Red Sox Erasing Doubt In A.L. East

For most of the summer, Red Sox fans were looking forward to the final series of the season. The three-game set at Fenway against Toronto was almost surely going to determine the winner of the A.L. East. However, the Red Sox were determined to make that series meaningless. Since a 1-0 loss to Baltimore on September 14th, the Red Sox have yet to lose a game. Along the way, they have put the division crown out of reach for everyone else.

Sunday was just another day at the office for the Boston Red Sox. In another low-scoring A.L. Eastgame at “the Trop” in Tampa, Boston outlasted the Rays 3-2 in ten innings. The win marked the third straight series sweep and 11th straight win for the division leaders. The day was marked by 22 strikeouts by Red Sox pitching, an unbelievable base-running play by Dustin Pedroia, and a gutsy bullpen effort by Joe Kelly.

The streak has put the Red Sox five and a half games up on second place Toronto and seven up on Baltimore. Excellent starting pitching and a virtually unhittable bullpen are propelling the Red Sox right now. Add that to the league’s best offense, and the Red Sox are far and away the hottest team in all of baseball. After the win Sunday, Boston’s magic number to clinch the A.L. East is down to two.

Beyond The A.L. East Title

Not to get ahead of ourselves, the Red Sox will have meaningful games next weekend. While they should have already clinched the division, a much more important title may be at stake. With a playoff spot in tact, the Red Sox now eye home field advantage. They are just one behind the Texas Rangers in the loss column. If they were to pass the Rangers, they would own the best record in the American League and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

To think that the Red Sox could possibly have that title just a few weeks ago would have been absurd. With their best baseball of the season this month though, that’s where they find themselves. The Red Sox just surpassed Cleveland in the best-record race, meaning they would host the Indians in the ALDS if the season ended today. This offense is so good it really doesn’t matter where they play, but playing at Fenway would be a huge bonus. With that, the Red Sox could even find a way to slug themselves to the World Series. Luckily for the them, the pitching has been the brightest part if this September run.

Obviously, a run like this can not be expected in the playoffs. If they can keep up this pitching however, you can expect them to represent the American League in the World Series. As we all know, once you get there, anything can happen. Bottom line: don’t count out the Red Sox this October.

 

The Travis Shaw Situation

The buzz around Yoan Moncada reached a fever pitch this week as he was called up to the Red Sox on Thursday. Moncada was the #1 prospect in all of baseball and, like Andrew Benintendi, skipped AAA. Moncada signed as a second baseman, but has had to change to third base to fill the Red Sox needs. So where does that leave Travis Shaw?

Shaw was one of the hottest stories for the Red Sox coming into the season, replacing ShawPablo Sandoval in the starting lineup. Shaw was exactly what Sox fans were looking for. Sandoval showed up way out of shape and after a tough 2015 season, fans were certainly writing him off. Shaw, on the other hand, was never a top prospect and took the job away from Sandoval with an impressive spring training.

Shaw’s 2016 Season

To begin the 2016 season, Shaw raised a lot of eyebrows around New England and the baseball world. In April, he was scorching the ball, hitting .314 with 27 hits and 15 RBI. The formidable numbers did not cease there as he hit five homers in May and brought his RBI total to 35. His power surge even earned him the nickname “The Mayor of Ding Dong City.” Shaw was anything but an easy out in the bottom half of the order, and was also sure-handed at the hot corner.

After that, the numbers have steadily dwindled. He hit just .214 in June and brought his average all the way down to .269 before the All-Star break. August was the low point for Shaw, as he hit an abysmal .167 with 12 hits and six RBI all month. In fact, since the All-Star break, shaw has hit just .205 with six homers and 18 RBI.

Moncada’s season has been quite the opposite of Shaw’s. In two different minor leagues this season, Moncada has done nothing but produce. He hit .294 with 15 homers and 52 extra-base hits. The 21-year old Cuban also stole 45 bases with a .918 OPS and 207 total bases. Moncada has even drawn comparisons to Mike Trout and Bo Jackson for his athleticism and instincts.

Now that we’ve actually seen Moncada play in real games, it is easy to see he was a better investment than fellow Cuban Rusney Castillo. It seems everything Moncada has done, he’s done it well. With that, the reign of “The Mayor” may soon end in Boston.

Looking Into September For The Red Sox

New England: brace yourselves. The last few years have brought the ringing of the song “Wake Me Up When September Ends” for Red Sox fans. However, 2016 has proven to have been a much different year than Red Sox fans are (recently) used to. This is what the fan base has yearned for.

After a see-saw month of July and a bit of a sour end to August, Boston is ready for Septembermeaningful September baseball. Luckily for the Red Sox, they will have a serious confidence builder going into the month, ending August with a three-game set against the Rays at Fenway. From this point on, the push for a playoff spot is most certainly on.

The September Schedule

It is one thing to play meaningful baseball, it is quite another to play no meaningless baseball in September. From September 9th to the regular season finale on October 2nd, the Red Sox will only play within the division. Yes, that means the last 23 games of the regular season will be against the AL East. Every game this month is going to be a high-leverage one, leaving virtually no room for error. That is the scenario the Red Sox will surely be in if they get back on track.

The Red Sox and Blue Jays will square off for a three-game series in Boston from September 30th to October 2nd. The way these two teams have been playing, it seems as if the final series of the year will decide a division champion. After last place finishes three of the last four years, this is what Red Sox fans have dreamed of.

To get there, the starting pitching will need to continue to be formidable. Rick Porcello and David Price have been anchors in the rotation this  August. They will need the Eddie Rodriguez we’ve seen most of the second half, not the one we saw Sunday night. Also, the weather should cool down soon, eliminating most of Steven Wright’s excuses. If those guys can pitch well in September, the Red Sox will certainly be a tough team to beat. Also, the bullpen needs to suck just a little bit less. There can be no more of these eight-run innings in a playoff race. If they can avoid being horrendous, the Red Sox should find themselves playing after October 2nd.

