Sox and Orioles Have Similar Teams

People like to make a big deal about pitching, especially starting pitching. Some go so far as to claim that pitching is 75 percent of the game. Well, the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles are the two best teams in the AL East at the moment, and neither one has an ounce of pitching. In fact, the Red Sox and Orioles have similar teams, which might explain why they’re only one game apart in the standings.

Baltimore and Boston are built to mash, with above-average bats at almost every positionSox and Orioles Have Similar Teams. Their lineups run deep with power, so it’s not surprising that they’re the American League’s top two teams in terms of slugging percentage. Sluggers also tend to be adept at getting on base, and sure enough both offenses sport one of the three best team on-base percentages in the American League. One key difference is that the Sox have speed, whereas the Orioles don’t. Boston ranks fourth in the AL in stolen bases with 35, nearly four times Baltimore’s last-place total of nine.

Their rotations are also similarly constructed. Both rely on an ace, David Price for Boston and Chris Tillman for Baltimore, and have strong number twos as well in Steven Wright and Kevin Gausman. Beyond them, however, quality starts have been hard to come by. Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly need fixing in Boston, while Mike Wright and Ubaldo Jimenez aren’t the answer for Baltimore. Starting pitching is a clear weakness for both teams and something each needs to address as the trade deadline approaches.

Thankfully, both have strong bullpens to compensate for their lackluster starters. The Red Sox have a formidable late-game trio of Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara, and Craig Kimbrel, while the Orioles have a fantastic triumvirate of their own in Dylan Bundy, Darren O’Day, and Zach Britton. Both teams are tough to beat when they have a lead in the late innings.

The Sox and Orioles have similar teams, so it’s fitting that they just split a four-game series at Camden Yards while scoring the exact same amount of runs. Their lineups beat the crap out of each other, culminating in two wild slugfests on Wednesday and Thursday night. Expect the season to play out in a similar fashion as both clubs duke it out for the top spot in the AL East.

Kelly’s Demotion was Long Overdue

Joe Kelly got lit up again Wednesday night, allowing seven runs on seven hits in 2 1/3 innings against the Orioles at Camden Yards. Afterwards, the Red Sox announced that Kelly was being sent down to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he will work on his game and hope to return a better pitcher than the one who posted an 8.46 ERA and 2.24 WHIP over his first six starts. Numbers like that wouldn’t fly on the Braves, let alone a first-place team, and in that sense Kelly’s demotion was long overdue.

While Kelly has dominated for brief stretches as a starter, he’s also had periods where he’s been absolutely terribleKelly's Demotion was Long Overdue. In 79 starts he has a 4.13 ERA, 1.44 WHIP and 1.75 K/BB ratio while allowing opponents to bat .266/.340/.401 against him—essentially what Hanley Ramirez is hitting this year. And don’t forget that nearly half of those starts came against weaker competition in the National League, making his numbers look better than they really are.

When Ben Cherington traded for Kelly two summers ago, he thought he was getting a young, hard-throwing hurler on the rise. Instead, it’s been one step forward and two steps back. Kelly’s walk rate nearly doubled immediately after the trade, while his strikeout rate remained shockingly low for someone averaging 95 miles per hour on his heater. The following year he picked himself to win the American League Cy Young award, only to wind up with a 4.82 ERA and 1.44 WHIP after making a midsummer pit stop in Pawtucket.

Rather than build off last year’s strong second half, Kelly reverted to his previous level of awfulness. He was walking nearly a batter per inning and allowing hits at a dizzying rate, looking generally lost on the mound. Last year the Red Sox could afford to let him work through his struggles, as they were out of the race by August. This year they can’t, which is why Kelly’s demotion was long overdue.

Kelly says his problems are mechanical, pointing to an issue with his arm slot. Hopefully he sorts things out and returns to the Sox a much-improved pitcher, as he did last year. But when or if he does, John Farrell shouldn’t be so quick to give him his job back. The Red Sox have seen this movie before, and they know how it ends.

Is Bogaerts the Next Nomar?

Red Sox fans are a spoiled bunch in 2016. Not only is their team in first place, but they get to watch one of the greatest starting pitchers of his generation (David Price) and one of the best closers ever (Craig Kimbrel), not to mention the greatest designated hitter and clutch hitter of all-time (David Ortiz). They’re also likely seeing the best second baseman their franchise has ever had (Dustin Pedroia), as well as someone with the potential to be the best shortstop in team history (Xander Bogaerts). It wasn’t too long ago, however, that Nomar Garciaparra was making his case as one of the best shortstops to ever wear a Sox jersey. Which begs the question: is Bogaerts the next Nomar?

Is Bogaerts the Next Nomar?

