Red Sox – Yankees: Take 1 Tonight

The biggest rivalry in sports returns tonight: Red Sox – Yankees. The Sox have three wins in their last 5 games and the Yanks have just one. Both teams have three wins at home and three wins on the road. New York is tied for second place in the AL East with the Orioles, while Boston is tied for last place with the Blue Jays. The first series between the ‘pillars of power’ will be just two games, with tonight’s first pitch scheduled at 6:35 PM/ET and tomorrow’s start at 6:30 PM/ET.

As of yesterday, all five of the AL East teams had played at least 15 games. That accountsred sox - yankees for about 10 percent of the season’s entirety. Boston’s .353 winning percentage through April 15th is the team’s worst mark since 2011. New York’s .400 winning percentage is their worst start since 2015. To say the least, things have not been going well for both clubs.

The Red Sox lost 8-1 yesterday in their series finale against the Baltimore Orioles. They have yet to win a series in 2019. Baltimore’s highest paid player, Chris Davis, who averaged 37 home runs from 2012-2017, collected his first hit and first home run of the season against Boston over the long weekend. The league’s reigning MVP, Mookie Betts, who has a batting average of just .222 this season, spoke about his struggles after Monday’s loss.

“Basically, what I’m doing is unacceptable,” Betts is quoted as saying by mlb.com. “I have to figure out a way to get something done and help the team.”

New York’s early struggles derive from a vast amount of injuries. Earlier today, they placed first baseman Greg Bird (left plantar fascia tear) on the 10-day IL. In addition to Bird, key contributors Giancarlo Stanton, Didi Gregorious, Miguel Andujar, Aaron Hicks, Gary Sanchez, and Dellin Betances are all currently on the Injured List.

Red Sox – Yankees: Who’s hot?

Boston’s most productive players entering this series are J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, and Mitch Moreland. All three hitters are log-jammed in the middle of the Red Sox lineup and are slugging over .500. Moreland’s slugging clip of .647 is good for 8th best in the American League.

The Yankees, despite being extremely short-handed, have several hot hitters. D.J. LeMahieu and Aaron Judge both obtain an OPS over .900. Clint Frazier and Gleyber Torres have OPS’ over .850 and, together, have hit a combined 6 home runs. Luke Voit is tied for 5th in the American League with 14 RBIs.

Red Sox – Yankees: Pitching has been cold

In terms of pitching, Boston’s best starter has been David Price, who has pitched at least six innings in all three of his starts. He will not pitch in this abbreviated series, though. Instead, Chris Sale (tonight) and Nathan Eovaldi (tomorrow) will take the hill. Both starters are still in search of their first win of the season.

James Paxton will make his first start in pinstripes against the Sox tonight. He too, is off to a rocky start. His ERA stands at 6.00 through 3 starts. J.A. Happ will pitch tomorrow for New York. Happ has yet to make it through five frames and his ERA sits at an ugly 8.76 clip.

Tomorrow night’s game will be streamed on ESPN’s Wednesday Night Baseball. Afterwards, Boston will have an off-day before beginning a three-game set at Tropicana Field against Tampa Bay on Friday. New York will remain at home to host Kansas City for a four-game series that begins on Thursday.

Not Saying The Red Sox Need Pedroia, But Maybe?

The early struggles of the 2019 Red Sox derive from multiple departments. Starting at the top, Mookie Betts is 6-for-27 in the batters box, which is equates to a .222 batting average. That’s a problem. The team’s pitchers have allowed a total of 16 home runs in just six games. That tops the American League. The team’s poorest output, offensively speaking, has come from center field and second base. Jackie Bradley Jr., in 23 PAs, has a .174 on-base (OBP) and the combination of Eduardo Nunez and Brock Holt looks like this: 23 PAs, 2 hits, an OBP of .130, 2 steals, and 2 strikeouts. I’m not saying the Red Sox need Pedroia back, and I am not saying they don’t. But perhaps his admittance to the 25-man roster could do some good for this team.

Fact: The Red Sox did not need Dustin Pedroia last year to win the World Series.Red Sox need Pedroia

The team occupied Eduardo Nunez, Ian Kinsler, and Brock Holt at the keystone in 2018. Nunez reached base at a .289 clip and Kinsler’s .294 clip was in 143 PAs for the Sox. Holt, on the contrary, posted a .362 clip in 367 PAs.

Pedey played in just 3 games last season and in 2017, he logged 463 PAs in 105 games. He tallied 201 hits in 2016. It was just the second time in his lengthy career that he eclipsed the 200-hit mark.

