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Down the stretch we go…

…for the first place Boston Red Sox.  Yup, I said “first place”.  Still seems hard to believe.  17 games left though, so we will see how it plays out.  Tough loss last night, 1-0 to the immortal Kevin Gausman.  But that just goes to show you that no one has any idea how it will go.  Losing 2 out of 3 at home to Baltimore, after taking 2 out of 3 on the road in Toronto.  “Only” winning 4 of 6 against Oakland and San Diego earlier this month.  Two essentially minor league ballclubs.  Yeah, 2 of 3 against anyone especially on the road shouldn’t be bad.  But after outscoring Oakland 27-4 in the first two games of the series, you had to like their chances in Game 3, right?  Nope.  1-0 loss.  Yuck.  An eleven game road trip in mid-August that started 7-2, then ended with 2 losses to another horrible team in Tampa Bay.

Toss all that in and consider that after the 4 game set with the Yankees starting tomorrow, 10 of the final 13 games will be on the road.  10 game trip to Baltimore, Tampa and New York, followed by 3 at home against Toronto.  I suppose the beauty of it is that they are all AL East teams.  But the reality of it is they could go from first place to out of the playoffs in a heartbeat.  And they don’t even need any chicken and beer to do it.

It’s been quite some time since I have written about the Sox.  So, in typical fashion, I’ll be throwing out all kinds of random crap to pretty much catch up.  Thanks a bunch for your understanding!

*Speaking of last night’s game, I like to take the first point to officially apologize to one Mr. Rick Porcello.  Even with the loss, the numbers read 20-4, 3.12 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, over 200 innings.  Etc.  Who on God’s Green Earth saw this coming?  Ok, maybe Ben Cherington did.  (Side note:  with Porcello and the year Hanley Ramirez is having, specifically the 2nd half of his year, perhaps we need to offer up an apology to Ben as well?  Well, he also signed Pablo Sandoval too, so…).  I have no idea if Porcello has a real chance at the Cy Young, even with the 20 wins.  People may shy away from him based on the single fact that he got about 8 runs a game of run support this year.  Others may be blinded by the 59 1/3 innings that Zach Britton has thrown this year, albeit a kind of dominant 60 innings or so.  But it’s been a helluva run.

*Ben just landed a VP of baseball operations job with the Blue Jays.  So let’s not cry for him anymore.  He apparently had a chance at a prime job with the Minnesota Twins as well.  So he’ll be ok.

*I (we) may also owe an apology to David Price also, due to his recent turnaround.  But since I like my 31 million dollar pitchers to have some playoff dominance mixed in, let’s hold off on that for now.

*The biggest thing that makes me nervous over the next two and a half weeks?  John Farrell.  Why, of course!  I suppose I need to give Farrell some credit for the first place team thus far.  But I also remain among the few (several?) that would still like to see him go.

It would seem that the Red Sox have enough talent to be a playoff team.  Always has seemed that way all year.  But…I have never been confident in Farrell’s in-game management.  Or the way he utilizes a bullpen.  Or many other things.  I especially can’t stand his babbling about subluxations and arm angles and arm action and all that stuff he spins when he speaks.  Noe Ramirez pitching in a close game Tuesday when Craig Kimbrel was still available?  Ruining Steven Wright’s season by pinch running him in a game.  Pinch running?  I get trying to utilize the whole roster in an NL park, but the fattest guy on the staff?  Ugh.  Publicly stating that Drew Pomeranz is a “6 inning pitcher” once he arrived in Boston, then in subsequent weeks throwing him out there to blow leads beyond the 6th.  Playing Ryan Hanigan…EVER.  I could go on, but I’m tired.  Let’s just say that there is a good chance that Farrell himself can torpedo this whole thing easily in 17 games.

*I don’t know what happened to Xander Bogaerts in the 2nd half.  But I sure hopes he wakes up soon.

*Good thing Dustin Pedroia hates hitting leadoff.  He’s only been on fire since he started hitting there.  Hate to see what would’ve happened if he stayed in his preferred 2-hole.

