Jackie Bradley’s Struggles Continue

The year is 2017 and not much has changed. It’s 60 degrees on a good day in May and Jackie Bradley’s struggles provide us great fodder for heckling. Red Sox fans and management once again have to play this cat-and-mouse game with Bradley and wonder when he will fulfill his potential.

Personally, I am so sick of waiting around for Jackie Bradley. Ever since he tore up Spring Jackie Bradley's strugglesTraining in 2013, he has never lived up to the hype. That year, he hit only .189 in 37 games. The following year he hit .198 as Jacoby Ellsbury’s replacement. Yet, we kept hearing about how it will take time for Bradley to develop. Still waiting.

Defensively, Bradley is elite. A bona fide Gold Glove candidate, his value in the field is indisputable. Offensively, however, what does he bring to the table? He filled in the shoes of Jacoby Ellsbury who, if nothing else, was great at getting on base and stealing bases. Even with speed and range in center field, Bradley’s season-high for stolen bases is just nine.

For the exception of two months in 2016, Bradley’s offensive career has been underwhelming to say the least. He earned a trip to the All-Star Game last year due in large part to his 29-game hitting streak. Outside of that, it would be an understatement to say that he has sucked. Even with that hitting streak, he only hit .267 for the season and 24 of his 87 RBI came in May.

Are Jackie Bradley’s Struggles Even Worth It?

Our aspirations of Bradley becoming a leadoff guy hitting .300 have fallen flat. Instead, we’ve become all too used to seeing him strike out on an outside breaking ball. Yet, we keep hearing the same old lines.

“Give him some time, he’s still young.”

“What about the hitting streak?”

Here’s news: he’s not still young. He’s 27. He’s had parts of five seasons in this league. Out of those seasons, he’s had two solid months.

This year has been an absolute horror show for Bradley. He has a stellar .182 batting average with a whopping two homers and seven RBI. With a pathetic .238 OBP, Bradley has done nothing right. You could say he has been the catalyst of the Red Sox’s offensive struggles. No matter where he has been put in the lineup, he has sucked. There’s no way around it.

So I ask: how much longer are we gonna put up with this crap? Finding a serviceable defensive center fielder wouldn’t be too hard. Finding one that can give more than Jackie Bradley should be even easier. Bradley will be arbitration eligible next year and as a Scott Boras guy, he may not be here beyond this year.

In the case of his career I ask: What season is the anomaly—the All-Star year or all the other ones?

Red Sox’s Number Five Starter Could Be An Issue

With all of the questions surrounding the rotation this year, Red Sox starters have been largely successful. They were, however, dealt a blow when Steven Wright went down for the season last week. Even though Wright’s season was pitiful, he may have been the best option for the Red Sox’s number five starter.

The number five starter role could be a revolving door until David Price returns to the bigRed Sox's number five starter club, that is, if he does this season. Right now, the man filling that void is Kyle Kendrick. That, you might say, isn’t going well. In his two starts, he’s been lit up like a Christmas Tree to the tune of a 12.96 ERA. The gift awaiting him under the tree he lit was a one-way ticket back to Pawtucket Wednesday night.

So now, John Farrell will have to continue to search for the man to round out his starting rotation. Let’s just say his options are thin at that position.

Who is the favorite for the Red Sox’s number five starter?

The only other guy with a decent amount of MLB experience is Henry Owens. Quite frankly, seeing Owens in a Red Sox uniform again may make me vomit. The experiment with him is over, he simply can’t pitch at this level. In 85 innings pitched in the majors, he has 44 walks and a WHIP of over 1.5. Unfortunately, we may see one of those games soon where Owens pitches five innings and walks four in about three hours.

Another option is Brian Johnson. Johnson has only made one start in the majors and it wasn’t pretty. His season in Pawtucket, however, has been great so far. He’s 2-0 with a 2.64 ERA, outdoing Owens in nearly every category with the Paw Sox. With Johnson exuding major league poise in spring training this year, after overcoming severe anxiety in 2016, Johnson is very likely to take that number five spot soon.

Technically, there is another option with MLB experience. If you thought Kyle Kendrick was bad, how about we rewind to Roenis Elias’s brief Red Sox career. Elias was torched by the Mariners in his debut, giving up two runs in his first four pitches and giving up a total of seven in four innings. If Elias is the guy the Red Sox turn to, something is very, very wrong.

