The Red Sox Rotation is Now a Strength

For almost three years, the Red Sox rotation has been a source of frustration. In 2014, Jon Lester was traded away, and Ben Cherington didn’t replace him. Boston lacked an ace for what felt like the longest time, until David Price was signed last winter. Under-performance early this season increased the worry among fans, but things have gradually clicked into place, giving the Red Sox a starting corps to be relied upon as October looms ahead.

A Resurgence for the Red Sox Rotation

In the past thirty days, the Red Sox rotation has pitched to a 3.19 ERA. Only two teams have a better mark in all of baseball: the Cubs and Rays. Boston is also fourth overall in FIP during that span, while a WHIP of 1.110 is the best any American League team can muster. Only the Blue Jays and Tigers have induced more soft contact in the past month among AL rivals, which suggests the Red Sox rotation has definitely turned a corner.

Red Sox rotation

Rick Porcello has emerged as the staff ace, as his 2.08 ERA in the past thirty days illustrates. But David Price has also improved greatly as the season has progressed. The big southpaw has a 2.36 ERA in his last six starts, and he appears to be peaking when it matters most. Meanwhile, Eduardo Rodriguez has a 2.67 ERA in his last five starts; Drew Pomeranz is at 3.31 over his last six; and Clay Buchholz has even returned from the dead with a 2.70 mark in his last 16.2 innings pitched.

Once a Weakness, Now a Strength

Whichever way you dice it, the Red Sox rotation, so often maligned, is quietly becoming a strength. Aside from the numbers, this group just inspires more confidence than it ever has before. Porcello and Price are experienced guys who should handle the pennant race pressure. Rodriguez seems to have ironed out a few issues. And the Sox still have Steven Wright to return from his stint on the disabled list, to compliment Pomeranz and Buchholz, who are also doing just fine.

All things considered, Boston is rounding into form at just the right time. The offense has been relentless all season, but it is now backed by a more consistent pitching staff. In general, the Sox seem to be grinding harder right now, and there is a newfound toughness to this team that has enabled it to win plenty of close games recently. That bodes well for the stretch run, which will feature plenty of games against division rivals such as Toronto and Baltimore.

Through all the hardship and uncertainty, here the Red Sox stand. It’s late August and they have a 71-54 record, good for a share of first place. Just thirty-seven games remain, and one last push is needed for a return to postseason play. For the first time in a long while, the Sox have a strong balance between offense, defense and pitching. Don’t look now, but this may be the most complete team in the American League.

Is Benintendi Proving To Be The Real Deal?

I was concerned when the Red Sox called up Andrew Benintendi from the minors. The kid hadn’t even played in AAA Pawtucket yet. Regardless, Dave Dombrowski and John Farrell were eager to put him in the lineup. I thought Benintendi would have a hard time hitting against major league pitchers. I also thought about his lack of strength. He’s not nearly as big as his teammates. However, after almost two dozen games, while it’s great to see Benintendi proving himself, we have yet to see if he’s a fluke or the real thing. Will Benintendi maintain his consistency?

As of August 23rd, Benintendi is carrying a .306 batting average. That’s not too bad inBenintendi Proving 62 at-bats. It’s certainly better than what Jackie Bradley Jr. had his first year in Boston. In 2013, Bradley Jr. hit only .189 in 95 at-bats. Xander Bogaerts didn’t fare much better during the same time. So to see Benintendi proving himself by posting respectable numbers in that many at-bats is a sign that he could be the real deal.

One thing that people don’t discuss about Benintendi is his fielding. Before he was called up, Benintendi made zero errors in 143 chances in Double-A Portland. Before Portland, he made only one error in Single-A Salem. The same goes for the season before. In 2015 he made only one error in 131 chances at Single-A. That mades for  a.994 fielding percentage over two seasons in the minors. Not too shabby.

 It’s Great To See Benintendi Proving Himself At Defense, Too!

On August 22nd in a game against Tampa, Benintendi robbed Tampa Bay’s Steven Souza Jr. of a two-run home run in the eighth inning. Benintendi defied both gravity and the left field wall to keep the Rays from scoring another two runs. Earlier in the game, Benintendi drove in a run in the fourth inning with a sacrifice fly. At this point, it is safe to say that Benintendi has delivered on the expectations Dombrowski and Farrell set for the rookie when he arrived in Boston. Now Benintendi has to prove that he’s the real deal by continuing to adjust his skills to maintain his success at the plate. We have yet to see if he can do so. But one thing is for sure. He’s off to a great start!

The Search For Xander Bogaerts

After a scorching start to the 2016 season, Xander Bogaerts has hit a rut. Though the humidity has run rampant through Boston lately, Bogaerts has experienced a rather cold summer at the plate.