*Something that probably only bothers me…along with the Brentz family…Bryce Brentz gets to play in the majors for like 2 months, contributes a bit, then doesn’t get called up along with all the other September additions.  Only 4 players on the 40 man roster didn’t get the call.  Brentz was one of the 4 (Brian Johnson, Williams Jerez and Roenis Elias were the others, for the record).  Obviously, it really doesn’t matter in the end.  Though he really should be able to enjoy the playoff chase!  In all seriousness, I will say that there have been several blowouts recently where Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. have to stay in the game because the Sox didn’t have enough outfield depth to yank them.  May have made sense to have another outfielder for that reason alone.

*I know I am not trying to manage the Los Angeles Dodgers toward a World Series championship.  And I know Rich Hill has had some blister issues this year and missed plenty of starts, including some after the Dodgers traded for him.  But I still would have left him in to chase that perfect game last week.

*Yoan Moncada should be glued to the bench the rest of the year.  Maybe not even have him pinch run.  Certainly not pinch hit.  He doesn’t need to get up once every 5 or 6 days to add another strikeout to the ledger.  The kid does look like he has some physical ability.  But it also looks like he needs more ABs.  He certainly needs more playing time at the hot corner if they plan to move him there for the long haul.  His arm looks legit though…makes you wonder why the Sox started him off in the minors at second base.  Seems like a waste of his arm to put him there.  Another strike against him was forgetting the number of outs in a game this weekend.  Not a good look in your first couple weeks in the majors.

Personally, I’d keep him on the bench for as long as this season goes, just to soak in the atmosphere.  Then send him to winter ball to play RF and maybe 3B.  I’d shop Bradley this offseason and if there is a deal to be made, move Mookie back to center and consider Yoan for RF down the road.  Or move Benintendi to center.  Something like that.  But we will worry more about the offseason when we get there.

*One more thing on the offseason though:  Do the Sox try to unload the last 2 years of Hanley’s contract this offseason based on his performance this year?  Or stick him at DH and tell him to do nothing but hit?  Good question.  With David Ortiz not around next year to help keep Hanley “buying in”, I think we need to consider the first option.  He has played ok at first this year.  Not as good as everyone wants to tell you he has played, but certainly serviceable.  But I don’t think I want him there next year.

*The Sox have to rein in their aggressive base running a bit going forward.  Lot of head-scratchers here this year.  Kind of topped off by Brock Holt trying to steal home Sunday down a run and with a guy who had earlier hit a 3 run homer at the plate.  That particular one didn’t come back to haunt them.  But that kind of stuff has got to stop.

*I hate the Yankees.  I hate Joe Girardi.  But he should get even more credit than he already does.  How this guy has had the Yanks in the playoff chase over the past few years with those rosters, I have no idea.  That’s all the positive stuff I’m going to say about that outfit though.

*The AL MVP race seems wide open.  But why is all the Red Sox talk focused on Mookie Betts?  I know Big Papi is a DH only and he has not been as dominant in the 2nd half as he was in the first.  But I feel like he deserves a little more chatter anyway.

*Lastly, let’s talk about this bullpen.  Is it really figured out?  Who do you have faith in out there?  Will Noe Ramirez still get some key innings in September?  Kimbrel doesn’t like to pitch in non-save situations and Farrell apparently won’t force the issue, so how is he going to stay sharp?  Joe Kelly is all of a sudden a key component?  And so on.  A couple of weeks ago, Clay Buchholz was supposed to be the “8th inning” guy.  Think about that for a second.  Now we are all set apparently?  Kelly, Koji Uehara, Heath Hembree, Matt Barnes, Robbie Ross Jr., Fernando Abad, Brad Ziegler…I don’t know.  Don’t rule out Farrell trying to re-implement Junichi Tazawa in high-leverage situations either.