So, Brian Johnson seems like the guy. He pitched well in Spring Training and it’s worth a shot to see if he’s better than Owens or Elias. I mean come on, he has to be, right? Right?

The Chris Sale Ticket is the Best Since Pedro

The overlying bright spot of the Red Sox season so far has been the utter electricity of Chris Sale. His pace, stuff and attitude make the Chris Sale ticket at Fenway the hottest since the Pedro Martinez days.

Part of Boston’s recent love affair with Sale has been the similarities between he and Pedro.Chris Sale ticket Both came with plenty of hype. Sale came in December as the established number one pitcher in the American League. Both have war-like intensity on and off the mound. Pedro threw down 72-year old Don Zimmer and Sale cut up the entire team’s throwback jerseys he didn’t want to wear. Both live on the inside corner like the second coming of Bob Gibson. And both are good. Like, really good.

Sale vs Pedro

In the first month of his Red Sox tenure, Chris Sale has been near unhittable. He has tied the record for most strikeouts through his fist six starts with a new team. He has 63, leading the major leagues. Whose record did he tie? Some guy named Randy Johnson; you may have heard of him. While the offense supporting him has sucked, he has been nothing short of remarkable. With only a 2-2 record, he has a 1.38 ERA and leads the league in innings pitched.

But it wasn’t just Pedro’s numbers that made his ticket so coveted—it was the perfect storm that came with all his starts. On days Pedro started, Fenway was the center of the baseball world. The stands were littered with Dominican flags, “K” signs covered the back rows of the bleachers, and every fan stood with feverish anticipation whenever a batter had two strikes on him. With the pink hats and corporate atmosphere of Fenway today, Chris Sale is as close as we are going to get to that.

Chris Sale Ticket Brings Eexcitement and the Unexpected

When Sale is pitching, you don’t really know what to expect. You know he’ll work quickly and strike out everyone in the lineup, which makes things exciting. You don’t know, however, what kind of history or animosity he’ll bring. Just Tuesday night, he lit the park up by throwing behind new public enemy number one: Manny Machado. Not only did Sale send a message, he proceeded to strike him out. In fact, he struck out the first five batters he faced and went into the sixth inning without allowing a hit. Right now, Sale is the most entertaining pitcher to watch in the sport. Not the AL, the sport.

For me and most Red Sox fans I know, the anticipation for Sale’s starts are unrivaled. People around me must be getting sick of seeing me in my Sale shirt every fifth day. I can’t help it, I haven’t seen a Red Sox starter as electrifying as him. We’ve seen some good ones since Pedro, but none that were ‘must-see TV’. Schilling, Lester, Beckett, and Porcello have had great runs, but nothing like Pedro. Watching Schilling, Lester or even Beckett in the post-season was enthralling, but nothing like it in the regular season. None of those guys could pull eyes away from a Celtics playoff game. Chris Sale has and will continue to do so.

Granted, it has only been a little over a month of Chris Sale in Boston. He has brought back the glory days of intense, bulldog starters for the Red Sox. If this continues, he is finally the next in line of the Roger Clemens/Pedro Martinez gamers in Red Sox uniforms. I don’t care what the Red Sox have to do, but please keep this guy here as long as possible. With him, I see rings, Cy’s and Cooperstown.

Long live Chris Sale! Thank you for bringing that excitement back.

Is a Boston-Baltimore Rivalry Legit?

This week could bring plenty of fireworks to Fenway Park when the Baltimore Orioles strut into town. With all the drama caused by Manny Machado and Matt Barnes last series, suddenly this matchup is a heated one. Is it fair to say there is now a Boston-Baltimore rivalry, though?

Never in my life have I thought of the Baltimore Orioles as a rival. This reminds me a lot of Boston-Baltimore RivalryDuke vs. Maryland in basketball. Trust me, it’ll make sense. Duke’s major rival is North Carolina but they were always the biggest game on Maryland’s schedule, so they were treated as a rival. Orioles fans definitely get up for Red Sox series, but it isn’t Red Sox-Yankees.

When I heard Jerry Remy talk about how these teams had a mutual distaste, I was shocked. I mean, Manny Machado has had his disputes, but the Orioles don’t exactly have the villains. There’s no A-Rod or Johnny Damon or even someone like a Jorge Posada. But, apparently, there is hatred between the players.

