The Boston Blame Game

Right now, the Red Sox are hanging on for dear life near the bottom of the division. The only real bright spot is the sweep of the Rays in Tampa. Many fans were happy that the core group from last year is back. However, many are wondering if more could have been done. Thus begins the Boston blame game.

With the departures of Joe Kelly to the Dodgers and Craig Kimbrel to the unknown, theboston blame Red Sox bullpen is a mystery. The same can be said for the rest of the roster. In the past, however, the bullpen in Boston has been a wildcard. You never know what is going to happen next.

Where Does the Boston Blame Lie?

There are so many things that have and can go wrong. There are also many things that can go right. However, for the Red Sox, not much has gone right for them. Where do we begin? How about the very quiet Boston offseason.

This past offseason following the World Series win was kind of quiet in Boston. While other teams were signing and trading, It seemed like not a lot was going on in the front office. The most that was done was the trade that brought relief pitcher, Colten Brewer to Boston. Brewer, who is entering his second season in the majors, played for the San Diego Padres last season.

Many teams were trading right off the bat. Teams such as the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays make some big moves to make their teams as successful as they are now. Probably the least shocking issues was the free agent market. With big names like Manny Machado and Bryce Harper not signing deals right away, it’s no surprise that many players are still waiting.

Still, even with most of the champs staying in Boston, it’s hard not to point fingers and blame the front office for not doing more. Dave Dombrowski basically stated that he didn’t want to do a whole lot. That was evident, especially with relievers going to other teams in free agency. I get it, you want the core team to stick together and keep winning. However, it’s almost May, and the Red Sox are falling behind.

Spring Training

It’s tough to not look at the Red Sox’s Spring Training record and question what could have gone differently. Alex Cora and company only allowed the core starters to pitch certain innings and games. This has led to a slow start for guys like Chris Sale and Rick Porcello. Both starters have been open with their struggles, and blame themselves for the lack of good pitching during their regular season starts.

The Bullpen

Anytime Red Sox Nation sees a pitcher warming up in the bullpen, we either get a good feeling, or a bad feeling. For example, in the game against the New York Yankees on April 17th, Nathan Eovaldi was pitching a good game, and was taken out in the 7th inning. Brandon Workman came in, and gave up a single, and walked two batters before being taken out with the bases loaded and one out in the inning. This led to Brett Gardner hitting the game winning grand slam off of Ryan Braiser.

As of right now, the bullpen consists of Workman, Braiser, Matt Barnes, Brewer, Heath Hembree, Travis Lakins, Tyler Thornburg and Marcus Walden. Many of these pitchers, with the exception of Lakins, have many years of major league experience. Lakins, who was called up and made his MLB debut on April 23rd against Detroit has an ERA of 3.38. He went 2.2 innings, striking out two in the loss to the Tigers.

The Future

The Red Sox have a lot of work to do over the next few weeks. With many players on the injured list, the bright spot is seeing rookie Michael Chavis contributing to the club. The infielder made his Major League debut against Tampa Bay on April 20th. So far, he is batting .214, with one home run and two RBI’s. He has also transitioned to second base, after playing third and first in the minors.

Does Red Sox Nation still trust Cora? It’s tough to tell. The Red Sox haven’t been playing their best, and when they do, it’s only one or two games. There are many factors in the Boston blame game, however, some are more evident than others.

With May right around the corner, it’s a guess that the Red Sox will turn a corner. A corner in which it shows them heading to the top. After all, we are the defending World Series Champions.

Red Sox Bullpen Has Become A Mess

To begin the season, Boston’s starting pitching was the team’s biggest weak link. Now, the starters have begun to settle down. Chris Sale allowed two runs yesterday and struck out 10 through five frames. Rick Porcello is coming off his best start (5.2 innings, 2 earned runs). After allowing 11 earned runs in his first two starts, Eduardo Rodriguez has permitted just 5 earned runs in his past two. Hector Velázquez has started three games since April 7 and has done a nice job in his role as a spot-start pitcher. And David Price has been the club’s best starter through four starts: 3.75 ERA,1.04 WHIP, 30 k’s in 24 innings. The Red Sox bullpen, however, after having started the season on a strong note, has reverted to become a complete liability.

In yesterday’s day-night double header against the Tigers, in game 1’s top of the 5thRed Sox Bullpen inning, Chris Sale escaped a jam. Runners were on first and third with Detroit’s best hitter (Niko Goodrum – .838 OPS) at the plate. Sale struck him out looking to keep the game tied at two. Heath Hembree then relieved Sale in the 6th, and allowed a solo home run to Detroit’s Ronny Rodriguez (career .645 OPS). The Red Sox were now suddenly playing from behind.