From 1996-2004, Boston was blessed with one of the most talented shortstops to ever play the game Is Bogaerts the Next Nomar?. A two-batting champion, Garciaparra also owned 30-homer power, 20-steal speed and Gold Glove-caliber defense to boot. Garciaparra could do it all, playing at a Hall of Fame level for nearly a decade before injuries derailed his career.

Now, 20 years after Garciaparra’s debut, the Red Sox have another shortstop with similar physical gifts. Bogaerts currently leads the American League in average at .351, is on pace to go 20-20 and has emerged as one of the better defensive shortstops in the game. He’s only 23, the same age Garciaparra was when he made his Major League debut two decades ago.

Is Bogaerts the next Nomar? It’s certainly possible. They’re alike in so many ways, starting with their elite contact skills. Both are exceptional at getting the bat on the ball and, when they do, hitting it hard. Garciaparra was the rare batting champion with power, topping 70 extra-base hits in both years he won the crown. If Bogaerts keeps his average up and continues his current 20-homer, 50-double pace, so will he.

They also have wheels to go with their impressive power. Garciaparra stole 22 bases in 1997, the same number that Bogaerts is on track to swipe this year. The speed that helped Garciaparra get doubles on wall-balls and triples into the gaps is also evident in Bogaerts, who had a better base running score than Mike Trout last year according to FanGraphs.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, they’re both great defenders, making them complete ballplayers. Garciaparra never won a Gold Glove, but he had great range and was widely regarded as a good defensive shortstop before injuring his Achilles. Bogaerts, most Red Sox observers agree, has dramatically improved his defense since arriving in the Major Leagues three years ago, to the point where he’s now a clear positive at the position.

Much of the attention focused on the Red Sox lately has been centered around Jackie Bradley Jr.’s 29-game hit streak, which came to an end last Thursday. With his pursuit of history over (for now), it’s time to start paying attention to Bogaerts, who’s riding a 22-game hit streak of his own. The last Sox shortstop to have such a hitting streak? Nomar Garciaparra, who ran off a 30-gamer in 1997.

Is Bogaerts the next Nomar? Only time will tell.

Kelly the Key to Red Sox Rotation

The Red Sox rotation is an interesting collection of starters. There’s David Price, the obvious ace and former Cy Young winner (not to mention the richest pitcher in history). Behind him are potential number twos Rick Porcello and Clay Buchholz, who have frustrated Boston fans and media with their uneven performance. There’s Steven Wright, the enigmatic knuckle-baller who’s been the team’s best pitcher thus far in 2016. Then there’s Joe Kelly the key to Red Sox rotation.

Is Joe Kelly the Key to Red Sox Rotation?

It might seem crazy to call a number five starter the key to any rotation, let alone one of a first-place team, but that’s what Kelly isKelly the Key to Red Sox Rotation. When he;s right, the Red Sox go five deep in the rotation, with each member capable of churning out a quality start on any given night. But when he’s not (or hurt), the back of their rotation suddenly looks much thinner. That much was clear during Kelly’s month-long absence earlier this year due to a shoulder impingement, during which time Sean O’Sullivan started twice. No offense to O’Sullivan, but he should not be starting for a postseason contender or any team that wants to win..

At least you know what you”re getting out of O’Sullivan, even if it isn’t much. The same can not be said of Kelly, who like his rotationmate Clay Buchholz is still an unknown quantity despite spending several years in Major League rotations and possessing dazzling stuff. While both have shown flashes of greatness, neither has evolved into the consistently great starter everyone hoped they’d become based on their obvious talent. Most recently, Kelly showed how dominant he can be in his return from the disabled list last Saturday, when he limited a red-hot Indians lineup to one hit over 6 2/3 innings.

The problem with Kelly is that he’s just as likely to endure a stinker. In his first three starts of 2016  he had more earned runs than innings pitched and nearly as many walks as strikeouts. If anything, his month-long DL stint was a welcome reprieve, allowing him to work on becoming the pitcher who finished last year 7-0 with a 2.35 ERA over his final eight starts rather than the trainwreck with a 6.11 ERA in 17 starts leading up to that run.

Which version of Kelly is going to show up this year remains to be seen. The Red Sox would like to open their series against the Blue Jays with a win tomorrow, but for that to happen they’ll likely need a good start from Kelly. In fact, they’re going to need quite a few of those from him in order to get where they want to go this year. That might be asking too much of the erratic 27-year-old, and if it is then they should stick him in the bullpen where belongs and trade for a more established starter. They might even explore trading Joe Kelly the key to Red Sox rotation.

