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.

Does Drew Pomeranz Have Anything Left In The Tank?

Drew Pomeranz had another short rough night Sunday. Pomeranz threw 64 pitches in just 3 2/3 innings in a 5-4 Red Sox comeback win. In his outing, he gave up seven hits and four runs, including another homer by Gary Sanchez for a fortunate no-decision. Sunday marked the second consecutive outing in which Pomeranz failed to go four innings.

Going into this year, Pomeranz’s career high for innings pitched was just 96.2. His 2016 Pomeranzinnings pitched total is already up to 164.1. Granted most of his career has been in the bullpen. Add to that the fact that he was injured when the Red Sox traded for him and John Farrell may have himself a problem. Spare Dave Dombrowski though; he didn’t know A.J. Preller was the biggest scumbag in the baseball business. Preller, the Padres GM, was suspended for 30 days for withholding injury information from the Red Sox.

Considering Pomeranz’s last two starts, it is likely that he is experiencing extreme fatigue. Even from a guy who doesn’t throw hard, Pomeranz still does not have much experience starting; let alone in a stressful pennant race. During the month of September, Pomeranz has really struggled with the command of his off-speed pitches. The lack of command has led to short outings with a low-pitch count, highlighted by home runs hit off his mediocre fastball.

Pomeranz’s Role Going Forward

Obviously, Pomeranz is a big part of this starting rotation. If he is beginning to wilt, what can the Red Sox do with him? In a postseason set-up, I don’t think Pomeranz will be a starter. He should be a long guy out of the bullpen, much like Jon Lester was in 2007 and Felix Doubront in 2013. That could limit Pomeranz’s innings and they could use his off-speed stuff against lefties in high leverage situations. Most beneficially, it will keep Fernando Abad off the mound in the postseason.

Against all odds, this may not be a risky move by the Red Sox. I say that because a month ago I couldn’t believe that Clay Buchholz would be a formidable fourth starter in the playoffs. With Buchholz’s last month, excusing that one start in Toronto last weekend, he has been a pleasant surprise. Also, Stephen Wright’s shoulder injury all but ends his season so don’t expect to see him in any capacity come October.

This brings up a frustrating situation for the Red Sox considering what they gave up. Boston shipped out one of the best prospects, Anderson Espinoza, to San Diego to correct the issues with the starting rotation. Pomeranz has been a disappointment and now he really can’t get any better without rest. The real problem with the Red Sox will be finishing off the regular season with a division title if Pomeranz is this ineffective.

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.

Red Sox Cannot Catch a Break

Boston let out a collective gasp when Red Sox rookie Andrew Benintendi sprained his leg this past week. “Say it ain’t so!” seems to be the Red Sox motto this season. Injuries have plagued others players like Blake Swihart, Chris Young, Brock Holt, and Koji Uehara. These injuries haven’t only kept our best players out of the lineup, but have kept the Red Sox from securing first place. With the Baltimore Orioles falling behind, the Red Sox have a strong chance to capture first place. But as of late, it seems like the Red Sox cannot catch a break.

The Red Sox started the season in strong fashion. Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, andRed Sox Cannot Xander Bogaerts’ bats were on fire. The pitching rotation was amazing. The bullpen was unstoppable.

Then the injuries started.

Brock Holt got another concussion. Chris Young went onto the DL. Josh Rutledge got hurt. Koji Uehara hurt himself. Blake Swiart hurt his leg. Joe Kelly got hurt. Craig Kimbrel got hurt. Meanwhile, the Red Sox swayed back and forth in the AL East between the Blue jays and Orioles. Just like me with past romantic relationships, anytime they seemed to finally gain an advantage they’d blow it.

Red Sox Cannot Get A Break. Is There Still Time To Recover?

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. I really think John Farrell needs to go. While injuries have put a huge dent in the amount of wins the Red Sox have accumulated this season, he hasn’t helped. I’ve questioned Farrell’s relief pitching choices more than once. Two pitchers who haven’t been injured much are Clay Buchholz and Junichi Tazawa but you wouldn’t know it based on their poor performance this season, and Farrell keeps using them. While Buchholz is starting to “coming around” a little, for lack of a better term, Tazawa isn’t getting much better.

The Red Sox are in a much stronger position than many think to reclaim first and keep it. The pitching rotation is coming around (finally), the relief pitchers are finding a groove, and the hitters are learning from mistakes. There’s no reason why that can’t begin to gel over and solidify.

The Red Sox cannot catch a break. They’ve been like a tarp flapping in the wind since June. They now have a chance to tie themselves down and focus on making it to the playoffs. Let’s hope they tie themselves down as tightly as possible.

Is Benintendi Proving To Be The Real Deal?

