Red Sox Prepare For Big Series vs. Yankees

The Red Sox ended a rather frustrating series with the Orioles Wednesday night, suffering a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Kevin Gausman. It was the second night in a row that Toronto lost and the Red Sox were unable to extend their divisional lead. The loss still keeps the Red Sox in first but does not leave them comfortable.

Both Toronto and New York lost Wednesday, making it a game the Sox must find a way toseries win right? Wrong. The league’s most potent offense was held to four hits to Kevin Gausman. If you can recall, Gausman has already lost twice to Boston this year. He also has a career ERA of almost 5.00 on the road. However, the Red Sox made him look like Roger Clemens in the series finale with his eight shutout innings. After scoring 23 runs in two games, the Sox have mustered just four in the last two games.

All that incompetence has made this upcoming series that much bigger in the AL East. The Red Sox will welcome the Yankees into Fenway for four games with their top spot uncertain. After years of being brushed with desolation, this rivalry may finally heat up like the “good ole days.” This series will finally be played with a purpose. Last month, this may have looked like another meaningless series. Oh, how things have changed.

Since taking two of three from the Red Sox in early August, the Yankees have been red hot. In fact, they have been one of the hottest teams in baseball. Once sellers at the deadline, the Bronx Bombers find themselves just two games out of the second Wild Card. Even with that depleted bullpen, the Yankees have found a way and come into Fenway winners of seven of their last ten.

The Keys To The Series

After a disappointing loss from Rick Porcello, the Red Sox turn to Eduardo Rodriguez Thursday night. Rodriguez has been great lately and has had success against the Yankees this year. The Red Sox will need a bounce-back start from Clay Buchholz as well on Friday. Finally, this gives David Price a chance to erase some demons against the Yankees this season as he has looked horrible against them in three starts.

So yes, it is fun to see a big series between the Red Sox and Yankees in September. However, it became more magnified only because the Red Sox blew a chance in the series against the Orioles. This is a real chance for Boston to feel comfortable in the division and make life hell for the Yankees in the final three weeks.

Finding The Man For The Enigmatic Eighth Inning

As the Red Sox look for a division title, their main weakness is not a mystery. Their bullpen struggles have come up far too often this season, costing the Red Sox games in the late innings. The biggest problem for the beleaguered bullpen has undoubtedly been getting the ball to Craig Kimbrel, as they have been terrible in the eighth inning.

All season long, John Farrell has had to wrestle with whom he can send to the mound in Eighth inningthe eighth inning of a close game. Most of the guys he has tried there have had injuries or career-threatening implosions on the field. These eighth inning woes have certainly contributed to the Red Sox’s 3-50 record this season when trailing after eight.

It seems rather sensible to put Koji Uehara in that role. Uehara started the season there and obviously has some closing experience. After a torn pectoral muscle that has kept him out close to two months, it’s unclear just what you’ll get from the 41-year old though. Brad Ziegler finds himself in a similar scenario. As a guy who has closed a majority of his career, he seems like another good man for the eighth. However, his recent illness, as well as command issues, have certainly placed him out of that conversation. Junichi Tazawa has also been hurt this season, but that has not been his biggest issue. Since he came back from the DL in July, Tazawa’s ERA has been 6.75 and opponents are hitting .328 off him. His ineffectiveness has been so bad that he may not have a career after October.

The most recent guy thrown into that role has been Clay Buchholz. Buchholz was not bad in that role, but obviously now he can not be the guy. Since Steven Wright may be out for the season, Buchholz has been thrown back into the rotation and has flourished. It would be very smart for the Red Sox to keep him there and use this hot streak before he inevitably gets injured.

So Who Should Really Be The Eighth Inning Guy?

That leaves the most intriguing and most qualified candidate. While the trade for him now seems like a bust, Joe Kelly could be absolutely perfect to fill this void. Kelly’s stuff is tremendous; it always has been. However, he clearly does not have great baseball IQ and gets hit hard the second time around the order. Luckily, he should not face that problem anymore. Kelly has three potentially devastating pitches and he has clearly let himself loose out of the bullpen. His fastball touching 100 MPH on the radar gun and with good location, he can be unhittable. If he can locate those pitches consistently, the Red Sox could potentially throw two Craig Kimbrel’s at opponents in the eighth and ninth inning.

Joe Kelly may have finally found purpose on this team and could really live up to a role. Kelly has seems a few different scenarios out of the bullpen since his return to the club, but the eighth inning is the most sensible for him. Let’s face it, if the Red Sox can solve this problem, they will be a really dangerous team in September and into October. If Joe Kelly can electrify and baffle hitters like his stuff shows he can, watch out for the Red Sox.

