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.

Dave Dombrowski Has Done All He Can

What more can Dave Dombrowski do to help the Red Sox win in 2016? Not a whole lot. From surprising trades to aggressive promotions, the President of Baseball Operations has worked tirelessly to spark a renaissance of Boston baseball. Now, the trade deadline has passed and the dog days of summer are upon us. It’s time for John Farrell to pilot the plane Dombrowski has built. It’s time to win.

The Dave Dombrowski Project

The overhaul began last winter. Craig Kimbrel arrived in a blockbuster trade. David Price signed a humongous contract. Pablo Sandoval was relegated from the long term plan. In stunning style, the Red Sox transitioned from planning for a brighter tomorrow to fighting for a happier today. Dombrowski executed a shift in philosophy, and a new blueprint was implemented.

Dave Dombrowski

Through spring training, the Red Sox continued to do things differently. Dave continued to press as many buttons as he could reach, hoping to avoid another fruitless October. Travis Shaw became the everyday third baseman. Hanley Ramirez moved to first. A sense of urgency was injected into the Red Sox’ play. They knew the time for excuses had passed.

Time to Deliver

Yet, as the season has wore on, this team has been quite a conundrum. On the one hand, loitering in a three-team race for the division crown is deeply satisfying. It’s all many fans hoped for after three last-place finishes in five years. Yet, deep down, there’s also a nagging sense of underachievement. Red Sox fans see how good this team is on paper, and they think it should be doing better on the field.

Dave Dombrowski likely agrees. At the trade deadline, he made a flurry of moves to affirm that suspicion. Drew Pomeranz arrived to bolster a maligned rotation. Brad Ziegler came over from Arizona to solidify a streaky bullpen. Fernando Abad joined him a few weeks later, adding another veteran hurler to the staff. The Red Sox still haven’t performed to evolving expectations. They still haven’t surged ahead in a tense AL East.

As the calendar flipped to August, Dave Dombrowski played one final card. Andrew Benintendi was promoted to the Majors, skipping a whole level of minor league play to provide a Fenway spark. With that move, the front office went all in. More importantly, it sent a clear message to John Farrell and his coaching staff: we’ve done all we can, and you must now eke maximum value from this roster.

A Critical Stretch Run

The Red Sox are currently 61-50, good for third place. Toronto and Baltimore are tied for the division lead, just one and a half games ahead. Yet by first-order winning percentage –  which attempts to calculate how many wins a team should have based on its run differential – the Red Sox should be almost three wins better off than they currently are. That suggests Dave Dombrowski has done a really good job. It also suggests John Farrell is hurting this team more than he’s helping it.

I don’t want to criticize the guy overtly, because he doesn’t deserve that. A lot of the vitriol spewed about him is unwarranted. But if John Farrell cannot get this team performing to the back of its baseball card, trouble awaits. Dave Dombrowski has used every trick in the book. He’s made all the phone calls, traded a lot of chips and constructed one of the best rosters in a flawed American League. If the results don’t match the projections come October, somebody will be fired. And that somebody is likely John Farrell, who needs to get a better tune from his highly equipped orchestra.

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.

No One Should Poke at Sandoval’s Weight

When the Red Sox arrived in Fort Myers last week to begin spring training one thing that almost everyone immediately focused on was Pablo Sandoval’s weight. A less-than-flattering photo showing Sandoval’s gut hanging over his shorts in mid throw flooded social media, making Red Sox fans scowl with concern that Panda’s weight could lead to another poor season. Not only is it unfair to body shame Sandoval, it also contributes absolutely nothing positive to the Red Sox as they prepare for the 2016 season. Red Sox nation should instead throw its own weight behind Panda and the rest of the team in order to avoid a third straight disastrous season and bring another World Series Championship back to Boston.

Sandoval's weight

Sandoval claims that his body weight is now at 17%, down from 23% last season, putting him in the “good” category and above most acceptable levels. If these numbers are true, then the last thing anyone should focus on is ridiculing Sandoval’s weight, especially going into a season where morale is going to be essential for the team. While Sandoval will probably always be on the stockier side, history shows us that weight gain doesn’t always mean it’s all over for a player. Take Babe Ruth for instance.

Ruth faced a similar, yet much more dangerous, scenario in 1925 when his weight ballooned to 260 lbs in the off-season. After supposedly binging on too many sodas and hot dogs before a pre-season game (some suggest alcohol was involved) Ruth was hospitalized for weeks in what became known as “the bellyache heard ’round the world.” Fortunately, the following season Ruth worked hard to shed the weight, after which he would go on to lead the American League in runs, walks, and home runs for the next three seasons. A key factor to keep in mind here is that Ruth was 30 years old at the time he turned it around and lost the excess weight, the same age that Sandoval will turn this year. If history is any indication of what is to come, since Panda is already working hard to stay fit, then the 2016 season could definitely shape up to be one of his best. Early reports from spring training suggest that Sandoval is prepping well for what could become a strong season for him with Red Sox manager John Farrrell stating this week, “His righthanded swing is much more consistent than what we saw at any time last year.”

Sandoval doesn’t need put-downs over his weight. Instead, Sandoval needs encouragement. When he starts to play well then fans need to let him know with cheers. Sandoval needs to know that we have confidence in him (I do). A little encouragement can go a very long way and in Sandoval’s case, he’ll need all he can get. Cheers, not finger pointing, is what will help Panda and the Sox capture another World Series title.

