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Infuriating…Conclusion…

…picking up where we left off…and with PERFECT timing!

My next topic was the bullpen.  Just…wow…another meltdown Wednesday afternoon.

I know, Chris Sale didn’t exactly pitch that well.  But at least he left the bullpen with only three innings to give.

Problem is that this bullpen sucks so bad, no one can trust them getting even nine outs in any game.

Why does the bullpen suck so bad?  Welp, for starters, they are filled with a bunch of 6th/7th inning guys and have paraded several fringe major leaguers through there all year as well.

The Sox have had 17 guys throw bullpen innings for them thus far this season.  And I’m not counting an 18th, Eduardo Nunez, who threw an inning in a lopsided game earlier this year.  Truth be told, his stuff may be better than half the stiffs they have thrown out there.

In any event, a couple of these guys may be ok in the 8th inning.  But NONE of them belong in the ninth, even with a significant lead.

That’s where we go into the departure of the closer for the last three years:  Craig Kimbrel.  Kimbrel sure as heck had his flaws.  And he was delusional about what he wanted for a contract this past offseason.  But, by and large, he got the job done over his tenure.  He also was borderline unhittable at times…like all of 2017, for instance.

In any event, he knew how to handle the 9th.  Sure, he did not pitch well in the 2018 postseason.  And I was completely ok with letting him go, especially with the ridiculous contract demands he had.

But then they didn’t go out and get SOMEONE else??!

I fully expected them to go out and get a Fernando Rodney type…some dude who would have been cheap enough, but had experience in the ninth closing games.  Now, Rodney has been terrible this year himself, but you get the idea.

We all knew Matt Barnes was not a closer.  Every time they tried to have him sub in for Kimbrel when Craig needed a blow, he was at least shaky.  And most of the time (it seems), he didn’t get the job done.

Didn’t the Sox brass know this?

Ryan Brasier was a nice story last year.  But there is a reason one spends 10 years or so in the minor leagues (and some in the Japanese League minor leagues as well…chew on that for a second).  He threw 33 2/3 nice innings in 2018 but most forget that a great deal of them, especially early on, were mop-up, low leverage spots.

And they expected Barnes and Brasier to all of a sudden hold down the fort late this year??!

Sigh…

It’s easy to blame President of Baseball Operations, Dave Dombrowski.  And we should heavily blame him.  After all, he’s pretty much never been able to put together a decent bullpen.  If he had been able to, we’d probably be talking about the 2013 World Series Champion Detroit Tigers instead of the ragtag bunch of Red Sox that ended up winning it all.

We also have to blame the Red Sox owners, John Henry and Tom Werner.  It’s amazing how unpopular these guys are even after bringing 4 World Series victories to Boston since they have bought the team.

But they are.

They refused to go over the luxury tax to re-sign Kimbrel…or any other decent bullpen arm.

WHAAAAAAT?!

So they will spend a gazillion dollars on all the other players.  But when it comes to that last key piece…nah.  We will just throw a bunch of crap against the wall and see what sticks.  They apparently loved the idea of the above scenario, along with seeing guys like Colton Brewer in the eighth inning and journeyman (to be kind) Josh A. Smith actually closing games.

That all being said, you know who else deserves some blame?

Manager Alex Cora.

Yup.

I’m still ok with Cora overall, though he has had some head-scratchers this year (more on that later).  After all, we always end up hating every Red Sox manager in the end, right?  Well, not Tito Francona.  LOVE that guy.  And HATE the way he was driven out of town.  But I digress…

Anyway, Cora has admittedly done the best he could with this collection of flotsam and jetsam.  He mixes and matches depending on who is coming up in the lineup for the opposition.  And when Barnes pitches against the best part of the lineup in the 7th inning, it seems he has done ok.

But sometimes Cora gets TOO fine.  “Painting by Numbers” with the bullpen-fine.  And then when it doesn’t work out he is left with some stiff at the end of the game that coughs it up.  An extreme example was Brian Johnson in the 17th against the Twins.  Johnson stinks.  But he is slightly better when he is a starter.  But never throw this guy in extra innings.  I’d like to see the numbers, but my sense is every time I see him out there in extra innings he loses the game.  My opinion, but I think it is closer to fact.

Again, that was extreme, but that’s also what you get when you throw all your best guys one inning…then the game gets tied and you have no one left.

But the one I liked from Wednesday was even pitching Barnes.  I heard a stat on the radio after the game where Barnes has close to a 10.00 era when he gets zero rest and close to a 2.00 era when he gets at least a day of rest.  He pitched Tuesday.  So why was he in there Wednesday?  With all the analytics these guys use these days, didn’t the team (and Cora) know this?