In May and June, Bogaerts looked like a serious MVP candidate, if not a favorite along with BogaertsDavid Ortiz. Bogaerts hit .395 in May and and .324 in June. Also, those two months provided 40 of his 69 RBI this season. During that time, his average reached into the .350s and he was battling Jose Altuve for the league lead in that category. Since then, Xander’s production has plummeted.

Bogaerts Since The All-Star Break

Since Bogaerts was selected to his first All-Star game in San Diego last month, his season has taken a turn for the worse. Since the break, he has batted just .271 and has only four doubles and 13 RBI in 140 at-bats. That has brought his average all the way down to .310. Also, in his last 15 games he is hitting a measly .238 with an  OBP of .269.

In all seriousness, most guys would still love to have the numbers Bogaerts has this year. That is not what I am trying to say. He is still a tremendous talent and among the league’s best shortstops. But during this recent hot streak the Red Sox appar to be on, Xander has not been able to be a major contributor. In high leverage situations he has struggled and has made a habit at lunging at pitches and popping up constantly.

The Red Sox have tried a multitude of methods to try and get Bogaerts back to his former self. He has had a few days off, which he did deserve. The hitting instructors have also worked meticulously with him to fix his swing. So far, we are still waiting on the guy we saw the first half of the season. There is little doubt that his star will shine again, but it remains to be seen whether he will get his swing back in time to help his team make the postseason.

Is Pablo Sandoval Ready To Come Back?

After last season, many people didn’t have high hopes for Pablo Sandoval. His 2015 season was mediocre. He only hit .245 in 126 games. He made fifteen errors for a .949 fielding percentage. Sandoval arrived at spring training this year overweight. Then there was the belt buckle incident. In seven at-bats this season Sandoval collected NO hits. After surgery in May, Sandoval disappeared. Now, according to Julian Benbow of the Boston Globe, Sandoval has lost fifteen pounds and will rejoin the team in Tampa. So is Pablo Sandoval ready to come back for good? If so, will we see a different Pablo Sandoval ready for action?

In my first post, I mentioned that it wasn’t fair to poke fun at Sandoval’s weight. HisPablo Sandoval Ready body weight at the time was supposedly 17%, but it quickly became obvious that number was false. Sandoval was then mysteriously placed on the DL for a shoulder issue. Some speculated that he was put on the DL to get his weight under control. This idea makes much more sense, even if it’s unverified. In fact, I’m more likely to believe the latter scenario. The Red Sox obviously didn’t want to give someone time off to get their weight under control when he had all off-season to do so. But after making a deal to pay Sandoval $72.4 million over four years, the last thing the team wants to do is see that go to waste.

There’s little we actually know about whether Sandoval is actually going to rejoin the team this season. He’s a third baseman, and it’s possible that Farrell is thinking of plugging Sandoval at third base, especially with the way Travis Shaw has been hitting lately. Aaron Hill isn’t doing much better either. Has Sandoval truly worked hard to shed the pounds and rehab his arm? If so then it’s only logical to put him in and see if he can help the Red Sox reclaim first place.

Is Pablo Sandoval Ready To Finish His Career In Boston?

Sandoval is 30 years old. Surely he has a few more good years in him, but it’s not likely any other team will pick him up after his contract is up in two years. So Sandoval will have to do some hard thinking about what he wants to do in the next few years. Does he want to buckle down and get back to the field? Or does he want to sulk and cash his checks? If I were him I could see the temptation in staying on the DL. He’s more or less guaranteed that money, so why should he rush to get back? Honestly through, I don’t think Sandoval is that kind of guy. I genuinely think he wants to get back to the field as soon as he can. But he’s going to have to be realistic about what his career has left for him.

Right now, Dave Dombrowski is probably looking at Sandoval the way Billy Beane looked at an aging David Justice in Moneyball (one of my favorite movies). There’s the scene where Justice is in the batting cage talking to Bean in a disrespectful manner. After a strong rebuke, Beane adds, “I want to milk the last ounce of baseball you have in you.” Like Justice, Sandoval isn’t the player he used to be. So will we see Pablo Sandoval ready for action soon? Can he squeeze a little more effort out of himself? Maybe. But if Sandoval wants to contribute, then he has to be completely serious, and give all he has.

In other words, Sandoval can’t afford to break another belt.

The Red Sox Announcer Dilemma

The only thing about as inconsistent as the bullpen this summer is who we hear in Red Sox announcer booth. There are a multitude of former Red Sox alongside Dave O’Brien in the NESN booth this season. Most fans are annoyed with the constant changing in commentators. They need to keep just one other signature guy in the booth already. Who should NESN stick with and why?

During home games this season, Jerry Remy is still the Red Sox Red Sox Announcerannouncer voice fans commonly hear. Since 1988, Remy has been a part of Red Sox broadcasts. In my experience, there is one major skill he lacks: the ability to analyze baseball well. To me, that is a key skill to have in the baseball analyzing business but hey, he’s still there.

