading into the seventh inning is exactly the type of situation most teams and bullpens are going to encounter in October. If the Red Sox bullpen, which is already suspect, can't hold a slim lead in a relatively meaningless regular season road game, how are we supposed to be confident they'll be able to do the same in the crucible of October against the likes of Houston, Cleveland, or even these Yankees? In the postseason, starters typically have even shorter outings than in the regular season, where managers like to go to the pens after four or five innings to play the match up game. With as horrifically bad as the Sox bullpen is (they've blown 50% of their save opportunities since the All Star break, which is by far worst in the league), Cora and the team need the opposite: they need starters to go seven or eight innings to minimize how much the bullpen appears. That's wholly unrealistic and a sure recipe for disaster. Given how the last two postseasons have gone, this team absolutely needs to make it to at least the ALCS for this season to not be considered a failure and right now, I'm at best 50/50 over whether that will even happen.

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As a final note, and one more reason not to feel too bad about this loss, the Sox played with a pretty weak lineup: no Mookie Betts, no Andrew Benintendi (until he pinch hit late in the game), and a whole host of backup players (Brock Holt, Brandon Phillips, Christian Vazquez at this point, Sam Travis, Blake Swihart) getting playing time. To still only be one bad pitch from beating the Yankees with that anemic lineup should make the team feel pretty good regardless. It will be a much better pitching match up in the middle game of the series Wednesday with David Price against Luis Severino. Severino has been atrocious since July, but Price hasn't been able to beat the Yankees in big games so it will be interesting to see who will break through first. It's still only a matter of time before the Sox clinch the division, but it would be so sweet to shove it in New York's faces in front of their home fans...hopefully Wednesday night will be the night.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Game 150: New York Mets at Red Sox (September 16, 2018)

Having split the first two games of this series with the Mets, Alex Cora opted not to start a spring training lineup and instead went with most of his regulars in order to go for the series win. This included Chris Sale on the mound to start the game although the team announced beforehand that he would be limited to only three innings. That didn't bode well for the Red Sox who had to contend with Cy Young candidate Jacob deGrom. To the consternation of Red Sox fans near and far, Sale's truncated start meant six innings of bullpen work; combined with deGrom not allowing more than three runs in twenty-six consecutive starts and the Boston bats not producing lately, it seemed like it could be a potential recipe for disaster.

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The Red Sox got to deGrom in the third inning when they put up three runs. Mookie Betts drove the first one in with a sacrifice fly and was followed later in the inning by the suddenly hot Brock Holt's two-run homer. That was all they'd get off of deGrom whose streak is nonetheless still alive and well. Sale got through his three innings just fine, only allowing one hit and striking out one on forty-two pitches. It was of course the bullpen that made this game much more interesting (read: needlessly difficult) than it needed to be. In the sixth inning Drew Pomeranz (who has surely pitched his way off the postseason roster, right?) gave up two runs on a Wilmer Flores sac fly and a Michael Conforto RBI double to get the Mets back in the game at 3-2. The ineptitude of the relief corps continued in the seventh when Joe Kelly (another one who shouldn't be on the postseason roster) surrendered an RBI single to Amed Rosario. That tied the game at three runs and put the pressure back on the offense, a group that has constantly had to bail out the bullpen and clean up their messes all season. The hero turned out to be Andrew Benintendi who drove in the go ahead (and ultimately winning) run in the bottom of the eighth with a sac fly to drive in Tzu-Wei Lin. That proved to be the difference as the Sox held on for the 4-3 win and series victory. There was some panic in Red Sox Nation when Mookie left the game in the sixth inning with an apparent injury, but after the game the team announced it was just "left side soreness" and that he should be ready to play in the series against the Yankees starting on Tuesday.

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The Red Sox win coupled with the Yankees loss expanded the Boston lead in the AL East to a season-high 11.5 games while reducing the magic number to two. That should get to zero in the Bronx over the next few days. Once the Sox clinch the division Cora will most likely spend the final two weeks of the season resting starters and trying to figure out what he can do to paper over the gaping holes in the bullpen. Unfortunately, the old saying (if you'll pardon my language) that "you can't make chicken salad out of chicken shit" holds true; Cora's task is to try and do just that with what he's been given by Dave Dombrowski, a challenge that looks to be his tallest task of the season. 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Game 149: New York Mets at Red Sox (September 15, 2018)

Before the game on Saturday I spent a little bit of time chatting online with other Red Sox fans about the current malaise this team has been suffering from over the last month. There were several theories put forth and all of them were plausible. Is this team exhausted? Pressing? Injured more than what they've let on? Just slumping? Of course none of us know for sure and even if someone managed to guess correctly, the team isn't going to come out and admit anything anyway. One thing I do know for sure is that if the Red Sox hadn't been on such a torrid pace throughout the summer and if the Yankees hadn't been scuffling for most of the last two months, we might be having a very different conversation right now about the standings, playoff seeding, and possible Wild Card scenarios. Instead the Red Sox and their fans have the security of a huge division lead and the knowledge that they're all but locked in to the top record in the American League (and all of MLB).

