Are the Red Sox this bad?

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T15D23
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Are the Red Sox this bad?

Postby T15D23 » Sun Apr 07, 2019 10:54 pm

The Red Sox can’t really be this bad, right? We’ll soon find out
Chad Jennings

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Well,​ at least​ that’s​ over.​ Now it’s​ time to find out​ what’s​ really going on​ here. Was​ the West​​ Coast trip just a brutal beginning to the season, when the rotation was not quite up to speed and the offense came out flat, or was it indicative of something far worse?

Time will tell, of course, but it is hard to believe the same team that won 108 games last year – almost literally the exact same team – could really be sitting at 3-8, on pace for fewer than 50 wins this year. It just seems almost impossible that the Red Sox could be this bad.

But, man, those first 11 games were hard to stomach. Here are a few thoughts on the team tied with the woeful Blue Jays and Reds for the most losses in baseball.

• Mookie Betts is incredible, and J.D. Martinez can hit with anyone, but what separates the Red Sox should be their rotation. If they’re going to reach peak performance, it will be because the five starters carry a significant amount of the burden. So far, though, no Red Sox starter has gotten a win, and their best starts have come from Hector Velazquez (three good innings serving more like an opener) and Chris Sale (in a start when his fastball sat at 89 mph). David Price has been all right, and Nathan Eovaldi made it work one night, but Rick Porcello is throwing water coolers in the dugout and Eduardo Rodriguez is apparently abandoning game plans for unknown reasons. The Red Sox believe – hope? – this is simply the byproduct of a light spring training workload which will pay off in the end, but it hasn’t looked good so far. Third turn through the rotation begins on Tuesday. Getting on track fittingly starts with Sale.

• Here’s a list of the Red Sox hitters with an OPS over .800 at this point: Betts, Martinez, Mitch Moreland, Blake Swihart and Price. That’s two MVP candidates, a platoon first baseman, a backup catcher and a starting pitcher (and Betts wouldn’t be particularly close to that number if not for a terrific game on Friday). Further evidence that spring training numbers are nonsense: Rafael Devers and Jackie Bradley Jr. have been basically non-factors at this point after looking great in the Grapefruit League, while Moreland has been the one clutch hitter on the team after going 6-for-32 with one RBI in the exhibition games. When the rotation is creating early deficits, and the offense is performing like it has been, it’s a wonder the Red Sox won even three games. Side note: man, J.D. Martinez is a really, really good hitter.

• The one thing that’s working, of course, is the Red Sox bullpen (just as we all predicted). Brandon Workman, who occasionally looked awful in spring training, has pitched five hitless innings. Ryan Brasier, who had never recorded a big league save, has saved two of the three wins. Matt Barnes has allowed one baserunner in 4 1/3 innings. The first shutout of the year came because Velazquez and Marcus Walden combined for five scoreless innings. Kind of remarkable, actually, and it really looks like the closer-by-committee thing is working. It obviously hasn’t been relevant very often – not nearly enough leads to protect – but Barnes has been effective in any inning and Brasier’s looked good in his first taste of the ninth inning. Still seems fair to wonder if these relievers can keep this pace, but the strategy itself looks sound (so far).

• Congratulations to Walden on his first career win on Sunday, which may very well be followed by his immediate demotion back to Triple-A. Just the way it goes in his role. Assuming the Red Sox activate Dustin Pedroia for Tuesday’s home opener, they would seem to have a choice of four players who can be optioned back to the minors: Walden, Velazquez, Colten Brewer or Tzu-Wei Lin. Velazquez is surely too valuable as the go-to long man, so the choice is probably between Walden (another multi-inning guy) or Brewer (who looked awfully good before Saturday’s debacle). Given the way the rotation has looked, I suppose it’s possible they prefer to keep the extra reliever and send down Lin, instead.

• It took five games for Alex Cora to have second thoughts about his big offseason decision to put Betts in the 2-hole. After losing three of four in Seattle, the Red Sox had a new top of the lineup in Oakland. Betts was back in the leadoff spot with Andrew Benintendi batting second, just like it was for most of the games last season. “It’s not that this is going to be our lineup,” Cora said. “We’re going to stay with those two on top. But you start watching the game, it’s like, OK, this makes sense. With this team it makes sense. We’ll roll with it.” It certainly worked last year, and don’t fix what’s not broken. But also, maybe don’t abandon a carefully considered strategy after just four games? Ultimately, I doubt it matters much either way. I mostly found it interesting that Cora would so quickly change his mind about something he’d thought about all winter.

• Martinez is under contract for another three years, but his first opt out is this offseason, and it seems a foregone conclusion that he’s going to hit the open market again. “He and (Anthony) Rendon are probably going to be the two focused offensive players on the market as far as guys who are elite offensive players,” Scott Boras said. “Not that I think about those things.” No, no, Scott. Of course not (it is, of course, Boras’ job to think about those things). Martinez might be an interesting test for the current state of free agency. A hitter like that shouldn’t have any trouble finding a team, but he’s going to be 32 and teams don’t seem to like guys heading into their mid-30s, no matter how good they’ve been. His free agency will be a curious case for the league at large, and for the Red Sox in particular. How do they respond given the other soon-to-be free agents on their roster?