Red Sox Can’t Let Ortiz Retire

David Ortiz came through again in Saturday’s 10-9 loss to the Blue Jays, swatting a go-ahead home run in the top of the ninth before Craig Kimbrel blew the save. With each game that goes by it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Red Sox can’t let Ortiz retire after this season.

Ortiz is not only the best hitter on the Red Sox, but also one of the best hitters in baseballRed Sox Can't Let Ortiz Retire. He currently leads the majors in doubles (23), RBI (46), slugging (.720), OPS (1.146) and total bases (121). He’s having arguably the best year of his Hall of Fame-caliber career, and he’s a huge reason why the Sox are in first place.

While Big Papi has said repeatedly that this season will be his last, the Red Sox can’t let Ortiz retire. He’s too important to the team. His bat, leadership skills, and postseason experience are irreplaceable. It’s noble that he wants to walk away on his own terms, but Red Sox management has to do everything in its power to stop him.

How can Boston change its designated hitter’s mind? By offering him more money than he can possibly refuse. Every man has his price, and the Red Sox have the resources to blow Ortiz away. They could double his current salary of $16 million, which would make him the MLB’s richest position player next year. Most of that would be funded by Clay Buchholz’s $13.5 million team option, which Boston seems unlikely to sign if his move to the bullpen becomes permanent.

Ortiz has played for a long time and made a lot of money, but offering him a nice payday should make him reconsider. He’s been paid below market value for most of his career, so it would mean a lot to him to have one of the three highest salaries in baseball. If Ortiz equates dollars with respect, he’d have a hard time saying no.

Boggs Was One of Boston’s Best

More than two decades after playing his last game for the Boston Red Sox, Wade Boggs had his number retired at Fenway Park last night. The ceremony felt long overdue, as Boggs was one of Boston’s best hitters in franchise history.

Boggs Was One of Boston’s Best…

Fans and media tend to overrate hitters who drive runs while underrating those who score themBoggs Was One of Boston's Best. He was destined to be under-appreciated, then, for Boggs was one of Boston’s best table-setters, an on-base machine who often put himself in scoring position via doubles (he clubbed 578 for his career). Batting in front of prolific RBI men such as Jim Rice and Dwight Evans, Boggs averaged 100 runs scored per 162 games and twice led the majors.

Everyone knew Boggs was a tremendous hitter, but few understood his true worth as a ballplayer. His gaudy OBPs and plus defense at the hot corner (which wasn’t recognized until later, when he won back-to-back Gold Gloves in his late 30s) made him incredibly valuable. Baseball-Reference defines an MVP-caliber season as one where a player accrues at least eight wins above replacement, which Boggs did every year from 1985 to 1989, yet never finished higher than fourth in MVP voting. Moneyball was still two decades away, and nobody had WAR to tell them he was the American League’s top position player in 1986, 1987, and 1988.

That might not have been the case had he played elsewhere, however. He was helped immensely by Fenway Park, whose Green Monster allowed him to wait back on pitches until the last possible second, at which point he would flick his wrists and stroke another double or single off the wall in left. Nobody did this better than Boggs, who holds the highest Fenway average of all-time at .369. He was most proficient at this before the EMC Club–then called the 600 Club—was erected in 1989, altering the wind currents within the park and making it much less favorable for hitters. It’s no coincidence that Boggs never won another batting title after 1988.

…And Baseball’s Best

Age and the 600 Club caused Boggs to tail off a bit in the early ’90s, but his final year in Boston—1992—was the worst of his career. He slumped to .259/.353/.358 as the Sox sunk to last place. His contract was up and Lou Gorman, Boston’s general manager at the time, let the 34-year-old walk, even though he was just one year removed from a .332/.421/.460 campaign worth 6.4 bWAR.

That proved to be a terrible mistake, as Boggs found a second wind with Boston’s arch-rivals, the New York Yankees. Boggs batted .313/.396/.407 in his five years in pinstripes, making four All-Star teams and helping the Bombers to a championship in 1996—10 years after his previous World Series bid ended in agony. Following his New York stint he returned home to finish out his playing days in Tampa Bay, where he ended his career on a high note by batting .301 and notching his 3,000th hit on his 118th, and final, home run.

Boggs retired in 1999 as one of the five best third basemen in baseball history. His .328 lifetime average is the second-highest of anyone who debuted after World War II, while his .415 OBP ranks fifth among players who have debuted since 1945 and appeared in at least 2,000 games. He was an eight-time Silver Slugger winner, a five-time batting champion, and an All-Star every year from 1985 to 1996. His most impressive accomplishment, however, was batting .401 over a 162-game span from June 9th, 1985 to June 6th, 1986.

Boggs was one of Boston’s best hitters—perhaps second only to Ted Williams—and top third baseman. It’s a good thing he was finally recognized for it.