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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…

Boston Red Sox first half review…kind of?

I suppose we really don’t need to rehash the first half of the Major League Baseball season, as far as the Red Sox are concerned.  We all know the deal.  They are a better than expected 49-38, 2 games out of first place.  The offense has been largely good.  The pitching has been largely a disappointment, to be kind.  Young everyday players, like Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. are blossoming right in front of our eyes.  David Ortiz is having a monster farewell season at the age of 40.  David Price and Craig Kimbrel have not made the difference their profile would suggest.  Clay Buchholz and Eduardo Rodriguez have been abject disasters.  Steven Wright has been a revelation.  Fat Panda is, well…still fat.  And for his 19 mil the team got an 0 for the season.  Ok, in only six at bats before his injury…but the point remains the same.  Blah, blah, blah…

We know all that.  Let’s focus on what one man thinks they SHOULD do in the 2nd half of this year.  Before we get to that, my thinking is that Dave Dombrowski has gotten off to a pretty good start with the minor deals he has made thus far.  Well, I am not sure why he felt the need to get a 33-year-old utility man who has a .199 career average in Michael Martinez.  I mean, don’t we have a guy like that already in Brock Holt?  And what was Marco Hernandez doing wrong?  I guess the move was made because those two both bat from the left side and Martinez is a switch hitter.  And they still plan to play Holt a ton in left field it would seem.  Whatever.

But I like the move for Aaron Hill.  I don’t mind Travis Shaw.  But despite the hot start, I never considered him an everyday player…at third or at first.  A bunch of at-bats off the bench at both positions?  Sure.  And it appears that this will be the case going forward.  Hill isn’t going to hit 36 bombs like he did in 2009 with Toronto.  But he will be a useful addition.  At what appears to be a minimal cost…with 2 “prospects” going the other way.  Wendell Rijo is only 20, so maybe he will be something.  But he was hitting .186 in AA.  Doesn’t look good.  Aaron Wilkerson was pitching well in Pawtucket.  But he’s 27 years old himself and has never made the majors.  Doesn’t look like a big loss.

I also like the move for Brad Ziegler.  Not a prototypical closer, but he wasn’t supposed to come here as a closer anyway.  But hopefully he will close here with Kimbrel now out.  As much as I love Koji Uehara, this year he has been…shaky (done?).  Junichi Tazawa has apparently been battling a shoulder ailment (and is now on the DL)…but he’s never been considered a closer anyway.  Robbie Ross Jr. had some saves down the stretch last year…but on a bad team.  Plus John Farrell forgets he has him in his bullpen half the time.  So that won’t work.  The end result is that Ziegler may now be currently the best reliever in the bullpen.  Yikes!  But it’s a good move regardless.  It doesn’t appear that Ziegler’s cost was much, though maybe a bit more than Hill’s.  Jose Almonte, a 20-year-old pitcher that was in Single-A, and Luis Alejandro Basabe, a 19-year-old middle infielder that was in the same location.  Young, yes.  But I don’t ever recall seeing them on any “Top Prospect” lists.

After all that preamble, let’s get to the Blowhard’s suggestions.  Once again, in no particular order.

*Trade for a young #1 or #2 starter using the systems’ supposed plethora of prospects.  I know, I know, I know.  Who wouldn’t do this?  But the point is, the Sox CAN make this happen more than most other teams.  According to many people around the game, the Sox have several “can’t miss” prospects.  Yoan Moncada, Andrew Benintendi, Anderson Espinoza, Rafael Devers, maybe even that knucklehead Michael Kopech…yup, you’ve heard all the names.

The Sox should pick their top 2 or 3 guys and keep them.  And unload anyone and everyone else.  After all, for how long have we heard guys like Will Middlebrooks, Garin Cecchini, Casey Kelly, Bryce Brentz (before he shot himself accidentally in the leg in 2013 maybe), Henry Owens, Brian Johnson, Brian Rose, Wilton Veras and countless others were “can’t miss”?  Exactly.  Some of these guys won’t make it.  Most of them actually.  So while their names are hot, get rid of them.

OR, if they decide they will pay Xander and Mookie and not Jackie eventually, deal JBJ.  Assuming Benintendi will come up and take his place at some point soon enough.  OR, if the thought of engaging with Scott Boras down the road will leave them with so much distaste, trade Xander (heresy!!).  Assuming Moncada will come up and take his place eventually.

Now, I am not advocating trading Xander, no, not at all.  I actually would still consider trading JBJ, for the record.  Still not 100% sold on him long-term.  Even though I may be getting there.  Anyway, ideally, I’d go with trading a boatload of prospects.  But I think you get my overall point.  You have things people want.  You have a big hole…throughout the entire organization…with starting pitcher depth.  Go get a stud.  Now.

After all, wouldn’t every single person do Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr. for Pedro Martinez again?

EDITOR’S NOTE:  I wrote the previous 900 or so words earlier, then put it aside for several hours.  In the interim, the Sox apparently traded Espinoza for “All-Star” Drew Pomeranz.  I use the word “All-Star” loosely of course.  Listen, Pomeranz has had a nice half-year…on a poor team with no pressure…in a pitcher’s park.  Not to mention that he was an injury replacement for the All-Star game this year.  He has been with 3 teams in his 6 year major league career.  He was essentially traded for the immortal Yonder Alonso after last season.  He has never pitched more than 147 1/3 innings in a full year professionally and stands at 102 right now.

In other words, not exactly the trade I was looking for when I mentioned packaging prospects…especially top ones.