Even though these two clubs have been in the same division for years, the lack of animosity is simple. First off, these teams have seldom been competitive at the same time. When one team is up, the other is usually down. Without high leverage games, it’s tough to keep an entertaining rivalry in baseball.

Why Isn’t There a Boston-Baltimore Rivalry?

Also, Baltimore is just a blip on the baseball map. We are used to Boston and New York as the epicenters of the game. That is not the case in Baltimore. They have a respectable fan base, a nice team and a nice ballpark. There’s nothing special about Baltimore in the world of baseball. Even with the run of success they had for nearly two decades between the 1960s and 1980s where they won five World Series titles, Baltimore doesn’t scream baseball history.

At the end of the day, Baltimore is a football town and the unequivocal hotbed of lacrosse. When you think of Baltimore, you don’t think baseball. Putting that against a titan of the sport like Boston and the Red Sox organization, it’s not a fair fight. Red Sox fans who remember a time before 2013 know it wasn’t long ago when Sox fans outnumbered Orioles supporters tenfold at Camden Yards.

A supposed AL East rivalry between the Orioles and the Red Sox leaves me with more questions than answers. Where’s the history? Who are the villains? Why isn’t Boston-Toronto a rivalry? Ok, that last one is a blog for another time. This series could certainly get the blood boiling again and could start a rivalry. For now, Red Sox fans can label the Orioles with the same moniker Duke has put on Maryland for years, the most disrespectful insult in sports: “not our rivals.”

The Idleness of Clemens’ Number 21

As I cover college baseball games this weekend in Waco, Texas, my attention is drawn Roger Clemensaway from the 10 players on the field. The Texas Longhorns are in town, which means, for the only time all season, I am more focused on the parents section. I’m looking for a certain number 21.

Penciled in the Longhorn lineup at both DH and First Base is a familiar name: Clemens. With the potential to meet their dad, Roger, this weekend, it got me thinking about one of the most tumultuous careers in baseball history. Roger Clemens will always go down as a Red Sox legend, but would you guess that his number is retired?

No, you wouldn’t. Nestled on the facade in Fenway Park’s right field lies 10 retired numbers, but not number 21. What you might not know, however, is that 30 Red Sox wore that number before the Rocket, but none since. Are the Red Sox hiding behind their own tradition?

For over a decade, Clemens was revered in Boston. From 1984-1996, the Rocket racked up 192 wins, tying him for the franchise record. Whom is he tied with? A guy by the name of Cy Young—you may have heard of him. Clemens knows him well, winning the Cy Young award three times in Boston as well as an American League MVP award in 1986. He was the unequivocal ace who led the Red Sox to the World Series that year as well. Before he came to Boston, no one had struck out 20 batters in a game. By the time he left, he had done it twice. It wasn’t Clemens’ time in Boston that made him a villain, it was his time away.

After Dan Duquette’s prognostication of his demise, Clemens went to division rival Toronto. It was his time north of the border where things became fishy. After injuries wore down his final few sub-par years in Boston, Clemens began to defy logic. Even as he aged, he was recovering even faster from these injuries and was pitching as well as ever. In two seasons with Toronto, he won the Cy Young Award both years and earned the elusive pitching Triple Crown each season.

To further push the buttons of Red Sox fans, Clemens traded in his Jays uniform for pinstripes. As a Yankee, he won four AL Pennants, two World Series titles, and the Cy Young yet again in 2001. After a combined record of 27-18 in his first two seasons in New York, he went 20-3 in 2001. Coincidentally enough, it was revealed his trainer Brian McNamee was injecting him with anabolic steroids at the time. Now, it’s no wonder Clemens was always butt hurt.

Why The Fans Don’t Want To See The Number 21

The final middle finger to Red Sox Nation came in the winter of 2005. Upon Curt Schilling’s endorsement, the Red Sox were in the sweepstakes to sign Clemens as a free agent. In a little-known attempt to bring him back, a third grade class in Rockland, MA, made a video for the Clemens family. In it, the kids begged him to “come home, Roger”, apparently bringing his wife to tears. At the end of the video, a number 21 was glowing on that right field facade, if the Rocket were to re-enter Boston’s atmosphere. Instead, Clemens re-signed with Houston and in 2007, ended his career with a return to New York.

