Boston Breaks Out Bats in Clean Sweep

The Red Sox offense has been on fire lately, torching the Oakland A’s for 40 runs in a clean sweep this past week and racking up 17 more in the first two games of this weekend’s four-game set against the Houston Astros. Boston now leads all of baseball in runs, hits, doubles, slugging, total bases, and OPS while hitting .296 as a team, looking like the murderer’s row that made three straight playoff appearances from 2003-2005.

Boston Breaks Out Bats in Clean Sweep

Monday marked the unofficial start of spring in Boston as temperatures in the city pushedClean Sweep 70 degrees, which, along with a return to Fenway’s cozy confines, seemed to help the Olde Towne Team break out of their mini-slump. After scoring just nine runs in their Mother’s Day weekend series at Yankee Stadium, the Red Sox kicked off their home stand in grand fashion, pummeling the A’s 14-7.

That set the tone for the rest of the series, which saw Boston batter Oakland for 13 runs and 16 hits in the middle game, followed by 13 more runs and 17 hits in the series finale as they put the finishing touches on their clean sweep.

Though every Red Sox player contributed in some form or fashion, Jackie Bradley, Jr. was the star of the series with a pair of six-RBI games, continuing his recent breakthrough at the plate.

New Opponent, Similar Results

Boston’s bats didn’t cool off when Oakland left town. The Red Sox greeted the Houston Astros with another offensive outburst on Thursday, pounding last year’s AL Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel for eight runs on 10 hits in six innings. They later added three more runs to their ledger against Houston’s bullpen, breaking double digits for the fourth night in a row. Every Sox starter notched at least one hit, which had been the case the previous night as well.

Boston’s streak finally came to an end Friday night, as the Sox lost (there will be no clean sweep of Houston) after scoring “only” six runs on 11 hits. It looked like they might reach double digits again after getting halfway there in the second inning, but they scored only once more the rest of the way. Perhaps the evening’s rain dampened their bats as well as the field.

But with warm weather and plenty of sunshine forecast for the weekend, Boston looks to finish its home stand with a flourish. With thumpers such as Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, Colby Rasmus, and Carlos Gomez, among others, the Astros have a thunderous lineup that rivals Boston’s, so the Sox will need to keep up the pace to continue winning. Seeing as how Houston’s pitching staff ranks last in the AL in hits allowed and second-to-last in runs allowed, that shouldn’t be too difficult.

Yes, Ramirez Can Play First Base (For Now)

The 2016 season is still young but many in the Red Sox Nation are cautiously optimistic about Hanley Ramirez. Since moving to first base, Ramirez has shown consistency at the plate and in the field. As of April 22nd, Ramirez hasn’t committed an error. In fact, Ramirez is starting to re-establish himself as a superstar, one that fans in Boston may come to respect for years to come. So far, Ramirez can play first base!

“We have a player, I think, completely different than a year ago,” Red Sox manager FarrellRamirez can play first base told MLB.com’s Aaron Leibowitz. “He’s engaged, he’s having fun playing the game, [and] I think being back on the infield has been a big boost to that. He’s doing one heck of a job.” Ramirez had played third base and shortstop with the Miami Marlins, and Los Angeles Dodgers before signing a four-year $88 million contract with the Red Sox in November of 2014.

While Ramirez had a decent start to the 2015 season, his season went downhill after a May 4th game against the Tampa Bay Rays. In the top of the first inning, Ramirez crashed into the Green Monster trying to field a catch, spraining his left shoulder. By September, Ramirez was sporting the worst defensive rating in the league, leading then-interim manager Tory Lovullo to pull him from his outfield position (just another sign that Lovullo should replace Farrell sooner than later).