But you know what?  I’ll take it.  Not that I have a choice.  But Pomeranz is only 27.  Under team control for a couple more years.  Showed some promise in 2014 with Oakland (I know, another pressure cooker!) before he punched a chair after a bad start.  Stupid, I know…but who knows, maybe if Kopech makes it to Boston someday they can hang out.  More importantly, Espinoza is 18 YEARS OLD.  Who the hell knows what he will be?  Some people were all worked up the Sox gave up 17-year-old Engel Beltre back in the Eric Gagne trade.  Who?  Exactly.

Espinoza could be the next Pedro Martinez, sure.  But the odds are way better that he becomes the next Casey Kelly…or Brian Rose.  Plus…anything can happen before he gets to the majors.  Specifically injury…like a major arm kind.  He’s a loooooooooooong ways away folks.  I’d rather bet on some of the positional prospects than the pitching prospects, if I had to.  In any event, maybe it works out, maybe it doesn’t.  We shall see.

I’m still going after the #1 or #2 type guy as well though…moving on…

*Release Clay Buchholz.  Goes without saying.  And I’ve still said it a ton.  But Farrell is making noise about putting him back in the rotation eventually.  Maybe the acquisition of Pomeranz changes that thinking.  Either way, it’s well past time.  Coincidentally, they need to make space on the 40-man roster for Pomeranz.  Someone has to go.  Maybe it is finally him?  I’m looking at the 40-man and the obvious choice to me is to DFA Sean O’Sullivan.  But he is on the 15 day DL, so I don’t know if they CAN make that move.  Maybe Josh Rutledge is transferred to the 60 day DL.  Or same for Chris Young.  But there aren’t many options at this point.  DFA Clay?  Let’s get everyone on board!!

*Get one other 5th or 6th starter type.  This shouldn’t cost much.  If the Sox got a number #2 guy this month as I mentioned above, the rotation would look like this:  Price, #2, Porcello, Pomeranz, Wright.  Eduardo Rodriguez would theoretically be the #6 guy.  He’s been terrible, but no one should be giving him away or counting him out now.  Plenty of promise there.  And he has at least some positive major league history.  This other guy would actually be #7.  Better than Buchholz.  Or Joe Kelly.  Or Owens.  Good to have some more depth.

*Add another top-notch bullpen guy and a veteran “middle inning” guy.  As of right this second, with Taz and Kimbrel (Carson Smith too of course) on the DL, the bullpen consists of:  Buchholz, William Cuevas, Tommy Layne, Heath Hembree, Ross, Koji, Matt Barnes and Ziegler…Double Yikes!!  Matt Barnes may be your second best reliever now.  Ugh.

We’ve gone over Bucky.  Cuevas, (also Noe Ramirez, Pat Light, Roenis Elias)?  Not any kind of answer.  Layne has been ok, but is fungible.  No bigger Hembree guy than me.  But who knows with him?  He’s never been around long enough to know how he will hold up in a pennant race.  Ross is ok, but Koji may be done.  Barnes?  Not a fan myself.  Hopefully Ziegler can do something.  But…a lot of question marks as you can see.

Perhaps Joe Kelly is that “middle inning” guy?  Maybe.  Can’t be worse than some of the aforementioned dudes.  It appears he will get a chance.  I’m ok with it.

If they get the 2 bullpen guys, then the 7 they carry until either injured guys come back and/or September callups can be something like:  Kelly/vet, Ross, Barnes, Layne, Koji, Bullpen trade target, Ziegler…still questionable, but if the guy you get is awesome, then that will be a major boost.  Hate to leave Hembree out, but you can stash him in Pawtucket like Kelly for a few weeks if you have to.  The vet could be a 13th type of pitcher with experience and he could also be in AAA for now.  Maybe give Koji a “rest” on the DL.  Just mix and match arms until Taz and Kimbrel come back.  Then in September you have a lot of half decent arms out there.  Anchored by Kimbrel, Ziegler, Taz and trade guy.  With depth in Koji, Barnes, Ross, Kelly, other vet, Hembree, etc.  And no Noe’s or Light’s in sight either.

Bottom line?  Never hurts to have more than enough bullpen arms.  The Sox bullpen won’t become like the back-end of the Royals or Yankees…this year anyway.  But if they can just have more available options than what has sometimes paraded through the mound for them up to this point, it will help close the gap.

*Fire John Farrell.  Ok, that’s not going to happen.  He’s here for the season now I feel.  Like it or not.  And honestly, firing him at this point will probably not accomplish much.  Oh well.

What else?  Nothing actually.  Pitching, pitching, pitching.  That’s it.

The Sox can live with Sandy Leon/Ryan Hanigan/Christian Vazquez/Blake Swihart(?) behind the plate.  Especially if Leon continues to hit .455.  That’s possible, right?

They can also live with Holt/Brentz/Young/Swihart(?)/Shaw(?) in left field I believe.  Maybe Benintendi comes up in September and adds to that mix.  Pretty sure they wouldn’t want to add him to the 40-man roster before they have to.  But perhaps he forces the issue.

The biggest thing they have to do on offense I feel is to keep the Big Guy healthy.  Give him a day off a week if you have to.  They should be able to work their way around that with the bodies they have.  Big Papi’s sick numbers are bound to regress a little anyway.  So let’s keep him fresh for the stretch run.  I know, he’s only a DH and gets up 4-5 times a game.  How much can that affect him?  I would normally agree with that thinking.  And have argued that over the years.  But now he is 40…old for sports.  Let’s err on the side of caution in his final year.

There are a lot of teams in the mix all across baseball.  But, especially in the AL, I don’t believe one team stands head and shoulders above the rest.  The World Series is a realistic goal.  When World Series aspirations are realistic, you need to go for it.  Let’s leave no stone unturned in order to get there.

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