Too Much Pressure for Benintendi?

Andrew Benintendi broke in with the Red Sox late last season and quickly proved his worth. It was inevitable that he’d make it to Boston, but no one thought it would be so quick. The swiftness with which he rose through the minors concerned some whoBenintendi thought it was too fast. Fortunately, Benintendi proved them wrong. In 34 games in 2016 he hit .295 with fourteen extra base hits. He even hit a home run in the ALDS against Cleveland. While he is off to a strong start this season, some are asking the question, “Is Benintendi under too much pressure?”

It’s a valid question. After all, Benintendi is only 22-years old. He couldn’t even legally drink when he started his professional career. Playing everyday is a lot of pressure for anyone, let alone a rookie. Just ask Fred Lynn.

A few weeks ago I sat down with former Red Sox centerfielder Fred Lynn. As many of you remember, Lynn won the 1975 AL Rookie of the Year AND MVP awards, the only player ever to do so in the same year. He also won a Gold Glove and made an All-Star appearance, the first of nine. But he told me that he expected to do even better the following year. While he went on to collect a batting title in 1979, Lynn recalled some challenges that came along. “I was not a big guy and I thought maybe if I put on some weight or get some more muscle…,” Lynn told me. “But…the variable for me always was if I could stay healthy enough to do what I could do…that bar was set pretty high, and I didn’t mind that because I set my own bar pretty high.”

Benintendi set his own bar high too. Otherwise he wouldn’t be where he is today. However, that doesn’t mean that fans and writers alike aren’t setting it even higher.

With Benintendi Under Pressure, How’s He Adjusting?

Benintendi played the first and third games against Baltimore last weekend, but sat out the second. There was a southpaw on the mound in the second game, which didn’t bode well for Benintendi. But I think the other reason why John Farrell benched Benintendi was because Baltimore’s pitchers had figured out how to get him out. Twice Benintendi hit into a double play. While it happens to everyone, if you look at footage of Benintendi’s swing, he has a ways to go towards adjusting his swing to counter the way pitchers are going to throw to him. Pitchers and hitters trying to get the upper hand over each other is a never-ending battle. It’s even harder this day in age with all the access to footage players can review and study.

Seeing Benintendi under pressure is tough, but that’s baseball. If he’s smart, and I’m sure he is, he’ll learn how to adjust. Meanwhile, Farrell is smart to bench him against southpaws and insert someone like Josh Rutledge, who has his own potential.

 

Is Keeping John Farrell The Right Move?

In the wake of the Red Sox season being swept away, questions arose surrounding much of the ‘behind-the-scenes” personnel. The main focus was on manager John Farrell. After a disappointing end to the season, many fans thought their tenure with Farrell was bound to end. On Tuesday, however, President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski told John FarrellFarrell, in a Fenway Park hallway, that he’d be back as manager in 2017.

John Farrell went through a roller-coaster 2016 season, much like his team, with plenty of criticism. Farrell, the pupil, was completely outmatched by Terry Francona, the teacher, in the ALDS. It all seemed like a fitting end for Farrell’s time in Boston. To the disappointment of many, that was not to be.

The main criticism of John Farrell has been his ability to manage during the game. Bullpen moves, pinch-hitters, and pinch-runners have buried Farrell’s reputation in the Boston market seemingly every game. When asked about the issue Tuesday, Dombrowski told the media that in-game managing was not vital to the job. Once you get past that absolutely unbelievable assumption, the decision to keep Farrell just keeps getting worse.

So, if in-game management doesn’t matter, what did John Farrell do well? Over the course of the year, he has received praise for how he’s worked with the younger players. Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley had All-Star seasons, and Mookie Betts is still the front-runner for MVP; their regular season can not be considered a disappointment. The playoffs, however, were a different story. Those three players went a combined 4-32 in the ALDS with 12 strikeouts. Any way you cut it, those guys were not ready for the post-season.