Now at age 35, he’s on the outside looking in. His recovery from knee surgery has been a long, grueling process. His contract with the Red Sox expires in 2021. It has seemed that all along, he has been to do whatever needs to be done in order to get back to a playing role with this team.

According to Alex Cora, via Ian Browne of MLB.com, Pedroia is set to begin a minor league rehab assignment tomorrow with Low-A Greenville. He is expected to play in back-to-back games Thursday and Friday, have a day off on Saturday, and then play a full nine innings on Sunday.

So, how would Pedroia’s return be helpful? Some may actually view it as a distraction. The thinking is that the team needs to focus on winning games and not become distracted and emotional over the return of the “little leader.”

Pedroia is a true leader

While some may think that way, I believe that the opposing perspective is true. The one constant that has always remained with Pedroia is his leadership. When healthy, he is the first player in the clubhouse. He is all business. I’m not saying the Red Sox need Pedroia and his counsel, but that type of attitude could reflect well on Red Sox players at this juncture. Other than last season, Pedroia is a two-time World Series champion. He won a WS with Alex Cora as his teammate in ’07.

Pedroia is also recognized as a leader while playing the field. Besides being a four-time Gold Glove winner, Pedey helps his pitchers in other ways too. In 2016, while David Price was struggling on the mound during his first season in Boston, Pedroia helped point out issues he was seeing in Price’s arm mechanics.

In addition, Pedroia’s entry could break up some staleness in the Red Sox fielding depth chart. Brock Holt, who is known primarily as a utility man, could start to platoon more all around the diamond, instead of backing up Nunez at second. He could give players like Andrew Benintendi and Bradley Jr. breaks in the outfield on certain days. The same could be said about Nunez, whose must comfortable fielding position is said to be third base. I’m not saying the Red Sox need Pedroia, but more fielding flexibility could help loosen things up.

In 13 seasons, Pedroia owns an on-base percentage of .366. In some thinking, Pedroia could be this season’s version of 2018’s Kinsler, who owns a .339 career OBP along with two gold gloves, including one last year. Pedroia and Kinsler were teammates at Arizona State University in 2002 before Kinsler transferred to University of Missouri in ’03. Both Pedroia and Kinsler are four-time All-Stars as well. I’m not saying the Red Sox need Pedroia, but maybe he could be this team’s missing link.

Shockingly Poor Start For The Red Sox

Not what you expected to happen, right? The Sox played four meaningful games in March, one last night, and now it’s April 2nd. The team lost 3 of 4 in Seattle and were shut out last night in Oakland. To say the least, 2019 has been a shockingly poor start for the Red Sox.

The starting pitching has been horrific. Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez,shockingly poor start Rick Porcello, and David Price have now all pitched. The results are ugly: 26 earned runs and eleven home runs allowed in 21 innings. The bullpen has not been much better. The club’s eight relievers have all been used, and in 20 innings, have surrendered 20 hits, 7 earned runs, 4 home runs, and eight walks. Matt Barnes has collected the team’s lone save.

In regards to hitting, reigning MVP Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi, who bat one-and-two in the lineup, both have on-base percentages (OBP) of .250. Only Mitch Moreland, Xander Bogaerts, and J.D. Martinez own an on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) over .800. In comparison to other teams, Boston ranks in the top-5 in all hitting categories, but in the bottom-5 in most pitching ranks.

Now that we know all of that, we must address the key question, which is: what is going on with the Red Sox and why have they come out “flat” after winning the World Series last year?

Pitching is the problem

The starting pitching, besides Price’s performance last night, have not given the offense a chance to get going. 7 runs were allowed in the first 3 innings of game-1, 3 runs through two innings in game-2, 2 runs in the first inning of game-3, and 9 runs through 3 innings of game-4.

In 2018, the Red Sox were the only team that qualified for the postseason to have four hitters (with at least 500 plate appearances) record an OPS of at least .830: Betts, Benintendi, Martinez, and Bogaerts. First baseman Steve Pearce, who played in just 50 regular season games with the team down the stretch, recorded a .901 OPS. One could attribute Betts’s .598 OPS, Benintendi’s .375 OPS, and Pearce’s absence (calf injury) to the poor start for the Red Sox.

Also in 2018, Boston was the only team (postseason eligible) to have a player save more than 40 games with a WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) less than 1.00. That player? Craig Kimbrel – he is not back with the club this year. Kimbrel’s presence in the bullpen could factor in nicely moving forward and take some pressure off relievers.

