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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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Time To Fire Farrell?

Of course!  But I’ve been saying that for a couple of years now.

Funny thing is, the Boston Red Sox mediocre start this season may have little to do with John Farrell’s managing prowess.  Or lack thereof…

Sure, there is always some blame that the manager will have to absorb when a team underachieves.  Farrell still sucks as an in-game manager.  That hasn’t changed.  Lack of leadership on more than a few occasions hasn’t helped him either.  All that nonsense with Dustin Pedroia and Manny Machado and all the other characters involved with firing baseballs all over the place.  Hanley Ramirez making up injuries so he doesn’t have to play first base.  And no one pushing him.  Those are two notable cases of a leadership void.

Farrell also doesn’t help himself with his explanations of subluxations and arm angles and all that crap.

But that doesn’t make him primarily responsible for this mess the Red Sox have created.  This actually pains me to say.

You may say, “mess”?  They are only 4 games out, no one will run away with the division and there are 125 games left in the season!  I will say, take a look at this roster, and Pawtucket’s roster and, better yet, the injury report.  And you may have a clearer picture of where this team stands.

Where do we start?  Third base is one place.  6 players have manned the position in 37 games.  Pablo Sandoval and Marco Hernandez primarily, though Josh Rutledge is catching up.  Brock Holt, Deven Marrero and…Steve Selsky have played there as well.  Looks like 13 errors, with Marco’s 6 and Fat Panda’s 4 leading the way.  Atrocious.  It’s gotten to the point where Marrero is earning more time because of his glove, his .243 career minor league average (.198 last year and .169 this year, by the way) be damned.

Is help on the way?  Not from Pawtucket, it would appear.  Looks like there are 5 or 6 minor league veterans playing 3B down there…without a ton of success.  I doubt we will see 20 year-old Rafael Devers in the majors this year.  Though he does currently have a .984 OPS in AA.  He’s supposedly the “next big thing”, so I doubt they will rush him.  Hopefully they won’t trade him either, what with the prospect cupboard stripped down a little bit from trades during the Dave Dombrowski regime.

I think we are stuck with the above motley crew for the time being.  Wait, didn’t Allen Craig used to play 3rd early in his career?  Maybe the Sox can salvage some of that contract?  Ok, nevermind.  He’s hitting .197 in Pawtucket with a .550 OPS.  Seems content to just collect his fat paycheck these days…

First base may be the next issue on the offensive side.  Mitch Moreland is a nice player and can fill a role.  That role should not require him to be the only player on the team to play in every single game this year however.  Especially when he looks pretty lost against lefties.

But part of this problem is that Hanley Ramirez has no interest in playing first, as noted above.  And no one is forcing the issue because they are afraid they will “lose” him.  What a joke.  Raise your hand if you saw this coming (Blowhard’s hand fully extended to the sky), at least in part because of the fact there is no David Ortiz in the clubhouse anymore to help keep him in line.  Make him play first, suspend him if he refuses.  And if he makes up injuries and you can’t tell if he is faking…well, you know his history, so you know he is faking.  I know, easier said than done.  There will be grievances and the player quitting and all that.  But management needs to figure something out and they should be smart enough to do so.

Raise your hand if you also saw Jackie Bradley Jr. reverting into, well…Jackie Bradley Jr.  (Blowhard again, arm straight up).  A mid .200’s hitter at best with a great glove.  But not an All-Star as he was last year.  I would have moved him last offseason for maximum value.  Then played Andrew Benintendi in center, Mookie Betts remaining in right.  Then perhaps a platoon of Chris Young and anyone else in left.  That ship has sailed.  On a positive note, there is plenty of time for Jackie to heat up and salvage his slow start.  But I’m afraid last year was an aberration, my friends.

Elsewhere on the diamond, I suppose I can live with the bodies there…unless Xander Bogaerts keeps up his alarming lack of production.  I don’t care if he is hitting .340.  No homers and 11 RBI in his 33 games is flat-out unacceptable.  And stop blaming Ortiz leaving for being the reason the lineup has underperformed.  There’s enough talent there to not use that crutch.

The big problem is the pitching staff.  Starting with the alarming lack of starting pitching depth on a “big-market” team.  Now, this is in no way saying I advocated for Clay Buchholz to remain here as part of what would have been 7 veteran big league starters.  I said “veteran”, not necessarily meaning “good”.  Good riddance Clay.

The other six?  Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez, Drew Pomeranz & Steven Wright.  Sale is rock solid, but has had a tendency to fade down the stretch in recent years for whatever reason.  Before his injury, I think we all could have counted on Price taking almost every turn…and hopefully be better than last year.  And even though Porcello was unlikely to be in the Cy Young mix again, I think we expected him to still be a suitable #3 guy anyway.

