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Red Sox Initial Playoff Thoughts…

…yaaaaaaaawn…starting to wake up.  The Boston Red Sox have been in cruise control for several weeks now.  The playoffs have been locked up for quite some time.  Alex Cora has been throwing out Spring Training lineups and all half the time.  Why pay attention?

Well, it’s about time to take notice.  No, it’s not because the team just broke the club record for wins.  It’s not because we were all rooting for Mookie Betts to go 30/30 (homers/steals, duh!).  And no, J.D. Martinez is not going to win the Triple Crown…but we knew that, right?

It’s because the playoffs will finally be starting next week.  We can talk more about specific opponents next week.  Let’s chat about their own team for now.

Despite the fact that the team has won all those games, I have to say I can’t be that excited about their prospects in the postseason.  On one hand, maybe it is their year when they win games like the one they won against Atlanta in early September.  You know, the one where they were getting smoked with a AAA lineup and parade of awful relievers…then won the game with a late rally, capped off by 37-year-old minor league callup (?!) Brandon Phillips’ dinger.  On the other hand…THAT BULLPEN.  Ugh.  Atrocious.

I’m still pissed that Dave Dombrowski didn’t get ANYBODY at the waiver trade deadline at the end of August.  Not even a AAAA guy like Hector Velasquez or Brian Johnson or…Joe Kelly.  Sometimes those guys catch fire.  You never know.  But please Dave…anyone?

Bottom line…this bullpen will kill this team.  I don’t think that is any secret.  But it seems like there should have been a better effort to get more arms for the stretch run and October.  What they have now will not cut it.  We will get into that more a little later.

But everyone knows this about the bullpen, as I said.  I have other concerns besides that.

The first is the starting rotation.  Chris Sale has barely pitched the last few months.  David Price has a poor playoff track record.  Rick Porcello’s doesn’t inspire any confidence really either.  Eduardo Rodriguez has battled inconsistency.  And who knows what Nathan Eovaldi will do?

Also…the lineup.  You should be all set with the top four guys in Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Martinez and Xander Bogaerts.  But Benny has cooled off a bit himself.  And the way Cora has been resting guys down the stretch, is it too much?

The rest of the lineup?  Question marks.  You’re probably ok with the first base platoon of Mitch “All-Star, but hasn’t done a thing since then” Moreland and Steve Pearce.  Rafael Devers has promise, but will he even play?  The catchers can’t hit.  The second basemen?  And Jackie Bradley Jr. has hit a little recently.  But it doesn’t mean he will in October.

Let’s take a closer look at what the roster will probably look like next week.  We will give you what we think they will go with.  But I will also tell you that I won’t necessarily agree.

Starting pitchers:

In:  Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Nathan Eovaldi

Out:  None, see relief pitchers because all of those guys are already there.

Comments:  I think the Sox go Eovaldi for the fourth spot.  The Blowhard would go with Eduardo Rodriguez.  Because…he’s better, simple as that.  But I think the team has liked how Eovaldi has pitched against the Yanks this year, in particular.  Plus…the Sox have E-Rod in the bullpen this final week, so that’s pretty telling.

But we also have to consider the fact that Sale has barely pitched in the second half of the season.  Not to mention that his September has been a slow-go…and also not necessarily effective.  Price is, of course, a colossal wild card.  Could probably say the same of Porcello.

I can’t say that I am overly optimistic.  But we shall see…

Relief pitchers:

In:  Craig Kimbrel (closer), Matt Barnes (8th), Ryan Brasier, Steven Wright, Eduardo Rodriguez, Heath Hembree, Brandon Workman

Out:  Joe Kelly, Tyler Thornburg, Drew Pomeranz, Hector Velasquez, Brian Johnson, Bobby Poyner, William Cuevas, Robby Scott

Comments:  Scary.  Simply frightening.  The above selections are more of an indictment of the guys who are out than who are in.  Kelly is a mess.  Pomeranz the same.  No one is talking about Thornburg, but he has pitched 3 times in September and not once in the last two weeks.  But then again, he hasn’t been great anyway.  But you know Travis Shaw has 30 homers in each of the last two seasons, right?  Ugh.  Velasquez has been here 99% of the year and Johnson 100%, but you know Cora doesn’t trust them.  Scott and Cuevas were never real considerations.  Poyner?  Was my last cut.  Him being lefty helps.  But the fact that the AL Division Series is only 5 games makes me go with 11 pitchers and 14 positional players.  But if the Sox take 12, Poyner is my guy.

So that’s how Workman gets on.  Because he has at least been serviceable, despite bouncing up and down from Pawtucket all year.  Hembree has been terrible lately, but not as bad as Kelly and the rest.

