Red Sox Quarterly Review

If you can believe it, we’re already a quarter of the way through the baseball season. That means there’s still a lot of games left to be played, but there’s also a considerable amount already in the books–enough to draw somewhat meaningful conclusions from. With that in mind, it’s time for the Red Sox quarterly review.

Red Sox Quarterly Review: Mostly Good…

A great lineup can carry a team all the way to the championship, so it’s encouraging that people are already ranking Boston’s offense among the best of all-time (and that’s despite a disappointing start from Mookie Betts and next to nothing from Christian Vazquez)Red Sox Quarterly Review. The Sox currently lead the MLB in just about every hitting category under the sun, and after taking a quick look around the diamond it’s not hard to see why. Hanley Ramirez is productive again after injuries sabotaged his season last year, and Dustin Pedroia is hitting as well as he ever has. Xander Bogaerts continues to grow offensively, Travis Shaw has been a revelation at third, and Brock Holt is off to one of his patented hot starts in left.

Given all that firepower, it’s surprising that Boston’s two best hitters have been a 40-year-old DH and the team’s number-nine hitter. The former, David Ortiz, is having one of the best seasons ever for a player his age, making his decision to retire after this year look incredibly premature. Perhaps his wisdom is rubbing off on Jackie Bradley, Jr., who has finally learned how to hit at age 26, which is around the same age Ortiz emerged as a dominant force. Bradley’s hitting just as well as Ortiz, and while his breakout may not be sustainable, he doesn’t have to hit anywhere near this good to be valuable thanks to his stellar defense in center.

Boston’s also benefited from similarly unexpected breakthroughs in the  rotation. Knuckleballer Steven Wright has been the team’s best pitcher thus far, something nobody saw coming from  a 31-year-old with 11 career starts under his belt before this year. He’s had help from Rick Porcello, who remembered how to throw his sinker after over-relying on his fastball last year and is pitching like the number-two Ben Cherington signed him to be.

As expected, the bullpen’s been dynamite with Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara and Craig Kimbrel nailing down games. Just wait until Carson Smith gets back in the swing of things.

…But Some Bad

With Boston leading baseball in every conceivable offensive metric and mere percentage points out of first in the AL East, there’s not a whole lot of bad in this Red Sox quarterly review. But the Red Sox haven’t been perfect, otherwise they’d be 41-0 and I’d be writing about Joe Kelly’s Cy Young chances. But I’m not, because Kelly has been hurt and terrible. Clay Buchholz has also been terrible, but at least he’s not hurt (yet).

Boston’s biggest concern has to be its $31 million ace, who hasn’t pitched like one this year. David Price has been erratic, capable of overpowering opponents with his electric stuff but also struggling against weak lineups. His peripherals suggest he’s going to be fine, but the fact remains that he has not provided a good return on investment so far.

Neither has Boston’s $17 million third baseman, who won’t be manning the hot corner anytime soon after undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery in early May. Pablo Sandoval’s contract is looking like a sunk cost, but so did John Lackey’s before he righted the ship.

Red Sox Quarterly Review Grade: A

With a prolific offense, solid rotation and shutdown bullpen, Boston looks like postseason contenders.

Rivalry Resumes This Weekend

After sweeping the Yankees at Fenway Park last weekend, the Red Sox look to break out the brooms again when baseball’s most storied rivalry resumes this weekend at Yankee Stadium.

The divisional foes are heading in opposite directions as they begin their second series of the seasonRivalry Resumes This Weekend. The Sox have surged into first place with their recent hot streak, winning nine of their past 11 to overtake Baltimore at the top of the AL East. The slumping Yankees, meanwhile, are languishing in last place, seven games back of Boston.

Pitching Matchups Favor Sox

Boston looks to keep rolling when the rivalry resumes this weekend behind Rick Porcello, who’s pitching like an ace these days. Porcello is off to a 5-0 start and hasn’t allowed an earned run in 13 2/3 innings, the last seven of which came in Saturday’s 8-0 rout of the Bombers. His opponent, Michael Pineda, will have to be more efficient with his pitches to win their rematch; Pineda needed 106 pitches to get through five innings last time and has yet to go past the sixth this year.

Saturday’s matinee features a frustratingly inconsistent duo in David Price and Nathan Eovaldi, both of whom can be dominant when they’re on but have been terrible when they’re not.  Price, for instance, leads the league in strikeouts and earned runs—a rare combination. Eovaldi has also been up and down, averaging over a strikeout per inning but carrying a 5.46 ERA. Both struggled in their most recent duel, allowing six runs apiece in Sunday’s slugfest. If both bring their best stuff, however, the final score will be 2-1 instead of 8-7.

Sunday’s series finale could go either way, with Steven Wright on the hill for Boston against New York’s Luis Severino. Wright has been a revelation with a 1.67 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in five starts this year, but like all knuckleballers he’s completely unpredictable. The same could be said of Severino, who has a 6.31 ERA this year but posted a 2.89 ERA last year. The last time either appeared in a Yankees-Sox game was last August, when Severino made his major league debut against Wright at The Stadium. Both were fantastic, allowing only one run each as Boston edged New York 2-1, so their rematch certainly has pitching duel potential.