Yes, I understand that a guy like Brandon Workman had already pitched two days in a row.  And options are obviously limited, as we have outlined.

But Steven Wright pitched the eighth.  Yup, Wright is back after being suspended for the first 80 games.

Listen, Steven Wright is certainly no savior.  But he is certainly fresh.  The Chicago White Sox are not world beaters.  He pitched well in rehab leading up to his activation.  He pitched well in relief last year and the team dabbled with him in the late innings.

Why couldn’t he go two innings?

Not sure.

He is a starter by trade so should be able to give some length.  Not to mention that he is a knuckleballer.  It’s not like he’d be stressed by going the second inning.

Lookie here, I’ve spent my “allotted time” on the whole bullpen disaster.  Go figure.

As referenced above, a couple more things on Cora.  Please stop blaming the schedule for some of your woes.  Everyone plays 162 games and has at least some portion of it that is not ideal.  (Visions of Josh Beckett bitching about having only a handful of days off during the year…).

If the players don’t like the 162 games, do something about it.  Sure, the owners want the gates and are likely the driving force behind all of the games.  But factor this into the next Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations then.  I have never heard of this being a topic…but maybe it is…I don’t really pay much attention to the labor part of the game.  If this has been brought up by the players previously, I apologize profusely.  But still…stop whining about the schedule.  The general public never likes to hear rich people bitching about…anything.  Especially about playing a game…a game that most families cannot even afford to go to.

Well, you can complain about the schedule, but do it privately.  We don’t want to hear the manager whining about it either.  Cora is probably trying to protect his players, but still…

Let’s move on.

How about some overmanaging folks?!  Taking Brewer out with a 3-2 count on a batter?  I guess you have to do it if you have someone like Josh Taylor ready to go.  Ha!  Brewer is a right-hander and Taylor is a left-hander.  The batter, Jon Jay bats from the left side.  Why wouldn’t Cora bring Taylor in from the start?  He said something about if the previous batter had gotten a double instead of a single, he would have brought Taylor in at the beginning of the at-bat.  But he got a single…but then stole second, so THEN he wanted Taylor…blah, blah, blah…

Brewer,, Taylor, whatever…they probably are the same guy, somewhere between the 12th/13th pitcher on a major league staff and a decent minor league pitcher.  The jury is probably still out on both, but they are both beyond prospect status, so they are likely AAAA depth.  Except they throw with different arms.  I’m just not sure the move was anywhere near necessary.  Why bother??

I guess the only other thing I wanted to say about Cora was that it kills me how he often gives the teams’ top players “maintenance days” against good teams when that particular series is sandwiched in-between series’ against putrid teams.  Why wouldn’t he rest them against the bum teams?  No idea.

And just Tuesday, he played J.D. Martinez, a DH with a bad back, in the field in soggy conditions and gave Andrew Benintendi a day off.  Seemed silly, what with several days off upcoming due to the trip to London.  At that point, I did not know that Benny had “leg fatigue” and was going to miss Wednesday’s game as well.

But still, there wasn’t another option to play the outfield?  Brock Holt is banged up yes.  But again, that’s what happens when you have to carry more stiff pitchers than you want at the expense of bench players.

There it is, the bullpen screwing things up again…

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Leftovers…

A lot to address from the last week or so.  What follows here will be mostly incoherent babbling, in no particular order:

*The Boston Bruins could be done in the next several hours.  Sure, we expected a close series and even a possible Toronto Maple Leaf victory.  But even though the series is technically “close” at 3 games to 2, the series really hasn’t been…close.  Game Two was the Bruins’ best game…and even though they won Game Four, it felt like the Leafs totally controlled the play.

The Bruin defense has been more than suspect.  And although Tuukka Rask has been decent, he is still, of course, prone to the soft goal.  Usually one a game or so.  That simply cannot happen in the playoffs.

But the forwards have been subpar as well.  Especially in their defensive zone.  I don’t know the exact numbers, but it has seemed that the Leafs have lived in the Bruins zone.  That’s not a way to win a series, my friends.

So what’s the problem?  Well, Toronto is actually a good team, so there’s that.

Otherwise?  I have a sense that guys are playing more hurt than we know.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, that sounds like an excuse.  I guess it could be.  But there are some dudes out there that clearly aren’t the same players.  Yes, the Bruins have a “healthy” roster now that Sean Kuraly just came back…other than Kevan Miller.  And can you say maybe Connor Clifton?  Maybe not.

