What a Game For Alex Cora

Alex Cora danced around Aaron Boone for the entire wild card game. This was one of his better coached games all season long. For all the hype of a Red Sox and Yankees, winner-take-all game, it turned out to hardly be a contest. And it all started with a near perfectly managed game by Alex Cora.

The Perfect Lineup

Red Sox manager

With J.D. Martinez unavailable with a sprained left ankle, Cora was able to get a better defense-oriented lineup in. It wound up paying huge dividends as Schwarber got the start at DH. He took Gerrit Cole deep in the third, which gave the Sox a three run lead, and sent Fenway into a frenzy. Martinez’s absence also allowing Kike Hernandez to start in center, collecting an assist on the play at the plate with Aaron Judge in the 6th. Both offensively and defensively, Cora’s moves paid off. However, pitching is where Cora’s moves really shined.

Nathan Eovaldi Did More Than Enough

The choice for starting pitcher was perfect. Nathan Eovaldi was nails. He struck out 8 through 5 and a third innings, allowing no walks. He threw one bad pitch to Rizzo and let up an infield hit to Judge. That was enough for Cora. A lot is made in the postseason about a manager’s decision to pull his starter. Just last year in Game 6 of the World Series, Kevin Cash was scrutinized all offseason about his decision to pull Blake Snell too soon. People said Eovaldi needed to go deep because the bullpen hasn’t played well down the stretch. However, you can leave a starter out for too long. Red Sox fans remember the 2003 ALCS Game 7 when Grady Little left Pedro Martinez on the mound against the Yankees a little too long. Cora trusted his bullpen, and it worked as Ryan Brasier got the final two outs of the inning. That wasn’t without a little excitement on the Stanton Single, but it worked out.

All The Right Moves

From then on, Cora was pushing all the right buttons with Tanner Houck in the 7th and Hansel Robles in the 8th both throwing 1-2-3 innings. Houck’s stuff was nasty, collecting 2 strikeouts. Robles came out in the 8th and retired the side quickly, including striking out Anthony Rizzo who had the big hit for the Yankees to that point. The Red Sox bullpen was putting pressure on the Yankees bullpen to remain perfect. That pressure would eventually get to them. After working 5 walks from the Yankees bullpen, the Red Sox offense grinded out 3 more runs late to distance themselves from their rivals.

Cora Sends A Message

Alex Cora called upon Garrett Whitlock to get the final three out of the night. Perhaps a little wink to the Yankees organization, as Whitlock was selected from the Yankees in the Rule 5 draft this past offseason. With the lead being what it was most managers would usually call upon a lesser guy to finish it. Not usually wanting to waste an arm as valuable as Whitlock’s. However, this is the Yankees, and Cora has never shied away from sending a message. Stanton did end up hitting a solo homerun in the 9th, but Whitlock quickly locked it down for the victory. Message sent. It’s now on to Tampa Bay to meet the Rays in the Division Series. But what a game it was for the Sox Manager.

Nathan Eovaldi is the Guy

Boston’s playoff hopes are still alive. Whether the Red Sox will get the first wild card spot, the second, or miss the playoffs entirely nobody knows. With the Yankees, Blue Jays, Mariners and Sox all fighting for two spots and all within a game of each other. It still is anyone’s guess on who takes the remaining two playoff spots in the American League with only two games left for each team. If the Red Sox can hold on to one of those spots, I feel it is clear which pitcher should take the mound to start on Tuesday, October 5. That Pitcher is Nathan Eovaldi.

Why Not Sale?

Eovaldi

As a Red Sox fan, your instinct might be to pick your biggest name if it comes down to one game. Most Red Sox fans will say, ‘Chris Sale should get the ball.’ Well, those people are wrong. Since coming back from surgery this season, Sale has posted a 5-1 record with a 2.90 ERA in 8 starts. He’s also collected 45 strikeouts in 40 inning this season. Those are really good numbers, but it is a small sample size. So, the stats come with a bit of an asterisk when you compare with starters who pitched all year long. However, one could make the argument to go with the hot hand. Sale has been hot since returning to the major leagues. Why not Chris Sale then for a one game playoff? He has a 5.76 career ERA in the playoffs. He has one win in 7 playoff games, including 4 starts. Despite being and “Ace,” Sale hasn’t always been an Ace when the games are at their most important. He’s by no means a bad choice for a big game. Part of why Sale seems to fall off come playoff time is his heavy workload every season. He only threw 40 inning this season. 60 if you count his rehab starts. However, it’s not about Sale not pitching, but more about just having a better choice in the rotation right now.

