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.

Keeping Perspective On The 2016 Red Sox Season

The Red Sox swept the basement-dwelling Arizona Diamondbacks in a 3-game set over the weekend making it is easy to lose perspective on the 2016 Red Sox season as a whole. They outscored Arizona 31-9 over the span of the series and gave fans hope for October baseball.2016 Red Sox

Even with the series sweep, the Red Sox still have a tough road ahead. And by tough, I mean really tough. Over the next week and a half, the Red Sox will travel to four different cities with no off-days. Of those four teams, three of them are within a game and a half of a playoff spot. For all intents and purposes, they’re in the “playoff picture”.

The 2016 Red Sox Going Forward

The trip starts Monday with one game in Cleveland, a make-up from the opening series of the year. Drew Pomeranz starts against the Tribe, who is still winless in a Red Sox uniform. This road trip will also be without Steven Wright, who went on the 15-day DL Monday. Wright has gone 13-5 this year and is tied for the league lead in complete games with four. Not being able to roll out Wright for an assured eight innings may prove costly on such a long road trip.

After Cleveland, it will be two games in Baltimore then four in Detroit. Both of these teams are hot in the race and the Orioles are still ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East. This next week can certainly widen a Red Sox lead in the Wild Card and could even make a push for the division lead. The Orioles are an AL-best 39-17 in their confines of Camden Yards however, making the task that much more difficult.

The bullpen could still be an issue for this team, though. With the exception of the tremendous inning by Brad Ziegler Saturday night, the last week has been nightmarish for the pen. The Red Sox will need better work from Robbie Ross, Fernando Abad, and Junichi Tazawa to make a serious playoff push.

That being said, the sweep means the Red Sox are far from out of it. If they can come out on the plus side of this road trip, they will have a new lease on life. After the summer they have had, Red Sox fans should count their blessings. Basically, this road trip will show what the 2016 Red Sox are really made of.

Sox Need Pitching Help

Coming into the season, most pundits predicted that the Red Sox lineup would produce enough runs to keep the team in contention, which it has. Most analysts also expected that Boston’s pitching staff, specifically the starting rotation, would be a problem, and in that regard they were also correct. Many anticipated Dave Dombrowski dealing prospects to upgrade their pitching at the deadline, which he seems likely to do. Because the Red Sox need pitching help, and they need it now.

With Boston fading fast, Dombrowski can’t afford to wait another month before bolstering the staffSox Need Pitching Help. The Red Sox are 9-14 in June with a minus-12 run differential. They’ve gone from three games up on the AL East at the start of June to four games out of first in under four weeks. Boston’s offense has cooled considerably, but that’s less worrisome because lineups typically rise and fall over the course of the season. Barring serious injuries, that lineup will be fine.

The same can not be said, however, of Boston’s pitching staff. The rotation has been a mess, particularly at the back end. David Price has not been up to snuff. Joe Kelly and Clay Buchholz have bombed. Rick Porcello has been hot and cold. John Farrell has exhausted all his options for the last two rotation spots with middling results.

With none of the young Red Sox starters proving ready to contribute, Dombrowski must seek pitching help outside the organization. Several big-names will likely be available, including Sonny Gray and Julio Teheran, but would require bundles of prospects to acquire. Boston must stabilize its rotation, however, and it’s worth trading a few kids now to avoid relying on Sean O’Sullivan and Henry Owens down the stretch.

The bullpen could also use reinforcements, as reliable options for high leverage situations are lacking. There’s Craig Kimbrel, obviously, and Junichi Tazawa, but that’s pretty much it. Carson Smith’s done for the year and Koji Uehara is finally showing his age. Boston needs another power arm to strengthen the bridge to Kimbrel. Relievers are always plentiful near the deadline, so acquiring one shouldn’t be too difficult.

So even though the trade deadline is still more than a month away, Boston shouldn’t wait. The Red Sox need pitching help now. If they wait, it might be too late.

Where Will Dombrowski and the Red Sox Strike Next?

The Red Sox got their ace, and they got a solid closer as well. So, the question is now where will Dombrowski and company go from here? On paper, the team looks like a team that should be in the playoffs next year, assuming they can stay relatively healthy.

Dave Dombrowski has said that acquiring David Price will most likely be the last “major Dombrowski Red Soxmove,” but I disagree with that to an extent, and here is why: The Red Sox are not a World Series team yet. They have an ace in Price, but I believe the Red Sox still need either a number 2 starter or another solid reliever. Right now, the greater need is probably bullpen help because 2 of their key guys, Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara, have struggled with inconsistencies over the past season and a half or so. And Koji is nearing the end of the line at 40 years old, so I don’t know how much gas he has left in the tank. And no team can win without a good bullpen (see: Kansas City).