Once revered in Boston, Clemens is now reviled. His number 21 is retired only at Disch-Faulk Field at the University of Texas. While there, Clemens was the ace for their 1983 National Championship team. No, I think it’s gonna be a long, long time till we see Clemens’ number up there with Williams and Yastrzemski. It won’t take touchdown to bring us round again to find he most certainly is the man he is at home. Sir Elton John will not be doing any serenading over the Fenway speakers any time soon. For all the things Clemens has done to Boston fans on and off the field has certainly made the Rocket public enemy number 21.

 

The Obstruction of Potential: The Play That Derailed Two Careers

Even with unrivaled success this millennia, Boston fans do not often forget those times that did not go right for them. They never forget that which went horribly wrong, even if it was corrected in the end.

The 2013 World Series championship was unforgettable for Boston and the city’s baseballObstruction fans. When seemingly everything went right for the Red Sox that year, there was a moment in that World Series where it looked like it would all fall apart. There was one moment where Red Sox nation felt like Raiders fans after the Tuck Rule in 2001. That one moment did not necessarily damn the series, but it could have damned two once-promising MLB careers.

Late in Game Three, St. Louis’s Allen Craig came around third after an overthrow. After tripping over third baseman Will Middlebrooks, he came around to score the winning run via an obstruction call. If not for the call, Craig would have been out by five feet, but alas the Cardinals suddenly had a 2-1 series lead.  While the call had Bostonians up in arms, the Red Sox won the next three games to claim their eighth world championship. The obstruction could be seen; the downward spiral of the two players’ careers could not.

Allen Craig’s Downfall

At the 2014 trade deadline, these two teams were heading in opposite directions. With St. Louis making a playoff push, they traded Craig along with Joe Kelly to Boston in exchange for John Lackey. Craig was under team control for three and a half more years with a club option for 2018. He was definitely one of the hardest hitters in the Cardinals’ lineup. The only thing Craig hit in Boston (and Pawtucket) was a wall.

In 29 games with Boston in 2014, he hit a brutal .128 with a whopping two RBI, enough to send the biggest optimists into a fit of pure rage. 2015 was not much better. He hit .152 in 36 games, but surpassed his RBI total of 2014, churning out three. Since then, he’s gotten to know Pawtucket better than their own mayor. This past season, he appeared in 22 games for the Pawtucket Red Sox, raking to the tune of a .173 average and slugging .250 along with his one homer and six RBI.

In 2013, Craig had 97 RBI for the Cardinals. In the two and a half seasons since that he’s been with the Red Sox, he has 41 split between his time in Boston and Pawtucket. The Red Sox will undoubtedly not pick up his option after this year and will owe him 13 million dollars in 2018. To call Craig a disappointment would be an insult to all the disappointments who never got a hug from their dad. Craig was a catastrophic failure.

The Drop-Off of Will Middlebrooks

The road for Will Middlebrooks since earning a ring has not been much friendlier. He broke out in 2012 where he hit 15 homers in his first big league season. His average subsequently dipped from .288 to .227 in 2013. Middlebrooks made it through the 2014 season with Boston, hitting .191 with two homers in 63 games. In December of that year, he was traded to San Diego for Ryan Hanigan. As bad as Hanigan was the past two seasons, it is really tough to decipher who won that deal.

In 2015, Middlebrooks appeared in 83 games for the Padres when he hit .212 with a .224 OBP. That production on a last place team earned him a trip to Milwaukee in free agency. On a Brewers team that went 73-89, Middlebrooks only earned 27 at-bats in 10 games, hitting .111. This offseason, he signed a minor-league deal with the Texas Rangers, making him a member of four different organizations in the four years since the 2013 World Series title.

Postlude

As bad as those two guys have been since then, there are still people involved in this infamous play who have been nearly as disappointing. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who threw the ball away to allow Craig to score, has been with three teams since then. His highest batting average since has been .225. Jim Joyce, the umpire who made the call, is most famous for that and blowing Armando Galarraga’s perfect game. He retired unceremoniously this offseason.

Times like these remind us there is nothing promised in this game. Craig was the x-factor of the 2013 World Series and now he’s struggling for playing time in Pawtucket. Middlebrooks was a budding slugger who has been in and out of the minors. While the obstruction call ended up not having a huge impact on the series, it drastically altered not just a runner’s path to home plate, but also two once-promising MLB careers.