A Big Game Pitcher

Nathan Eovaldi’s pitching can speak for itself as to why it should be him toeing the rubber on Tuesday night. He’s had a good season for the Sox. He’s won 11 games, struck out 195 batters over 182 innings and put up a 3.75 ERA. Good numbers, and enough to send Eovaldi to his first All-Star game this year. He’s also one of the few starting power pitchers that can consistently touch 99 with his fastball even in the later innings. However, even more than just the pitcher he regularly is, Eovaldi has a way to just turn the dial way up when the games matter more. In the 2018 playoff run Eovaldi has an ERA of 1.61 in 22.1 innings pitched. He collected two wins on two starts and his one loss when he pitched six innings in relief in Game 3 against the Dodgers. Even though Eovaldi got the loss that game, those kinds of gutsy performances are exactly why Nathan needs to take the ball for the wild card game. In that same playoff run he pitched a big Game 3 in the ALCS against the Houston Astros. Going six innings, collecting 4 strikeouts while giving up only two runs for the win. A game that turned the series for the Red Sox and they never looked back. He also pitched Game 3 of the ALDS going seven innings giving up only one run and striking out five against the Yankees in Yankee Stadium. The team you’ll probably be playing if you do make the wild card game.

See You Tuesday Night

Maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, but fate is in the Red Sox hands right now to make the wild card game. The thought of who to save has to be in Alex Cora’s head right now. I’d bet anything that he’s going be looking Nathan Eovaldi’s way for the big game. He has to.

Kyle Shwarber: First Baseman

On Friday night in Cleveland, Kyle Schwarber made his first start at first base for the Red Sox. Schwarber looked a little clunky and maybe a little nervous to play the position, but the first game went off without a hitch. Throughout his career with the Cubs and earlier this year with the Nationals he was an outfielder. It will be interesting to see moving forward how much time he will get at first base, and how quickly he can adapt to his new role.

Kyle the On Base Machine

Since being traded to Boston from the Nationals, Schwarber has played mostly a mix of left field and designated hitter. After returning from his stint on the injured list (IL) Schwarber hasn’t missed a beat offensively. He was always known as a power hitter, but people always wonder what you’re going to get out of a guy who is returning from the IL.

Schwarber’s ability to work the count and get on base has mostly been on display so far. However, he’s still clubbed a few timely home runs to remind everyone why the Sox traded for him. In 14 games with the Red Sox, he has a .326 batting average with an on base percentage of .483 and has already drawn 14 walks. His two home runs and only three runs batted in might be disappointing so far for some. However, his lack of RBI’s is offset by his nine runs scored. The power will come, but right now he is still producing by making pitchers work, getting on base, and scoring runs. This is something this team has lacked for the past month.

In the Field

Who plays everyday and what will be huge down the stretch if this team not only wants to make the playoffs but make it far in the playoffs? Ideally, you’d like the Sox to have Verdugo, Hernandez, and Renfroe be the everyday outfielders. They have played great defense all year and all have made significant contributions with the stick this season. Ideally, you’d like to have J.D. Martinez be the everyday DH. Not a good fielder, but the type of guy you need in the lineup everyday if you want to make the playoffs. If Schwarber can make the right adjustment and learn first base and become a serviceable everyday first baseman then that is huge for the push to October.

The Playoff Race

We’ll just have to wait and see how Schwarber, and this team does down the stretch. The Red Sox currently hold the second wild card spot 2 games behind the Yankees and 2 games ahead of the Athletics. The offense needs to turn it around in September for the playoff race, and Schwarber will be a big contributor to that. It’s just a question of can he learn first base well enough in time, so we don’t have to play musical chair with all the position players.

