Christian Vazquez: Defensive Superstar in the Making

As soon as I saw the Spring Training video of Christian Vazquez shooting down Trevor Plouffe attempting to steal second base, I knew he was special, (the video is titled ‘Vazquez throws out Plouffe’ and can be found on MLB.com). They don’t just hand out the nickname “Little Yadi” to anyone. Vazquez emerged as the potential catcher of the future just a few years ago. Now, he is 26 years old, and we are still waiting to see if he can get the starting job behind the plate.

Ever since Vazquez reached the Major Leagues in 2014, it’s been clear that he struggles Christian Vazquezin the batter’s box. Vazquez has a career .233 batting-average in just 347 at-bats. Vazquez has showed signs though, as he crushed a home run over the Monster against Yankees RP Dellin Betances last year. Betances is one of the most dominant relievers in all of baseball, and the fact that Vazquez could hold his own against him and go yard attests to his hitting ability. He simply gets overwhelmed at times against big league pitching.

Christian Vazquez vs. Sandy Leon

Sandy Leon emerged last season as the everyday catcher for Boston. He found success in our lineup, producing a .310 average. Leon only made one error behind the plate last year, and threw out 42% of potential base runners. Most Sox fans will see these numbers and immediately see Sandy Leon as the starter this year too, but not so fast.

Leon was one of the streakiest hitters on the team last year. He was the best hitter on the team at times, while at other times he couldn’t make contact. When he wasn’t hitting well, he was basically a liability. Not to mention, Sandy Leon was absolutely awful in the playoffs. He went 1-10 with 5 K’s against Cleveland in the divisional series. I have not seen enough consistent production from Leon to tag him with the Opening Day start this year; I’m also not John Farrell.

The Case for Vazquez

Christian Vazquez has the most raw talent in the Red Sox catching core. He can take over a game from behind the plate with his framing, and his blocking is advanced beyond his competition. Vazquez is a defensive beast, and it is very apparent when watching him work behind the plate in-game. He is the glue that holds the Red Sox defense together. Blake Swihart has shown an inability to improve upon his receiving thus far, and some say he has caught a case of the yips this spring. Sandy Leon has been a hit or miss in all aspects of his game. Who does this leave? Christian Vazquez, (or Mini Yadi).

Vazquez is dedicated to his craft. He is ready for the challenge that awaits him. We’re talking about a guy who is not only compared to Yadier Molina, but works out with him and his brothers in the offseason. Don’t forget, Molina is only a career .285 hitter. Blake Swihart and Sandy Leon have been inconsistent producers at catcher. Don’t get me wrong, Leon belongs in the lineup against lefties. John Farrell has already come out and said that Hanley Ramirez will DH against righties this year. Does this mean that against lefties we will see Leon DH, and Vazquez behind the plate? Sure, he still needs to improve his hitting. Once he does, there is no question as to who will be catching every day in Boston.

No October Dramatics, One Fitting Goodbye for David Ortiz

We romanticized about the notion as we watched David Ortiz’s final season.

At 40, in his final season with the Red Sox, Big Papi would not only get the regular-season MVP after a 38-homer, 127-RBI regular season, he would carry the Yawkey Way Kids to one final World Series championship, slugging home runs into the cold, October night.David Ortiz But that’s the danger of romanticized notions. The downfall of hope and faith. We romanticize all the time. It makes us smile. Gives us hope the world can turn out just as we like it.

But it’s self-indulgent. Fictions of our own hearts. The ending we choose rarely plays out. It certainly didn’t this October with Ortiz and the Sox. Ortiz was supposed to lead the Red Sox to their fourth World Series this century and coast off into a sunset as beautiful as the advertisements for resorts in his native country. In reality, it was all romantic notions.

Cleveland swept the Red Sox out of the American League Divisional Series, finishing off the job Monday night, Oct. 10, at Fenway Park in a 4-3 win. Papi was hardly a factor in the series — one hit, one RBI, no homers. We wanted another Hollywood Ortiz script. Instead we got cold, hard reality: good pitching beats good hitting.

Nothing wrong with reality. We’re little creatures on this earth with big dreams that sometimes fall short. Reality for the game of baseball is that most of the time, the ball does not land safely between the nine defensive players on the diamond. Most of the time, the wind knocks down the ball seemingly destined to go over the wall. Not all nine players are in sync on one night.

David Ortiz: In the Finale, He’s Human

In the final playoff series of his career, Ortiz finally proved he was human all along, a little creature in this big world just like us. His performance kept our romanticized notions trapped in our hearts, stowed away for later use for another Boston star.