John Farrell’s So-Called “Pitching Prowess”

Farrell was also seen as something of a pitching guru when he was brought back to the Red Sox in 2013. For about four out of the six months of this 2016 season, the starting pitching was catastrophic. In the post-season, they returned to form. His big ticket, David Price, threw up in the post-season and then choked on his own vomit. For all intents and purposes, he was like the prophet Jonah if Jonah was swallowed by the whale. His starters only went just over 11 innings in the series and none were really effective. Now, he’s not the pitching coach and I get that. That being said, it all falls under him and he is a pitching guy…

So yes, John Farrell will probably lose the blame on Red Sox pitching when Bill Belichick stops receiving blame for the Patriots defense.

When you really look at it, what does Farrell do exceptionally well? How many playoff wins does he have in the last three years? What other playoff manager hurt his team more than John Farrell? To save yourself some time here it is: no, it is not the right move. Farrell’s biggest decision as manager has been to play Travis Shaw over Pablo Sandoval this season. So, yes, John Farrell’s greatest move as manager was playing a better hitter over a third baseman the size of a tow truck. Red Sox Nation best get ready: the manager of your dreams is still in the visitors dugout.

Where Did it All Go Wrong for the Red Sox?

The irony was painful. After a summer of blowout wins and offensive fireworks, the Red Sox succumbed weakly in the fall, unable to locate the big hit when it mattered most. A vaunted lineup, unrivaled in the Majors this season, was stifled by a resilient Cleveland Indians team, as old friend Terry Francona masterminded a Division Series sweep of Boston.

Red Sox

Before the series, few people took the Indians seriously. Three of their best players – Michael Brantley, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar – were missing due to injury. Another star, Corey Kluber, saw his start pushed back due to another ailment. By most measures, the Red Sox were far superior. Most fans predicted a swift sweep. That’s exactly what they got, but of an entirely different flavor.

A Shock for Red Sox Nation

The way it happened was stunning. Boston didn’t play great to close the regular season, but a refreshed approach was expected once the playoffs began. Instead, Red Sox Nation was left waiting, and waiting, and waiting some more, for a team that never showed up. Almost from the first pitch in Cleveland, there was a sense of brewing melodrama. There was a sense that this team had run its course, quite incredibly. The Indians finished the job with shocking rapidity.

Perhaps plain old complacency is to blame. Did the Red Sox simply believe their own hype? That’s difficult to confirm, but it would at least explain the way Boston was caught like a deer in the headlights. When the games really mattered, when the wheat was separated from the chaff, this team wasn’t good enough. It just never got going. And now we’re left to contemplate through the bitter months ahead.

As people digest this loss around the hot stoves of New England, one topic will inspire more debate that any other: the choking offense. So powerful during the regular season, the Red Sox lineup froze on the biggest stage of all.

How Did the Red Sox Get Swept?

While it’s unfair to pinpoint any one guy for criticism, it is worth noting the performance of these praised hitters to paint a collective picture. Dustin Pedroia managed two hits in twelve ALDS at-bats. Mookie Betts, by all consensus an MVP candidate, collected just two in ten. That was better than Jackie Bradley, who produced just one hit, while Xander Bogaerts and Hanley Ramirez combined to go 6-for-24. It just wasn’t good enough.

Even David Ortiz, the master of October baseball, found little magic left in his wand. Papi added just one more hit to his postseason ledger before riding off into the cold night. For once, he couldn’t muster the big blow, and neither could his teammates. The Red Sox left 41 runners on base during this three-game series. They scored just seven runs. In the end, after all the worrying, that ridiculed rotation kept Boston in these games for the most part. The offense just couldn’t deliver.

And so, what now? The Red Sox will seek a replacement for Ortiz, as weird as that sounds. Perhaps John Farrell will see his position as manager reviewed. Maybe Dave Dombrowski will try to address some weaknesses throughout the offseason.

This young core will return to the postseason on plenty of occasions moving forward. But, right now, this was just a step too far for Mookie, Xander, Jackie and the rest. They should learn from the experience, and come back stronger for it. That may not help Red Sox fans deal with the present shock, but it should assist these players in preparing for future assaults on a World Series championship.