• After that brutal 1-0 loss in Oakland on Tuesday, Xander Bogaerts was sitting with teammates eating dinner when the media entered the clubhouse. There were maybe 10 of us, and we talked to Cora first, then Chris Sale, then Bogaerts actively waved us over to his locker. He’d just been thrown out at third base trying to stretch a double to a triple, and he knew he’d have to explain it. What struck me was the candid way he talked about his decision making, and the matter-of-fact explanation – “We’ve got to be honest,” he said – that he’d felt some need to push the envelope because the Red Sox were struggling. It was both detailed and big-picture, it felt like something a veteran would do, and it came just one day after the press conference to announce his six-year extension. Bogaerts (26) is still young, but he’s not a kid. Not on this roster. There aren’t many guys on this team who have more experience in Boston, and there are responsibilities of leadership and accountability that come with that. Bogaerts doesn’t do it in the style of David Ortiz or Dustin Pedroia, but I think he has that part covered.

• Speaking of Bogaerts being thrown out at third, that was one of three baserunners thown out by Oakland center fielder Ramon Laureano in that series, and that was one of the surest signs that the Red Sox were trying to force some sort of offensive improvement. Bogaerts admitted it, said he was trying for third because the team was struggling and he felt it needed a spark (and needed 90 feet of help to actually score a run). In the series finale, it was Betts – one of the best baserunners in the game – who was thrown out trying to go first to third on a flare to center field when there were no outs and the team was down by four in the ninth. When Betts rounded second, I thought he would make it, but that’s surely beside the point. There simply wasn’t any benefit to getting there. Make it easier to pull within three? Just not worth it. Cora rightly called out the team for lacking in fundamentals, which surely drove him crazy this first week and a half. Even great players can go through bad stretches, so it’s hard to be too stunned when a bunch of Red Sox slumped at once, but sloppy play was not at all what I expected out of the gate. The team really did seem pretty focused this spring. Maybe I just missed it, but they didn’t seem to be taking a repeat for granted.

• In spring training, it really seemed that Eduardo Nunez might replace Brock Holt as the go-to backup at shortstop. Holt didn’t make a single start at that position during spring training and instead got time at both first base and the outfield. Nunez, meanwhile, got considerable time at both shortstop and third base, and he was moving better than a year ago. But when Bogaerts got a day off in Oakland, it was Holt at short, and he made a tremendous play to basically save the game in the eighth inning. Holt’s continued ability to handle the shortstop position has let the Red Sox keep two utility infielders who actually have some offensive ability. They’ve called up Lin temporarily while Holt deals with this eye issue – and he’s the best fielder of the bunch — but Bogaerts plays almost every day, so it’s helpful to prioritize a little extra hitting ability off the bench. It only works, though, if one those two can play short, and Holt’s showing that he still can.

• Pretty cool moment in the Red Sox clubhouse on Thursday morning. On that day, Price reached 10 years of service time. That milestone might have carried more weight several years ago when players weren’t making as much as they’re making today, but it’s still a big one. Pensions fully vest after 10 years, which means a nice retirement paycheck, but there’s also a level of respect for lasting a full decade at this level. Clubhouse manager Tom McLaughlin brought out a cake for Price and another for Porcello (that second cake said “Congratulations on 10.006 because Porcello had hit the milestone a few days before). Price joked about retiring right then and there, but there was also an over-the-top round of applause from Holt and much laughing and hollering from most everyone else. It was sort of tongue-in-check, but still pretty earnest. Ten years in the big leagues, man. That’s not nothing. Steve Pearce could get there later this year.

• Hard to believe what’s going on with the Yankees roster. They’ve put 11 players on the injured list, including their Opening Day shortstop, third baseman and left fielder, and the players who should have been their Opening Day starting pitcher, center fielder, setup man and No. 5 starter. And that’s to say nothing of the guys who were hurt before spring training (Jacoby Ellsbury, Didi Gregorius and Jordan Montgomery). Can you imagine if the Red Sox currently had Bogaerts, Devers, Benintendi, Sale, Bradley, Rodriguez and Brasier? Would Gorkys Hernandez be the everyday left fielder? Would Tony Renda be the best hitter off the bench? Would Mike Shawaryn be scheduled to start Tuesday’s home opener? I know, I know, it’s the Yankees and I doubt they get much pity from people reading a Red Sox story, but it’s hard to imagine what the Red Sox would look like if they were in a similar boat. One good thing about this slow start is that the Rays are really the only team in the American League that came out playing well. The initial deficit is not really insurmountable.
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T15D23

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