I was concerned when the Red Sox called up Andrew Benintendi from the minors. The kid hadn’t even played in AAA Pawtucket yet. Regardless, Dave Dombrowski and John Farrell were eager to put him in the lineup. I thought Benintendi would have a hard time hitting against major league pitchers. I also thought about his lack of strength. He’s not nearly as big as his teammates. However, after almost two dozen games, while it’s great to see Benintendi proving himself, we have yet to see if he’s a fluke or the real thing. Will Benintendi maintain his consistency?

As of August 23rd, Benintendi is carrying a .306 batting average. That’s not too bad inBenintendi Proving 62 at-bats. It’s certainly better than what Jackie Bradley Jr. had his first year in Boston. In 2013, Bradley Jr. hit only .189 in 95 at-bats. Xander Bogaerts didn’t fare much better during the same time. So to see Benintendi proving himself by posting respectable numbers in that many at-bats is a sign that he could be the real deal.

One thing that people don’t discuss about Benintendi is his fielding. Before he was called up, Benintendi made zero errors in 143 chances in Double-A Portland. Before Portland, he made only one error in Single-A Salem. The same goes for the season before. In 2015 he made only one error in 131 chances at Single-A. That mades for  a.994 fielding percentage over two seasons in the minors. Not too shabby.

 It’s Great To See Benintendi Proving Himself At Defense, Too!

On August 22nd in a game against Tampa, Benintendi robbed Tampa Bay’s Steven Souza Jr. of a two-run home run in the eighth inning. Benintendi defied both gravity and the left field wall to keep the Rays from scoring another two runs. Earlier in the game, Benintendi drove in a run in the fourth inning with a sacrifice fly. At this point, it is safe to say that Benintendi has delivered on the expectations Dombrowski and Farrell set for the rookie when he arrived in Boston. Now Benintendi has to prove that he’s the real deal by continuing to adjust his skills to maintain his success at the plate. We have yet to see if he can do so. But one thing is for sure. He’s off to a great start!

Do Red Sox Actually Want Papelbon Back?

News of Jonathan Papelbon’s release from the Washington Nationals prompted rumors about a possible return to Boston. It only makes sense, especially since he helped the Red Sox win a World Series in 2007. The 35 year-old reliever spent the last few seasons in Philadelphia and Washington, but sometimes mentioned that he had a place in his heart for Boston. The question is, does Boston want Jonathan Papelbon back?papelbon back

Definitely.

According to the New York Post, Dave Dombrowski stated that it is “worth investigating” when asked about Papelbon’s possible return. It’s likely that Dombrowski and John Farrell want to bring Papelbon back to Boston. Farrell, however, is clear that Craig Kimbrel is still Boston’s closer. That doesn’t mean that Papelbon wouldn’t have a place in the Red Sox bullpen. Papelbon is a dominant relief pitcher. Boston needs more of that right now.

Consider this: Papelbon accumulated 19 saves with the Washington Nationals this season. That’s almost TWICE as many saves as the Red Sox bullpen has accumulated this season (when you take Craig Kimbrel out of the equation). So could Boston use Papelbon? Definitely!

While Papelbon is fondly remembered in Boston, Philly and Washington fans feel differently. In 2014, Papelbon grabbed a part of his anatomy and gestured toward a booing fan after blowing a save. While Papelbon denied it by saying he had to adjust himself, it wouldn’t be the last time he found trouble. Last year, Papelbon and Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper exchanged blows in the dugout after Harper flied out in the eighth. Papelbon apparently threw the first punch because he didn’t appreciate Harper’s failure to get on base. While both parties claimed to have resolved the issue afterwards, it left a bad taste in Nationals’ fans mouths, as well as that of the front office. So it came as little surprise when Papelbon requested, and received, a release from the Nationals.

It’s clear that Papelbon isn’t the pope. Ironically, my priest, Father Jim Gallagher, told me that Papelbon in Latin is “good pope.” So while his name might make for a good joke, his pitching is anything but. Since breaking into the majors in 2005, the six-time All-Star has accumulated 368 saves over twelve seasons. 219 of those saves were when he was in Boston. In fact, he currently ranks 3rd among active pitchers for all time saves, and 9th overall. Additionally, Papelbon is only 22 behind Hall of Fame reliever Dennis Eckersley. How great would it be to see Papelbon pass Eckersley wearing a Boston uniform?

Yes, Boston Does Want Jonathan Papelbon Back!

Philadelphia didn’t want Papelbon. Washington happily obliged him when he requested a release. Since leaving Boston, Papelbon has mentioned how much he loved being with the Red Sox. Dombrowski and Farrell are interested in him. Even David Ortiz wants him back! Before the Red Sox played the Orioles Wednesday night, Ortiz told ESPN Deportes, “I don’t know what happened there at the Nationals, but he was a great guy and we would welcome him back with open arms.” I don’t know about anyone else, but it looks like Papelbon’s return to Boston would be a great fit.