But the last three?  E-Rod is presumably still developing.  Having a pretty good year too, though he usually has thrown about 215 pitches every start to even get through the 5th.  It seems that way anyway.  Pomeranz and Wright were huge question marks.  Pomeranz just hasn’t proven durability in his career and Wright is a knuckleballer, so who knows which version will show up?

Lot’s of question marks.  Even with good health.  Then Price goes down.  Apparently Wright was never healthy from the start and pitched through his injury…and poorly.  Pomeranz expects to make his next start, but whatever he was babying in the spring is back.  Ugh.  And your next in line is Kyle Kendrick, Henry Owens and Brian Johnson.  Double ugh.

There aren’t better veteran options kicking around even now?  Dougie Fister, where are you?!

And…why did we ever consider Owens and Johnson “can’t miss” prospects?  They throw about as hard as Wright.  But I digress…

If you think the rotation is suspect, then don’t even look at the bullpen.  Disaster area.  Craig Kimbrel has been lights out.  Robby Scott has done his job…one lefty batter at a time.

The rest?  I can’t even talk about them.  Makes me sick to my stomach.  Makes me pine for some Noe Ramirez.  That should tell you about all you need to know.

This bullpen includes (theoretically) 2 guys who haven’t thrown a pitch in 2017:  Tyler Thornburg and Carson Smith.  Smith threw very few pitches last year for the team.  But they are supposed to be at the back-end of the bullpen.

This leads me to the upcoming conclusion.  Although the Blowhard has not been a fan of Farrell for quite some time now, the finger points more to the construction of the team this year more than the manager’s performance.  Right at Dave Dombrowski.

You can’t control injuries (or illness).  But there is enough talent on this team to win.  There have been enough red flags on some of the guys acquired by DD that were worth noting.  He seemed to not only ignore them, he seemed to also overpay to get them.

Most of the trades involved prospects.  I would usually move prospects for proven guys any day of the week.  But did he need to move 4 of them for a closer in Kimbrel last year?  Send the top pitching prospect straight up for Pomeranz?  Send 3 prospects AND Travis Shaw for a middle reliever?  I’m no huge Shaw cheerleader.  But the Sox sure could use him now…at first or third.

For the record, I’ll give up the prospects for Sale.  But that’s different from the deals above.

Now, what does Dombrowski have to trade?  Couple of top prospects are left if he wanted, for sure.  But when MLB.com lists a 27-year-old lefty specialist (Scott) as your 29th best prospect across all minor league levels, that’s not a good sign.  That’s like a small market team.  Again, I’d trade prospects for proven guys every day.  Just seems as if, other than Sale, these prospects are being used for the wrong guys…and too many of the prospects are being dealt in each of those deals.

There is definitely plenty of time this season to right the ship.  But I’m not sure how long Price lasts when he comes back.  I don’t believe Thornburg throws a pitch for the team this year.  Who knows about Smith?  Sandoval will come back at some point, but to me, he is a lost cause.  3B will be an issue all year, offensively and defensively.  Just saw that Hector Velasquez is starting Thursday night.  Who?  Exactly.

This season is on Dombrowski thus far and not Farrell.  So to answer the question posed, Farrell probably does not deserve to lose his job based on the results this season…but as they say, you can’t fire 25 players…

Red Sox Preview…

…20 games into the season.  Nice work.  Season is 1/8th over and the Blowhard is just getting around to writing about the team for the first time since the playoffs last year.

Oh well, at least it’s still April.  And you know, the Celtics are (and the Bruins were) in the playoffs.  Everything the Patriots do is seemingly newsworthy.  Ok, enough of the excuses…

So this isn’t really a Season Preview…quite obviously.  The following is a collection of thoughts about the first 20 games.  In no particular order:

*I’m not sure how many times exactly so far the Red Sox have had their ideal lineup in place, but it can’t be much.  Because of injury, illness (sorry Buck Showalter), bereavement and whatever else, the Sox have been shuttling players in and out of the lineup right from Opening Day.  But let’s say they do have their lineup all in place one day soon.  Does it scare you?  Not me.

*David Ortiz is going to be a bigger loss than you think.  Who is to say he would have put up monster numbers again if he stuck around in his age-41 season.  No guarantees there.  And he probably wouldn’t have.  But where is the power this year?

*Not to mention Ortiz’ leadership.  Does anyone really buy into Hanley Ramirez trying to fit into that role?  Laughable.  Not that he is trying to be that kind of leader.  But he has made comments that he has wanted to.