Two innings later, with the score tied 3-3, Colten Brewer was called on to pitch. He eventually escaped the inning on a double play, but not before he allowed 3 runs to cross the plate. Going into the bottom of the 8th, with six outs left for Boston, Detroit had taken a 6-3 lead. The Red Sox ended up losing 7-4.

Game 2

In the night cap, the first reliever out of the ‘pen was Marcus Walden. He came on in the top of the 4th inning, with the bases loaded and one out. He did not deliver and, consequently, surrendered a bases-clearing double to Brandon Dixon (career .636 OPS). The Tigers took a 3-0 lead.

In the next inning, manager Alex Cora called on southpaw Darwinzon Hernandez. It was his major league debut after being (temporarily) recalled earlier that day as Boston’s 26th player for the double header. He threw 50 pitches in 2.1 innings, allowed four hits, one walk, and struck out four.

With one out in the top of the 7th, with the Tigers still leading 3-0, Hernandez was replaced by Travis Lakins, making his ML debut. Lakins was recalled between games for reliever Bobby Poyner, who, in two appearances, owns a 18.00 ERA for the Red Sox. Lakins pitched 2.2 innings. He threw 34 pitches and allowed 1 earned run.

The Red Sox bullpen has become a mess

David Dombrowski’s Red Sox bullpen experiment is starting to become embarrassing. In an interview with NESN correspondent Tom Caron on April 11, Dombrowski was quoted saying, “Overall, we’re very happy with them (bullpen) and they have good stuff and we think they’ll continue to pitch well for us.” We now find ourselves just two weeks removed from that conversation. Things have changed.

Poyner and Erasmo Ramirez have both been summoned from Triple-A. They each pitched poorly and Ramirez was designated for assignment after being signed to a minor-league contract in the offseason. Heath Hembree, Tyler Thornburg, and Colten Brewer all have earned-run-averages (ERA) above 5.50. Brewer’s sits at a disgusting 8.31.

Matt Barnes started the season superbly with just one earned run in his first 7 appearances. In his last two games, though, he has a blown win, a blown save, and has allowed two home runs in late-game situations.

Ryan Brasier, Brandon Workman, and Marcus Walden have all been terrific, with ERA’s of 1.59, 2.61, and 2.38, respectively. But, Walden was optioned to Triple-A by Dombrowski on April 15 after allowing earned runs in back-to-back appearances against the belittled Orioles. He was recalled on April 20.

How does Boston’s bullpen stack up?

In comparison to all other American League teams, Dombrowski’s bullpen has the fifth highest ERA (4.87). The bullpen has allowed the fourth-most hits and second-most runs, earned runs, and home runs. What’s most eye-opening is that Red Sox bullpen relievers have allowed 30 more runs than Houston Astros relievers this season.

Cemented starter Nathan Eovaldi underwent surgery yesterday on his elbow and will not pick up a baseball for six weeks. The club is now stuck with four starters. There is a chance that a fifth starter arrises before Eovaldi comes back, but that scenario seems unlikely. Hector Velázquez will continue to be a spot-starting option, especially with Brian Johnson still on the shelf. Perhaps Darwinzon Hernandez gets called back up and becomes a spot-starter? Nonetheless, the Red Sox bullpen will be subject to a heavy workload.

Dombrowski has reached into his pockets and has spent $335 million dollars on Sale, Eovaldi, and Xander Bogaerts since December. This is the Boston Red Sox. Hence, no one is going to scrutinize the front office for going all in. How do they do that? Cough up some more dough for Craig Kimbrel or Dallas Keuchel, who surprisingly still remain on the free agent market. Kimbrel would add stability to the ‘pen and Keuchel could eat up innings as a fifth starter. Keep Keuchel as a starter the rest of the way, and, when Eovaldi is ready to return, have him stay in the pen.

It’s Time To Say Goodbye To JBJ

The Red Sox invested $8.55 million dollars in their starting center fielder this season. They drafted Jackie Bradley, Jr. in the first round (40th overall) back in 2011. Although JBJ has been one of their better home-grown players, along with Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Dustin Pedroia, Matt Barnes, his numbers to start this season should help explain why Boston’s hitting statistics rank in the bottom third of American League teams. Bradley is 9-for-64 this season (.141 batting average). He has struck out 21 times compared to 5 walks and has just 2 extra-base hits. Time has come to officially say goodbye to JBJ.

