Christian Vazquez: Red Sox Secret Weapon

Christian Vazquez never got much attention before this season. His dismal batting average kept him in Pawtucket for much of 2016. His .227 with only eleven extra base hits wasn’t exactly impressive. What did impress everyone though was his fielding percentage. He currently has a .990 fielding percentage as of August 2nd. Fortunately for Vazquez, his bat finally caught fire this season. Vazquez was outed as the Red Sox secret weapon Tuesday night after hitting a walk-off home run defeating the Cleveland Indians 12-10.

Vazquez’s home run came at a critical time for the Red Sox. After a rough post All-Star losingred sox secret stretch, the Red Sox relinquished first place to the Yankees. The ongoing feud between David Price and Dennis Eckersley didn’t help their performance either. The game itself didn’t seem like a sure victory at all at first. Chris Sale surrendered eight hits and seven runs in five innings in a rare poor performance on the mound. The Indians’ Austin Jackson robbed Hanley Ramirez of a home run that just might go down as one of the greatest catches in the history of baseball. So for a while, it looked like the Red Sox weren’t going to win.

Then Christian Vazquez stepped to the plate. Little did anyone know, but the Red Sox secret weapon was about to push back at the Indians.

The Red Sox Secret Weapon Came At a Critical Time

As I stated before, the Red Sox really needed a victory here. Poor publicity, bad pitching, and lazy offense allowed the Yankees to snatch first place away. But in a game that had everything from drama, to suspense, to the perfect climax, you can’t say the Red Sox didn’t snatch back first place in style. More importantly, after years of writing him off as a sure out, opposing teams now have to take Vazquez much more seriously as a hitter. It’s bad enough for them that he has a high caught stealing percentage, making opposing runners think twice about stealing.

No one, not even those in Red Sox Nation, thought Vazquez could come through in the clutch like he did last night. But there’s only one thing that makes me angry about the whole thing.

I wasn’t in the mood to go to the ballgame and I gave my tickets away, so I wasn’t there to watch it live.

Akron RubberDucks Beat the Sea Dogs 5-3

Akron, Ohio – The Akron RubberDucks (31-31) received back-to-back homers with two outs in the eighth inning, and defeated the Portland Sea Dogs (29-33), 5-3, Friday night in front of a sellout crowd of 7,815 fans at Canal Park.
Eric Haase snapped a 3-3 tie with a solo-homer off losing pitcher Taylor Grover (1-2). Following Haase’s big fly, Tyler Krieger hit an inside-the-park to left-center field.  Grover allowed just those runs on three hits over 3.1 innings pitched.
Akron RubberDucks
Mitch Brown (1-1) allowed the tying run in the eighth inning on a run-scoring single to Mike Olt, but earned the win for Akron.
Portland took an early 2-0 lead against Akron starter Thomas Pannone. In the first, Jeremy Barfield nailed a two-out RBI double. In the second, Deiner Lopez knocked in a run by reaching on a third baseman’s error.
Akron chipped away in the fourth on a run-scoring fielder’s choice by Tyler Krieger. In the fifth, Jacob Dahlstrand yielded a two-run homer to Luigi Rodriguez, giving the RubberDucks a 3-2 lead.
Jake Romanski finished 3-for-4, his first multi-hit game of the season. Rafael Devers went 1-for-4 with a double.

The Road Ahead

The Sea Dogs and Akron RubberDucks (Indians affiliate) continue their three-game series on Saturday night at Canal Park with a 7:05 PM first pitch. RHP Kevin McAvoy (1-4, 5.54) makes his 11th start of the season.  LHP Tanner Tully makes his Double-A debut for Akron.
Listen live on the U.S. Cellular Sea Dogs Radio Network beginning at 6:50 PM and watch on MiLB.TV starting at 7:00 PM.
Tickets for Portland’s next homestand on June 23-29 are available at seadogs.com or 207-879-9500.

Where Did it All Go Wrong for the Red Sox?

The irony was painful. After a summer of blowout wins and offensive fireworks, the Red Sox succumbed weakly in the fall, unable to locate the big hit when it mattered most. A vaunted lineup, unrivaled in the Majors this season, was stifled by a resilient Cleveland Indians team, as old friend Terry Francona masterminded a Division Series sweep of Boston.