Chris Sale: Return of the King

After only winning only two games in last ten matchups, the Red Sox are officially cold. However, the savior is on the way. Chris Sale is ready to make his return to Major League Baseball. The left-handed pitching ace is ready to make his long-awaited return to the mound on Saturday against the Baltimore Orioles. It’s been almost two full years since Sale last pitched. After a long recovery from Tommy John surgery, he says he feels good and is ready to go and just in time. The pitching has been subpar across the board recently and could use a kick in the behind. A fiery guy like Sale is a good way to lead the pitching staff on the field and in the clubhouse. Sales presence in the locker room is not to be understated.

Starting Rotation?

Chris Sale returns

It was expected that when Sale made his return it would be out of the bullpen. Give him a few relief appearances before maybe working him back into the rotation. Not this team, however. It would seem they are going to throw him to the wolves. A veteran like Sale definitely wants it this way but recent play could have impacted the Red Sox decision immediately slot him into the rotation rather than a long relief role. It is still unknown if he’ll have extra time in between starts or if he’ll have limited pitch counts. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Rehab Domination

It difficult to predict how any pitcher will come back from such major surgery. Some guys are never the same, some return like they never left, others must reinvent themselves to come back. Sale made five rehab starts to prepare him for his comeback. He made three with AA Lowell Spinner and 2 with AAA Worcester Red Sox. In his five minor league starts Sale went a total of 20 innings with an Earned Run Average of 1.35, 35 strikeouts and only five walks. If you can’t tell, that’s dominant. After a minor surgery like Tommy John, it’s about whether his arm can hold up. His velocity on his fastball was consistently in the low to mid 90’s. Consistency is good even if he may have lost a few ticks on his fastball. With each game Sale was able to throw more and more. He threw 39, 43, 64, 81, and 89 pitches in his respective starts. Very promising for a starting rotation right now that is struggling to have a guy go past the 5th inning.

The Ace

Boston is struggling to get it going right now, but help is on the way. Chris Sale is coming back, and it is looking like he could be put in position to lead this starting rotation the rest of the way. With his tenacity and veteran experience, the Red Sox might be leaning on his arm heavily down the stretch. Time will tell if Sale is ready and still got the fire power. His rehab starts were a great indication that Chris Sale is ready to lead this team into October Baseball.

Should the Red Sox Trade for Anthony Rizzo?

With the Trade Deadline this Friday many rumors are beginning to swirl for teams across baseball. The Red Sox currently find themselves in a position to possibly build at the deadline rather than sell for the future, which is a pleasant surprise to say the least given the teams last place finish in the division last season. Fans and media were looking for a bounce back season, but it’s safe to say that almost no one saw this performance coming. The team has been rumored to be interested in several players, both pitchers and offensive players including Chicago Cubs star first-baseman Anthony Rizzo. However, should the Red Sox trade for Rizzo, or should they look elsewhere? Or nowhere at all?

Buy or Sell?

Coming into today the Red Sox are tied with the Houston Astros for best record in the American League. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the Chicago Cubs currently sitting in 4th place in the National League Central. The team sits nine games out of first and trending downward. The Cubs posted a record of 18-28 since June 1st that includes an 11-game losing streak. The Cubs already dealt outfielder Joc Pederson, and are expected to sell players like Craig Kimbrel, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo. This makes the Cubs and the Red Sox strong possible trade partners come this Friday.

The Pitching Staff

Many people point to the pitching staff as the team’s weak point. They feel the starting rotation is subpar and lack a true ace right now. The Sox have a team Earned Run Average (ERA) of 4.06, which ranks 7th in the American League. Not great, but not terrible either. Red Sox pitchers are ranked 3rd in the AL in strikeouts and 1st in home runs aloud so they can get it done and keep the offense in the game. Plus, Chris Sale and Ryan Brasier are expected to return from the Injured List at some point this season. Don’t expect Sale to start this season but he could definitely help the bullpen down the stretch. With the team also calling up young pitching prospect Tanner Houck to start, I do not expect this team to add any pitching at the deadline, nor do I think they should.

