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Boston Red Sox Playoff Preview

So we are finally here.  Took the Sox forever to clinch the division but they got it done.  Does anyone give them a chance in the playoffs however?

I’m not too excited about their chances, to be honest.  But in the playoffs, I suppose anything is possible.  We all know I have been down on this team since early in the year.  How I feel about Manager John Farrell is quite obvious.  But the team itself?  They won 93 games and the division.  How can you feel bad about that?  Well, to me, this team has actually underachieved this year.  I mean, how many of the players actually improved from last year?  Out of the position players, maybe one…and it was Christian Vazquez.  He only played 99 games.  Of course, I am not counting Rafael Devers and Andrew Benintendi, who obviously improved from last year, since both were essentially minor leaguers.

But the guys that were supposed to be the centerpieces of the offense…Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Hanley Ramirez and I suppose even Jackie Bradley Jr…all regressed this year.  Dustin Pedroia probably was about as good as he can be these days.  But he missed 57 games this season.  Very frustrating.

The pitching staff?  Drew Pomeranz and Craig Kimbrel took a step up.  And of course Chris Sale came over and dominated.  But the rest?  Meh.  We don’t even need to talk about Rick Porcello’s pathetic year.  Well…at least he will have one great year under his belt to look back on.

In my opinion, the Sox have been an unlikable bunch all year and we’ve hashed through a lot of that…the David Price and Dennis Eckersley thing, the Pedroia/Manny Machado thing, just about everything Farrell does…and all that other off the field stuff.  Add it all up and it can be tough to root for them.  But of course I will…

So now they go up against a 101 win Houston Astro team in the American League Division Series.  How do they matchup?  Glad you asked!  Let’s have a brief look at how the rosters should stack up and see if we can come up with any way the Sox can win this series.  Only a 5-gamer, so as noted above, anything can happen.  Rosters have not been announced, so a little bit of guesswork involved here…especially for the ‘Stros:

*Catcher:  Bos:  Vazquez, Sandy Leon.  Hou:  Brian McCann, Evan Gattis.

I think we can sum this matchup as “defense vs. offense”.  I know, Vasky hit .290 this year, but let’s be real.  Anyway, not that percentage of base stealers caught is the “be all, end all” here.  But Vazquez was 42% and Leon 37%.  The Astros?  McCann 13%, Gattis 10%…and if they end up keeping a 3rd catcher, it will likely be Juan Centeno…who tossed out 8%, though admittedly in few opportunities.  I don’t think Houston cares as long as their guys hit a little and don’t have too many passed balls.  I’ve already written enough here.

Edge:  Even, believe it or not.

*Infield:  Bos:  Mitch Moreland (1B), Pedroia (2B), Bogaerts (SS), Devers (3B).  Hou:  Yuli Gurriel (1B), Jose Altuve (2B), Carlos Correa (SS), Alex Bregman (3B).

Pedey is still hobbling, X has been painfully average all year, Devers has slowed down a bit since his electric debut and Mitch Moreland is…Mitch Moreland.  Compare that to two studs who will get MVP votes in Altuve and Correa (who may have been a top candidate if he hadn’t missed over 40 games), a potential future star in Bregman, who got better as the year went on, and a solid first sacker in Gurriel…need I say more?

Edge:  Houston, by a landslide.

*Outfield:  Bos:  Benintendi (LF), Bradley (CF), Betts (RF).  Hou:  Marwin Gonzalez (LF), George Springer (CF), Josh Reddick (RF).

Josh Reddick?  Does anyone know he was .314/13/82 this year?  .314?  Springer had an awesome year.  Gonzalez was a sort of super utility guy until he started playing more left down the stretch.  Lot of offense here and the defense is not all that bad either.  Reddick did win a Gold Glove in 2012…though that also may have been because he hit 32 homers that year…you know, because that’s sometimes (often) how Gold Glove voting goes.  Bradley and Betts are true Gold Glovers, though I know JBJ hasn’t actually won one.  And offensively, the Sox OF’s are pretty good too, though the feeling is they could be better.  This is a close one.

Edge:  Houston, by a smidge.

*Designated Hitter:  Bos:  Ramirez.  Hou:  Carlos Beltran.

