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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…

What to do…

…as far as what moves the Boston Red Sox should make coming up to the Major League Baseball non-waiver trading deadline on Monday.

What, you thought Eduardo Nunez was enough?

I didn’t.  Actually, I don’t even really want Nunez here.  It’s not like he’s going to make a huge difference, for one.  I don’t care how hot the Sox brass tells me he has been in recent weeks.  There’s a bigger reason I don’t particularly want him here…and we will get to that.  Since the Sox didn’t give up really anything for him (Gregory Santos?  Shaun Anderson?), I suppose it can’t hurt to have him around though.  I mean, with Brock Holt, Josh Rutledge, Tzu-Wei Lin and Deven Marrero still hanging around on the team or close down the road in Pawtucket, it can’t ever hurt to have more utility infielders than you can handle, right?  Oh wait, Nunez and Holt are All-Stars…nevermind…

Anyway, my view of what the Red Sox should do prior to the trading deadline will be much different from what actually happens.  Why?  Because I’d actually consider selling.  And with the Sox in first place, there is no way the organization will do that.  They will be buyers.

But this team is more than another 1B/DH bat and a reliever or two away from winning a championship.  In my opinion anyway.  Sure, the American League is mediocre.  Apparently it is Houston and everyone else at this point.  So the Sox brass will surely say, “we get in the playoffs and anything can happen”.  And they are probably right.

However, they won’t be the only team trying to improve themselves before Monday.  In fact, the Yankees, Twins, Royals, Mariners and Rays have themselves made deals already.  None of them would probably considered blockbusters, but those players should help all those clubs.  In addition, I don’t believe the Indians have hit their stride as of yet.  Maybe the Royals too, though their pitching is suspect, to be kind.

Then you have the National League.  Which looks like the Dodgers and Nationals.  Oh, and the Cubs.  The Cubbies have been heating up and I expect them to continue to.

So you’ve got the competition being one reason I don’t believe the Sox are winning anything.  Then you have the team itself.  Which, other than a select few, is underachieving.  Or are they?  We think Xander Bogaerts is underachieving.  But maybe he is what he is…a decent shortstop with little power, but will hit around .300 every year.  Seems to me the way he is trending.  Mookie Betts has some numbers, but it feels like he should be more.  Jackie Bradley Jr. is definitely what he is and no more…great defensive outfielder with some power.  But not really feared when he has the bat in his hands.  Andrew Benintendi has had a fairly good year…but he ain’t there yet.  You could do worse for catchers but they aren’t world beaters.  Etc.

Bottom line is that this lineup isn’t scaring anyone.  Hard to believe basically just subtracting David Ortiz from the equation caused this much of a drop off, but…

Now, the pitching.  Chris Sale has been otherworldly.  But he has faded down the stretch in his career.  And does anyone really expect him to keep up this pace?  David Price?  Ugh…more on him in a moment.  Rick Porcello apologists like to point to the fact that the Sox offense hasn’t scored while he was on the mound in like 10 of his starts.  But they conveniently forget his mid 4 ERA.  And the fact he won a lot of games in 2016 because he got like 16 runs a game to support him…therefore always pitching with a huge lead and…no pressure.  And…how many bombs has he given up this year?  Eduardo Rodriguez…can he be trusted?  Drew Pomeranz has been better than expected.  But does anyone expect him to have continued good health the rest of the way?

By the way, the rest of the starters behind them?  Some combination of Brian Johnson, Doug Fister, Kyle Kendrick or Hector Velasquez.  Yikes!  Wait, no Henry Owens?  Nope.  He walked 60 guys in 69 innings in Pawtucket before getting DEMOTED to Portland (AA).  He’s walked 23 in 20.2 innings down there.  With a 5.23 ERA.  In 5 starts.  Yup, about 4 innings a start.  A former can’t miss prospect…that clearly missed.  Par for the course it seems with the Sox organization.  Sure guys have come up and played well.  But they have seemingly had so many “can’t miss” guys over they years that they refuse to trade and then they just suck in the end.  Subject for a different day.

Lastly, the bullpen.  Craig Kimbrel has been as awesome in his role as Sale has been in his.  But that’s about it as far as bullpen arms that inspire confidence.  I’m not even going through the rest of the jamokes that have rotated out there all year.  The bullpen has been surprisingly good this season, I will admit, even with Joe Kelly and Matt Barnes being your other late inning guys.  And sometimes Heath Hembree.  But…c’mon.  I don’t want those guys anywhere near the mound late in games when the pressure mounts as the playoff race heats up.  Maybe Carson Smith is coming back…wait, I doubt that.  Tyler Thorn…nevermind.

So combine all of the above with what I wrote yesterday…about clubhouse turmoil and an inept manager…and I’m selling at the deadline.  It’s really hard for me to root for this team now.  They are pretty much unlikable from top to bottom.  A big part of me doesn’t even care what happens the rest of this year.  I’m almost onto the Patriots already and they just opened camp.  Depressing, but true.