Offensive Prowess

Offensively the team is gritty and effective. The middle of the lineup with Xander Bogaerts (SS), Rafael Devers (3B), and J.D. Martinez (DH) is one of the best three through five slots in baseball. With Players like Alex Verdugo (LF), Christian Vazquez (C), and Hunter Renfroe (RF) performing well offensively for their respected positions, while also performing well in the field, it’s hard to find a week spot on the team. Kike Hernandez has been a good find as well this season with his ability to play almost anywhere in the field. Although he leaves a bit to be desired as the teams’ lead-off hitter with only a .244 batting average so far this season. His clutch hitting and electric play in the field and on the base path has been worth every penny so far.

Problems Beneath the Surface

This team looks solid on the surface. Dig a little deeper however and you can see where the cracks really are. The lineup is good, but if falls off a bit towards the end. The lack of left-handed hitting has been apparent. Devers, and Verdugo have been the only lefties in the lineup for most of the season. Marwin Gonzalez and Danny Santana can switch hit but both are injured for the foreseeable future right now. Left-handed hitting Jarren Duran was recently called up for AAA, but it will be a bit to see how he adjusts to major league pitching. The team also lacks a true first-basemen. According to Fangraphs.com, the Red Sox rank last in the AL in defense at 1B. Anthony Rizzo can help to fix all these problems. He is a four-time Gold Glove winning first-baseman. He batted lead-off for the Cubs for years. Rizzo has struggled a bit at the plate this season. His average is .244 and his power number has dropped a bit, clubbing only 12 homeruns this season so far. Bobby Dalbec is the Sox everyday first-basemen right now but is only batting .218 with 10 homeruns. Dalbec is only 26, while Rizzo is going to turn 32 on August 8th. It could do Bobby some good to maybe watch and learn from a veteran player for the rest of the season, rather then having to face is struggles at the dish every day.

A Good Fit

Rizzo fits the needs of the Red Sox right now to make a playoff run, but what will it cost? Rizzo is set to make $16.5 million this season, the final of his current contract. Teams will be looking for a guy like Rizzo to be a rental as they try to win the World Series this year. This can bring cost down a bit, but the Cubs aren’t going to part with a guy like Rizzo for cheap. They’ll probably be looking to score a couple prospects, including a team’s top ten prospect. Would you be willing to trade prospects like a Blaze Jordan, Jarren Duran or even a Jeter Downs for a rental like Anthony Rizzo? Do you give up some of your future for increasing you chance of success right now? Oh, to be a baseball GM in late July.

The Red Sox Outfield is Putting on a Defensive Clinic this Season

After Trading Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi and letting Jackie Bradley Jr. walk in free agency it was expected the defense would take a step back. JBJ and Betts won five Gold Glove awards between them with the Sox. Benny was no slouch in the field either. The trio was considered one of the best defensive outfields in baseball when they played together. Without them the consensus was the Red Sox outfield might be a liability this year.

Assisting the Team

Not only has the mishmash of players to suit up in the outfield worked out, but they have also been a major bright spot on a good team. Currently, they lead all of baseball with 28 outfield assists. Since the year 2000, only the Kansas City Royals have reached 50 outfield assists in a single season. They got 51 in back-to-back seasons in 2011 and 2012. To put into perspective how incredible the rate at which Boston has gotten outfield assists, the team currently in second is the Miami Marlins with 19 outfield assists.

The Star Outfielders

Hunter Renfroe has been the biggest catalyst for the uptick in assists this season. He currently leads the league in outfield assists with 11. His career high coming into this season was 13 when he was with the San Diego Padres in 2019. It is safe to say when Chaim Bloom signed him this offseason no one saw this kind of defensive output coming. Another offseason signing that has paid big dividends in the field has been Kike Hernandez. Picked up to be a utility player that can be slotted in pretty much anywhere in the field, Hernandez’s play in center field has been almost too valuable to put anywhere else. He sits at five outfield assists, tied for sixth in the league with Red Sox left fielder Alex Verdugo.

Verdugo himself has quietly played spectacular defense for the last two seasons. Picking up right where the man he was replacing, Mookie Betts, left off. Marwin Gonzalez, Danny Santana, and even J.D. Martinez, who is not known for his defense, have racked up a few assists for themselves. It seems with each passing game the outfield makes some incredible play or throw. The outfield has been elite in the field and teams are beginning to take notice that it isn’t worth trying to take that extra base against the Boston Red Sox outfield.