But take a closer look.  Torey Krug has been abysmal.  To me anyway.  Missed time with a concussion a month or so ago and then whacked his head on the boards early in the series.  Could be a factor.  Jake DeBrusk is another.  Took that two-hander to the face and he has been borderline invisible.  Patrice Bergeron?  Does something ail him?  Perhaps.  He hasn’t had his best series.

Toronto has been the better team thus far.  No excuses.  But let’s see what comes out after elimination…today or otherwise.

*On the other hand, the Boston Celtics could be done today…with the first round.  This Indiana Pacer team is absolutely brutal.  Worse than I thought when I was putting together the preview.  I pretty much don’t want to waste any more time on them.  We will chat more in Round Two

*Tiger Woods won the Masters.  This is actually news nowadays.

I used to root against Tiger with regularity.  Not because I ever hated him.  Because he always won.  He was just TOO good.  So I always rooted for the underdog…even though pretty much they never beat him.

But isn’t Tiger NOW the underdog?

It is unfortunate that a talent like that has gone through what he has gone through the previous decade or so.  And no, I am not talking about his personal “problems”.  Like Robert Kraft, I could care less what these dudes do on their own time.

All the back surgeries and physical ailments he has endured.  Now those are real issues.  And now here he is, a major winner yet again.

I guess I can say that I am happy for him?  Sounds weird.

*Chad (Ochocinco) Johnson, Joey Galloway, Reggie Wayne, Eric Decker…Demaryius Thomas?

It’s entirely possible.

But I still take the chance.  This wide receiver group for the New England Patriots is embarrassing.

*Yes, the Bruins are in trouble.  But if we are all paying attention, Tampa Bay and Calgary are already out.  And they were both ahead of the Bruins in the overall standings.  Pittsburgh is out as well, and they always scare me in the playoffs.  That’s the beauty of the Stanley Cup Playoffs every year.  Anyone can win.  Even though the locals may be hurt by that very aspect.

*Yoan Moncada is .321/.361/.628.  6 homers and 18 RBI in 19 games.

Was I wrong?

The way he handled himself at the plate…I never thought he would figure it out.  And no, I’m not taking back the Chris Sale trade.  Do that every day of the week.  EVERY day.

I’m just saying that Moncada actually may be a player.  Ok, it’s still April so we will give it some more time.

*Dustin Pedroia.  Please retire.

You’re done.  As the immortal Terry Glenn once said, D-U-N…DUN!!

Can you please admit that Little Leader?

Better yet, we really need the Red Sox to admit it.  They have bent over backward to accommodate Pedroia, despite the fact that no one has ever come back from what he has.

Did the Sox really expect him to play about 120 games this season?  Silly.

And now they are stuck with some sort of combination of Brock Holt, Eduardo Nunez, Tzu Wei Lin…and Christian Vazquez?  Michael Chavis?

Or…until Pedroia gives it another shot in May.  Since now he thinks his latest setback was “minor”…

*Blake Swihart.  Good luck in Arizona.  May you actually get a chance to play.  Hopefully, you flourish.  You probably won’t.  But after the Sox jerked you around for the last few years, I am rooting for you.  If you care anyway.

*Sandy Leon.  The Red Sox starters won’t magically get better because Leon is back on the team.  They will get better because they ARE better than they have shown.  Period.

*Last but not least, let’s talk about the Red Sox management.  Yeah, they just came off a World Series.  Should we even be complaining?

Of course!!

The team has gotten off to a rocky start, despite wins the last two days over the first place Rays.  Sure, they will likely turn it around and be in the mix.  But this start is inexcusable.

Everyone shares in the blame.  The front office?  Dave Dombrowski brought back essentially the same team as last year.  On paper, it sounds awesome.  But in theory, it may not be.  Look at the Bruins the year after they won the Cup.  They brought 17 of 20 players back and got dumped in the first round.  Players were complaining they were tired, and it was a long Cup run and all that.  Perhaps that’s a valid reason if one were to insist.  So that’s why you have more turnover from year to year.  Although no one wants to hear the excuses of the players for sure.

The manager?  Alex Cora has repeatedly defended the slow start by saying that “we did the same thing last year…”  Enough already.  The players were not ready to play for whatever reason.

Sure, the coaches prepared the starting pitchers like they did last year.  But each year is a different entity.  Each season needs to be treated differently.  Didn’t Cora learn anything from Bill Belichick?

The starters being babied during the spring played a part in the slow start.  I would also hazard a guess that the players weren’t as hungry as last year after winning the World Series.  Human nature.  Again, another reason for some turnover.  Long season last year taking its toll?  Perhaps.  But there should have been plenty of time to rest in the offseason.  So I am not sure I can buy that one.  I personally never bought it for that Bruins scenario above either.

