Fernando Abad: What to Expect Moving Forward

News came at the end of February that Fernando Abad would be competing for his home country in the World Baseball Classic. Abad will miss time with the Red Sox this spring training to pitch for the Dominican Republic. Fans around Red Sox Nation are wondering what this means for the 31 year-old left-hander, as well as the future of the team’s bullpen.

Fernando Abad is set to make $2,000,000 this Fernando Abadseason, but that money is not guaranteed. He was traded by the Minnesota Twins to the Sox in 2016 at the non-waiver trade deadline, and was immediately thrown into the fire by Sox manager John Farrell. In 18 appearances with the team, Abad was simply a-bad pitcher. In 12 and 2/3 innings, he recorded a 6.39 ERA and a WHIP of 1.66. The Red Sox kept Fernando Abad off of the ALDS roster.

Fernando Abad Moving Forward

The Dominican team has had the pleasure of using Abad during the tournament, but the Sox have decisions to make. Abad is a guy who is still trying to win a spot in the Boston bullpen. He was unable to prove his worth last year, and isn’t doing himself any favors choosing to participate in the WBC. This event is a huge deal in other countries, but for Abad, is it really worth not having a big-league job this season?

The Red Sox bullpen has vastly improved this off-season. We traded for a legitimate set-up man in Tyler Thornburg. Also, Carson Smith will be back from his Tommy-John surgery. Joe Kelly emerged as a go-to guy out of the pen in the playoffs last year. The Matt Barnes/Robbie Ross duo is a solid right/lefty combo that John Farrell can go to late in the game. Meanwhile, Craig Kimbrel is still as effective as Craig Kimbrel will ever be. Where does this leave Abad?

Fernando Abad can enjoy his time in the World Baseball Classic, as I am sure he will. There simply isn’t enough room for Abad in our bullpen as long as everyone stays healthy. After a dismal performance last year and poor decision-making now, he has most likely outlasted his stay in Boston.

The Obstruction of Potential: The Play That Derailed Two Careers

Even with unrivaled success this millennia, Boston fans do not often forget those times that did not go right for them. They never forget that which went horribly wrong, even if it was corrected in the end.

The 2013 World Series championship was unforgettable for Boston and the city’s baseballObstruction fans. When seemingly everything went right for the Red Sox that year, there was a moment in that World Series where it looked like it would all fall apart. There was one moment where Red Sox nation felt like Raiders fans after the Tuck Rule in 2001. That one moment did not necessarily damn the series, but it could have damned two once-promising MLB careers.

Late in Game Three, St. Louis’s Allen Craig came around third after an overthrow. After tripping over third baseman Will Middlebrooks, he came around to score the winning run via an obstruction call. If not for the call, Craig would have been out by five feet, but alas the Cardinals suddenly had a 2-1 series lead.  While the call had Bostonians up in arms, the Red Sox won the next three games to claim their eighth world championship. The obstruction could be seen; the downward spiral of the two players’ careers could not.

Allen Craig’s Downfall

At the 2014 trade deadline, these two teams were heading in opposite directions. With St. Louis making a playoff push, they traded Craig along with Joe Kelly to Boston in exchange for John Lackey. Craig was under team control for three and a half more years with a club option for 2018. He was definitely one of the hardest hitters in the Cardinals’ lineup. The only thing Craig hit in Boston (and Pawtucket) was a wall.

In 29 games with Boston in 2014, he hit a brutal .128 with a whopping two RBI, enough to send the biggest optimists into a fit of pure rage. 2015 was not much better. He hit .152 in 36 games, but surpassed his RBI total of 2014, churning out three. Since then, he’s gotten to know Pawtucket better than their own mayor. This past season, he appeared in 22 games for the Pawtucket Red Sox, raking to the tune of a .173 average and slugging .250 along with his one homer and six RBI.

In 2013, Craig had 97 RBI for the Cardinals. In the two and a half seasons since that he’s been with the Red Sox, he has 41 split between his time in Boston and Pawtucket. The Red Sox will undoubtedly not pick up his option after this year and will owe him 13 million dollars in 2018. To call Craig a disappointment would be an insult to all the disappointments who never got a hug from their dad. Craig was a catastrophic failure.