When we think of Jackie Bradley, Jr., we think of the best defensive center fielder inSay Goodbye baseball. Truth be told, Bradley has won just one Gold Glove, which came last year. Bradley has been the regular center fielder for the Sox since 2014, the year after the team won their eighth World Series championship. He took over for Jacoby Ellsbury, who signed a seven-year/$153 million-dollar contract with the Yankees that offseason.

In the five seasons that Bradley has been manning center, the AL Gold Glove has been awarded to the likes of Adam Jones, Kevin Kiermaier twice, Byron Buxton, and Bradley, respectively. Bradley’s teammate Mookie Betts has won a Gold Glove in right field for three years running.

Bradley’s OPS numbers from 2014-’18 read like this: .531, .832, .835, .726, .717. He has averaged a .239 batting average over that span. His best season as a hitter came in 2016, when he started alongside Betts in the All-Star Game. That year, he posted career highs across the board: 156 games – 94 runs – 149 hits – 26 home runs – 87 RBI – .835 OPS – 271 total bases.

Compared to other top AL center fielders in 2016, Bradley finished second in RBI, third in runs, home runs, and WAR, and fourth in batting average. The following season, in 2017, he sank from third to seventh in runs and batting average. Also, individually speaking, his OPS dropped more than one-hundred points, he hit 9 less home runs, and his WAR dropped from 5.3 to 2.2. Last year, in 2018, Bradley saw his OPS drop again. His .234 batting average was his worst since his rookie year. Some might believe that downward trends like this should have authorized the Red Sox to say goodbye to JBJ some time ago.

Say Goodbye To JBJ: Always been a streaky hitter

A .926 OPS, 14 home runs, and 55 RBI in 2016’s first half are really what earned Bradley an All Star appearance in 2016. However, in the season’s second half, his numbers changed drastically. His OPS fell nearly two-hundred points (.728). He posted just 20 extra base hits after collecting 36 from April-July.

When looking at his overall career, JBJ is a .257 hitter at Fenway Park. His road batting average, however, sits at an ugly .216 clip. When facing right-handed pitchers, his career OPS of .734 warrants an average hitter. Against lefty’s his OPS drops to .664.

At this moment, tough to cut ties

Waiving or trading JBJ right now might not make the most sense, but sitting him more regularly would be smart. Betts has plenty of experience in center field. Benintendi is comfortably the everyday left fielder. Perhaps J.D. Martinez, the team’s DH, would entertain more starts in the outfield. Brock Holt, who is currently on the Injured List, has experience playing the outfield, as well as Steve Pearce.

The Red Sox have a plethora of talented hitters: Betts, Benintendi, Martinez, Pearce, Mitch Moreland, Rafael Devers, Michael Chavis. The more manager Alex Cora can get this group in the lineup card, the more runs will cross the plate. With more talent (Pedroia and Eduardo Nunez) due back to the lineup in the impending future, the Red Sox should say goodbye to JBJ.

Is Red Sox Prospect Michael Chavis the Future at Second?

Due to modern day defensive shifts in the major leagues, the physical requirements of a second baseman have changed in recent years. Nowadays, you can spot players built like corner infielders manning a middle infield position. For Red Sox prospect Michael Chavis, the evolving nature of the position might be his best chance to get that quality bat tool of his into the major league lineup.

Mostly known for his hitting prowess, the newest addition to the Boston clubhouse is going to get a chance to show what he can do on the field. Let’s look at some of the reasons why Chavis’ stay in the big leagues might blossom into something more.

Dustin Pedroia’s uncertain status opens the door

With Pedroia back to the injured list with knee issues, the future of second base sort of Red Sox prospect Michael Chavishangs in the balance. This was supposed to be the season in which the team’s longest-tenured vet would return to full health for the first time since 2016. Another setback, albeit not expected to be serious, relegates Pedroia to the injured list. Joining him are Eduardo Nunez and Brock Holt, who had been struggling anyways, leaving the Sox thin at the position. Enter Chavis.

Drafted as a shortstop, Chavis has spent most of his time in pro ball at third, while also seeing some work at first the last couple seasons. Before his call up, he appeared in five games at second in Triple-A Pawtucket. The versatility could indeed add to Chavis’ value, given his proven ability to hit well across all levels so far. If Pedroia continues to battle injuries, this might be Chavis’ opportunity to steal the position away. That opportunity is contingent on whether Holt and Nunez remained injured and/or ineffective.