All of the relievers listed above are seemingly capable major league relievers…in the regular season…and maybe only in the 7th inning or earlier (outside of Kimbrel…but he sometimes doesn’t inspire confidence either).  But as the pressure gets greater, how many of these dudes will step up?  Remains to be seen.  I know we all love Koji for what he has done over the past few years.  But I am not ready to say he is “back” based on a few good innings in September.  We shall see…

Ultimately, it was great to enjoy baseball in Boston over the summer again.  So even if they collapse, hell, the Patriots have started so it’s not all that bad!  But the Sox do have the talent to compete.  So hopefully it will be a fun two and a half weeks any way you slice it.  Anything after that would be a welcome bonus for sure.

Winding down the disappointment…still…

…as promised (warned?), I wasn’t done from yesterday:

*Xander:  By all accounts, Xander Bogaerts has had an unbelievable season.  But has he?  Please let me preface this by saying the arrow is certainly pointed up.  And he turns just 23 in a couple of weeks.  So please do not take this as extreme criticism of the kid.  Just pointing out facts.

Before Friday’s action, he was hitting .321.  Very nice indeed.  Looks like he will compete for 2nd in batting in the AL.  Hell, Miguel Cabrera leads at .336, and currently qualifies with enough plate appearances.  But Miggy is 38 shy of the 502 necessary at season’s end and if the Tigers shut him down early, X can win it.  Ok, unlikely they will do that, but…anyway, the average is nice.

Only 25 walks puts his on-base percentage at .352.  Not horrible…still tied for 23rd in the AL.  And better than the .297 in 2014.  He’s cut down on his strikeouts from 138 to 85.  His OPS is up over a hundred points to .767.  But .767 for a #3 hitter?  That actually puts him at 38th in the AL.

The glaring thing for me is the FIVE home runs.  He even had 12 last year.  Jackie Bradley Jr. has 8.  Travis Shaw has 11.  Mookie Betts has 15.  The first two listed here have a third of X’s plate appearances.

The kid has had a nice year.  They put him back at shortstop from the start and he has responded.  The future looks very bright.  I’m a big fan.  All I am saying is let’s not get carried away like some of the local yahoo’s have and put him in Cooperstown yet.  There’s a lot more of the upside yet to be realized.  Let’s hope he realizes it before Scotty Boras shuffles him out of town in a few years.

*Fat Panda:  Having back issues.  What a big surprise.  I would love if Dave Dombrowski could unload this contract.  Fat chance of that happening, pun totally intended.

I will say, if somehow he gets in some sort of shape…I don’t have to tell you how big an “if” that is…maybe his second year in the AL goes better than the first.  If this lineup is what it should be, all he has to do is do what he did in San Francisco.  And then maybe they can unload him as the deal gets cheaper.

*Kids (offense):  Even though it may have seemed harsh above on Xander (age 22), he has taken a step up this year for sure.  Mookie (22) has as well.  JBJ (25) has shown some competence…more than previous years.  Blake Swihart (23) arrived earlier than expected and survived a rough start to get up around .275.  Rusney (28), though not as young as the rest, has flourished somewhat with regular playing time.  Shaw (25) has been a little bit of a find.  Christian Vazquez (25) missed the year of course, but in 2014 he obviously showed some promise for the future.

These are only the guys that are already here.  There are others like Manuel Margot, Rafael Devers, Yoan Moncada, et al, that may be here soon enough.  Those are the names you hear most, but according to “people who know”, there are other decent prospects in the lower levels too.

Some of the above will probably go in trades.  Can’t possibly keep them all.  But it is hard not to be excited about the talent we have already seen at the major league level.  Sprinkle in a few pieces here and there and the offense looks like the foundation is set.  Now, for the opposite…

*Rotation:  Thanks to Ben, it appears the 2016 starting rotation is just about set as well.  But ummmmm…this is not a good thing.  Rick Porcello’s 20-plus mil contract kicks in next year.  There is no way anyone is biting on that.  If someone does, Dombrowski deserves Executive of the Year in a landslide.  (How’s that Yoenis Cespedes and Alex Wilson for Porcello trade looking as well, Ben?  Ugh…).  DD has already essentially acknowledged they will pick up Clay Buchholz’ option at 13 mil, “if he is healthy”.  That’s a huge stretch for Clay of course, but at that money and with his stuff, I suppose you kind of have to pick it up.  Despite the fact that he will never be a 200/220 inning guy with 16-20 wins, like his stuff often suggests.