No time for panic.  It’s only April 21st.  But it doesn’t mean we have to like where they are right now.

Happy Easter to those who celebrate it!!

Spring Training Nonsense…

…so the Blowhard has recently written about three of the four major sports teams in the local area, perhaps it’s time to cover the remaining one…the Boston Red Sox?

I know, it’s early in Spring Training and the team is puttering along (not meant to be a bad thing…just that Spring Training is too long…and…who cares what their record is in the spring anyway?!).  But we may as well get a look at all of the players in camp to see what they have.  What do we mean by “all”?  Welp, every player on the 40 man roster, every player on the non-roster invite list and…every player that has appeared in a Spring Training game as of the day this piece is written.  Yup, I did just say that last sentence.  Once again, you’ve been warned.

Of course, the 25 man roster is pretty much already all set.  Just a minor tweak here and there, specifically in the bullpen I would say.  But it can’t hurt to take a look at everyone that is in FLA anyway…because, well, I have nothing better to do at the present time.

Let’s get to it, in usual Blowhard fashion, we break down the roster by position (numbers in parenthesis next to the players on the “prospects” line are what each player is ranked by Redsox.com):

Starting Rotation:

Locks:  Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Nathan Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez

DL:  None…yet

Realistic additional competitors for the Opening Day roster:  None

Actual prospects on their way to the minors:  Darwinzon Hernandez (#4), Mike Shawaryn (#13) Denyi Reyes (#19), Kutter Crawford (#20), Jhonathan Diaz (#30)

Additional flotsam also ticketed for the minors:  Chandler Shepherd, Dedgar Jimenez, Kyle Hart

Comments:  Doesn’t get any simpler than this.  There has been some scuttlebutt about Eovaldi ending up in the bullpen, specifically as the closer.  But the Sox didn’t throw him 68 mil over 4 years to do that, I can make you that promise.

Sale and manager Alex Cora can rave about Darwinzon all they want.  But he’s quite some time away from the majors.  Besides, being #4 on the Red Sox’ prospect list isn’t anything to be fired up about.  What, do they have one prospect on Major League Baseball’s Top 100 prospect list?  Just one of a hundred on most lists out there.  Unimpressive…an understatement, I know.  But I suppose we can hold out some hope, at least for him.  The numbers on the rest of the “prospects” tell you that we probably don’t ever need to talk about them again.  But we will see…

Dedgar may not actually be flotsam…yet…since he is only 22.  But he isn’t even among the Sox’ top 30.  So I suppose that should automatically give us some pause.  Shepherd and Hart are 26, so their time has likely passed.

With the contracts of Sale and Porcello expiring after this season, the Sox better figure something out throughout the year and into the next offseason.  I’m hoping that they won’t be replaced in 2020 by anyone in the section immediately below.  I’m sure they won’t…but there’s not exactly anything promising coming up from the minors anytime soon either.

Then again, news has come out that Sale and the team are mutually interested in a new contract.  We will see what comes of that.  It will be interesting to see the particulars if that gets done.  Sale has been “underpaid” for years, by baseball standards.  He has not exactly been durable, often wearing down in the second halves of seasons.  Dominant when healthy, can we expect that going forward?  Not sure.

Would I give him a new contract?  Hell yes!  But would aim for a shorter term.  If they could get him at 3-4 years, even if the money is somewhat silly, I’d do it.  Once again, not much in the farm system.  And a dominant Sale for even 150 innings could be worth it.

Did you also hear though?  E-Rod is in the “best shape of his life” and looks electric!  He’s ready to take the next step!  Sigh…those “feel-good” Spring Training stories…gotta love them…

Swingmen:

Locks: Brian Johnson

DL:  None

Suspended:  Steven Wright

Realistic additional competitors for the Opening Day roster:  Hector Velasquez, Marcus Walden

Actual prospects on their way to the minors:  None

Additional flotsam also ticketed for the minors:  Erasmo Ramirez, Josh A. Smith, Domingo Tapia, Daniel McGrath, Josh Taylor

Comments:  I am making this an official category for when Sale and/or Eovaldi and/or E-Rod spend their obligatory time on the DL.  Maybe Price too, if he needs another “mental break”.  Hey, he seemed to finally break through in the playoffs last year.  But I’m not guaranteeing the page has officially been turned on him heading into this season.  Just call me skeptical, that’s all.

In any event, none of the aforementioned five starters are likely to get anywhere close to 200 innings, with the possible exception of Porcello.  So there will be starts available for this group of guys that aren’t really good enough to start but won’t have key roles in the bullpen either.