The physical requirements of a second baseman have changed

Previously, teams looked for quick, agile players that could cover a lot of ground on the right side of the diamond. You needed somebody who could avoid contact on the base and still turn two. But with analytics has come more targeted field positioning, more often putting second baseman right in line with where hitters are most commonly putting the ball. With that, teams are starting to place bulkier players at second to keep their bats in the lineup. Red Sox prospect Michael Chavis, weighing in a 216 lbs., far exceeds the build of the traditional second baseman.

The Milwaukee Brewers are the trendsetters in this area, given how they have used Travis Shaw and Mike Moustakas in the field. Shaw, a corner infielder with pop, and Moustakas, a natural third baseman with power, both saw significant innings at second base last season. That trend has continued into 2019, with Moustakas getting the majority of the time there. The versatility of these players allows manager Craig Counsell to keep their productive bats in the everyday lineup. This can be a similar path to get Chavis innings at the big league level.

Chavis can be a spark plug like former prospects before him

In 2016 and 2017, the Sox were in search of a spark, and in came Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers. The two top prospects emerged and hit .295/.359/.476 and .284/.356/.329, respectively, in their first tastes of the majors. As an early season addition, Chavis, if given enough playing time, could be the next in line. If the depth chart remains thin, the job could be Red Sox prospect Michael Chavis’ to lose.

Red Sox Save Their Season

In Boston’s three games over the weekend, they played their best baseball by sweeping the Rays. They showed life when they needed to, made big plays when opportunity knocked, and, most importantly, the three wins secured a Red Sox save to their season after a horrendous start.

The Sox’s biggest score over the weekend was an ample source of momentum. AfterRed Sox Save weeks compiled with struggles and reflection, the club finally gained a reason to play for 2019. They proved to themselves that they can play with baseball’s best (Tampa Bay had MLB’s best record entering Friday – now second best). They also proved they can win big games on the road.

Sox hit 5 home runs over weekend

Boston’s plethora of home runs, which helped move them out of the AL basement of ‘trouble slugging’ teams, came at the right time to help the Red Sox save their season. Starting on Friday, Christian Vázquez socked a pitch from Rays southpaw Ryan Yarborough over the center field wall. This hit came moments after Rafael Devers plated J.D. Martinez from first base on an RBI double. Then, in the eighth inning, with the game tied 4-4, Mookie Betts led off with a homer to center. As Betts rounded first and headed towards second, he pumped his right fist as a sign of elation. Mitch Moreland then went back-to-back. His blast sailed to right-center.

On Saturday, the Sox went up 1-0 when Sandy León was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. Andrew Benintendi then hit a grand slam to left-center to put the Sox up 5-0. On Sunday, Moreland homered again to score Boston’s first run. It was his seventh long ball in 21 games played.

In a collaborative effort, Vázquez stands out

From Boston’s very first run on Friday against Tampa Bay, to a pickoff throw to Steve Pearce at first to win game 2. And ending with yesterday’s game-winning sac fly in the 11th inning, Christian Vázquez was the star of the series and played a major role in the Red Sox save to their season.

As mentioned above, the Sox’s first run on Friday came on a Devers RBI double. Martinez scored from first, which was impressive considering his size and lack of speed on the base paths. Martinez scored the run on a bang-bang play at home plate, in which if he slid a split-second late, he probably would have been thrown out. What stood out from the play, however, was that the catcher called the runner safe milliseconds before the ump. Talk about focus!

Arguably the best play of Vázquez’s career came while catching, with two runners on base (one in scoring position), and two outs in the bottom of the 9th. The Sox were clinging to a one-run lead. The catcher noticed Tommy Pham was taking a big lead off of first base, and thus pre-determined a pickoff throw before the second pitch of the impending at-bat arrived. His throw was perfect and Steve Pearce tagged out Pham to win the game. With much excitement, Vázquez hugged relief pitcher Ryan Brasier. He then looked towards his other teammates with a smile, thrilled to seal the victory.

In the series finale, in extra innings, Vázquez hit a sac fly to deep right-center to score the winning run. Number-seven rounded first and clapped three times above his head before heading towards the dugout. He clearly had the largest impact of any Red Sox against TB.

A rookie gets his first career hit

Michael Chavis, Boston’s top prospect, was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket before Friday’s game. He made his first career at-bat in game 2, in the top of the 9th inning, and with a runner on first. His clutch performance at this dish was a big boost to the Red Sox save to their season. Dave O’Brien, the team’s play-by-play commentator on NESN, said it best, “Chavis rips a double!” His double traveled more 400 feet, over Gold Glove Kevin Kiermaier’s head. The 23-year-old Chavis could not have produced a better first at-bat.