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It was Rick Porcello's turn (again) to try and establish some semblance of normalcy as he took the mound for Boston in this middle game of the series. Perhaps the poster child for the team's inconsistency, he's followed up a stellar first half of the season with a really up and down second half. On some outings he's looked unstoppable and in others he's been a trainwreck. This game against the Mets ended up being a microcosm of his season. Xander Bogaerts finally got the Sox on the scoreboard against the Mets with an RBI single off of Corey Oswalt in the first inning which drove in Mookie Betts. That lead held up until the fourth inning when the bad Rick Porcello came out to play. With two outs, he was unable to put two consecutive batters away and instead allowed them to reach base. It cost him dearly because after battling with Brandon Nimmo to a 1-2 count, he gave up a fat pitch that Nimmo deposited into the right field stands. Just like that, it was 3-1 Mets and the entire complexion of the game changed. That was only the second Mets hit of the game, but it was enough to give them the lead and all of the momentum. It wasn't until the fifth inning that the Boston bats finally came alive and did some damage. With two outs, consecutive singles from Steve Pearce and Ian Kinsler were followed by a Jackie Bradley hit that appeared to everybody but the umpires in New York to have cleared the Green Monster before bouncing back onto the field. Instead of a three run home run, the call on the field was overturned and it was ruled a double instead. It still tied the game, but with the way they'd been swinging the bats lately it would have been better if the call had stood correctly and resulted in a one run lead. In the end it didn't end up mattering because two batters later Brock Holt hit a double off of the Green Monster to drive in Bradley and Rafael Devers and give Boston a 5-3 lead. That was all the offense for either team as the Red Sox won the game and tied the series. While Porcello picked up his 17th win of the season, he continued the troubling trend of Boston starters not going deep into games. In this case, he only went five innings and while he surrendered just two hits, they resulted in all three Mets runs. The five strikeouts and one walk weren't bad, but he's got to be better in October. The bullpen held New York hitless the rest of the way and apart from the two walks issued by Steven Wright, they didn't allow any base runners either. Most of the Sox damage at the plate was done by Bogaerts (1-4, RBI), Pearce (3-4, a run scored), Holt (1-1, two RBI), and Bradley (1-4, two RBI).

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The win combined with the Yankees' loss put the division lead back up to 10.5 games and reduced the Sox magic number to four. It's only a matter of time before they clinch the AL East and the way it's lining up, it just might happen in the Bronx this coming week. First, though, there's a series to win against the other team from New York. Chris Sale will make another truncated start (three innings) and go up against Cy Young candidate Jacob deGrom. I really hope the bats have finally woken up because they're going to have their work cut out for them in facing deGrom; he's given up three or fewer runs in twenty-six consecutive starts and has an ERA of 1.71. His issue all season has been the Mets not giving him any run support as evidenced by his 8-9 record. Hopefully that means the Sox can score enough to win the game and the series. After Sunday's finale, there's another off day before a big series at Yankee Stadium begins Tuesday. Those final dozen games (six against the Yankees and three each against the Indians and Orioles) will be the final chances for the Sox to get tuned up and build some momentum heading into October. It'll hopefully be a fun (and more consistent) end to the season than the last two years.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Game 148: New York Mets at Red Sox (September 14, 2018)

You would think that fans of a team that has won over 100 games this season wouldn't have much to complain about, but then again we're Red Sox fans. There is one thing that no fan of this team has felt good about all season and that's the bullpen. In fact, as the season has gone on we've felt worse and worse about the relief corps and with good reason. Their inconsistency and inability to hold on to leads as they bridge from the starting pitchers to Craig Kimbrel has made many games this season more difficult than they needed to be; it's also outright lost more games than it should have. With the news a few hours before game time that spot starter Hector Velazquez was going to be scratched (due to illness) and replaced by recent call-up William Cuevas, that meant this opening game against the Mets would be a bullpen game and a chance for Alex Cora to see what he had (or didn't have) in preparation for setting the postseason rosters. The results were predictably ugly.