The Drop-Off of Will Middlebrooks

The road for Will Middlebrooks since earning a ring has not been much friendlier. He broke out in 2012 where he hit 15 homers in his first big league season. His average subsequently dipped from .288 to .227 in 2013. Middlebrooks made it through the 2014 season with Boston, hitting .191 with two homers in 63 games. In December of that year, he was traded to San Diego for Ryan Hanigan. As bad as Hanigan was the past two seasons, it is really tough to decipher who won that deal.

In 2015, Middlebrooks appeared in 83 games for the Padres when he hit .212 with a .224 OBP. That production on a last place team earned him a trip to Milwaukee in free agency. On a Brewers team that went 73-89, Middlebrooks only earned 27 at-bats in 10 games, hitting .111. This offseason, he signed a minor-league deal with the Texas Rangers, making him a member of four different organizations in the four years since the 2013 World Series title.

Postlude

As bad as those two guys have been since then, there are still people involved in this infamous play who have been nearly as disappointing. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who threw the ball away to allow Craig to score, has been with three teams since then. His highest batting average since has been .225. Jim Joyce, the umpire who made the call, is most famous for that and blowing Armando Galarraga’s perfect game. He retired unceremoniously this offseason.

Times like these remind us there is nothing promised in this game. Craig was the x-factor of the 2013 World Series and now he’s struggling for playing time in Pawtucket. Middlebrooks was a budding slugger who has been in and out of the minors. While the obstruction call ended up not having a huge impact on the series, it drastically altered not just a runner’s path to home plate, but also two once-promising MLB careers.

Red Sox Erasing Doubt In A.L. East

For most of the summer, Red Sox fans were looking forward to the final series of the season. The three-game set at Fenway against Toronto was almost surely going to determine the winner of the A.L. East. However, the Red Sox were determined to make that series meaningless. Since a 1-0 loss to Baltimore on September 14th, the Red Sox have yet to lose a game. Along the way, they have put the division crown out of reach for everyone else.

Sunday was just another day at the office for the Boston Red Sox. In another low-scoring A.L. Eastgame at “the Trop” in Tampa, Boston outlasted the Rays 3-2 in ten innings. The win marked the third straight series sweep and 11th straight win for the division leaders. The day was marked by 22 strikeouts by Red Sox pitching, an unbelievable base-running play by Dustin Pedroia, and a gutsy bullpen effort by Joe Kelly.

The streak has put the Red Sox five and a half games up on second place Toronto and seven up on Baltimore. Excellent starting pitching and a virtually unhittable bullpen are propelling the Red Sox right now. Add that to the league’s best offense, and the Red Sox are far and away the hottest team in all of baseball. After the win Sunday, Boston’s magic number to clinch the A.L. East is down to two.

Beyond The A.L. East Title

Not to get ahead of ourselves, the Red Sox will have meaningful games next weekend. While they should have already clinched the division, a much more important title may be at stake. With a playoff spot in tact, the Red Sox now eye home field advantage. They are just one behind the Texas Rangers in the loss column. If they were to pass the Rangers, they would own the best record in the American League and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

To think that the Red Sox could possibly have that title just a few weeks ago would have been absurd. With their best baseball of the season this month though, that’s where they find themselves. The Red Sox just surpassed Cleveland in the best-record race, meaning they would host the Indians in the ALDS if the season ended today. This offense is so good it really doesn’t matter where they play, but playing at Fenway would be a huge bonus. With that, the Red Sox could even find a way to slug themselves to the World Series. Luckily for the them, the pitching has been the brightest part if this September run.

Obviously, a run like this can not be expected in the playoffs. If they can keep up this pitching however, you can expect them to represent the American League in the World Series. As we all know, once you get there, anything can happen. Bottom line: don’t count out the Red Sox this October.

 

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.