Red Sox

Before the series, few people took the Indians seriously. Three of their best players – Michael Brantley, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar – were missing due to injury. Another star, Corey Kluber, saw his start pushed back due to another ailment. By most measures, the Red Sox were far superior. Most fans predicted a swift sweep. That’s exactly what they got, but of an entirely different flavor.

A Shock for Red Sox Nation

The way it happened was stunning. Boston didn’t play great to close the regular season, but a refreshed approach was expected once the playoffs began. Instead, Red Sox Nation was left waiting, and waiting, and waiting some more, for a team that never showed up. Almost from the first pitch in Cleveland, there was a sense of brewing melodrama. There was a sense that this team had run its course, quite incredibly. The Indians finished the job with shocking rapidity.

Perhaps plain old complacency is to blame. Did the Red Sox simply believe their own hype? That’s difficult to confirm, but it would at least explain the way Boston was caught like a deer in the headlights. When the games really mattered, when the wheat was separated from the chaff, this team wasn’t good enough. It just never got going. And now we’re left to contemplate through the bitter months ahead.

As people digest this loss around the hot stoves of New England, one topic will inspire more debate that any other: the choking offense. So powerful during the regular season, the Red Sox lineup froze on the biggest stage of all.

How Did the Red Sox Get Swept?

While it’s unfair to pinpoint any one guy for criticism, it is worth noting the performance of these praised hitters to paint a collective picture. Dustin Pedroia managed two hits in twelve ALDS at-bats. Mookie Betts, by all consensus an MVP candidate, collected just two in ten. That was better than Jackie Bradley, who produced just one hit, while Xander Bogaerts and Hanley Ramirez combined to go 6-for-24. It just wasn’t good enough.

Even David Ortiz, the master of October baseball, found little magic left in his wand. Papi added just one more hit to his postseason ledger before riding off into the cold night. For once, he couldn’t muster the big blow, and neither could his teammates. The Red Sox left 41 runners on base during this three-game series. They scored just seven runs. In the end, after all the worrying, that ridiculed rotation kept Boston in these games for the most part. The offense just couldn’t deliver.

And so, what now? The Red Sox will seek a replacement for Ortiz, as weird as that sounds. Perhaps John Farrell will see his position as manager reviewed. Maybe Dave Dombrowski will try to address some weaknesses throughout the offseason.

This young core will return to the postseason on plenty of occasions moving forward. But, right now, this was just a step too far for Mookie, Xander, Jackie and the rest. They should learn from the experience, and come back stronger for it. That may not help Red Sox fans deal with the present shock, but it should assist these players in preparing for future assaults on a World Series championship.

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.

Red Sox On The Brink Of Elimination

With all the optimism September brought for the Red Sox, October is sweeping it away. Winless this month, the Red Sox are facing a harsh reality: elimination. Cleveland quickly became the setting of Red Sox Nation’s nightmares with the debacles of games one and two. After two utter disappointments, the season will hang in the balance of game three on Monday at Fenway.

Game one was seen as crucial in that the Red Sox would need to win to feel Eliminationcomfortable. With Rick Porcello going against Trevor Bauer, it seemed like a sure win for Boston. Porcello, however, dug his own grave in the third inning, giving up three home runs. Even though the Red Sox had the lead twice before that, they were never able to recover. They cut it down to one twice and stranded the tying run at third in the eighth. A gutsy five-out save by Cody Allen closed out a 5-4 Indians victory.

Down 1-0 in the series, David Price got the ball to try and tie the series. This seemed like the perfect setting for Price to “earn” his contract money after an under-performing regular season. Once again, Price couldn’t resist the urge to let us down. Adding to his atrocious postseason resumé, Price gave up five runs on six hits in three and one/third innings. If this were his last start of the season, it would only be fitting. A four-run second inning capped by a three-run home run by Lonnie Chisenhall finished off the Red Sox in game two. An injured Corey Kluber stuffed my foot in my own mouth and shut the Sox out in seven innings en route to a 6-0 victory.