Poor attitude

One factor to the shockingly poor start for the Red Sox that cannot be measured by statistics is their attitude. Their leader, manager Alex Cora, was asked during postgame if there was any concern following the team’s loss last night.

“Not really. It’s five games. When you go through stretches like this, it (stinks) that it’s early in the season, but yeah, we have to pick it up.”

Cora’s nonchalant demeanor is not changing the way the team is approaching games. The top of the lineup needs to get going. Cora announced today on MLB Network that Betts will move back to the leadoff spot. The starting pitching now starts its second turn. So far this season, Sox pitchers have allowed the most runs in the American League. They rank second-to-last in earned run average (ERA) and batting average against (BAA). In addition, Boston is the only AL team to not record a quality start.

Tonight’s first pitch is at 10:07 PM/ET. We’ll see if things start to change this evening in what has been a shockingly poor start for the Red Sox.

The Case for Matt Barnes, 2019 Closer

If we’ve learned anything about how Red Sox President of Baseball Ops Dave Dombrowski, it is that when he says he is going or not going to make a particular move, that tends to be true. On numerous occasions this off-season, Dombrowski has been quoted as saying that “major moves will be unlikely” when addressing the bullpen. With Craig Kimbrel riding the free agency pine, the franchise turns to the arms that it already has. This is the case for Matt Barnes, 2019 closer.

Barnes has shown steady improvement each season

When Barnes was taken in the first round of the MLB June Draft in 2011, the Matt Barnes, 2019 closerConnecticut was taken out of UConn as a starting pitcher. Given his pitch arsenal and powerful four seam fastball, it made more sense to the organization that Barnes move to the bullpen to help the major league squad.

Initially, upon entering the big leagues, Barnes became slightly walk prone, and has posted particularly troublesome home/road splits thus far in his career. But the numbers do not lie. Barnes has shown consistent improvement across the board in each of his three full major league seasons.

If Matt Barnes, 2019 closer is going to be a legitimate thing, then he will need to continue that upward trend he has been on. Let’s take a look at Barnes’ 2016-2018 seasons to get a feel for how he has improved:

2016: 62 G, 66.2 IP, 4.05 ERA, 62 H, 71 K, 3.72 FIP

2017: 72 G, 69.2 IP, 3.88 ERA, 57 H, 83 K, 3.33 FIP

2018: 62 G, 61.2 IP, 3.65 ERA, 47 H, 96 K, 2.71 FIP

While these numbers might not show exponential increases, the statistics prove that Barnes has risen to the occasion. Barnes even finished among the top five in SO/9.0IP among American League relievers. And remember, Barnes’ role in 2018 increased to higher leverage situations, such as the 8th inning, in most games. More often than not, he delivered.

Barnes fared well against both righties and lefties in 2018

An advantage to Barnes’ case is how well he did against hitters from both sides of the plate. He held hitters, collectively, to an OPS under .650, and most outstandingly, held right-handed hitters to a lowly .191 average. The sample size is larger against righties, and the numbers are better still. A hurler that can reverse splits and still maintain dominance is on the path to success.

Barnes performed even better in the 2018 postseason

While the big righty featured stuff above league average last season, it was the playoffs where he really shined. Through 10.1 innings, Barnes allowed just one run and struck out ten batters, all in high leverage situations against three of the best lineups baseball has to offer. Barnes bounced around anywhere from the fifth through the ninth inning, and found success at each stop. A pitcher with the moxie to fit into different roles makes the Matt Barnes, 2019 closer decision an easy one.

There are no guarantees that Cora sticks with a traditional ninth inning closer this season. There is a good chance Barnes and fellow postseason standout Ryan Brasier switch roles on a match up basis. One night Barnes might get the call, and Brasier the other. After three years of gradual improvement, one thing is clear- if Barnes gets that call, he is going to answer.

The MVP Race In the American League

It is mid August, usually around now we are talking about the division races. However, this season it looks like in the American League, the Red Sox, Indians and Astros will win their respected divisions easily. With the second wild card the only A.L. race. The big question this season, the historic competition of the potential American League MVP battle.

We have a potential triple-crown winner in J.D. Martinez and he isn’t even the favoriteMVP on his own team. Most experts alike would say that the Red Sox favorite is Mookie Betts. Betts leads the league in average, hovering around that .350 mark, while playing gold-glove defense in the outfield. Cleveland Indians Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor, can easily make a viable case for the award as well. As they have anchored the juggernaut Indians infield with their gloves and bat. Those two dynamic tandems could actually cancel out votes and give way to the perennial MVP favorite Mike Trout. There is a stigma around Trout that suggests he shouldn’t be MVP because the Angels never truly become a playoff threat. However, his statistics with the modern day WAR stat, wins-above-replacement, have him again a potential choice.