John Lackey Should Still Be With Boston

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher John Lackey was a strong contributor to the 2013 World Series team and trading him was a big mistake. Lackey had a roller coaster ride in a Sox uniform as he struggled in his first two seasons before becoming a reliable arm every fifth day for the organization. When the 2014 team was scuffling and the trade deadline came around, former Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington decided to part ways with John Lackey, trading him for Joe Kelly and Allen Craig.

Craig was struggling and his career looked to be dwindling and Kelly had his struggles inJohn Lackey the National League which typically doesn’t lead to success in the more hitter friendly American League. Meanwhile, Lackey seemed to be gaining form and becoming who the Sox thought they were getting him when they signed him to a five year $82.5 million deal. That improvement has continued and John Lackey is pitching like an ace, often going unnoticed behind Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester in the best starting pitching rotation in baseball.

Last season in St. Louis, Lackey had a 2.77 ERA and this season he has a 2.63 ERA for the Cubs. At this point in his career he will not wow you with his stuff but he hits his spots and gets guys out, something many Sox pitchers struggle to do. Lackey seems to be blossoming late in his career as last season was his best season to date and he’s on track to improve on those numbers this year. With John Lackey pitching so great, the Sox return of Joe Kelly and Allen Craig in the trade has been a catastrophe.

John Lackey Belongs with Red Sox Nation

Kelly has not established himself in the Sox rotation and is not looking likely to do so. Kelly has good stuff to work with but he has yet to put it together and it seems like yesterday the 28 year old was still a promising prospect. Kelly is now in the minor leagues, joining the other piece in the trade, Craig. Craig has been a disaster as he has been a minor leaguer for most of his tenure with the Sox organization. A once promising offensive player for the St. Louis Cardinals, Craig has seen his career vanish quickly and likely has played his last inning in the major leagues.

The Sox let go of a pitcher that was big time in the postseason in 2013 in order to gamble on a pitcher with upside who hadn’t put it together and a bat that was on the downfall. As a result, this trade is one of the worst in recent memory and the Sox 4.22 ERA as a pitching staff would be much better if Ben Cherington had stayed with John Lackey.

Joe Kelly Eyes Boston Return

I spotted Joe Kelly in the locker room when I walked in a few hours before the Pawtucket Red Sox were set to play the Toledo Mud Hens. Figuring that this would be a one and only chance to talk to the right-handed pitcher, I pulled out my recorder and approached him with a few questions, the first being, “How does it feel being back here?” Joe shifted in his chair and looked up. “I’ve been undefeated since I got here,” Kelly said as he put his cell phone down on his lap and grinned. It took me a minute to realize that he hasn’t pitched for the Red Sox AAA affiliate yet; I never took Kelly as a joker. Shifting to a more serious time, Kelly added, “I want to get consistent with my mechanics again and get back up [to Boston} as soon as I can.” Focusing on mechanics and getting his consistency back are just a few things on his mind as Joe Kelly eyes Boston return.

Kelly was taken by surprise when he learned he was being sent down to PawtucketJoe Kelly Eyes Boston Return after getting shelled by the Baltimore Orioles on June 2nd. Kelly went 2.1 innings giving up seven runs and seven hits before Red Sox manager John Farrell pulled him from the game that ended in a 13-9 loss for the Red Sox. While Kelly is 2-0 with 27 strike outs in 22.1 innings this season, he was becoming a concern for Farrell as his ERA climbed over 8.00 going into June. “He’s blessed with a golden arm and tremendous stuff, but the execution of it has not been as consistent,” Red Sox manager John Farrell told ESPN’s Scott Lauber. “So, we have made a move. We’ve optioned him back to Pawtucket in the pursuit to get him back on track.”

As Joe Kelly eyes Boston return, the rest of the Red Sox rotation continues to smooth out their own wrinkles. Pitching ace David Price gave up two runs, including a home run, on June 3rd against the Toronto Blue Jays that boosted his ERA to 4.88, not exactly what Dave Dombrowski had in mind when he offered Price a $217 million contract. Meanwhile, Eduardo Rodriguez is still trying to find his groove, Rick Porcello gave up five runs in his last start, and Clay Buchholz….do I even have to say anything?