So, with that said, it is time to buckle up Red Sox fans. Your team is in for a wild ride in September.

The Search For Xander Bogaerts

After a scorching start to the 2016 season, Xander Bogaerts has hit a rut. Though the humidity has run rampant through Boston lately, Bogaerts has experienced a rather cold summer at the plate.

In May and June, Bogaerts looked like a serious MVP candidate, if not a favorite along with BogaertsDavid Ortiz. Bogaerts hit .395 in May and and .324 in June. Also, those two months provided 40 of his 69 RBI this season. During that time, his average reached into the .350s and he was battling Jose Altuve for the league lead in that category. Since then, Xander’s production has plummeted.

Bogaerts Since The All-Star Break

Since Bogaerts was selected to his first All-Star game in San Diego last month, his season has taken a turn for the worse. Since the break, he has batted just .271 and has only four doubles and 13 RBI in 140 at-bats. That has brought his average all the way down to .310. Also, in his last 15 games he is hitting a measly .238 with an  OBP of .269.

In all seriousness, most guys would still love to have the numbers Bogaerts has this year. That is not what I am trying to say. He is still a tremendous talent and among the league’s best shortstops. But during this recent hot streak the Red Sox appar to be on, Xander has not been able to be a major contributor. In high leverage situations he has struggled and has made a habit at lunging at pitches and popping up constantly.

The Red Sox have tried a multitude of methods to try and get Bogaerts back to his former self. He has had a few days off, which he did deserve. The hitting instructors have also worked meticulously with him to fix his swing. So far, we are still waiting on the guy we saw the first half of the season. There is little doubt that his star will shine again, but it remains to be seen whether he will get his swing back in time to help his team make the postseason.

Keeping Perspective On The 2016 Red Sox Season

The Red Sox swept the basement-dwelling Arizona Diamondbacks in a 3-game set over the weekend making it is easy to lose perspective on the 2016 Red Sox season as a whole. They outscored Arizona 31-9 over the span of the series and gave fans hope for October baseball.2016 Red Sox

Even with the series sweep, the Red Sox still have a tough road ahead. And by tough, I mean really tough. Over the next week and a half, the Red Sox will travel to four different cities with no off-days. Of those four teams, three of them are within a game and a half of a playoff spot. For all intents and purposes, they’re in the “playoff picture”.

The 2016 Red Sox Going Forward

The trip starts Monday with one game in Cleveland, a make-up from the opening series of the year. Drew Pomeranz starts against the Tribe, who is still winless in a Red Sox uniform. This road trip will also be without Steven Wright, who went on the 15-day DL Monday. Wright has gone 13-5 this year and is tied for the league lead in complete games with four. Not being able to roll out Wright for an assured eight innings may prove costly on such a long road trip.

After Cleveland, it will be two games in Baltimore then four in Detroit. Both of these teams are hot in the race and the Orioles are still ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East. This next week can certainly widen a Red Sox lead in the Wild Card and could even make a push for the division lead. The Orioles are an AL-best 39-17 in their confines of Camden Yards however, making the task that much more difficult.

The bullpen could still be an issue for this team, though. With the exception of the tremendous inning by Brad Ziegler Saturday night, the last week has been nightmarish for the pen. The Red Sox will need better work from Robbie Ross, Fernando Abad, and Junichi Tazawa to make a serious playoff push.

That being said, the sweep means the Red Sox are far from out of it. If they can come out on the plus side of this road trip, they will have a new lease on life. After the summer they have had, Red Sox fans should count their blessings. Basically, this road trip will show what the 2016 Red Sox are really made of.

The Betts Case For MVP

Mookie Betts is in the midst of a career year in 2016, and he’s being rewarded for it. Betts was just named American League Player of the Month for July, raising a new question for Red Sox fans—can he win the American League MVP?

Betts has had a good year, sure, but is it enough to earn baseball’s most prestigiousBetts individual award? He has proven to be one of the most versatile players in all of baseball, and that only helps his case. For MLB’s best offense, Mookie has been the unquestioned catalyst. After a slow start, he has raised his average all the way to .311.

It has not been just his average that has impressed fans—Mookie has added another lethal power threat to an already potent Red Sox lineup. Even batting lead-off, Betts has 23 home runs and 74 RBI. Both those statistics are second on the team, only behind David Ortiz. He has combined hitting with above average power and exceptional fielding for a great MVP case.

The 2016 Difference For Betts

Betts has been exponentially better this year compared to last year when he finished in the top 20 for MVP voting. Last year, he did not even make the All-Star team and still got MVP votes. This year, Betts has become a staple in the “league leaders” lists. He ranks 2nd in the American League in hits and extra-base hits, 3rd in doubles, and 5th in batting average. Also, Betts is 4th in the American League in stolen bases, runs scored, and triples. He also leads the league in at-bats and total bases.

It has not just been his hitting that has improved, however. Betts is 3rd in the league among outfielders in fielding percentage (and 1st among right fielders in particular), and 3rd in outfield assists. On the base paths, he’s 4th in the league in stolen bases and stolen base percentage. In July, Betts hit .368 with 5 home runs and 15 RBI, being named AL Player of the Month.

A red-hot July and an already impressive August have definitely increased Mookie Betts’ stock in the MVP race. Personally, I think it’s Jose Altuve’s award to lose. He’s hitting almost .360 and has almost single-handedly led the Houston Astros near a playoff spot. If he stays hot and they get in the post-season, he has to win. However, the Mookie Betts case is clearly one that can not be ignored.