Hanley is infuriating, but can still hit a little.  Beltran looks done.  He may not be in this spot this series, but I’m putting him here for now.

Edge:  Boston, as much as it pains me to say.

*Bench:  Bos:  Eduardo Nunez (IF), Brock Holt (INF/OF), Chris Young (OF), Rajai Davis (OF/PR).  Hou:  Tyler White (IF), Derek Fisher (OF), Cameron Maybin (OF/PR).

Seemingly a wasteland on both sides.  Sure, Nunez made a difference when he got to Boston.  But he got hurt, then came back for a couple of innings and got hurt again.  Do we really think he will all of a sudden ready to go this week?  Holt should be replaced by Deven Marrero on the roster.  Neither one can hit, but Marrero has the better glove.  Young stinks and Rajai should only be a runner.  The Astros bench may be worse.  Maybin can still play a bit (at least run) and Fisher has some promise.  But nothing impressive here.  Only three bench guys for Houston because of Marwin’s versatility.  And because they need as many bullpen arms as possible…since most of them are not necessarily good.

Edge:  Boston, simply because of Nunez, if he’s even somewhat healthy.  If not, even, since they then both stink.

*Starting Pitchers:  Bos:  Chris Sale, Drew Pomeranz, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez.  Hou:  Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, Lance McCullers.

Sale alternated good and bad starts through September.  Pomeranz pitched well Saturday, but was hammered his previous start.  Always have to wonder when his bubble will burst.  We don’t need to go through Porcello again.  E-Rod?  You just don’t know.  Porcello and E-Rod are probably the right choices for Games 3 and 4, if indeed those are the choices.  I really can’t do Doug Fister.  You know Farrell will not go away from Porcello in this series too.  If that is the case, and it would be hard to do, but it may be worth considering starting him in Game 2.  His ERA was about a run and a half better on the road than at Fenway.  Would take some serious stones to push Pomeranz back to Game 3.  I don’t think anyone thinks Farrell has those stones though.  In all seriousness, I doubt I would have the stones to do that either.

The Astros will start with 2 studs in Verlander and Keuchel.  Then they have like 12 guys that could start the rest of the games.  Morton, McCullers, Collin McHugh, Brad Peacock…they have options.  And some pretty good ones.

Edge:  Houston, and it’s not as close as one may think.

*Relief Pitchers:  Bos:  David Price, Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, Brandon Workman, Carson Smith, Addison Reed, Craig Kimbrel.  Hou:  Peacock, James Hoyt, Michael Feliz, Francisco Liriano, Chris Devenski, Luke Gregerson, Will Harris, Ken Giles.

I’m not sure Price can be “this year’s Andrew Miller”.  But you have to like the way he has responded to his bullpen role.  Guys like Barnes, Kelly and Workman have pitched better than expected this year.  But I’m not sold on them for the playoffs.  As long as they are 6th inning guys, maybe 7th, I suppose I can accept it.  Who else do you want?  Heath Hembree?  Fernando Abad?  Blaine Boyer?  Austin Maddox?  Nah.  I’m not sure Smith is ready, but when your next option is Robby Scott, I suppose we can see what Carson has to offer.  I think they will put him on the roster and pick spots with him.  Reed and Kimbrel are pretty stout at the end.

Total stab on the Houston bullpen.  Peacock was in the rotation and did very well the latter half of the year.  But he’s used to coming out of the pen, whereas it doesn’t appear Morton or McCullers are, so it’s easy to shift him back there.  He’s about 16 innings away from his career high in innings too, so you know managers like to protect those guys.  Devenski, Harris, Gregerson and Giles are decent enough, but are we afraid?  Liriano hasn’t been great, but he is a lefty you know.  Feliz, Hoyt, Mike Fiers, Tony Sipp, Joe Musgrove, Tyler Clippard?  Take your pick.  McHugh could actually be here too.

Edge:  Boston, primarily due to Reed and Kimbrel at the back end.

So who wins the series?  Houston, 3-1.  Sox win one of the first two.  Then some combination of Porcello, E-Rod, Fister and Hector Velasquez get blasted out of Fenway in Games 3 and 4.

 

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Three Weeks and…Change?

