Latest Red Sox homestand offers hope for winning streak

After a crucial weekend series in Tampa that resulted in a sweep, the latest Red Sox homestand presented the team an opportunity to do damage on some beatable opponents. The team remains under .500, but did start to show signs of rising up from the ashes of a losing April. Following the sweep of the Rays, optimism was abound as the fan base thought, “maybe this is when the team turns it around!” A lopsided Detroit series followed by a part of tightly contested losses to Tampa got the homestand offer to an undesirable start. A strong finish over Oakland pulled Boston back above water though. Let’s look back at the key points of each series.

Series One: Detroit (10-10), split series 2-2

  • In game one of a doubleheader, following a rainout the night before, the Red Sox Red Sox homestandhomestand started off with a strong start from Chris Sale, but a start that only saw him work five innings.
  • 2019 rising star Matthew Boyd tossed a quality start (7 IP, 3 R, 3 K) and led Detroit to a 7-4 day-game victory.
  • In game two, rookie hurlers Darwinzon Hernandez (2.1 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 4 K) and Travis Lakins (2.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 2 K) appeared out of the bullpen in impressive fashion in their major league debuts.
  • Much like in game one, the Red Sox offense had a quiet evening at the plate, losing 4-2.
  • In game three, the Sox bats broke out for the first time, powered by a balance attack that saw Rafael Devers, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Christian Vazquez drive in a pair of runs each
  • The Sox were also powered by Eduardo Rodriguez’s best start of the season to date (6 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 7 K) in an 11-3 laugher.
  • In the finale, the Red Sox bat’s again showed burst, leaning on a home run from rookie Michael Chavis and a two-run double from Devers, as well as quality start from Rick Porcello in a 7-3 victory.

Series Two: Tampa Bay (18-9), lose series 0-2

  • A strong start by David Price (6 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 7 K) but a poor night from the Red Sox offense in a 2-1 loss in game one.
  • In the second matchup, Chris Sale rebounded after allowing four runs in the first two innings to go seven strong. It was not enough though as the Red Sox fell to Tyler Glasnow and the Rays 5-2.
  • Charlie Morton and Glasnow both shined in their starts against Boston, allowing just three earned runs combined.
  • The loss was Sale’s fifth on the season, and he remains without a victory.

Series Three: Oakland 14-16), win series 3-0

  • With the Red Sox homestand looking like yet another setback, the team rebounded well to pound Oakland over three games.
  • In game one, another spread out offensive attack, including three RBI from Chavis and three hits from Mookie Betts, helped the Sox come back from a 4-0 deficit to claim an eventual 9-4 victory.
  • The bullpen allowed just one hit and no runs in 4.1 innings of work among the six players that appeared.
  • Game two received a gem for Porcello (8 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 8 K) as Boston rose victorious 5-1.
  • Game three featured strong work out of the stable, as six relievers combined to allow three runs.

The Red Sox are in the midst of a seven-game road trip. They will play the White Sox before stopping in Baltimore.

Mookie Betts heating up at the right time for Boston

It’s no secret that the Red Sox have not been impressive in the opening month of their title defense. After all, finishing April at a 13-17 clip is nothing short of a disappointment to start 2019. The Sox have won 7 of their last 11 and there’s been big reason for that: Mookie Betts heating up.

The 2018 AL MVP generally starts his seasons with a cold couple of weeks, and this Mookie Betts heating upcampaign was no different. Up until about two weeks ago, Betts was slashing .212/.321/.394. Those are numbers that a lot of players would be happy with. But the Red Sox right fielder is capable of much more, and that is starting to show.

Over the 11 games since, he has started to blossom back into form. He’s hit .405 (17-for-42) with five doubles, two homers and seven RBI. But not only do the numbers suggest that he is starting to find his stride, it is clear that his approach at the plate improved as well.

A change in approach has re-calibrated Betts’ bat

Mookie Betts was the topic of discussion last night when Alex Speier of the Boston Globe joined the NESN broadcast booth. Speier pointed out that Betts had been allowing pitchers to work further into counts, a deviation from his 2018 approach. Instead of jumping on a 1-0 fastball, the right fielder was letting those pitches go by. More recently, you will notice Betts not taking strikes in the box, but instead jumping all over a middling pitch and driving it. The more aggressive approach has led to Betts becoming the middle-of-the-order hitter that manager Alex Cora envisioned.

Not only has Betts been “attacking the strike zone” as Cora would call it, but he has also started to spray the ball all over the field. According to Speier, Betts was a heavy-pull hitter through most of the 2018 regular season. But he started to shoot the ball to the opposite field at the end of the season. Betts has multiple hits in five of his last six games, and he has used all different parts of the field to place them. In Tuesday night’s game, Betts ripped a solo homer to dead center and slapped a single between a shift to left. Throughout this scorching streak, the decorated youngster has also started to avoid the pull-heavy tendencies and starting spraying hits to the opposite field based on pitch location.

Betts is taking off and becoming one of, if not the league’s hottest, hitters. Wherever Mookie goes, the Red Sox go. If he continues to produce at this level the Red Sox will be ready to re-enter the division title race.

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 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.