*Dustin Pedroia would seem to be the “next in line” to be that guy.  Makes sense.  But the whole Manny Machado incident from last week leaves a bad taste in many people’s mouths…and not for Machado’s actual slide and subsequent Pedroia injury.  It was how Pedroia handled the situation.  Publicly slamming Matt Barnes for throwing the pitch (location and timing) and presumably management as well (specifically Manager John Farrell?), suggesting that if they were going to throw at Manny, it should’ve been done the next time he was at the dish in the series.

While Pedey may be correct in everything he said, both to Machado on the field and then after the game, it would appear that this is not the way a “leader” goes about an incident like that.  Then again, when the Sox collapsed down the stretch in 2011 and cost Tito Francona his job, Pedey just watched all the antics unfold in front of him…as did the “Captain”, Jason Varitek.  And Ortiz himself, for that matter.  So maybe this leadership crap is exactly what it is…crap.

*I admit, when they rolled Andrew Benintendi in the 2-spot from the get-go, I did not like it.  Seemed that it may put some pressure on the kid.  Every other “phenom” the Sox have brought up over the years seemed to start out at the bottom of the lineup.  Then eventually are moved up when they proved their mettle.  But the kid is unflappable.

*Sandy Leon was a nice story for about 2 months last year.  Hit everything in sight.  But it’s time to give the job back to Christian Vazquez.  And not because he is hitting .478.  But because he appears to be all the way back from his 2015 Tommy John injury.  Defensive monster.  And if Blake Swihart can ever get his mojo back…

*Pablo Sandoval still stinks.  And before he got hurt, his defense stunk too.  But at least they have Josh Rutledge to platoon with him when the still Fat Panda is healthy.  Sigh…

*Speaking of platoons, this team is going to have its problems against lefthanders it appears.  Mitch Moreland has had a nice start.  But looks helpless against lefties.  Panda can’t hit right-handed.  Rutledge?  Please.  Hanley refuses to play first…and the Sox are letting him get away with it.  That means either Moreland or Panda has to play against southpaws, along with Rutledge.  No good.  Chris Young is ok against lefties and ideally he would DH and Hanley would play first and Rutledge third.  Not exciting, but the best they can do.  Nice leadership Hanley.

*It’s early.  But Xander Bogaerts should be better than what I see.

*Who DIDN’T see the Rick Porcello regression coming?

*Steven Wright for that matter too.

*I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m not counting on seeing David Price until after the All-Star break.

*Heath Hembree has been a pleasant surprise.  Joe Kelly hasn’t been horrible.  Matt Barnes has been nice.  But in reality, I don’t want any of these guys pitching in the 8th inning with a small lead.  Or really any lead.  I’ll likely be holding my breath on Tyler Thornburg and Carson Smith when (if?) they come back as well.

*What’s the purpose of having Fernando Abad on the roster?

*Or Steve Selsky?

*Pawtucket Red Sox note:  Deven Marrero, the former first round pick, is 4 for 39 this year thus far.  That’s .103, for those scoring at home.  .253 OPS.  Solid.  Hit .198 all of 2016 in Pawtucket, with a .487 OPS.  Is his defense really that good?  He actually got a couple of days in Boston earlier this year, with the illnesses and all.  I’m not sure I understand…

*Pawtucket note, Part II:  Allen Craig is still alive!  .211 for the PawSox thus far.  My question though is…why?

*Pawtucket note, Part III…and Reason #2,567,321,956 why Spring Training stats mean nothing:  Kyle Kendrick is 0-3, 8.10 in his three starts on the farm.  Remember when some people were trying to make space for him in the big league rotation?

*John Farrell.  It’s no secret I am not a fan.  But honestly, I don’t remember being outraged at him at all this year.  20 games in, kind of surprising, I know.  A lot of people were up in arms when he yanked Chris Sale in his last start when he was at 102 pitches and dominating.  Then Craig Kimbrel immediately coughed up the lead and cost Sale a win.  I didn’t honestly have a strong feeling about that either way.  Then the Sox won the game anyway.  And Kimbrel actually went 2 innings himself, something he historically does not do.  Hard to really complain about that in the end.

Soon enough Farrell will piss me off.  But we will cross that bridge when we get to it…

*By the way, embarrassing note:  this is probably the first time in my life that someone made the Red Sox’ Opening Day roster and I had absolutely no idea who he was.  Ben Taylor.  Who?  Well, he’s not here anymore.  But he didn’t embarrass himself in his stint, that’s for sure.  Didn’t even realize he was in Portland for a bit last year, or right up the street in Lowell for 4 games in 2015.  Hasn’t been around for that long, but still something I’m not proud of.

*Speaking of embarrassing…and ending on this note…Taylor is ranked as the 18th best prospect for the Sox.  According to MLB.com anyway.  They list the top 30 prospects.  Ranked at #29?  Robby Scott.  Yup, a 27 year old lefty specialist is on a “Top Prospect” list.  Yikes!

 

 

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