It’s been 22 days since the Blowhard wrote about what he would do at the Major League Baseball trading deadline if he ran the Boston Red Sox.  If you recall, I actually proposed selling off pieces and getting a head start on next season, despite the fact that the Red Sox were in first place at that time.  Just didn’t feel comfortable with the team…on and off the field.  Didn’t think they had enough to compete for a World Series title, especially when it came to teams in the National League like the Dodgers and Nationals…and presumably the Cubs.  I knew the team selling wouldn’t happen, but still offered up some ideas on what courses of action I would seriously consider.

What’s happened since then?  The Sox have only gone 14-4.  Yup, direct hit with the suggestions again.  Good thing no one reads this page…

Does the recent stretch of success change my overall feeling as we head into the final 41 games of the regular season? Well actually, not at all.

I’m going to spare you the review of every original bullet point from the July column.  But there are a few appropriate ones that still hold true in my eyes.

The Red Sox made one more move before the MLB trading deadline in July after the original post on 7/28.  That was adding set-up man/part-time closer Addison Reed from the Mets.  No, I am not counting the move that happened yesterday, losing Noe Ramirez on waivers to the Angels.  And you thought I cared about the 39th-40th man on the 40-man roster!  Well, yup, I do…just not today…

Reed didn’t endear himself to any of the fans when he first got here, but made it up to some people with his performance last night.  Definitely a solid addition.  But the fact remains that pretty much the rest of the bullpen sucks.  Ok, that is harsh.  But Matt Barnes and Joe Kelly don’t inspire confidence in key situations.  And besides Reed and Craig Kimbrel, those two are the next in line.  Brandon Workman?  Perhaps.  Heath Hembree, Robby Scott, Fernando Abad?  Useful 10-12th (13th?) pitchers on a major league staff.  But not people I’d like to see in the 7th inning of a close game against a contender, as Hembree and Scott were last night.  Still some holes out there.

Speaking of holes, the predicted Drew Pomeranz injury indeed popped up last night.  What happens if this lingers?  Eduardo Rodriguez is too inconsistent.  David Price, for better or for worse, will not be back this year.  Yup, take that to the bank.  I proposed seeing if some team would somehow trade for him in the last piece…then he went on the DL hours later.  Trade was never going to happen, I acknowledge.  But of course his injury flared up again anyway.  Have the surgery already…

Oh…Doug Fister sucks…ssssssoooo…other than Chris Sale, the starting rotation still has its holes as well.

The lineup has scored some more runs over the 18 game stretch…and also has had a couple of nice comebacks against the Yankees and Cardinals.  But overall, it is too inconsistent to rely on.  The same issues presented a few weeks ago persist.  Xander had a nice homer the other night, but has still frustrated all of Red Sox Nation.  Speaking of frustration…Hanley Ramirez everyone!  Rafael Devers has not cooled off, nor has Eduardo Nunez since they’ve both arrived.  I imagine that has to change.  And one of the teams hottest hitters in July was Dustin Pedroia.  Who knows what you will get out of him the rest of the year?  Mitch Moreland had a nice pinch hit last night.  But he is still…Mitch Moreland.  And on and on we can go…and I’m not even going to talk about the rampant putrid baserunning decisions.

Also, let’s look a little deeper into that 14-4 record.  8-0 against the White Sox, Rays and Cardinals.  Not exactly the iron of the league.  In fact, the White Sox should currently be playing in the International League with the roster they have now.  And the Red Sox didn’t exactly smoke them in their 4 game set.  That leaves a 6-4 mark against the Yankees, Indians and Royals (a team that should be better than their record).  So while 14-4 is impressive indeed, it is a smidge misleading.

I think we need to see how the next 16 game stretch goes.  2 more against the Yanks at home, then 11 of 14 on the road against the Indians, Blue Jays and Yanks again.  6 more division games at home after that.  Let’s take a look after the next 22 days then.  The AL East is mediocre this year, but that doesn’t make the games any easier when the calendar turns to September.  They should still be a tough road to hoe.

I know it doesn’t sound like it, but I am actually happy we can still talk baseball heading into September.  I’m just here to throw the caution flag up.  I’m not sure this team has any business competing for a championship.  You might say, “well the 2013 team really shouldn’t have either”.  You would be 100% correct.  But the 2013 team had many players that overachieved.  The 2017 team has many players underachieving.  The players in 2013 seemed tighter with no clubhouse drama (that I recall anyway).  And while there hasn’t been much chatter about the clubhouse in recent weeks (coincidentally, after Price went on the DL?), I wouldn’t say that things are all rosy there all of a sudden.  I suppose we can say all the players are united against the media, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a great clubhouse.