Swihart Designated for Assignment: A Confusing Move

When you begin a season 6-12, especially in a large market, fans react impulsively. If certain players get off to bad starts, people call for their heads. It is not necessarily fair, but it is the nature of a place like big-market Boston. With catcher Blake Swihart being let go after just 17 games, it indeed felt impulsive. Considering turmoil across the rotation, lack of bullpen depth, and an anemic offense, it indeed seemed time for a change. With Swihart designated for assignment, the Red Sox tried to solve a litany of issues by moving one role player, and it’ is hard to understand why.

With Swihart designated for assignment, the roster subtracted a versatile, cost-Swihart Designated for Assignmentcontrolled player yet to blossom. As Alex Cora tussled with how to use the former first round pick throughout 2018, the consensus was that he was a valuable trade chip that provided depth off the bench. The Red Sox never moved him, and it seemed to pay off in the second half after Swihart flashed his ability with increased playing time. 2019 was when Swihart was going to get a real shot at becoming the catcher of the future. Christian Vazquez would get his innings, but Swihart was going to get ample time on the diamond. But after just a handful of contests, a sputtering team decided to make a move. It just does not feel like the right one.

Swihart was never really given a clear path to a major role

With Swihart designated for assignment, it might easy to forget his origins. A first round pick, 26th overall out of New Mexico in 2011, he brought with him a Gatorade National Player of the Year award. The Red Sox drooled over his athleticism, seeing him as a steal at 26 in the first round. He surfaced in the bigs in 2015, which at the time felt a tad premature. He was solid across 84 games as a rookie, particularly showing defensive improvement as the season progressed. It was 2016 where the wheels came off. Trying to incorporate Vazquez back into the mix meant moving Swihart around the field to find playing time. After a nasty ankle injury in left field, it took him nearly two entire seasons to return to full health. From there, Swihart played spottily all over the place, and never settled in. Since the beginning of 2018, there has never been a clear spot for him, and that has now shown through with this DFA.

Removing Swihart hurts the team’s versatility

It is tough to make sense of why removing a cheap, young, versatile player was the best move. On a roster that has underwhelmed, Swihart at least provided intrigue. Despite management shifting his focus to catching in 2019, he still managed to appear at other positions. How could the Red Sox justify keeping him all last season, just to DFA him now? In comparison to other players such as Eduardo Nunez, who is relegated to the infield, why remove the guy that can move around the diamond? Sure, Swihart’s .213/.310/.385 slash line through 12 games played is unimpressive. But looking at what other role players have offered so far, it really is odd to make him the (first?) fall guy.

Perhaps there are issues off the field that the fan base does not know about. Maybe Blake Swihart was not a long term solution. Whatever the case, his days in Boston are numbered, and it remains to be seen what baseball holds for his future.

Red Sox Struggles: What Has Gone Wrong for Boston?

Spring training brought talks of a quest to repeat as World Series champions. Red Sox manager Alex Cora decided that, instead of putting the success of 2018 behind them, he would encourage the team to “keep it going.” What has resulted, at least through week one, has been as poor a start as anyone could imagine. The Red Sox struggles have been all encompassing, as a sleepy offense, lethargic starting rotation, and an inconsistent bullpen have quickly snowballed into a 2-7 start. Some of the numbers suggest a team that is spiraling downward.

The Red Sox struggles start with the rotation

The most prevalent issue so far has been a staff that holds a 7.02 ERA. That is the Red Sox Strugglesworst start to a season by Red Sox pitching since ERA became a stat in 1913, per Alex Speier of the Boston Globe. The most surprising note? 23 home runs allowed through 9 games in 2019, versus 5 allowed in 2018. Home runs are up across baseball to start the year, following the home run boom of the last few seasons. But even so, the Sox have been getting blasted out of the park, and it shows no signs of slowing.

Amidst all these poor starts, the team has put together exactly one quality start. One. That belongs to staff ace Chris Sale, who held the Oakland A’s to just one run over six innings on April 2nd. Sale, however, was tagged for seven runs, including three homers, in an opening day blowout by the Seattle Mariners. David Price, on the bump tonight for Boston, will look to end the Red Sox struggles. He came an out away from recording a quality start against the A’s on April 1 before allowing a two-run bomb to Chad Pinder.

If things are going to change for Boston, it is going to have to start with its hurlers working deeper and more efficiently into games. The home runs have to come down significantly.

The Red Sox struggles are also fueled by the offense

While the club is averaging 4.5 runs per game, batters have succumbed to the pressure in high-leverage situations at the dish. For the season, the Red Sox have held a lead for exactly six out of 89 innings played. They have led for just 6 percent of their innings played. That is accompanied by late inning comebacks in both of their wins, meaning they easily could be 0-9.

The team needs more production out of players like Rafael Devers, who Cora pegged to hit third in the lineup. The young third baseman finished 2018 strong, leaving the organization hopeful for a big jump this year. So far, Devers has yet to drive in a run and possesses just two extra-base hits. Andrew Benintendi has struggled mightily to get on base, which is troublesome for a leadoff hitter. His .289 OBP is well below his career average of .357, thus holding the Sox back from gaining leads early in games.

The Red Sox struggles will not end without improvement on both sides of the ball

Per Speier, “of the more than 200 teams to reach the postseason since the introduction of the wild-card round in 1995, just four have overcome a performance as poor as the Red Sox’ through the first nine games.” Yikes.

The Red Sox find themselves on the wrong side of history to begin 2019. If they have any hopes of making the playoffs once again, things have to turn around soon. Or else.