The Red Sox Rotation is Now a Strength

For almost three years, the Red Sox rotation has been a source of frustration. In 2014, Jon Lester was traded away, and Ben Cherington didn’t replace him. Boston lacked an ace for what felt like the longest time, until David Price was signed last winter. Under-performance early this season increased the worry among fans, but things have gradually clicked into place, giving the Red Sox a starting corps to be relied upon as October looms ahead.

A Resurgence for the Red Sox Rotation

In the past thirty days, the Red Sox rotation has pitched to a 3.19 ERA. Only two teams have a better mark in all of baseball: the Cubs and Rays. Boston is also fourth overall in FIP during that span, while a WHIP of 1.110 is the best any American League team can muster. Only the Blue Jays and Tigers have induced more soft contact in the past month among AL rivals, which suggests the Red Sox rotation has definitely turned a corner.

Red Sox rotation

Rick Porcello has emerged as the staff ace, as his 2.08 ERA in the past thirty days illustrates. But David Price has also improved greatly as the season has progressed. The big southpaw has a 2.36 ERA in his last six starts, and he appears to be peaking when it matters most. Meanwhile, Eduardo Rodriguez has a 2.67 ERA in his last five starts; Drew Pomeranz is at 3.31 over his last six; and Clay Buchholz has even returned from the dead with a 2.70 mark in his last 16.2 innings pitched.

Once a Weakness, Now a Strength

Whichever way you dice it, the Red Sox rotation, so often maligned, is quietly becoming a strength. Aside from the numbers, this group just inspires more confidence than it ever has before. Porcello and Price are experienced guys who should handle the pennant race pressure. Rodriguez seems to have ironed out a few issues. And the Sox still have Steven Wright to return from his stint on the disabled list, to compliment Pomeranz and Buchholz, who are also doing just fine.

All things considered, Boston is rounding into form at just the right time. The offense has been relentless all season, but it is now backed by a more consistent pitching staff. In general, the Sox seem to be grinding harder right now, and there is a newfound toughness to this team that has enabled it to win plenty of close games recently. That bodes well for the stretch run, which will feature plenty of games against division rivals such as Toronto and Baltimore.

Through all the hardship and uncertainty, here the Red Sox stand. It’s late August and they have a 71-54 record, good for a share of first place. Just thirty-seven games remain, and one last push is needed for a return to postseason play. For the first time in a long while, the Sox have a strong balance between offense, defense and pitching. Don’t look now, but this may be the most complete team in the American League.

Red Sox Resemble Old Selves in D’Backs Sweep

It’s good to see the Red Sox resemble their old selves again after a few rough weeks. Several Red Sox hitters posted strong numbers as they swept the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three game series. Sweeping the D’Backs wasn’t just a team effort though. It resembled the way the Red Sox used to play, a style that often led them straight to the playoffs. I dare hope that this sweep will give the team the confidence it needs to start playing more consistently.

I’ll admit that beating Arizona isn’t the hardest thing to do nowadays. The Diamondbacks’sRed Sox Resemble pitching staff has an ERA hovering around 5 right now, putting them in 29th place in baseball. They also lead the National League in earned runs. So the Red Sox didn’t exactly sweep a pennant contender. But the numbers they posted during the three-game series are hard to ignore.

Home Runs Galore!

Hanley Ramirez hit two home runs Friday night, including a three-run shot that put the Red Sox ahead after David Price surrendered a two-run homer to Rickie Weeks Jr. in the first inning. David Ortiz joined Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski as the third Red Sox player ever to have 1,000 extra base hits. David Price won the game with eight strikeouts in what amounted to one of his weaker wins for the season.

The second game saw Brock Holt and Sandy Leon go the distance in a 6-3 win Saturday. Holt seems to have fully recovered from his injuries earlier in the season, while Leon’s batting average continues to defy logic. Reliever Brad Ziegler, a former Diamondback, struck out three straight to get out of a bases loaded jam in the eighth inning. Robbie Ross Jr. picked up the win while Craig Kimbrel, resembling his old self too, grabbed the save.

The third game saw Mookie Betts blast three home runs. He joins Ted Williams as the only other Red Sox hitter to have two three-home run games in a season. That marked eight RBIs in one game for Betts. Jackie Bradley Jr. added a home run of his own in the second inning.

Red Sox Resemble Old Selves In Bad Ways Too

David Price got the win in Friday’s game but not without a lot of help from the Red Sox offense. Surrendering a home run in the first seems to be a habit for the Red Sox pitching staff. Clay Buchholz allowed three hits and three earned runs in four innings Saturday night.