There were no home runs on this October night, only an RBI sacrifice fly and a walk in Papi’s final at-bat. Nothing poetic there. Papi, the Yankees killer, Senor Octubre, upstaged in his final professional baseball game by old friend Coco Crisp, whose two-run homer into the Monster seats was the difference. How unceremonious for Papi.

But did this story have a bitter ending? Was this that heartbreaking? Maybe the real victory in this Red Sox season simply was being able to HAVE hope one last time in October. Hope that Ortiz put the ball into the visitor’s bullpen to tie the game. Hope that Papi’s troops would rally around him.

Maybe just having David Ortiz around for three more games in October was the perfect ending. Maybe watching him rise from the Sox dugout after Game 3 ended to cries of “Papi!” “Papi!” throughout Fenway Park for a final curtain call on the pitcher’s mound was all we really needed.

David Ortiz got a proper goodbye to Boston in a place he called home for 14 magical years. No words, just a two-plus-minute, teary salute to the home crowd. No dramatic October home runs to celebrate.

Just one epic, fitting goodbye. Maybe that was our perfect ending after all.

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 Next Red Sox Ace is Here

6 IP, 5 Hits, 2 ER, 2 BB, 10 Ks, 3.00 ERA. Not a bad debut for the new Boston Red Sox ace, David Price.

Command looked pretty good early on, especially having to deal with the cold temperatures at game time. Of his 103 pitches thrown, he threw 71 for strikes and worked both sides of the zone. He employed a nice mix of his fastball, curveball and change-up tored sox ace keep Francona’s Indians off-balance.

One thing I did notice was the velocity on his fastball. Price routinely sat in the 94-95 range in 2015, but Tuesday’s debut had him sitting in the 90-92 range, while topping out at 93.9.

But let’s not hit the big red panic button just yet. Game time temps were hovering around 34 degrees so that most certainly played a big role in the drop of velocity as well as it being his 1st start of the year. With temps expected to be around 55 degrees for the Red Sox Home Opener, and Price’s 2nd start of the season, I anticipate the velocity to reappear sooner than later.

What to Expect From the Red Sox Ace Moving Forward

Consistency, that’s what you can expect to see moving forward. David Price’s next start will be the Sox Home Opener on April 11th. In 11 career starts over at the Fens, Price is 6-1 with a 1.95 ERA, in 74 innings. Look for Price to not only build on those stats, but also thrive.

Now I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves and talk postseason play, because quite frankly on paper this team is not postseason material, but everyone’s big concern when they heard Price was coming to Boston was his postseason numbers. Hard to disagree with most fans when you look at what he’s produced in 14 postseason appearances.

2-7, 5.12 ERA , 63.1 IP, 62 Hits, 36 ER, 11 HR.

Are those numbers “ace worthy”? Not by any means, but it begs the question, why can’t he produce in the postseason? Well, for starters in the 2013 ALDS against the Sox, the Rays offense combined for a dismal .225 batting average. Right there, if your team is not producing offensively that automatically throws the world’s weight onto the pitcher to keep you in the game.

In last year’s ALCS match up with the Royals, the Jay’s offense didn’t fare much better— hitting a combined .234 batting average. Do we see a pattern?

Now I’m not saying offense is the key to a pitchers success, but if your hitters are not hitting and putting runs on the board what more can a pitcher do for the team? I would love to hear someone come up with a good explanation because I have not figured one out yet.

Instead of focusing on the postseason though let’s live in the now. David Price is your Red Sox ace and he’s not going to take that responsibility lightly. He’s going to go out to that mound every 5th day and prove to not only the Sox brass that he belongs here but the fans as well that he’s the real deal and he will help the Sox achieve their goal of reaching October baseball.

So David, and Astro (Price’s dog)…Welcome to Boston. Enjoy riding your bike through the city, explore the city and all its offerings. And for God’s sake, lead us to the promise land.

Why is Mike Napoli Still Playing?

As Red Sox fans try and grapple with the fact that the team did not score a run in 8 calendar days, many have to begin to question the moves the team has made and the lineup card that John Farrell continues to roll with on a regular basis.

The 2015 Red Sox are a prime example of the need for youth on your roster. Although Mike Napolithey have some future stars in Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts, the Red Sox have had trouble developing prospects at certain positions, the main one being first base.