The Red Sox have been struggling recently, first against the Toronto Blue Jays, who managed to overcome setbacks in two of the four games between the two to split the series, and now with Tampa Bay, who took two wins out of three games in the series on April 21st. The Sox were held to one hit during the first of a three-game series against the Rays that started on April 19th, and lost in the 10th inning. The third game on April 21st saw Boston take an early lead before David Price gave up eight runs in 3 and 2/3 innings before Farrell yanked him from the game, which the Red Sox lost 8-5. While the Red Sox are starting to slip back into a familiar pattern from last season, one of the shining glimmers of hope the Red Sox Nation can look forward to is in Hanley Ramirez’s command of defending first base. He continues to show a strong and consistent ability to play first base, giving the Red Sox Nation something to pin their hopes on as the season progresses.

Sandoval Breaks Belt and Fans’ Hopes

“Sandoval Breaks Belt.” Words that want to make you cry.

Ladies and gentlemen of Red Sox Nation, I owe you an apology. My first article for Sandoval breaks beltYawkey Way Report defended Pablo Sandoval against the critics who focused on his weight after he arrived at spring training this year. I even bit my tongue when John Farrell decided to bench him in favor of Travis Shaw, which I wasn’t too happy about at first. I thought Farrell wasn’t giving Sandoval a fair chance. But, after taking a closer look at his mediocre pre-season, I quickly realized that it was necessary, especially if the Sox want to be post-season contenders this year. Still, I held onto hope that Sandoval would get off to a strong start to this season and redeem himself.

That hope was destroyed after I saw the headline “Sandoval Breaks Belt” and watched the footage. Watching his belt break as he swung at a pitch from the Toronto Blue Jays’ R.A. Dickey was enough for me. It was beyond embarrassing to the Red Sox. On second thought, I take that back. It was unacceptable. How bad does your weight have to get before you realize you have a problem?

Watching Sandoval break his belt is the latest in a series of embarrassing moments for the benched third baseman. When pre-season began, I defended Sandoval’s weight by arguing that his body fat was at an acceptable level. I originally said that Sandoval needed support and encouragement from Red Sox Nation, not ridicule. But his belt malfunction has left me convinced that Sandoval’s doing little, if anything at all, to control over his weight problem.

Sandoval Breaks Belt is All Fans Will Remember

I hate to talk about this topic. No one likes it when someone points out how overweight they are. I’ve struggled with weight issues myself all my life and know how upsetting it can be. But I took control over it. I started going to the gym, I started running, and I put myself on a strict diet. I was tired of hearing people call me fat and I didn’t want to wait until I had a heart attack to realize that I should have started taking care of myself sooner. But Sandoval is supposed to be a professional athlete! There’s absolutely no excuse for him to be that big. For the money he’s getting paid, at the VERY LEAST, he has an obligation to be fit.

I can’t defend Pablo Sandoval anymore. If he was working his butt off to lose weight and take the game more seriously then I’d respect him a little more. But I can’t help but feel he just has a bad attitude about Boston. Whether the negative attention Sandoval is getting is fair or not is beside the point now. The media sees him as an unmotivated player still licking his wounds from last season even though he has had perfectly good chances to redeem himself. Now, “Sandoval Breaks Belt” is the only thing people are going to remember about him for a while.

Hanley Ramirez is playing well so far this season. Brock Holt hit his first career Grand Slam against Toronto last week. The rest of the Red Sox are showing signs of the team they were back in 2004 and 2007. The chance for Sandoval to improve is right there, but he’s gotta manage his weight if wants to avoid seeing any more “Sandoval Breaks Belt” headlines.

Can Hanley Ramirez Play First Base?

Can Hanley Ramirez play first base? That will be a question on everyone’s mind as the Red Sox begin the 2016 season.

Hanley Ramirez’s offensive and defensive performance was less than stellar last season.Can Hanley Ramirez Play He fumbled in the outfield, and underperformed at the plate. Then there was the chatter about Ramirez being traded before this season started. Many in Red Sox Nation scratched their heads when manager John Farrell announced that Ramirez would be moving to first base. Ramirez at first? But as spring training came to a close this week, those same head-scratchers found themselves pleasantly surprised when Ramirez played well at his new position during the pre-season. So can Hanley Ramirez play first base?