Another Sweep?

Based on pitching matchups and recent results, Boston should be favorites in every game. The Red Sox have their top three starters going this series, while the Yankees will be without their two best (Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia). Both Porcello and Wright have outperformed their respective counterparts by a wide margin this year, while Price is a good bet to bounce back. None of them are expected to face much resistance from a Yankees lineup that ranks last in the AL in runs and just lost Alex Rodriguez to the DL.

Predicting a sweep is always risky given the sheer randomness of baseball, but don’t be surprised if Boston sweeps their arch-nemesis again when the rivalry resumes this weekend.

Surgery Could Save Sandoval’s Career

Pablo Sandoval was probably pretty disappointed when he found out he was going to need season-ending shoulder surgery. Nobody wants to be told they’re done for the year when it’s only just begun. If there’s a silver lining, however, it’s that surgery could save Sandoval’s career.

Let’s face it; 2016 was shaping up to be another lost season for Boston’s maligned third basemanSurgery Could Save Sandoval's Career. Coming off the worst year of his career, he arrived at spring training overweight (again), failed to bat said weight and wound up losing his starting job to a player making $17 million less than him. Sandoval rode the pine in April, appearing in just three games as Shaw and the Red Sox got off to torrid starts.

Sandoval was stuck. His team had little use for him while his contract and recent performance made him untradeable. So he wasted away on the bench, watching Shaw’s success systematically destroy whatever shot he had at redemption in 2016.

Now, with Sandoval out for the rest of the year, he’ll have to wait until 2017 to get back in Boston’s good graces. That gives him loads of time to get in the best shape of his life and prove he’s serious about his conditioning. It also gives him time to fix whatever broke in his swing last year and work on his defense.

Sandoval has nothing but time. The question is: will he use it effectively?

Surgery Could Save Sandoval’s Career, or Finish it

A year off could do Sandoval wonders. It certainly did for John Lackey, another West Coast star who initially struggled upon signing a big contract with the Red Sox. After pitching at a historically awful level in 2011, Lackey missed all of ’12 recovering from Tommy John surgery. It was a turning point in his career, as a slimmed-down Lackey returned to form in 2013 and is still going strong as he enters his late 30s.

Surgery could save Sandoval’s career, too..It’s not hard to imagine him having a similar renaissance next year, given that he’ll only be 30. He’ll also be extra motivated to win his job back after everything that’s happened this spring.

On the other hand, going under the knife may only hasten Sandoval’s decline. Adrian Gonzalez fell off significantly as a hitter following the same procedure, which doesn’t bode well for Sandoval. He may also find that taking a whole year off severely disrupts his timing, which could prevent him from having the kind of start he needs to secure regular playing time again.

How the rest of Sandoval’s career plays out will likely be decided by what he does over the next calendar year. If he buckles down and sheds some pounds, he may yet find his way back into Boston’s lineup. But if he sits around and lets his skills continue to erode, he better get used to watching Travis Shaw at the hot corner.

Porcello Pitching Like an Ace

April baseball is always full of surprises, good and bad. David Price turning into a very expensive pumpkin? Beyond bad. Rick Porcello pitching like an ace? Completely and utterly fantastic.

When the Red Sox signed Price to a seven-year, $217 million contract last winter, they gotRick Porcello Pitching like an ace one of baseball’s finest pitchers in return. In a rotation without a clear number one starter, he immediately became Boston’s undisputed ace.

Over the first month of the season, however, Price has been anything but. After getting knocked around again on Sunday, his ERA now stands at an unsightly 6.14—surely not what the Red Sox were hoping for when they made Price the “richest pitcher in baseball history” according to the Lowell Sun.

With Price scuffling, another pitcher has stepped in to lead Boston’s rotation. Enter Rick Porcello, Price’s former teammate in Detroit who now finds himself flanking the 2012 AL Cy Young winner yet again.

Only this time, the roles are reversed. Porcello has asserted himself as Boston’s top starter in his second year with the club while Price is still finding his groove..

Porcello was one of the American League’s best pitchers in April, winning all five of his starts while compiling a 2.76 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 6.00 K/B ratio. He completed at least six innings each time out, saving Boston’s battered bullpen in the process. More importantly, he was lights-out, holding opponents scoreless in In two of his outings and two-hitting the Blue Jays in a third.

Porcello pitching like an ace extends farther back than April, however. Porcello was arguably Boston’s best pitcher in the second half last year, posting a 3.49 ERA after Independence Day. He was even better down the stretch with a 3.14 ERA over his final eight starts.

Is Porcello Pitching the Best Games of His Career?

Between those last eight starts of 2015 and his first five of ’16, Porcello has put together the best run of his career. He’s the only pitcher in baseball to log at least six innings in each of his past 13 starts, over which he’s sported a 3.00 ERA and 5.47 K/BB ratio. Since coming off the Disabled List in late August, Porcello has looked like a completely different pitcher, striking out more than a batter per inning after averaging just 5.5 K/9 in his six seasons with Detroit.