So the key guys in the ‘pen are Kimbrel, good enough, Barnes, who may be the worst “8th inning guy” in the majors, Brasier, a 31-year-old career minor leaguer and 2 starters in Wright and E-Rod.  Wright has been fantastic when healthy the last two years.  But…a knuckleballer in October??  No.  And E-Rod doesn’t have any kind of track record in relief.

Pitching…lot’s of question marks for a 100+win team.

Catchers:

In:  Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez, Blake Swihart

Out:  None

Comments:  Sandy and his .180 average seems to be the guy that will play the most.  Pitchers love throwing to him.  Sigh.  Vasky may well be in the mix, but we know Blake won’t.  He only makes it because they may have to hit for both catchers in the same game at some point in the playoffs.

Infield:

In:  Mitch Moreland/Steve Pearce (1b), Ian Kinsler/Brock Holt (2b), Xander Bogaerts (ss), Rafael Devers/Eduardo Nunez (3b)

Out:  Tzu-Wei Lin, Brandon Phillips, Sam Travis

Comments:  I’m ok with the 1b platoon.  I’m thinking though that Holt maybe should be the 2b going in.  Really?  Yeah.  If that ends up being a platoon, that would be fine though.  Devers is the future at third, but I feel like Nunez will get the playoff nod based on his…defense?  Yup.

Outfield:

In:  Andrew Benintendi (LF), Jackie Bradley Jr. (CF), Mookie Betts (RF), J.D. Martinez (DH)

Out:  None

Comments:  Not much to see here.  Kinda obvious.

So that’s where we are at this point.  We will dig in a little deeper when the ALDS opponent is actually known…

Gross…different sport…

…so now it’s up to Clay Buchholz.

Think about that for a second.

Ok, that’s enough of that.  Now get your head out of the oven.

The good news?  This series is not over.  The Red Sox are coming back home and that, in and of itself, should create a glimmer of hope.  Cleveland is barely a .500 team on the road.  They also score about a run and a half less per game away from their friendly confines.  Their offensive numbers overall are much worse on the road, though the pitching splits are admittedly pretty similar.  But Josh Tomlin should not be unbeatable either.

You would assume the Sox offense will wake up at Fenway.  Well, they certainly can’t be any worse.  The only guy who has shown up so far is Brock Holt.  I suppose Andrew Benintendi too.  But that is it.  Similar to Cleveland, the Sox’ offensive numbers spike upwards at home.  Though not the same as the Indians, their pitching stats do get worse at Fenway.

The bad news?  Where do we start?

The Sox obviously have a good team and have the capability to not only come back in the series, but also take three in a row to win it.  But does anyone have that vibe now?  I don’t.

After winning 11 in a row to seal up the AL East, the Sox dropped 5 of their last 6 regular season games.  This obviously cost them home field, at least for this series.  How big was that really?  Didn’t think it was a huge deal before the series.  Feeling like that was the wrong assumption now.

People may write off the end of the season too.  Players were tired, they wrapped up a playoff spot and lost focus, home field wasn’t THAT important, etc.  But most of the regulars played most of those last 6 games.  So John Farrell must have though they still did have something to play for.  And then they didn’t get the job done in that respect.

This may have carried over to the first 2 games of this series.  We have seen an alarming number of brain cramps and bad plays in a mere two games:  Dustin Pedroia with an uncharacteristically brutal error in Game 2.  Benintendi being lazy on a fly ball in Game 1, allowing a catcher to tag from first to second.  Jackie Bradley Jr. with some terrible throws from the outfield, not to mention some horrific at-bats.  Sandy Leon with a bad throw or two.  David Price walking a the #9 hitter Roberto Perez, who hit .183 this season, TWICE in two at-bats.  Rick Porcello giving up three bombs in one inning.  Maybe even Marco Hernandez not taking third on a loose ball at the plate in the eighth inning in Game 1 (though there was only 1 out and he may not have made it, so maybe I’m being picky on this one).  This is only to name some.

Has the season-long farewell tour caught up to David Ortiz as well?  Especially with all of the events last week?  Perhaps.

More bad news?  You got it!  Due to Corey Kluber’s performance in Game 2, the Cleveland bullpen will be fresh for Game 3 on Sunday.  Specifically Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.  So if Tomlin gets ripped, Terry Francona can do a similar thing Sunday that he did Thursday.  And doesn’t everyone expect Buchholz to get blasted too?  So Game 3 could very well play out exactly like Game 1.  Not good for the Sox.