In any event, once again, they will not sell and probably none of what is proposed here will happen in real life.  But just for sh%ts and giggles, this is what has been going through my mind this week on the moves I would like to make.  If not at the deadline, then maybe the offseason.  In no particular order:

*Trade David Price.  Yes because he is an arseclown, whiner and all of that.  But also because his elbow may well explode at some point.  We all know he may need Tommy John surgery at some point.  If he blows out his elbow here in September and isn’t around the club all of 2018 and then opts out of his contract and gets out of Dodge, that may be a win-win situation as well.  But perhaps they can cut all that off and get something for him now.

Impossible you say?  Maybe not.  If teams treat him like he has one year and change left on his contract and is sure to opt out when he can, maybe someone will jump.  Maybe a team with World Series aspirations and deep pockets will do it anyway.  Perhaps the Dodgers will bail the Sox out again?  Clayton Kershaw is out for several weeks now.  Hmmmmmm…the Nationals with Stephen Strasburg out, supposedly only for one start, but…the Cubs, with their rotation struggling a bit (and knowing Jake Arrieta is probably coming off the books after this year).

Price wants to be moved, that much is clear.  Would the Sox consider it?  Would anyone bite?  I do not think it will happen.  But it IS certainly possible to move that contract.  More than people think.  That’s what I believe anyway.

*Keep Rafael Devers in the majors and give him the majority of starts at 3B.  With Nunez here I doubt he plays much and I believe he will be shipped back to Pawtucket soon enough.  Too bad.  What have they got to lose by playing him?  Well, if he produces like Yoan Moncada did last year, maybe it’s a mistake.  But you know who was absolutely putrid in 95 plate appearances in 2016 down the stretch?  Aaron Judge.  .179 average, .608 OPS and 42 of his 69 outs were K’s.  I’m not saying Devers will be Judge next year if he gets major league experience this year.  But it may be in the teams’ best interest long-term if Devers takes his lumps in the majors the rest of 2017.

*Release Mitch Moreland and Chris Young.  Recall Sam Travis and…gulp…Rusney Castillo.  Maybe you can trade Moreland and/or Young to a contender for some fungo bats and used baseballs.  And if Moreland has truly sucked the last month or so because his toe is broken, then maybe just put him on the DL.  But I have no use for these two really.  Young’s contract is up after this year, and he isn’t really good.  Add to the fact that this veteran was apparently one of Price’s biggest backers in the Eck thing…see ya.  Let’s see if Travis can hit in the bigs.  Let’s also see if Rusney can be salvaged.  He seems to have been playing well in AAA and supposedly can play all the OF positions still.  Why the hell not?

*Release Allen Craig, Jhonny Peralta and Pablo Sandoval.  Oops…already done.  So there are a few positives.

*Release Doug Fister.  Kind of obvious.  But I’m covering everything.

*Give Brian Johnson Price’s rotation spot through the rest of the year.  This guy throws junk and I’m not convinced he will ever make it.  But he has shown some flashes.  Not sure what he has left to prove in the minors.  He’s 26 years old.  Let’s see what he can do.  And if he’s truly part of the future.

*Fire John Farrell.  Another obvious one.  Nothing more needs to be said here.

*Trade Hanley Ramirez.  Good luck.  A guy that really doesn’t care.  Or that cares once in a blue moon.  Maybe they can sell his contract to Japan or something.  Or to Manny’s Korean team.

*Trade Xander Bogaerts.  WHAT?!  Ok, it’s not that simple.  And it’s something that should be investigated in the offseason and not over the next few days.

I have no real particular issue with X.  Disappointed with his progress, or lack thereof.  Maybe the reason for his poor performance lately is the ball he took off the hand.  But how do we explain before that?  His numbers are down across the board this year…since the All-Star Game in 2016, to be exact.

He will be 25 on October 1st.  Still plenty of time to tap into that talent he supposedly has.  But what do we have so far?  A .300ish hitter with doubles power who plays a decent, if unspectacular shortstop?  If that is what he ultimately is, will he be worth all the money that Scott Boras will want in his first big contract?  Nope.

I’d rather give a boatload of money to Betts.  Perhaps Andrew Benintendi earns some money down the road too.  And Devers…if he pans out of course.  Bradley Jr.?  Sure, but he should come cheaper.  If not?  Work on moving him and put either Betts or Benintendi in center.  That conversation can come later however.

One huge thing to consider is that the Sox need some power.  How will they get it?  Seems like a trade is the only way.  Have to give up something to get something.  If teams are still enamored by Bogaerts’ potential, doesn’t that make him a prime candidate to go?  Especially considering all of the above.

Taking a look at the current 40-man roster, who is untouchable?  Sale, Betts, Devers (for now), probably Benintendi and Kimbrel.  Who else?  Bogaerts is probably next on the list.  Someone like him may be able to be packaged with a little more to get that proven power bat…whoever that may be.  Everyone always points to Giancarlo Stanton, since Miami is always selling players off and he has a huge deal.  But there may be someone else available for the right price that we don’t know about.

I’m not trying to run X out-of-town.  But, you have to admit, something like that may make sense.

That’s about it on the suggestions.  What, nothing about Dustin Pedroia?  After yesterday’s piece?  Yeah, trouble is, I love him on the field.  Not to mention he will be 34 in August.  And is a 10/5 guy.  Not sure he will waive his rights to not be traded.  Or if the Sox can get any value for him anyway.  Looks like he is here to stay.  Maybe he will eventually grow up though…

 

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