The MVP Case For Red Sox’

As of August 12th, the Red Sox record is an absolute absurd 50 games over .500. This could very well be the greatest Red Sox team in history, as it could contend to break the 116 win mark last held by the Seattle Mariners in 2001. The leaders of this Red Sox team are certainly Betts and free-agent acquisition J.D. Martinez. Martinez now stands at .333, 37 home-runs, and 104 RBI. And again, it is August 12th! Meanwhile, Betts, the everyday center/right-fielder, who even has played a game at second base, is setting the tone atop the A.L., with a .350 average, 26 home-runs and 99 runs scored. Betts leads the A.L. in overall WAR at 8.1, due to his five-tool play. He also just recently hit for the cycle against the Toronto Blue Jays.

The MVP Case For Indians’

There is not a better left-side of the infield in baseball than Cleveland’s Ramirez and Lindor. They have been staples on Terry Francona’s team now for the last four seasons. The Indians have been dominant in the central for three years now and lead the division by 12 games. Along with a tremendous pitching staff led by Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, it is Lindor and Ramirez who set the pace for the offense and defense. Lindor is hitting .292, 29, 74, while Ramirez’ line sits at an impressive .298, 34, 84. Ramirez also is fourth in the league in WAR. Their sub .300 averages, could hinder the Indian’s chances.

The MVP Case For Trout

Ahh the wonderful stat of wins-above-replacement. This should be considered the “Mike Trout statistic” as it always seems to help his MVP case. The Angels made headlines early in the season, as this looked like their year to cause havoc in the West, especially with the two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani. Well that has since faltered, as it looks like another season where LA will miss the playoffs. Trout usually gets consideration, even when the team does not make playoffs, when other playoff team’s players aren’t having incredible statistical years.  That’s not the case this season. However, Trout still has a league leading offensive WAR of 7.2, while hitting .309, 30, 60.

The baseball purists usually tend to the best overall player on the best team. While the modern statistic experts tend to favor the wins-above-replacement stat. Right now, you have to like Betts’ chances.

The Underappreciated Mitch Moreland

Mitch Moreland is an all-star. Yep, that is right. Whether that says more about the lack of first-base production in the A.L., or not, you can’t discredit what Mitch has done for the Red Sox thus far. Moreland’s numbers aren’t ungodly by any means, but he is incredibly consistent. Moreland currently sits at a very respectable .282, with 11 home runs and 45 runs batted in. Looking around the league, he more than deserves to be wearing that American League jersey next week.

Time and time again, when Boston needs a clutch hit, its often “Mitchy 2bags” thatMoreland delivers. While batting 4th, Alex Cora can count on him to drive in runs routinely and expect him to have game-altering at-bats. Moreland also is a great team leader, very durable and plays gold-glove defense, somewhat anchoring the infield with his almost non-existent errors.

Players and coaches acknowledge Moreland’s humble, yet steady baseball approach and awarded him with his first appearance. Around the league, Moreland has always been just a decent hitter with a stellar gold-glove. Now playing every day, he is putting up the numbers he is capable of. He will back up White Sox first-baseball Jose Abreu for the American League next week in the summer classic.

Mitch Moreland Is More Than Earning His Paycheck

This winter, Moreland became a free agent. Many thought that Dave Dombrowski would stay away from offering him a contract considering Hanley Ramirez was slated for first-base. Additionally, the inevitable mega J.D. Martinez contract was looming. Dombrowski acted quickly, however, and signed Mitch to a two-year 13 million dollar contract. Considering the lack of first base production around the league, the fact that Hanley was cut from Boston and his ability to be an underrated cleanup hitter for this potent offensive club, that contract is an absolute steal.

Moreland is making 6.5 million a year. When 2017 free agency opened, it seemed nobody had him in the same upper echelon of free agents in the likes of say Eric Hosmer or Carlos Santana. San Diego shelled out an immense 144 million dollar contract to Hosmer. Hosmer is hitting .253 this year, that seems underwhelming for that deal. Meanwhile, Philadelphia has to pay Santana 20 million annually for the next 3 years. Santana is currently hitting .214  I would have to say that the Red Sox like their underappreciated first-baseman just fine.