Wade Miley is on the hook for about 15 mil over the next 2 years.  Sadly, he will end the year as the teams’ best starter.  For that price he won’t kill you.  But he also may be tradeable at that price.  I don’t see them doing that though.  DD has already floated that he expects Joe Kelly to be a starter.  Hopefully that was just lip service.  This guy has middle relief written all over him.  Fine one time through the order, but after?  All bets are off.  Throws 98 but doesn’t miss bats.  That’s a nice 10th pitcher on any staff I say.

But there are 4 of the “5 aces” Ben put together at the start of 2015.  Mercifully, Justin Masterson is long gone.  But the other 4 mediocre guys remain.  Throw in the kids that have thrown pretty decent this year, Eduardo Rodriguez and Henry Owens, and one that supposedly has promise in Brian Johnson.  Now all of a sudden you have a crowded rotation…and possibly no room to get that one “ace” that you really need.

Thankfully, Dombrowski is no stranger to the trade market.  And I would guess any one of the above could be had for the right price.  Not that I would just give any of those guys away…other than Porcello.  But I believe that DD will indeed land a top-notch #1 over winter.  David Price would just cost money.  But there are always those studs on small market teams that are heading to arbitration or free agency and can be had for prospects.  Gotta believe he will land that #1 somehow.  I think that interview from earlier this week about “building up the pitching staff, starting from the bullpen” is somewhat of a smokescreen.  Though we’ll talk about the ‘pen later.

What I would do?  Glad you asked!  Go get a #1 for whatever it takes.  Slot Bucky, Porcello, Miley and E-Rod 2-5 (yikes!).  Kelly goes in long relief.  Steven Wright also in ‘pen.  There are your spot starters.  Acquire 87 stout bullpen arms.  If Owens and Johnson are still here in the spring, stash in Pawtucket for the time being.  If Bucky gets off to a hot start, immediately deal him and get a reliable #2.  Try to get a reliable #2 anyway, someone proven.  Something like that anyway.  Bottom line, if Bucky gets back to exhibiting ANY trade value whatsoever…TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT!

With all the contracts and limited trade value of a lot of the guys here, that may be the best we can hope for.  It’s easy to say “go get 2 #1’s and a #2, then…”.  But not entirely realistic…no matter how much money you have.

*Bullpen:  What a colossal disaster.  Combination of washed up major leaguers, “not ready” minor leaguers and veteran AAAA guys right now.  And I am not even including Rich Hill, who somehow dominated a start last week.  Get ready for 3 1/3 IP & 7 runs if he gets another one.  Look at the names:  Breslow, Cook, Mendez, Machi, Layne, Hembree, Ogando, Aro, Barnes, Ross and some dude named “Noe”.  Of course Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa are their best 2 relievers.  But, predictably, Koji is hurt and Junichi’s arm actually fell off earlier this month.  Ben clearly missed the trade window on these guys…but they aren’t the first players he missed trade windows on, ssssooooo…it just sucks that a lot of us have been pining for the return of Edward Mujica.  Ok, maybe not…but the point has been made I believe.

Solution?  Keep Koji and Taz, but don’t warm them up 3 times a game every game through June whether or not they get into the actual game.  Think the trade value on them now is low, so there is not really much choice.  Sign/trade for 2 or 3 REAL relievers, preferably ones that throw hard.  Overpay if you have to…you can, you are the Red Sox!  Load up on 5 other decent guys and then see what falls out in March.  Stash a few in AAA if you can.  Tell Barnes he is either a starter or reliever and have him prepare accordingly over the winter.  Maybe he can be salvaged.  Bullpen arms are tricky.  Never know what you are going to get from year to year.  Just toss some dough at bunch of them…can’t really give you anything more scientific than that, unfortunately.