True, acquiring Craig Kimbrel was a good start, but I think they still need at least one more 7th or 8th inning guy in front of Kimbrel to really shore up the back end of the pen up and take some of the pressure off Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa.

In my opinion, getting another starter behind David Price is less of a need than another bullpen help because if the starters we already have pitch like they can, then the rotation should be set. And getting Price will take the pressure off guys like Clay Buchholz and Rick Porcello, as well as help the young guys we have develop, since they can definitely learn a lot from a great pitcher like David Price. If they go out and get a #2 starter, that would be good, but if it came down to it, I’d like to see the Red Sox go after another bullpen arm instead of resting on what they have now, as good as it is at the moment.

 

Red Sox Shut Down Tazawa for Season

Junichi Tazawa has had a rough couple of months for the Red Sox, after seeing his ERA balloon from 2.60 at the end of July to 4.14 right now and blowing 5 saves in his last 15 appearances. The Red Sox have decided that enough is enough and announced Wednesday that they have shut down Tazawa for the season.

This could be a case of Tazawa’s workload becoming too much for him. For most of his Red Soxtenure here, he’s been one of the most reliable options out of the pen, making the majority of his appearances as a set up man for closer Koji Uehara. If the Red Sox ever were in need of outs late in the game, Taz was always the go-to guy, and it appears all those appearances have caught up with him.

Over the Monster also points out that one of manager John Farrell’s worst habits was having him warm up, and then deciding he didn’t need him to pitch in games after all. On top of the games that he actually pitched in, the stop-and-start nature of his warm ups couldn’t have been good for his arm. Eventually, all that throwing can wear down your arm, and it appears that is the case with Tazawa, at least based on his recent appearances. He’s been pretty bad, as I mentioned above, but the Red Sox shutting him down leaves the team short in an area they already need to improve upon in the off-season.

Maybe this will end up being a good thing for Tazawa, but even if he benefits from the extra rest, the Red Sox still can’t get away with leaning on him so heavily next season, as they’ve already seen what happens when they do. The Red Sox still need to go after some bullpen help in the off-season, so they don’t end up in a scenario like this again where they have to shut someone down mid-season.

If this turns out to be good for Taz, then great, but only time will tell.

Red Sox Possible Representatives for All-Star Game

The Red Sox have had a terrible start to their season.  The team has a record of 27-34, and after a great come-from-behind win against the Oakland Athletics last week that gave them their first sweep of the season, the Sox have already went back to their losing ways after being swept by the Baltimore Orioles Thursday night.  But, even with the team looking as bad as they have been, this does not mean that there are no individual players who could be heading to Cincinatti for this years All-Star Game.

It will be hard to find a player, whether it be a pitcher or a position player, who is deservingall-star game of an All-Star bid on the Sox this year.  Some of the teams bigger name players, such as David Ortiz and Clay Buchholz, are really struggling this year.  At this point in the season, Ortiz is only batting .220, with 7 home runs, and 22 RBI.  For someone who does not play in the field against American League teams, these are just not All-Star numbers, so we’re going to say it’s a no for Ortiz.

Buchholz came into the season as the Sox number one starting pitcher.  He has not lived up to that title at all this year, to say the least.  During the off season, Sox fans were very skeptical about having him as the top starter.  He typically is a solid pitcher, but just a solid pitcher should be a number two or three starter, not number one.  Now, about a month away from the All-Star break, Buchholz is only 3-6, and he’s proving that the skepticism that Sox fans had before the season was valid.

But, it hasn’t been bad for all of the Sox players this season.  There are definitely some players that can be looked at as being on the fence for next month’s All-Star Game.  Xander Bogaerts had a rough start to the season, but he has been picking up his play over the past few weeks.  Overall this season, he is batting .295 with eight doubles and 22 RBI.  I wouldn’t say these are All-Star numbers, but crazier things have happened.  Also, Hanley Ramirez is batting .272 with 13 home runs and 32 RBI.  Again, maybe not All-Star numbers, but also pretty solid stats.

Now let’s get to the players who have the best chance at representing our beloved Red Sox in the All-Star Game this season.  I think that there are two players who have shown just enough this season to deserve a bid, Dustin Pedroia and Junichi Tazawa.  Pedroia leads the Sox with a batting average of .310, and has also driven in 23 runs with 11 doubles and eight home runs.  He is also known as being possibly the best defensive second baseman in the Major Leagues.  Tazawa has also been good this season.  Opposing batters are only hitting .179 against him, and he has a 1.33 ERA and has only allowed 4 runs on the season.  It’s possible that we will be seeing one or both of these guys in All-Star uniforms this season.

In a season that has had many more downs than ups, it can be hard to see anything as a positive.  But maybe for the Red Sox this season that positive will come from seeing one of their own compete in the All-Star Game.  And hopefully that one positive will create many more.