The Smell Of Elimination In The Air

So now the stage is set for the Red Sox. Game three at Fenway with Clay Buchholz on the mound. Dustin Pedroia talked post game about how this performance does not embody the team. Well, it’s time to put up or shut up. Pedroia is just 1-8 this series. Also, David Ortiz, Jackie Bradley, Xander Bogaerts, and Mookie Betts are a combined 3-28 in the first two games. It’s a bit scary to think the only bright spots, offensively, in both games have been Brock Holt and Andrew Benintendi.

A rah-rah kind of speech rarely works in baseball, but if Dustin Pedroia lit a fire under his team, they’ll certainly need it. They sleep-walked in Cleveland and it’s yet to be determined whether they’ll wake up before they walk right off the cliff. History may be on their side, the Red Sox are the only franchise to ever come back from this same deficit in the ALDS twice. The first time they did that was in 1999, coincidentally against Cleveland.

After game two, it really can’t get much worse. Monday should be a slugfest. The Red Sox should get their act together and Buchholz is pitching in Fenway, so the balls should fly. That should favor the league’s best offense, but who knows with this team anymore? Let’s just hope the Red Sox save us the embarrassment of avoiding a sweep. On the bright side, if they lose this series it’ll surely be the end of John Farrell’s tenure. That is, if they have any pride at all. It’s the little things.

Red Sox Versus Indians: 2016 ALDS Preview

The Red Sox are about to embark on their first postseason run since 2013. More importantly, it will be just the second time in seven years that October baseball will visit Boston. So, what can fans expect in the American League Division Series, and will the Red Sox advance?

Red Sox

Well, it’s perhaps easier to answer the first question. Boston has a first round matchup with the Cleveland Indians, needing three wins to advance. The first two games will be played at Progressive Field, with the next two at Fenway Park. If a deciding fifth contest is needed, the teams will travel back to Cleveland, which has experienced something of a baseball revival in recent months.

Cleveland Will Test the Red Sox

The Indians have a fascinating history. From the days of Cy Young and Nap Lajoie through to Bob Feller and Larry Doby, and on to Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez, Cleveland has built some very good teams. However, that effort has yielded just two world championships, and none since 1948. Still, the Cavaliers won an NBA title this year, ending Cleveland’s notorious drought, so perhaps there’s a little magic in the air by Lake Erie.

A familiar friend captains the Cleveland ship. Terry Francona, the mastermind of two World Series championships for the Red Sox, has been the Indians’ manager since 2013. The first few years were rough, but a core of young players has since emerged, with shortstop Francisco Lindor and second baseman Jason Kipnis leading Cleveland to its first full postseason series since 2007. Attendance has increased for Indians home games, and this is definitely a team looking to progress swiftly.

The Indians Are Struggling With Injuries

Francona won’t be able to rely much on his vaunted starting rotation in this series, though. The Indians pitched to a 3.86 ERA during the regular season, much better than the Red Sox’ 4.00 mark. However, the Indians have lost Carlos Carrasco to injury. Ace Corey Kluber will return from a scare to pitch in Game 2, but Danny Salazar, the third head of this tremendous trident, has not made the ALDS roster thanks to a strained forearm.

Essentially, the Indians’ biggest strength has been decimated by injuries. Trevor Bauer and his 4.42 career ERA will start Game 1 against the Red Sox, while Josh Tomlin and Mike Clevinger aren’t exactly petrifying. Nevertheless, Boston cannot take anything for granted, especially given the erratic nature of its own pitching staff.

The Red Sox do have a considerable advantage in terms of offense. Boston scored 101 more runs than Cleveland during the regular season, and also had a far superior run differential. Those statistics may not play especially well in a short series, but no team in baseball can fully match the Red Sox with regard to a dynamic lineup that can score in multiple ways. If the bats keep producing at their normal clip, and the pitching holds up, it will be really difficult for the Indians to stick with the Red Sox.

Of course, nothing is ever easy in October. All of these teams emerged from the enormous grind of a season to earn this opportunity. But the Indians seem to be falling apart physically at the worst possible time, affording the Red Sox a brilliant chance of advancing.

So strap yourself in. It’s time to get excited. Let’s see if Big Papi and the Red Sox have one more run in them, when it really matters most.