Indians Closely Studied Red Sox Pitching

Like many Boston fans, I thought the Red Sox would steam roll over the Indians in Cleveland before coming back Boston to clinch the ALDS. Rick Porcello and David Price gave us little reason to think otherwise. Unfortunately, that plan fell through. Porcello gave up three home runs in the third inning of Game One for a 5-4 Tribe win. After allowing the Indians to blank the Sox 6-0, Price reinforced the “Can’t pitch in the postseason” stereotype in Game 2. Its clear the Indians studied Red Sox pitching very closely before the ALDS began.

Some people are surprised the Red Sox lost the first two games. I am too, but not for theStudied Red Sox Pitching same reasons. David Price doesn’t have a great post season record. He has a 2-8 record with a 5.54 ERA in the post season. Rick Porcello is 0-3 with a 5.66 ERA in post season play. So it’s no wonder they struggled, especially with a combined 2-11 post season record. That leaves few other options in the rotation though. Steven Wright isn’t available for the ALDS, but he is for the ALCS. Clay Buchholz has a 0-0 record with a 4.21 ERA in post season play. So how did the Indians learn so much about the Red Sox pitching staff? That’s easy. Terry Francona.

Francona managed the Red Sox from 2004 to 201, leading them to two World Series Championships. He managed David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, and Clay Buchholz. He knows their strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, it’s that knowledge that might very well guide the Cleveland Indians to victory. This situation is just one more reason why the Red Sox shouldn’t have let him go in 2011.

Indians Studied Red Sox Pitching, But That’s Not All They Studied

In addition to the pitching, many thought the entire team wasn’t ready for post season play. The team is enthusiastic but young. The stress and excitement is straining them. Some of they players couldn’t even legally drink a year ago. So of course they’re going to have a hard time in the playoffs. That’s not an excuse, it’s just reality.

Like the Chicago Cubs of last year, Red Sox are seeing a glimpse of that potential that makes them a fun team to watch. Also like the Cubs of last year, the Red Sox are struggling in the post season. If the Red Sox manage to beat back the Tribe this year and advance to the ALCS, then all the more power to them. I’ll be in the stands cheering my head off with everyone else. Regardless of this season, I honestly think that next year’s Red Sox team will play much better next year given all they’ve learned this year. They’ll have more experience, their pitchers will pitch better, and their hitters will know how to hit opposing pitchers better.

So even though the Indians studied Red Sox pitching well enough to gain an advantage over them this season, they’ll end this season with new knowledge that will make them a better team next year.

Red Sox On The Brink Of Elimination

With all the optimism September brought for the Red Sox, October is sweeping it away. Winless this month, the Red Sox are facing a harsh reality: elimination. Cleveland quickly became the setting of Red Sox Nation’s nightmares with the debacles of games one and two. After two utter disappointments, the season will hang in the balance of game three on Monday at Fenway.

Game one was seen as crucial in that the Red Sox would need to win to feel Eliminationcomfortable. With Rick Porcello going against Trevor Bauer, it seemed like a sure win for Boston. Porcello, however, dug his own grave in the third inning, giving up three home runs. Even though the Red Sox had the lead twice before that, they were never able to recover. They cut it down to one twice and stranded the tying run at third in the eighth. A gutsy five-out save by Cody Allen closed out a 5-4 Indians victory.

Down 1-0 in the series, David Price got the ball to try and tie the series. This seemed like the perfect setting for Price to “earn” his contract money after an under-performing regular season. Once again, Price couldn’t resist the urge to let us down. Adding to his atrocious postseason resumé, Price gave up five runs on six hits in three and one/third innings. If this were his last start of the season, it would only be fitting. A four-run second inning capped by a three-run home run by Lonnie Chisenhall finished off the Red Sox in game two. An injured Corey Kluber stuffed my foot in my own mouth and shut the Sox out in seven innings en route to a 6-0 victory.