John Farrell has managed both clubs.  It’s a minor miracle either team was ever in the mix with him in charge…

2017 MLB American League All-Stars

Yup, the All-Star Game was this past Tuesday.  But…close enough.  And a nice topic to get back in the swing of things.  So here is my team.  Only 32 players this year, down from 34 in recent years.  21 position players, 11 pitchers, with each team represented (Again, I don’t necessarily love this rule…but…it is the rule).  (S) for starter.  Comments below each position.

C:  Salvador Perez, KC (S), Gary Sanchez, NYY

Three catchers are usually selected for the actual game.  This year thankfully there were only two…for both leagues.  Not sure why this changed, but it’s absolutely for the better.  Two is about the max that deserve to be there.  Last year I took only one on my team (Perez).  If I took a third this year, it would’ve been either Brian McCann or Alex Avila.  No thanks.  Anyway, I’ve said pretty much enough on catchers.  Sanchez may be the future, but not giving him the starting gig over Big Sal…this year.

1B:  Justin Smoak, Tor (S), Logan Morrison, TB, Jose Abreu, CWS, Yonder Alonso, Oak

Just…yuck.  Just feels really strange with no Miguel Cabrera anywhere to be found here.  These guys are simply having better years though.  And thanks to the “every team has to be represented” rule, here are each of these 4 teams’ representatives!  Smoak started the real game and, sadly enough, he was the right choice.  Morrison had a similar OPS (.931 to Smoaks’ .936), so if you wanted him to start, you won’t get an argument from me.  Not sure how he didn’t even make the real team.  I’m all set with Corey Dickerson.  Actually, I’m all set with Morrison too, but his numbers are there this year.  Avisail Garcia was the real life ChiSox rep, but I prefer Abreu.  Probably doesn’t matter either way.  It was either Alonso, Khris Davis or Ryon Healy for the A’s.  Alonso’s .934 OPS was also right with Morrison and Smoak.  The other A’s were in the .800’s.  Plus Davis and Healy DH a fair amount.  But still…these 4 guys are All-Stars?

2B:  Jose Altuve, Hou (S), Jonathan Schoop, Bal, Robinson Cano, Sea, Starlin Castro, NYY

It’s Altuve and then everyone else once again.  Not enough superlatives out there for that guy.  Schoop is shockingly enough the Orioles rep.  If you wanted to put Manny Machado on the team because he’s Manny Machado, I’d probably be ok with it though.  I’m not putting Robby Cano here because he was the MVP of the real game.  No, seriously.  He is kind of quietly having a pretty good year.  As is Castro.

3B:  Jose Ramirez, Cle (S), Miguel Sano, Min, Mike Moustakas, KC

Jose Ramirez is 3rd in the AL in OPS, .005 behind 2nd place.  Jose Ramirez!  Let that one sink in for a while.  Sure he had a pretty good year last year.  But was abysmal two years ago.  Of course he was only 22 then, so…but still.  Pretty impressive.  Sano is another guy breaking out this year.  His 120 K’s already are pretty unsightly though.  Having second thoughts about “Moose” as I write this…but I guess 25 bombs and good defense should count for something.

SS:  Carlos Correa, Hou (S), Elvis Andrus, Tex

You may be able to pencil in Correa’s name here for years to come.  Francisco Lindor may have something to say about it eventually, but not this year.  Correa has been filthy this season.  I will also say Lindor was on the edge of my team and if you wanted to find space for him, it wouldn’t upset me.  Andrus was going to be my sole Rangers player, though that did change.  Still deserving of a place on my squad however.  And please Red Sox fans…admittedly, I am a total homer.  But the fact that Xander Bogaerts was in the Final Five voting was an absolute joke, I’m sorry.  Disappointing year for X, to put it mildly.