Starting pitching finally coming along

Eduardo Rodriguez, Rick Porcello, and David Price gave the rest of their team a fair chance to win their starts over the weekend. The trio’s contributions helped quiet the doubters, for now, and were key to the Red Sox save to the season. E-Rod and Porcello each pitched more than five innings and allowed 3 earned runs or less. Price allowed just 2 runs, struck out 10, and did not allow a long ball. They all saw their pitch count rise above 90.

Red Sox Save Their Season – Ideas to consider moving forward

  • Do not take foot off the gas pedal — Chris Sale starts tonight and is still looking for his first win. Coming off a successful and emotional weekend, Sale should be ready to kick butt. The Tigers are last in the AL in runs scored. They are also last in home runs and OPS. This should only give Sale a better chance for a quality start.
  • Continue to play Chavis — After a pinch-hit double on Saturday, manager Alex Cora elected to start Chavis yesterday – a decision I agree with. He responded by reaching base just once in five plate appearances. Devers has been playing better recently (4-game hitting streak), but could be subject to sharing some time at third, which is Chavis’s natural position. There also still lies a huge hole at second base with Dustin Pedroia, Eduardo Nunez, and Brock Holt nursing injuries. Cora should be confident in playing Chavis regularly this week.
  • Do not panic over losing Eovaldi — The starter is meeting with his doctor today after an MRI showed two loose bodies in his pitching elbow. According to multiple sources, surgery is the most likely outcome. I know this seems hard, but the Red Sox still have a solid four-man rotation in Sale, Price, Porcello, and Rodriguez. Add in Héctor Velázquez (2 games started, 6 combined innings, 1 earned run) and the rotation looks even better. They do not have starters ready to go in the farm system. The team could opt to pitch similarly to the Rays – by rolling out relievers to begin games. The case is a strong one, as Tampa Bay leads the AL with a 2.85 team ERA.

Red Sox Sweep the Rays thanks to lifts from Moreland, others

You have tremendous foresight if you were expecting to see the Red Sox sweep the Rays after a weekend series in Tampa. With the tabloids barking for the real Red Sox to stand up, the World Champions were facing adversity really for the first time under Alex Cora. That might still be the case, as Boston still sits at just 9-13 AFTER a series sweep. But the Red Sox are finally showing real signs of shaking their funk.

The Red Sox sweep the Rays with a push from Mookie Betts

As has been the case since Betts showed MVP-ability in 2016, the team goes when he Red Sox Sweep the Raysgoes. When he struggles, so does the offense. It’s no secret Betts was scuffling entering play on Friday, going just 2 of 23 in his last seven games. That changed when he smacked a homer and a double to help lift the Sox over the Rays 6-4 to open the series. Case in point, as he went back-to-back with Mitch Moreland on home runs in the series opening victory. He continued that approach into the next two games. He added two more hits apiece in each contest. If the 2018 MVP continues to stay hot, then he very well might carry the Red Sox back to form.

The starting pitching continues to improve, and that starts with David Price

Price has arguably been the rotation’s most reliable thrower to this point in 2019. While the southpaw has tossed just one quality start so far, he has not allowed more than four runs in a start. Price has worked less than six innings only once too. Given the inconsistencies of Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez, Price’s outings have given the team a chance to win each time out. He was at his best versus Baltimore on 4/14 (7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 7 K) but worked out of jams and held the Rays to two runs over five innings with 10 strikeouts on Sunday afternoon. With Eovaldi hitting the injured list, and Chris Sale still yet to truly put it together, Price’s importance cannot be overstated to the rotation’s long term success.

Martinez, Moreland, and Benintendi are all off to strong starts

As important as Betts’ oil is to grease the Red Sox’ engine, the team might be off to an even worse start if it weren’t for J.D. Martinez, Andrew Benintendi, and, most notably, Moreland. Through Sunday, Moreland lead the team in homers (7) and RBI (14), and mashed most of those homers to either tie or give the Red Sox the lead. The former Texas Ranger homered again Sunday to pull the Sox within one. Martinez has been one of the best hitters in baseball, hitting .350 with a 1.004 OPS, including four homers and 11 RBI. He is also one of three players (Rafael Devers and Betts) to appear in every game so far. Benintendi crushed his first career grand slam on Saturday to give Boston an early lead. Coupled with his strong defense in the field, the Cincinnati native figures to continue to break out in 2019.

If you expected to read the headline “Red Sox Sweep the Rays” on Monday, you also see why the team has gotten back on track. If the Sox want to keep winning, it is going to take more than what they have received so far from the roster. But a three-game sweep of the first-place Rays is a good starting point. They can now look forward to the upcoming home stand with three straight wins under their belt.