*Kids (pitching):  At various points in 2014, think of all the young arms the organization was touting:  Owens, Barnes, Rodriguez, Allen Webster, Rubby de la Rosa, Anthony Ranaudo, Johnson, maybe even Drake Britton or Eduardo Escobar…maybe more.

Well, like a year later, where do these guys stand?  Not necessarily pretty.  de la Rosa was fairly decent last year.  Webster was not anywhere near that.  They both were dispatched for an average Miley.  And those 2 remain about the same in AZ.  Ranaudo was sent straight up for Robbie Ross Jr.  That should tell you all you need to know.  And Ranaudo has been shelled in TX when up this year for good measure.  Britton was terrible in Pawtucket last year in the bullpen, and was busy getting blasted in the Cubs farm system this year as well, both starting and relieving.  Escobar was hurt essentially all year.  Johnson got hurt in the 2nd half.  Though Owens has pitched ok this year overall, his stock has fallen in the past couple of years.  Barnes wasn’t very good as a starter or reliever.  The only one that came close to matching all the hype was Rodriguez.

As opposed to the kids coming up through the system as every day players, the ground has not been as fertile for the young pitchers rising up.  All the more important for DD to make the right decisions here over the winter and through into next season…guess that goes without saying…

 

 

 

 

Winding down the disappointment…

…otherwise known as the 2015 Boston Red Sox season.  17 games left.  Pitchers dropping like flies or getting shut down.  Position players playing all over the diamond in a bit of spring training-ish experimentation.  Journeymen getting called up to actually throw in real games down the stretch.  All that and more to look forward to over the last couple of weeks.  Per usual, a bunch of haphazard notes will follow, in no particular order:

*President/General Manager:  Haven’t commented on the Dave Dombrowski hiring yet.  Probably didn’t really need to actually.  It was no secret that I thought Ben Cherington should have gotten the gate even sooner than he did.  And that I wanted some sort of “baseball” guy in place in that chair, instead of some young whippersnapper whose main focus was sabermetrics.  Again, sabermetric analysis absolutely has a place in today’s game.  Just not as much as people think it should have.

DD hasn’t tangibly done much to this point, from what I can tell.  Unless you count the waiver deadline deal of Alejandro de Aza something worth noting.  I don’t, but if you do for some bizarre reason, then that has to be a positive, right?  In any event, it’s only been exactly a month since he was hired.  Plus it is toward the end of a lost season.  So there really isn’t anything we should have expected him to do by now.  The offseason will be the time for changes on and off the field and I am excited for those.  And I am sure he is doing his homework all around right now.  So some of my faith has been restored in the organization as we sit here now.  Let’s hope it keeps trending in the right direction.  And the ownership group, specifically Tom Werner, let him do his job.

*Manager:  Sorry that John Farrell got cancer.  Don’t wish that upon anyone.  Well, maybe some people…but I have no real reason to wish it upon him.  But at the same time, I am happy that he is not managing the team anymore, as macabre as that sounds.  Look, I just used a big word!  Hopefully I used it correctly…anyway, I was done with Farrell long before the diagnosis.

I have no interest in seeing him return to the team as manager next year.  Hopefully Dombrowski sees it the same way.  Delicate situation?  Of course.  But that’s why people spend big bucks on public relation firms.  One of the heavyweights in that field should be able to help the Sox spin it to make it look like they are focusing on Farrell’s health…or doing him some sort of favor by not retaining him.  John Henry can afford it.

Is Torey Lovullo the answer?  My sense is no.  After all, he has been under Farrell since Johnny’s Toronto stint.  So some of the same habits have to have seeped into Lovullo’s managing acumen, no?  (Another big word I hope I used correctly!).  And he has said some really stupid things along the way while closing out this season.  To wit:  After Matt Barnes’ first Major League start, where he gave up 6 runs in 5 innings, Lovullo said, “Matt did exactly what we wanted him to do out there tonight”.  Excuse me?  Wow, aiming high I see.  It’s one thing to support your players.  It’s completely another just blatantly lie like that.  At least I hope he was lying…