OF:  Mike Trout, LAA (S), Aaron Judge, NYY (S), George Springer, Hou (S), Mookie Betts, Bos

This is what I wrote last year: “Just copy and paste Trout here for at least the next decade…unless he switches leagues at some point.”  His injury this year changes nothing.  There really is not much to say about Judge and Springer.  Monster years from the both of them.  Now here is where I become a little of that Boston homer I just referred to.  In my opinion, Betts hasn’t necessarily been “All-Star-ish” this year.  Just hasn’t seemed it.  Comparatively speaking to last year anyway.  But maybe we were spoiled last year.  However, when you review the numbers as a whole, you can justify a spot for him.  And I did.

DH: Nelson Cruz, Sea (S)

1 DH is enough.  One of the jamokes selected at 1B can handle DH in my game if they need to.  I would nominate Abreu.

UT:  Marwin Gonzalez, Hou

How can a guy who doesn’t even start for his own team be an All-Star?  Well, let me introduce you to this year’s Brock Holt!!  Except…way better.  .967 OPS.  He actually has been playing every day for a while now.  I mean, Norichika Aoki?  Please.  But Marwin plays all over the place too.  If you play fantasy baseball, and I do, he is pretty much eligible at every position no matter what type of league you are in.  That’s worth something if you can create offense along with the defensive flexibility.  Oh, and the Astros are 10 games better than everyone else in the American League.  Take as many guys as you want from that team and put them here.  Although, I will draw the line at Josh Reddick.

P:  Chris Sale, CWS (S), Jason Vargas, KC, Dallas Keuchel, Hou, Corey Kluber, Cle, Carlos Carrasco, Cle, Michael Fulmer, Det, Ervin Santana, Min, Yu Darvish, Tex, Luis Severino, NYY, Andrew Miller, Cle, Craig Kimbrel, Bos

I will probably cut and paste this preamble every year, in case there are any new readers that may give a crap.  I know, fat chance.  Anyway, here it is:  As I’ve explained in the past, my inclination is to take way more starting pitchers than closers and certainly middle relievers.  Great starters are infinitely more important to their team and that is why they get the big bucks, as they say.  Closers historically get hot for a year or three, but unless they are Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman, they inevitably fail and fall back into middle relief or the minors or out of baseball.  Very few of the elite ones that can do it for 10 years plus.  Middle relievers are usually failed starters AND closers.  So even though they can be dominant, it usually doesn’t last.  And if it does, they will go back to another key role.

Last year, I picked 3 closers and 2 part middle relievers, part closers and only 8 starters.  Kind of made me sick to my stomach.  This year we get back to normal…9 starters, 1 middle man, 1 closer.  Sale is the relatively easy choice to start, though if Kuechel or even Kluber didn’t miss time in the first half, they would have certainly made it closer.  Specifically Kluber, with his playoff performance last year, as well as the fact that his own Indian coaching staff were the coaches for this years’ All-Star Game.  Journeyman 34-year-old Vargas leads the league in wins and ERA, as well as WAR, if that’s a statistic that floats your boat.  Good for him for making his first All-Star team.

I’m surprised that Carrasco wasn’t on the real squad.  He got hammered in one start in late June that jacked up his ERA a bit.  But even so, 3.44 ain’t bad.  Combined with his other numbers, he seemed like an easy pick to me.  Fulmer was my Detroit pick…as he was in reality (until they added Justin Upton to the squad as well).  Can’t ignore Ervin’s contributions to the surprising Twins this year (as surprising as 2 games over .500 is…but they are only 2.5 games out…and I’m not sure anyone saw that coming).  Darvish and Severino have high-ish ERA’s, but they are still in the top 10 and have good numbers otherwise.  Maybe Lance McCullers Jr. and Marcus Stroman deserve some consideration as well.  But they get squeezed out on my team.

Kimbrel is a no-brainer…the guy has been virtually untouchable this year.  As has been Miller.  Even though Miller doesn’t close, it’s hard to ignore his dominance.  As for relievers that missed the cut, maybe a case for Roberto Osuna could have been made.  But Alex Colome, Brandon Kintzler, Kelvin Herrera, Kenny Giles?  Nah.  Justin Wilson & Dellin Betances?  Perhaps.  But I’m comfortable with just Miller and Kimbrel.

So there you go…NL to follow..at some point…first I have to celebrate the fact that the Fat Panda is finally out of Boston…good riddance…

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