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

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

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

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

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