I’m not exactly sure what’s up with the pitching staff. If Dave Dombrowski really wants to see the Red Sox resemble their old selves then something has to be done about it. Price is very good but he’s not consistent. Steve Wright and Rick Porcello are on fire, but Buchholz continues to struggle badly. The bats give them plenty of run support, and the defense is strong too, but the pitching is still not coming together. If the pitching staff could find a groove like their hitters then the Red Sox could blast past the Blue Jays and Orioles to capture first place again. They’re only a few games behind so it shouldn’t be too hard.

Time, however, is running out.

Clay Buchholz: The Biggest Waste Of Time In Red Sox History

Baseball may still be a business, but the Boston Red Sox have certainly have not treated it as such with Clay Buchholz. Buchholz has been nothing short of a disappointment since 2010, for the exception of a terrific half-season in 2013, and he has really not been reprimanded for it. The problems stretch out to every facet of his game.

Buchholz On The Field

Since winning 17 games in 2010, Buchholz has primarily used his energy on excusesBuchholz instead of trying to get guys out it seems. For the exception of 2013, when he only started 16 games, Buchholz’s lowest ERA for a season since 2010 has been a fairly pedestrian 3.26 and now has a career ERA of 4.00. Also, there’s only been two seasons in his career where he has had a WHIP of under 1.2, about average for a starter. The two seasons his WHIP was under that were 2013 and 2007, when he only had three starts. However, one of those 2007 starts was a no-hitter. Had he had an average night of 5 hits allowed in 7 innings, his WHIP would be right back up to 1.3.

Buchholz Off The Field

The issue with Buchholz has not been entirely on the field though. He has become as famous for his post-game excuses as he has for his eccentric haircuts. In the 2013 World Series, the microphones were all in front of him before his start in Game 4. All Buchholz could talk about was how he was going to have a tough time pitching and basically complaining that the Red Sox would start him in such a big game. To the surprise of no one, Buchholz came out after four innings and was ultimately completely let off the hook with a World Series title.

The real red flag with Buchholz didn’t come about until the trade deadline of 2014. After Jon Lester and John Lackey were dealt, reporters flooded to Clay’s locker. Buchholz basically asked who the ace of the staff would be after that. That was when all hope was lost. Look in the freaking mirror Clay good God!

The veteran Texan has somehow still not matured to the major leagues on and off the field. We still hear about how great his stuff is, yet he still sucks. Must be mental, right? This guy turns 32 later this month, how has he not adjusted to this level? What a joke. Yet, he has not been traded. He has not been DFA’d. He has not gotten a fake injury for a DL stint. In fact, they found a spot for him in the bullpen. It is now past the trade deadline and he’s still here. How much longer must fans deal with this?

Replace Buchholz with O’Sullivan Indefinitely

Whether you replace Clay Buchholz or release him, the guy has to go. His pitching is like a disastrous first date that you only hope gets better but only gets worse. With that pain though comes Sean O’Sullivan. He’s the best person to replace Buchholz on the rotation. O’Sullivan is not only a better pitcher, but he and catcher Sandy Leon already have a strong working relationship. That kind of connection is what the Red Sox need right now.

In 11 starts with AAA Pawtucket this season, O’Sullivan went 6-2 with an ERA of 2.79. HeReplace Buchholz even struck out a season high 10 batters against the Lehigh IronPigs. It was after that game that O’Sullivan said a few things that confirm he’s the best replacement.

O’Sullivan was asked how having Sandy Leon behind home plate has made him more confident. Leon had caught three out of his last four starts to date. “[Sandy] has not only caught three out of my last four starts this season but he caught almost every inning for me during spring training. We’ve built a great trust between us and have gotten on the same page.”

Since Sandy Leon is already up in Boston, it only make sense to keep O’Sullivan on the roster. Not only do you have O’Sullivan off to a good start, but he and Leon work well together. This is particularly important because the Red Sox have been making error after stupid error lately. These errors have cost them runs (and games). Additionally, Leon has a fantastic batting average so far. In 15 games and 40 at-bats as of July 4th, Leon has hit .500 with eight doubles and a home run. On Monday’s 12-5 victory over the Texas Rangers, Leon got four hits in five at-bats including three doubles and a run. That alone is impressive.

I’ve been saying for a while now that the Red Sox’s problem is that they’re not communicating. The infield doesn’t know each other as well as they should. If they think they do then they need to work on communicating a little more. Keeping O’Sullivan in the pitching rotation to replace Buchholz would not only be good for the pitching staff, but good for the team. O’Sullivan and Leon know each other well, and both are producing great numbers. On top of that, O’Sullivan is a work horse.

“I go as deep I can into games,” O’Sullivan told me after an April 24th game against Lehigh Valley where he struck out ten batters. “I go out there, be a horse and go as far as I can.”

This kind of effort is exactly what the Red Sox need right now. More importantly, it’s the best attitude to replace Buchholz.