Nary has he enriched the broadcasts since I’ve been watching this team. Still, the Red Sox and NESN have had plenty of opportunities to part ways with him and haven’t. I don’t want to bring his personal life into a discussion about his broadcasting, but the legal problems with his son as well as legitimate health concerns could be reason enough for Remy to leave on his own.

The ‘Other’ Red Sox Announcer Stand-Ins

Next in the Red Sox announcer pecking order is Steve “Psycho” Lyons. Lyons had three stints as a player in Boston between 1985 and 1993, his first and last Major League stops. He is most known for being traded for the great Tom Seaver as well as dropping his pants while on first base during a game. After a completely bogus firing from Fox nearly a decade ago, Lyons eventually brought his talents to the NESN booth. Originally, he was on the pre and post game shows, which he still is when not color commentating. Psycho brings a great analysis of players on and off the field for fans to better understand the game.

Finally, Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley emerges as the best Red Sox announcer NESN has. “Eck” is by far the best man in the booth. While I think Lyons is good, it’s really not a close race as far as I’m concerned. Even in a “contract year” for all intents and purposes, Remy doesn’t compare. I’m not one for commentators with a stupid schtick, but Eck can back it up. His constant muttering of “cheese” and “hair” to describe the game actually makes him enjoyable. In fact, in the past week I’ve heard Eck refer to both a home run and a contract as a “Johnson”.

Eckersley seems to know exactly what the pitcher is doing, what the manager’s thoughts probably are and the hitter’s expectations. His extensive knowledge of baseball makes for an incredible broadcast. Even with a hairstyle grossly out of fashion, Dennis Eckersley should absolutely be in NESN Red Sox announcer permanently.

Do Red Sox Actually Want Papelbon Back?

News of Jonathan Papelbon’s release from the Washington Nationals prompted rumors about a possible return to Boston. It only makes sense, especially since he helped the Red Sox win a World Series in 2007. The 35 year-old reliever spent the last few seasons in Philadelphia and Washington, but sometimes mentioned that he had a place in his heart for Boston. The question is, does Boston want Jonathan Papelbon back?papelbon back

Definitely.

According to the New York Post, Dave Dombrowski stated that it is “worth investigating” when asked about Papelbon’s possible return. It’s likely that Dombrowski and John Farrell want to bring Papelbon back to Boston. Farrell, however, is clear that Craig Kimbrel is still Boston’s closer. That doesn’t mean that Papelbon wouldn’t have a place in the Red Sox bullpen. Papelbon is a dominant relief pitcher. Boston needs more of that right now.

Consider this: Papelbon accumulated 19 saves with the Washington Nationals this season. That’s almost TWICE as many saves as the Red Sox bullpen has accumulated this season (when you take Craig Kimbrel out of the equation). So could Boston use Papelbon? Definitely!

While Papelbon is fondly remembered in Boston, Philly and Washington fans feel differently. In 2014, Papelbon grabbed a part of his anatomy and gestured toward a booing fan after blowing a save. While Papelbon denied it by saying he had to adjust himself, it wouldn’t be the last time he found trouble. Last year, Papelbon and Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper exchanged blows in the dugout after Harper flied out in the eighth. Papelbon apparently threw the first punch because he didn’t appreciate Harper’s failure to get on base. While both parties claimed to have resolved the issue afterwards, it left a bad taste in Nationals’ fans mouths, as well as that of the front office. So it came as little surprise when Papelbon requested, and received, a release from the Nationals.

It’s clear that Papelbon isn’t the pope. Ironically, my priest, Father Jim Gallagher, told me that Papelbon in Latin is “good pope.” So while his name might make for a good joke, his pitching is anything but. Since breaking into the majors in 2005, the six-time All-Star has accumulated 368 saves over twelve seasons. 219 of those saves were when he was in Boston. In fact, he currently ranks 3rd among active pitchers for all time saves, and 9th overall. Additionally, Papelbon is only 22 behind Hall of Fame reliever Dennis Eckersley. How great would it be to see Papelbon pass Eckersley wearing a Boston uniform?

Yes, Boston Does Want Jonathan Papelbon Back!

Philadelphia didn’t want Papelbon. Washington happily obliged him when he requested a release. Since leaving Boston, Papelbon has mentioned how much he loved being with the Red Sox. Dombrowski and Farrell are interested in him. Even David Ortiz wants him back! Before the Red Sox played the Orioles Wednesday night, Ortiz told ESPN Deportes, “I don’t know what happened there at the Nationals, but he was a great guy and we would welcome him back with open arms.” I don’t know about anyone else, but it looks like Papelbon’s return to Boston would be a great fit.