Once a ground-baller who rarely struck anyone out, Porcello’s now a whiff-machine. He’s gone from middle-of-the-rotation innings-eater to staff ace almost overnight–a truly stunning transformation. He’s relying on his sinker again after getting away from it in the early part of 2015, mixing it with nasty change-ups and cutters. The result has been a whole new pitcher; Rick Porcello 2.0.

Of course, Porcello pitching like an ace for a month doesn’t mean he’s supplanted Price, at least not yet. Price is still the ace because he’s been one in the past and is getting paid like one, though that could change if both keep pitching as they have in April. Price has been snake-bitten early on and will likely surpass his rotation-mate before long, but Porcello should be a strong number-two going forward.

That’s what the Red Sox were hoping for when they signed him to that $82.5 million extension, wasn’t it?

Ortiz Celebrations Overdone? Not So Much

The worst argument of all-time: “They’re doing anything for a buck.” I’ll defeat that argument right now: We all are. You’re no Sherlock Holmes if you determine that a for-profit business wants to make money. This discussion has come up a lot lately on Yawkey Ortiz celebrationsWay. The Red Sox in the home-opener against Baltimore Monday, April 11, began what will be seven months of David Ortiz celebrations. The Red Sox are honoring, pretty much serenading, the slugger who’s playing in the last of his 20 Major League Baseball seasons.

They’ll have themes for upcoming games, all kinds of apparel and are sure to do dozens of events and marketing campaigns around the slugger’s swan song season.

My take: So what?

You hear the cries from the fellowship of the misery in and around Yawkey Way: “This is too much.” “They’re all about the money.” “Even Yaz didn’t have this.” The naysayers think they’ve cracked the code on the Red Sox and ownership: They just care about making a buck and filling the seats.

Farewell Tour: Are the Ortiz Celebrations Too Much?

Guess what? You’re right. This is a business. They do marketing. They practice commerce transactions. The sell tickets. They want revenue. They care about other things outside the baseball diamond. If that means leveraging the face of their brand as often as possible this season, I say go for it. Call it overdone, over the top.

The fact is, most Red Sox fans will eat up each and every Ortiz celebration. They’ll buy the T-Shirts and bobbleheads. They’ll post pictures in hashtag campaigns.This is called customer engagement.The Red Sox are smart. They have a great marketing and events team (I recently interviewed one of their events executives).

I say let them do their jobs. And let the Ortiz good times roll, flyovers, bobbleheads and all.

Post-Season Experience of David Price Will Be Key to Championship

Last fall I got the opportunity to ask David Price a question via teleconference shortly after he signed his seven-year $217 million contract. Price hesitated after I asked him “What’s a question about your career that one’s asked you that you wish someone would ask?” before he talked about the questions he gets from coaches and teammates alike when he’s on the mound, and how everything he does gets put under a microscope. “I know what kind of pitcher I was from 2008-2011,” he added, “past three seasons I’ve made a lot of strides to take it to where I want to be and I have a ways to go.” David Price

Simple, humble, and constructive.

There’s no doubt that Price will be under a lot of pressure this year, especially if the Red Sox make it to the post-season. A quick glance at his post-season record shows a less-than-stellar record (2-7 with a 5.12 ERA). But it’s hard to blame him for his poor post-season performance, especially if you take a good look at some of his more recent games. In Game 2 of the 2015 ALCS, Price, then with Toronto, held Kansas City scoreless until the seventh inning when shortstop Ryan Goins fumbled a routine pop-up, igniting a rally that ended in a 6-3 Royals win. In Game 3 of the 2014 ALDS vs. Baltimore, Price pitched 6 scoreless innings before giving up a 2-run home run to Nelson Cruz. That wasn’t poor pitching as much as Detroit failed to produce the offense Price needed to win. And while he did give up a home run to David Ortiz in Game 2 of the 2013 ALDS in Boston, having his former adversary-turned-teammate at his side can now only be a boon to Price. But if the Red Sox can get it together season, Price will have an easier time avoiding anymore post-season blunders.

Will This Be the Best Year Ever for David Price?

The 5x All-Star, 2012 AL wins leader, 2014 strikeout leader, and 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner will have a well-seasoned team behind him this season with some wondering if this could be Price’s best year yet (It better be given how much he’s getting paid). If Ortiz comes close to matching last season’s numbers, Boegarts continues to hit well, and Pedroia stays healthy, Price will have the offensive support he’ll need for a 20-win season. Price can also count on seeing a lot of hits die in the gloves of defensive prodigies Xander Boegarts, Mookie Betts, and Jackie Bradley Jr.

I see David Price’s addition to the Red Sox as the missing piece of a puzzle that could very well make them into a semblance of the team we saw in 2004, 2007, and 2013. Even more so, the Red Sox Nation will have a man who’s worked hard to learn from his past mistakes, knows what he wants to accomplish this season, and recognizes that it’s going to take a lot of hard work to make that happen. If the Red Sox as a whole can keep themselves from sliding into an abyss of self-pity and remorse that fans saw all too often last season, if they can make fire out of the sparks that we hope to see this season, then we’ll see a team on fire, a blaze that can only be extinguished by the spraying champagne that will come after winning another World Series.