We know Ramirez doesn’t belong in left field. After making several errors and fumbling the ball, it quickly became obvious that opposing baserunners weren’t going to be intimidated by Ramirez’s defensive abilities. As the season continued, fans like me went from being eager to see Ramirez make a a good catch to just hoping he would at least stop the ball from rolling towards the Green Monster. Needless to say, watching Ramirez play left field at times was like watching a toddler trying to catch a Nerf ball, except in Ramirez’s case it wasn’t funny.

When Ramirez started at first base this pre-season, few were confident in his infield abilities. But many were surprised to see Ramirez play first base at a decent level that some might dare build hope on. So can Hanley Ramirez play first base? As the pre-season continued, more and more people began to think yes. Even Ramirez himself seemed to be confident about his new home. “You have to do your work how it’s supposed to be done, just get in good habits and go from there,” Ramirez told ESPN before leaving with the team to play an exhibition game in Montreal. “If you get in that mindset, it’s going to be good.”

What we’re seeing here is a second-year player who knows he didn’t live up to expectations last year. Ramirez knows that much is at stake, especially as he continues to creep up in age. If Ramirez can continue to harness that confidence at first base, it will make it all the more easy for other newbies like Travis Shaw to effectively transition at third base too, as the two will have to work together to strengthen the Sox defense.

As optimistic as I am, I’ll have to wait until we’re a few months into the 2016 season to render a verdict about Ramirez’s skills at first base. Until then, let’s hope there’s no snow on the ground when the Red Sox kick off the season.

Red Sox Nation is Rooting for Travis Shaw

Spring training should never be taken too seriously, even for deeply passionate Red Sox fans. You’re likely tired of hearing that already, but it’s generally one of the great truisms of baseball. It’s only March, and players are more focused on alleviating the winter rust than producing exceptional results. Nevertheless, for one Red Sox player, a strong spring is Travis Shawsubstantiating the fine work he did last year, and forcing the front office into making a difficult decision.

Travis Shaw is nothing short of an aberration at this point. Last season, the imposing first baseman enjoyed 65 games with the Red Sox, hitting at a .270/.327/.487 clip with 13 home runs and 36 RBI. A rather unheralded prospect, he crept quietly onto the radar, before impressing many people with a robust introduction to the Major Leagues.

This spring, the 25-year old Shaw has continued his maturation. He is hitting .522 through eight exhibition games, with 2 home runs, 9 RBI and a 1.430 OPS. Obviously, we can’t extrapolate too much meaning from such an inconsequentially small sample size, but it is mildly notable that Shaw leads all players in batting average and on-base percentage so far this spring, forcing the front office to reconsider his future.

From time to time, Red Sox Nation falls in love with an underdog-type player and compels him to make the team and fulfill his potential. Shaw is the latest beneficiary of that phenomenon. In this regard, he reminds me a little of Kevin Youkilis, in terms of striving for progress by sheer force of work ethic. And, just like Youk, Shaw has added a second position to his repertoire in the selfless determination to help the Red Sox moving forward.

Travis has played plenty of third base this spring, with Hanley Ramirez clogging up his natural position. Similarly, plans are afoot to try Shaw in left field, adding another tool to his arsenal. At this point, it seems that Shaw will hit his way onto the roster, even if only as a Brock Holt-type utility guy initially. Yet, for John Farrell and Dave Dombrowski, it’s reassuring to know that, should the experiments with Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval fail, they have an adequate replacement waiting in the wings.

We should never read too much into the statistics of spring training, but actions and attitudes speak volumes regardless of our location in the calendar. Right now, Travis Shaw is gaining attention for his impressive production, but perhaps more importantly, he’s gaining admirers for his altruistic outlook and dedicated approach. If only roster decisions were made on true merit, rather than pure economics.

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!