The team has played better since Lovullo took over, I will allow.  But I chalk that up to a variety of factors.  Some of the opposition playing out the string.  September minor league callups diluting the talent in the majors.  Pitchers such as Rick Porcello, Joe Kelly and Wade Miley throwing games more at their level of mediocrity than the level of atrociousness they were throwing at earlier in the year.  The lineup doing more damage as the year has gone along.  A great deal of the youngsters stepping up their game.  Possibly the “Dombrowski effect”, where players are now not feeling comfortable under Cherington’s excuses for them and knowing the new guy in charge now can drop the hammer.  Probably others too.  But I am not convinced it is Lovullo’s skills that have led the charge.

Who do I want to be the next manager?  Good question.  Depends on who is available in the offseason for one.  I’ll give that some more thought as time goes on…

*First base:  Does having Hanley Ramirez play 5 games or so at first base at the end of September really make a difference?  Why bother?  DD also mentioned “6, 7 weeks of Spring Training” to evaluate him there.  Didn’t Hanley have that time last spring to adjust to left field?  How’d that work out?

I think it’s all a smokescreen.  My opinion is that DD eats a ton of dough and unloads Hanley in the offseason.  To whoever will take him.  Just a gut feeling.  For now, everyone is just saying the right things.

I also think Travis Shaw will not be at first next year.  He’s had a decent run.  But not sure he is the long-term answer.  May even be time to deal high.  Brock Holt?  Garin Cecchini?  Fat Panda Sandoval?  Surely, you jest.

I think the one major offensive piece Dombrowski gets this offseason is here.  And it doesn’t necessarily have to be “major”.  Just someone competent.  So maybe it is Shaw that sticks.  Chris Davis?  Leaning toward “no thanks”.  Too unpredictable.  Plus I just found out Scott Boras is his agent.  He will get Davis his big contract, but hopefully elsewhere.

*Outfield:  Despite his scorching hot 6 week run or so, I am still not convinced Jackie Bradley Jr. can consistently hit major league pitching.  Case in point is his recent 1-27, 15k slide.  But again, .225-.250 will do it for me here.  He is that awesome defensively.  Since trading Dustin Pedroia and moving Mookie Betts to 2nd is a pipe dream, Betts is out here.  Along with Rusney Castillo.  Funny how Castillo gets a few hits and all the “he looks like he never played the game of baseball” clowns from the spring all of a sudden flip back to how they loved him back last September.

Anyway, the big focus is on how these three will align going forward.  I say, who cares?  If all three are above average defensively and each can play all three positions out there, can’t you just mix and match by stadium if you are to play to defensive strengths?  For instance, Bradley could play RF at Fenway, LF at Yankee Stadium and CF most other places?  Something like that?

People will whine, “baseball players are creatures of habit…they want to know where they are playing every day…blah, blah, blah…”.  I say, that is total garbage.  Brock Holt can play all over the diamond, especially last year when he picked up a new position every day, but these guys can’t have some sort of rotation?  Plenty of other people can move around too.  So why can utility guys do it successfully, but BETTER players can’t do it?  Jeez…I see where Texas has had Mike Napoli in LEFT FIELD a couple of times recently.  Napoli?!  People may point to the Hanley Ramirez failed experiment.  But he is older, bulked up too much and really didn’t fit the OF mode anymore.  Plus, it doesn’t help when you don’t practice and seemingly don’t care.  But I guess that is besides the point.  In any event, these kids are young and fast.  Shouldn’t be a problem.

If they insist on staying in one position, I’ve got that answer too.  Castillo, Bradley, Betts, left to right.  Castillo has the better arm for 81 games in right at Fenway Park, but Betts is the better fielder and athlete, so he goes there.  I want my best defender in center.  So despite Betts being more than competent there, I want JBJ in center.  Period.

I’m also not ruling out a trade.  This Manuel Margot dude down on the farm is rising fast.  Maybe not for good next year, but possibly for a cup of coffee or so.  If he is the real deal as scouts say, then this has to play into the outfield picture I would say.

As usual, I am not done…but done for now…

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