I would very much like to blame John Farrell for this series.  But I can’t really.  His two “aces” lasted 7 2/3 combined innings.  His offense completely shut down.  He has seemed to make the right bullpen moves.  People may have complained about moving Holt to 2nd in the batting order and Xander Bogaerts down to 6th, but Holt has performed.  I’m honestly not sure what else he could have done differently across the board.  As much as I would like to bash him, I really can’t.

One thing I would consider though:  Moving Benintendi to center and inserting Chris Young in left for Game 3.  Bradley is 0-6 with 5 strikeouts.  Probably would be 0-7 with 6 K’s if he didn’t get hit by a 0-2 pitch in his last at-bat Friday.  He doesn’t look right any way you slice it.  But what else can you do with the team?  Not much I am afraid.  Just have to hope the home cooking helps win Game 3.  Then maybe bring Porcello and Price back on short rest and hope the results in their second starts in the series are vastly different than their first ones.  Though how can we really expect that with Price’s career futility in the postseason?

I’m not packing it in, but it really does look like a lifeless team now, no?  And then to have to rely on Buchholz.  Yikes!  But we’ve seen them do it before.  Just have to hold out some hope for that.

The best thing about coming back to Fenway?  No more shots of LeBron James and the rest of the Cavalier clowns in their luxury box.  Please TBS, how many times did we really have to see that?

Speaking of TBS…I think we’ve had enough of them too…

Mea Culpa?

So here we are just past the quarter pole of the Major League Baseball season.  The Boston Red Sox inexplicably have a 27-17 record and are in a virtual tie for first place with Baltimore atop the AL East.  I say inexplicably, because well, no one really expected this.  And if anyone says they did expect it, they are blowing some serious smoke up your keister.

My wish for John Farrell being canned by Memorial Day will go unfulfilled.  That wish has already gone unfulfilled for months actually.  But that is besides the point.  I may even have to begrudgingly admit that Farrell has done a half-decent job to this point.

Of course, that is easy to do when your offense has been off the charts the first six weeks of the season.  And the bullpen has been pretty good too.  So even if the starters are mediocre, and they have been, the success of the first two here can win you a lot of ballgames.

Therein lies the potential downfall of the team however.  The starting rotation.  David Price is 6-1, but with a 5.53 ERA.  I’m not going to be too worried about him though…he should round back into form.  Maybe he already has with his last couple of starts.  “#2 starter” Clay Buchholz has been atrocious.  And that is being kind.  My feelings on Bucky have been pretty clear.  But despite the talent he flashes (seemingly once in a blue moon recently), I’m not expecting much out of this bum.

Joe Kelly started the 3rd game of the season.  I suppose that means he is technically the #3 guy.  I don’t care about the great performance Saturday.  He still stinks.  I heard one “insider” say on a radio broadcast that fixing this shoulder impingement that landed him on the disabled list this season…you know, the impingement that he has had for like 8 years…will mentally free him now and he will reach his full ability.  Or some garbage like that.  So the “impingement” held him up for almost a decade…and he never bothered to have it fixed until now.  Ok, if you say so.  And we are not even sure it is even “fixed.”  He is just doing different kinds of exercises, working on a program and of course taking some meds.

Rick Porcello is 7-2, 3.47.  Wow.  We will take that from him.  Sad that we will “take” a 3.47 ERA from a 20 plus million dollar pitcher.  But that’s unfortunately where we are at.  The team’s best starter this year, Steven Wright, (3-4, 2.52), is a knuckleballer.  We’ve seen this movie before with Tim Wakefield.  This performance will not likely hold up.

What’s beyond that?  Other than Eduardo Rodriguez, really nothing.  Henry Owens?  William Cuevas?  Sean O’Sullivan?  Yikes!!  Can’t even talk about Brian Johnson now, as he has been placed on the inactive list in Pawtucket to deal with anxiety issues.  As for E-Rod (I actually hate calling him that, but the name has caught on), can we even count on him now?  He is due to start Tuesday for the PawSox on another rehab outing.  But how long will this go on?  Seems like the rehab has lingered on for a while.  Some setbacks.  Some vagueness.  Some overprotection.  I actually don’t expect to see him until after the All-Star break.  Or until Bucky inevitably goes on the DL.  Or, the most likely scenario…when Wright gets shelled a couple of times in a row.  At that point, Farrell will have his excuse to push Wright back to long relief, saying some nonsense about how “Steven gives us a lot of flexibility out of the ‘pen…”  Even if it is only 2 bad starts out of like 15.  But none of the other guys are really candidates to move to the bullpen.  Except maybe Kelly, but they have been clear they won’t move him there.  So we’ll just have to deal with whatever happens when Eduardo is finally ready.  I wouldn’t be shocked if that turns out to be 2017.