The Smell Of Elimination In The Air

So now the stage is set for the Red Sox. Game three at Fenway with Clay Buchholz on the mound. Dustin Pedroia talked post game about how this performance does not embody the team. Well, it’s time to put up or shut up. Pedroia is just 1-8 this series. Also, David Ortiz, Jackie Bradley, Xander Bogaerts, and Mookie Betts are a combined 3-28 in the first two games. It’s a bit scary to think the only bright spots, offensively, in both games have been Brock Holt and Andrew Benintendi.

A rah-rah kind of speech rarely works in baseball, but if Dustin Pedroia lit a fire under his team, they’ll certainly need it. They sleep-walked in Cleveland and it’s yet to be determined whether they’ll wake up before they walk right off the cliff. History may be on their side, the Red Sox are the only franchise to ever come back from this same deficit in the ALDS twice. The first time they did that was in 1999, coincidentally against Cleveland.

After game two, it really can’t get much worse. Monday should be a slugfest. The Red Sox should get their act together and Buchholz is pitching in Fenway, so the balls should fly. That should favor the league’s best offense, but who knows with this team anymore? Let’s just hope the Red Sox save us the embarrassment of avoiding a sweep. On the bright side, if they lose this series it’ll surely be the end of John Farrell’s tenure. That is, if they have any pride at all. It’s the little things.

Red Sox Versus Indians: 2016 ALDS Preview

The Red Sox are about to embark on their first postseason run since 2013. More importantly, it will be just the second time in seven years that October baseball will visit Boston. So, what can fans expect in the American League Division Series, and will the Red Sox advance?

Red Sox

Well, it’s perhaps easier to answer the first question. Boston has a first round matchup with the Cleveland Indians, needing three wins to advance. The first two games will be played at Progressive Field, with the next two at Fenway Park. If a deciding fifth contest is needed, the teams will travel back to Cleveland, which has experienced something of a baseball revival in recent months.

Cleveland Will Test the Red Sox

The Indians have a fascinating history. From the days of Cy Young and Nap Lajoie through to Bob Feller and Larry Doby, and on to Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez, Cleveland has built some very good teams. However, that effort has yielded just two world championships, and none since 1948. Still, the Cavaliers won an NBA title this year, ending Cleveland’s notorious drought, so perhaps there’s a little magic in the air by Lake Erie.

A familiar friend captains the Cleveland ship. Terry Francona, the mastermind of two World Series championships for the Red Sox, has been the Indians’ manager since 2013. The first few years were rough, but a core of young players has since emerged, with shortstop Francisco Lindor and second baseman Jason Kipnis leading Cleveland to its first full postseason series since 2007. Attendance has increased for Indians home games, and this is definitely a team looking to progress swiftly.

The Indians Are Struggling With Injuries

Francona won’t be able to rely much on his vaunted starting rotation in this series, though. The Indians pitched to a 3.86 ERA during the regular season, much better than the Red Sox’ 4.00 mark. However, the Indians have lost Carlos Carrasco to injury. Ace Corey Kluber will return from a scare to pitch in Game 2, but Danny Salazar, the third head of this tremendous trident, has not made the ALDS roster thanks to a strained forearm.

Essentially, the Indians’ biggest strength has been decimated by injuries. Trevor Bauer and his 4.42 career ERA will start Game 1 against the Red Sox, while Josh Tomlin and Mike Clevinger aren’t exactly petrifying. Nevertheless, Boston cannot take anything for granted, especially given the erratic nature of its own pitching staff.

The Red Sox do have a considerable advantage in terms of offense. Boston scored 101 more runs than Cleveland during the regular season, and also had a far superior run differential. Those statistics may not play especially well in a short series, but no team in baseball can fully match the Red Sox with regard to a dynamic lineup that can score in multiple ways. If the bats keep producing at their normal clip, and the pitching holds up, it will be really difficult for the Indians to stick with the Red Sox.

Of course, nothing is ever easy in October. All of these teams emerged from the enormous grind of a season to earn this opportunity. But the Indians seem to be falling apart physically at the worst possible time, affording the Red Sox a brilliant chance of advancing.

So strap yourself in. It’s time to get excited. Let’s see if Big Papi and the Red Sox have one more run in them, when it really matters most.