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Of just as much concern as the bullpen has been the sudden erratic performance of the Red Sox offense. Over the last month or so they just haven't looked as sharp and consistent as they had all season. That was the case again on Friday night as this game was all Mets and in particular, all Jay Bruce. He hit an RBI double in the first inning to bring in the first Mets run and then he clubbed a three-run homer in the third to make it 4-0. That home run in the third was off of recent call-up Robby Scott who should promptly be sent back down to the minors never to be seen again (I haven't been a fan of his at all over the last few years). In the fourth, Brian Johnson gave up a solo homer to Jeff McNeil and then Tyler Thornburg completely imploded in the eighth when he gave up three runs. First, Austin Jackson went deep with a two-run homer and then Amed Rosario smacked a solo shot to finish the scoring. The Red Sox went down in ugly fashion 8-0 and were outhit 9-4. They couldn't get anything going at the plate against Noah Syndergaard who pitched seven solid innings and only gave up three hits while striking out six and walking three. Meanwhile, the Red Sox pitching was just putrid. When the only reliever who didn't give up any runs was Drew Pomeranz, you know you had a bad night. Thornburg was the worst of a rotten bunch and I think we can now say with 100% confidence that we completely and utterly got swindled on that trade. Thornburg has been awful this season after finally coming back from injury while Travis Shaw hit 31 homers last year, has hit 29 so far this year, and is playing third base (a huge area of need with Rafael Devers' growing pains) for a playoff team in Milwaukee. I"m sure if Dave Dombrowski had a do-over he wouldn't make that trade...I know I wouldn't. Of equal concern is the Sox continued inconsistency at the plate. With as good as the pitching is in October, the Sox won't be able to afford offensive lulls in a short series the way they've been able to weather them over the course of a long regular season.

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Things should get back to normal for game two of this series on Saturday when Rick Porcello gets the ball for the Red Sox. Hopefully he can continue to try and regain his form from the first half of the season because with this bullpen, Boston will need all of their starters to be at their best and go deep into games once it's playoff time. I realize this series against the Mets doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things but it would be nice for the Sox to take care of business so they can have good showings against the Yankees and Indians next week. Those are two teams they will face in the postseason (depending on how far they get) and I'm a big believer in momentum carrying over into the postseason. With the way John Farrell had this team backing into October the last two seasons, I'd like to see something different this year. (I just realized I made it to the end of an entire interleague recap without saying how much I hate interleague play! But I just did...and I still do.)

Friday, September 14, 2018

Game 147: Toronto Blue Jays at Red Sox (September 13, 2018)

The rational adult in me knows why Alex Cora does this, while the fan in me wishes he wouldn't. What am I talking about, you ask? I'm talking about his tendency to put strange and somewhat weaker lineups on the field in the final game of a series after the Sox have already won it. He did it in Atlanta last week and he did it again on Thursday night for the finale against the Blue Jays. Mookie Betts sat to rest, Blake Swihart was at DH, and Christian Vazquez was behind the plate. At this point in the season the Red Sox spot in October is secured, but it's still strange how he doesn't seem to necessarily care to sweep a team before moving on. Still, it's a minor quibble and I can't complain with the results he's gotten thus far; as I said in my first sentence, the rational side of me gets it.