Red Sox Spring Training Brings Uncertainty for Team

In the glory days of Theo Epstein, when the lineup was dominated by Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, you knew what the Red Sox were, and their goal was always familiar. During that time, Boston was one of the few teams in professional sports that existed within a window of perennial contention. Red Sox Nation expected success, to a point where the regular season was almost an afterthought.

However, since 2010, the Red Sox have slowly lost that distinctive identity as their gripred sox spring training on constant postseason involvement has unraveled. This is the seventh consecutive season where uncertainty has clouded our judgment, the seventh straight spring where question marks reign. We simply don’t know what to expect from this franchise anymore.

That trend is prevalent throughout baseball in general. The increase in revenue sharing, coupled with more efficient defense and steroid testing, has flattened the field and created a vacuum of expectation. No team is guaranteed to qualify for the postseason, as the Washington Nationals and Seattle Mariners showed last year, while unheralded teams can triumph against all odds, as the Red Sox discovered in 2013. The additional wildcard in each league has led to teams aiming for 85 wins, rather than 90, as the quality of play has generally been diluted.

Moreover, baseball’s waning popularity when compared to the NFL has created a different atmosphere around the Red Sox. This team continues to inspire passion around the world, but the excitement has cooled somewhat from the manic 2000s, when the players could barely cough or sigh without opening the floodgates to reams of analysis. A gradual loss of intensity is definitely tangible, as the Red Sox attempt to rediscover their soul.

This year, they certainly have the ammunition to go far. David Price is the elite ace many people have yearned for, while Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts represent the next generation of Boston superstars. Yet, the uncertainty surrounding players like Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, coupled with performance concerns over established veterans such as Dustin Pedroia and Clay Buchholz, makes this a difficult team to read. Right now, we would all be forgiven for not totally being on board.

However, such pessimism should be reserved for another day. Pitchers and catchers reporting for Red Sox spring training is a joyous occasion, evoking connotations of eternal hope and optimism. So, let’s try to move on and enjoy the moment. For one day, let’s forget statistics and logistics, and just focus on the return of baseball, and the warm glow it provides.

Go Red Sox!

The 2016 Red Sox are Slowly Taking Shape

Dave Dombrowski has been in power on Yawkey Way for less than two weeks, but key pieces of the Red Sox’ future are already falling into place on his watch. Perhaps more by luck than judgment, Boston seems to have stumbled across solutions at first base and in the outfield for 2016, providing some much-needed clarity and enabling the front office to concentrate on the elite pitching that is so desperately desired.

2016 Red Sox

Hanley Ramirez, the enigma wrapped in a conundrum, worked out at first base prior to Tuesday’s game in Chicago, with David Ortiz and coach Brian Butterfield teaching fundamental aspects of the position, such as footwork. The plan is for Ramirez to have a “crash course” in first base play as 2015 winds down, and perhaps entering some Major League games at the position, with a view to the slugger becoming the full-time first-sacker in 2016.

This is a logical move by Dombrowski and the Red Sox. Ramirez transitioned to left field from shortstop after signing a four-year, $88m contract with Boston last winter, but the experiment has been a total disaster, with almost every advanced metric ranking the Dominican as by far the worst fielder in all of baseball this year. Even from a fan’s viewpoint, watching Ramirez play left field has been excruciating; his lack of range and agility plain for the world to see. Moving forward, first base, a less demanding though still complex position, would appear to better suit Ramirez, who won’t hurt the team as much in an area requiring less range.

Similarly, moving Hanley to first allows the Red Sox to go with a dynamic arrangement of Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo in the outfield, which should excite fans immensely. We’ve seen fleeting glimpses of this trio playing together, and the result have been fantastic.

Castillo has looked like a very good Major League player on his latest tour of duty, hitting .391/.426/.625 in August, while Betts continues to blaze a trail with phenomenal Red Soxproduction. Meanwhile, Bradley Jr. finally looks to have discovered the formula for hitting at the big league level, with a .344/.427/.734 slash line in August complimenting his sensational defense, which, replacing Hanley’s incompetence, will turn a current weakness into a standout strength for the Red Sox.

This move will also make the roster more nimble and sustainable. Bradley Jr., Betts and Castillo have a combined age of 25, meaning the Red Sox could have an outfield stocked with five-tool players about to enter their prime years together. When coupled with Blake Swihart at catcher and Eduardo Rodriguez in the rotation, Boston appears to have a strong core of cost-controlled, homegrown stars.

Thus, despite an awful win-loss record and perhaps another last-place finish for the Red Sox, Dombrowski has inherited a neat framework around which to add external upgrades. Throughout his illustrious career, the new President of Baseball Operations has always excelled at acquiring elite, veteran talent, and he will probably look to do the same here in Boston.

Who he pursues, and through what means, is obviously unclear right now. A bonafide ace has to be the top priority, as Dombrowski has already hinted, but Red Sox fans can rest assured that, finally, after a torturous journey, the young core seems to be ready. Moreover, an attempt at solving the Hanley Ramirez problem is underway, as Boston primes itself for a genuine revival, rather than another false dawn, in 2016 and beyond.