Mike Napoli continues to get at bats as the team hopes some team will see something before the trade deadline so the Red Sox can sell high on him. Although he had two hits in the second game of Monday’s double header, Napoli was still pinch hit for by Brock Holt late in the game. Napoli had recently sat out a week while the Red Sox went as far as putting David Ortiz at first base and Hanley Ramirez served as the DH.

Napoli is in the second year of a two year deal that pays him $16 million, there is no question he will not be in a Red Sox uniform come 2016, so why are they continuing to throw him out there? Dustin Pedroia is back from the disabled list so, Brock Holt could play first base. Holt did start Saturday night at first with Napoli getting the starts in the other three games of the Angels series. Holt does not profile as a first baseman for the long haul though with limited power.

The Red Sox have two players who are under performing defensively and could make the move to first base—Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. Sandoval, a catcher coming up, could make the move to first more easily than Ramirez in my opinion as the move to left did not work out with Ramirez. He continues to look worse, with a ball sailing over his head in Monday’s afternoon game, after he froze on the ball off the bat. If this is David Ortiz’s last year, I want Hanley as my DH and Pablo at first and find a third baseman. The Sox could even play Travis Shaw at first for the rest of the year to see what they have in Shaw as he has seemed to have proven himself in the minor leagues.

Mike Napoli’s days with the Red Sox could be numbered but with them being in last place and likely sellers at the deadline will anyone take him? Napoli is hitting .197 on the year with 83 strikeouts in 83 games played. A player who was a hero for the 2013 World Series team and a man of the people on the streets of Boston, just no longer is producing at a high level, worthy of a spot in the Sox order, but when will John Farrell and Ben Cherington finally pull the plug?

The Green Monster Has Lost its Magic

Green Monster

When I was a kid, Fenway Park seemed to be the most magical place on Earth, and the famous Green Monster was its most enchanting feature. However, while the allure of America’s Most Beloved Ballpark remains, The Wall has, in my opinion, lost some of its appeal in recent years. Once a sacred monument to Red Sox tradition, the thirty-seven foot fence now resembles a giant billboard serving corporate greed. The magic has diminished.

Perhaps it’s because I’m British and, thus, more sensitive to such things, or perhaps it’s Green Monsterbecause I’ve grown older, and now see baseball as the billion dollar business it is. But, without question, I no longer see a beguiling landmark when I look at the Monster. Instead, I see a commercialized mess.

I still love the hand-operated scoreboard and all the nostalgia it entails, but, right now, the beauty, authenticity and uniqueness of such features is being shrouded in a haze of intrusive and often incongruous advertisements. For instance, during this homestand, the Monster has been plastered with the logos and slogans of twelve different sponsors, from Volvo and Hyundai to CVS Pharmacy and W.B. Mason. Admittedly, several of the sponsorship slots are still dedicated to Red Sox charities such as the Jimmy Fund, which I totally admire, but the other advertisements frequently look vulgar. In particular, the three purpose-built ad boards atop the Monster command your attention and, therefore, ultimately detract from The Wall itself.

Of course, plastering sponsorship onto the outfield walls of Fenway Park is nothing new. In the early part of the park’s existence, everything from shaving foam to cigarettes was advertised, including on the massive left-field fence. However, between The Wall being painted green in 1947, and the addition of an All-Star Game promotional logo in 1999, advertisements were disallowed on the sacrosanct structure.

During that 52-year period, the nation fell in love with The Wall. They admired its size and width, but also its simplicity, innocence and ability to summon bygone times. There was an unspoiled beauty to the Monster that allowed people to easily imagine what the park was like when their parents and grandparents first discovered it. That’s what made it special. That’s what made it different. That’s what made it magic.

Monster

However, since 2000, that nostalgia and romance has gradually slipped into the teeth of capitalism greed. It began with a fairly unspectacular Red Sox logo being printed onto The Wall in 2001; continued with the addition of the Monster seats and specific advertising panels on the scoreboard in 2003; and, in ensuing years, has steadily worsened, to the point where today, a new generation of fans sees the Monster as just another outfield wall clad in a myriad of sponsorship.

I understand the enormous marketing potential of The Wall, as the most recognizable ballpark feature in Major League Baseball, and I’m aware we live in a highly-commercialized age. But, still, the modern Monster leaves me with a sense of dissatisfaction, and a pang of regret. Ultimately, I think the Red Sox have pushed the boundaries a little too far on this issue and, as a result, one of the great hallmarks of Boston tradition has been altered forever, which is more than a little sad.