Any way you slice it, a lot of question marks in the rotation the rest of the way.  Yes, we knew this from the get-go.  But now after the hot start, hopefully there is more urgency to supplement the talent there going forward.

And now with the news today about Carson Smith needing Tommy John surgery and being done for the year, is the bullpen in the same boat as the rotation?  Meaning, do they need some urgency to supplement the talent there as well?

Even if Smith was healthy, my answer would be…you can’t ever have enough bullpen arms.  Looking at it from the beginning, Smith, Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa and Craig Kimbrel are a solid back-end.  Not Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances for the Yankees, but still pretty good.  Robbie Ross Jr. is decent enough and you could do worse with Tommy Layne as a lefty specialist.  That leaves anyone as the 12th pitcher…since that’s what every team has anyway.  In addition to “anyone” as their 13th-20th pitchers.

But now?  Smith is done.  Koji is not quite the same guy…to be expected at his age of course.  Because of this, it’s only a matter of time before Farrell throws Tazawa every day and burns him out.  Old habits die hard.  So then what?  Ross, Layne, Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree, Roenis Elias, Pat Light…mediocrity at its finest.  IF they are lucky that is.

Lastly, the offense.  Incredible thus far.  No other way to explain it.  The most amazing aspect really has to be that Hanley Ramirez seems to care!  But there’s where the questions start.  How long will THAT last?  Who the hell knows?  As long as they are winning, I don’t expect his attitude to change.  But with him…ugh…let’s not even think about it…

So we all know the offense can not likely keep up the pace they are at.  Actually, it wouldn’t surprise me if the players above Hanley in the lineup did actually keep playing at a high level:  Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts & David Ortiz.  But then again, Pedroia has battled injuries in recent years.  And we are all still hoping Big Papi doesn’t pull a “Rafael Palmeiro” in his last year…getting busted for PED’s.  Please just make it through this year without a failed test Big Guy.  Please and thank you.

I think we still do have to show some concern with the last 4 spots in the order however.  Ok, you will say, “last 4 spots in the order, if all we have to only worry about those guys, we should be ok.”  I would say, sure, to a point.  But the Sawx will still need something out of those dudes.  And I have my questions.

If the season ended today, Jackie Bradley Jr. would likely get MVP votes.  Seems incredible, eh?  But true.  I may be one of the few left in this camp, but I am still not convinced he has completely figured out major league pitching.  Call me an idiot if you like, but we have seen him go through stretches like this before.  It would not shock me one bit to see him go something like 15-100 with 45 K’s in the month of June alone.  He’s either been awesome or horrendous for stretches in the majors…no in-between.  With his glove, I’d take the in-between.  I still think it remains to be seen if he has finally crossed that line.  Sorry.

On a lesser scale, same with Travis Shaw.  With the Fat Panda out for the year, there is no real competition.  And there hasn’t been really since he won the job.  Of course, he has been a pleasant surprise and is still playing well.  But there is also no track record with him either.  I hope he continues to hit.  I’m just not certain of it.  It’s a long season.

I guess I am not worried about Christian Vazquez’ hitting.  Pretty much anything you get from him offensively is a bonus.  But if the lineup suffers as a whole…it looks a lot worse.

I’m keeping an eye on left field.  My feeling is that you are looking at a change here.  Brock Holt won the job coming out of Spring Training, as one side of a platoon with Chris Young anyway.  I’m not sure when he got his latest concussion, but it may have “helped” the team in a way.  The Brockstar seemed to be a little exposed playing almost every day, as much as I love the dude.  Once the Sox sent down Blake Swihart and threw him in LF in the minors, I kind of felt like he would be playing there in the majors soon enough.  Just a hunch.  Partly because they had decided on Vazquez behind the plate.  But perhaps also partly to show some versatility as a piece in a future deal?

In any event, now that the door has opened for Swihart in LF now, I feel like he will stay there when Holt comes back.  Holt will go back to the utility role that he has been successful at.  And he will still get plenty of at-bats.  I would also say Holt getting another concussion is something to monitor.  He may not even be back soon.  Brock was sidelined for over a month at the end of 2014 with one.  And now he has another.  This is baseball, not football.  Something to watch.

This team has been very fun to watch the first part of the season.  I don’t mean to throw a wet blanket over the situation.  But I have found myself also waiting for the proverbial “other shoe to drop” with regards to them.  I don’t see them sustaining their success…unless Dave Dombrowski steps in and wheels and deals.  Can’t rule that out, but quiet so far.

Ssssooooo…I am not apologizing for any of my early season hesitations and negativity…yet…

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