Actually, Wright may be the only one that can be considered for either.  But can you ever really trust a knuckleballer?  I would as the #5 starter on this kind of team, I will admit.  General Manager Dave Dombrowski has thrown his name into the mix at closer.  Although Wright pitched well both starting and relieving last year when healthy, I don’t think anyone wants closing games to be part of his repertoire.  Then again, I wrote this paragraph before his suspension came down.  So the point is now moot…until July anyway.

Johnson sticks because he is out of options.  And even at 28 years old now, the Sox may want to try to salvage his former status as a “top prospect”.  Most of the year he will pitch mopup though.  He’s useless out of the bullpen and has proven that time and time again.  If he’s on my roster, he is starting games.  There is no room for him for that on this team, but he will be the official #6 guy in 2019 I would predict.

Velasquez and Walden have options, I think anyway, so they will be on the outside looking in.  I’m sure we will see them at some point.  Walden is actually having himself another fantastic spring thus far, for whatever that is worth.  I’m sure we will see Erasmo at some point as well.  But he’s on a minor league deal.  So they can start him in the minors.

If we see Smith, Tapia, McGrath or Taylor at any point, that will likely spell trouble.  It’s doubtful they actually see starts if they are up, but they have been both starters and relievers in the minors, so that is why they are listed here.

Bullpen:

Locks: Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Heath Hembree, Tyler Thornburg, Brandon Workman

DL:  Carson Smith, Zach Putnam

Realistic additional competitors for the Opening Day roster:  Bobby Poyner (#22), Colten Brewer (#23)

Actual prospects on their way to the minors:  Travis Lakins (#17), Matthew Gorst

Additional flotsam also ticketed for the minors:  Brian Ellington, Trevor Kelley, Adam Lau, Jenrry Mejia, Mark Montgomery, Dan Runzler, Daniel Schlereth, Hunter Smith, Jordan Weems, Ryan Weber

Comments:  Sssssooooooo…Craig Kimbrel is no longer here.  And for the regular season, that could be kind of important.  Machine Gun Joe Kelly is no longer here either.  But despite how well he pitched in the postseason last year, I could care less.  Because the fact of the matter is he still stinks.  Even late season 2017 wunderkind Austin Maddox is no longer here.  I think he’s out the whole 2019 season, but I can’t really find him anywhere.

So this is what we are left with.  Yikes!!  Kimbrel was not good in the postseason last year and can be shaky at times in the regular season.  But he is by far a better option than any of the jamokes on this list.  He is still out there.  I would consider bringing him back.  But that ship has sailed apparently.

Dombrowski has been touting Barnes, Brasier, Thornburg and Wright as potential closing options.  Really?

Barnes is barely an 8th inning guy.  Brasier had like 30 great innings last year, and most of his earlier appearances were low leverage, though he did pitch well enough in the postseason, I will allow.  Thornburg has missed the better part of the last two years with injury.  We’ve already talked about Wright…and he’s no longer an option now anyway.

Not ideal.  And completely uninspiring.

The way the “locks” have been summed up thus far, looks like 11 spots.  Wright was my eleventh initially.  But his suspension allows Workman to get one of the last spots.  Why?  Out of options, velocity supposedly up, blah, blah, blah.  Now who is #12?  Who knows?  Poyner or Velasquez I suppose would be the front runners…or Walden if he keeps doing what he’s doing.  He is becoming Mr. March, I guess?  A DL stint or two could affect things of course.

I can’t believe Carson Smith is back after he got hurt (again) last season by throwing his glove against a wall or something and then blamed Cora for pitching him and/or warming him up too much.  I guess that shows you how much demand there was for him.  That being said, if he ever gets healthy, he could possibly be an asset.  Same goes for Putnam.  But we won’t see them until the summer I would bet, at the earliest.

Lakins got some buzz for a possible call up late last year, but as a #17 prospect, I am not sure we can be too excited.  The fact that Poyner and Brewer are listed in the Top 30 is scary enough.  Gorst isn’t even listed as an “official” prospect, but I put him here because he jumped up three levels last season and pitched fairly well…including 20.1 scoreless innings in his middle stint in AA in Portland.

The last group?  Mejia is interesting enough.  But he hasn’t pitched essentially since 2015 with his own suspensions.  Worth keeping an eye on for now, but that’s about it.  Weems is interesting only because he spent the first 5 plus years of his minor league career as a catcher.  Now is 26 years old, but has only pitched for 3 years.  Many of the rest of the names listed here have some major league experience.  But I don’t think any of us should be excited to see them in a Sox uniform this summer.  They can help the Pawtucket Red Sox all they want though.

Next:  The bats

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