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For the first time in this series, runs were scored in the early innings by both teams. JD Martinez led things off by clubbing home run #41 in the second inning to give the Sox a one run lead, although Eduardo Rodriguez coughed it back up in the third when he allowed an RBI single to Justin Smoak to plate Lourdes Gurriel and tie the game. In the bottom of the inning, Ian Kinsler's sacrifice fly drove Jackie Bradley in to give the Sox the lead again, a lead which they added to in the sixth when Rafael Devers hit his 17th home run of the season to make it 3-1. (On a side note, it feels like it's been forever since Devers has hit a homer, doesn't it? What an up and down rookie season he's had!). Now, I'm going to warn you that what I'm about to say to you is going to seem like you've read it fifty times from me over the course of the season (and you probably have), but I have to say it again: it looked like that lead would be enough until the Sox bullpen took over. In the eighth inning Bobby Poyner gave up a solo homer to Gurriel which cut the lead to one run. Then, Joe Kelly (who is fast approaching Heath Hembree levels of dislike) hit Kevin Pillar with the bases loaded to walk in a run and tie the game. Joe Kelly...where do I begin? This guy has been with the Red Sox for four seasons and hasn't been able to put it all together either as a starter or a reliever. He's got good stuff and he throws hard, but he's incredibly hittable for a guy who throws in the high 90s/triple digits and there is zero finesse to his approach. Some guys are pitchers while some are just throwers...guess which category Kelly fits squarely into? The Red Sox need to cut bait with this guy as soon as they can because it's just not working and at this point. it's never going to get better. He is who he is and it's not going to change. Back to the game, it was up to the offense yet again to try and bail out the bullpen and clean up their mess. This time it was Xander Bogaerts to the rescue. He doubled and then stole third base during Blake Swihart's at bat which ended up being huge. Swihart hit a routine fly ball to second base that was horrifically botched by Yangervis Solarte. This allowed Bogaerts to score from third with the winning run. Craig Kimbrel picked up his 40th save with no drama in the ninth to secure the win and the series sweep. Eduardro Rodriguez was solid, going six innings and allowing only one run on five hits. He struck out seven and didn't walk anyone which I think is pretty good atonement for his previous start. Ryan Brasier and Brandon Workman did their jobs out of the pen, but the middle relief continues to be a major, major issue for this team. Cora and his coaches have less than three weeks to figure it out because if nothing changes, it is going to kill this team in the postseason. Whether that's in the ALDS, ALCS, or World Series, it will rear its ugly head unless something is done.

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With the Yankees idle on Thursday night, the Sox were able to increase their division lead to 10.5 games and reduce their magic number to clinch the AL East to six. Friday night they'll start the final series of this homestand against the Mets. It won't be easy as they're sending up Hector Velazquez (in another spot start) against Noah Syndergaard. The Mets may be a bad team, but they've got some good pitching including NL Cy Young candidate Jacob DeGrom. That being said, Boston should be able to take care of business and pick up some more wins before they hit the road Tuesday. Next week should be really exciting with back to back road series in New York and Cleveland before wrapping up the final week of the season at home against the Orioles and Yankees. As a parting thought, while I can't wait to see what this Red Sox team will do in October, I'm not quite ready yet for this magical season to end.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Game 146: Toronto Blue Jays at Red Sox (September 12, 2018)

Last time I checked, they didn't award style points for wins and losses in Major League Baseball. It's a good thing because sometimes you win ugly or you lose ugly, but at the end of the day they all look the same in the standings. After taking the series opener with a late rally, Boston had David Price going up against Blue Jays starter Aaron Sanchez in the second game. With as much use as the bullpen has gotten over the last couple of weeks, the hope was that Price would continue to pitch as strongly as he has over the last several weeks and go deep into the game. As long as the Red Sox could score some runs, it would put them in a great position to win...

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...and apparently, one run is all it took! The single bit of offense came in the fifth inning when Rafael Devers scored on a wild pitch during Jackie Bradley's at bat. That was it as the Sox held on for the 1-0 victory and their 100th win. The team has won 100 games for the first time since 1946 with sixteen more to play, and with the Yankees loss to the Twins the AL East lead is up to ten games. Neither team did much at the plate in this game, each only getting four hits. For the Sox, those came off the bats of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Brock Holt, and Bradley. On the pitching side of the equation, Price gave the team seven solid innings and allowed three hits and no walks while whiffing seven batters. Steven Wright pitched the eighth and Craig Kimbrel finished it off in the ninth and snagged his 39th save of the season. Getting back to my "style points" quip, while a win is a win and it's great that this team has been able to secure victories in a variety of ways this season, I can't be the only one who is a bit concerned at how anemic the offense has been over the last few weeks. They haven't been scoring many runs (and when they are scoring, it's tended to be late in games) and they've often been getting shut down by a lot of no-name pitchers. I can see them struggling against great pitching like Houston's, but to a terrible Toronto team at home? Even as pleased as I am with the win, consider me concerned as well.


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Now that they've secured the series win, the Sox will go for the sweep on Thursday when Eduardo Rodriguez looks to atone for his horrific previous start as he goes up against Sam Gaviglio. After that, a series with the Mets closes out this home stand before a tough road trip through the Bronx and Cleveland starts next week. Right now, the Sox just need to focus on winning one game at a time, getting tuned up for the postseason, and resting guys. With a ten game lead and sixteen left to play, they're in great shape and will hopefully head into October with some positive momentum unlike the last two seasons.