What To Make Of The Boston-Baltimore Conflict

Chris Sale wrote the latest chapter of the Boston-Baltimore conflict last night after throwing behind Manny Machado. This confrontation is the latest in a string of incidents between the two teams that began last month. The rivalry started in Baltimore on April 21st when Boston-Baltimore ConflictMachado slid into second and spiked Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedrioa. While it didn’t look intentional, it touched off a series of confrontations that have included beanings, throws to the head, and as of Monday, racist epithets, along with peanuts, thrown at Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones.

This Isn’t Your Old Fashioned Rivalry

The Red Sox are no strangers to rivalries. The Red Sox and Yankees have been at war with each other since 1912 when the Sox beat the Yankees, then the Highlanders, 7-6 in the first game at Fenway Park. Since then, the two teams have often battled for a playoff spot. Individual rivalries between catchers Carlton Fisk and Thurmond Munson kept the rivalry interesting. It’s since died down after the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series in 2004. But this newfound rivalry with the Orioles is rooted in misunderstanding and unfounded anger. What started as an intentional spiking unfolded into a national scene of unwanted and distracting attention. It’s not baseball at its best. It’s baseball at its worst.

The Boston-Baltimore Conflict Isn’t An Honest One

The Red Sox v. Yankees rivalry is an honest one because they often involved pitching duels, dramatic home runs, and tough base running altercations. With the exception of the 2004 game, the Red Sox and Yankees duke it out with pitching and hitting. This new rivalry with the Orioles is stupid because it’s based on machoism instead of honest baseball. Players on both sides don’t want to look weak or back down, so they take to beaning and throwing at each other to look tough. That’s not what baseball is all about.

Tuesday’s Game Exemplified What A Good Rivalry Should Look Like

Tuesday’s game was an exceptional one. Sale struck out eleven. Hanley Ramirez hit two home runs, one of which hasn’t landed yet. And in a most bizarre of plays, the Orioles competed their first triple play since 2000. While Sale sent a message to Machaco by throwing behind him, Machado returned the favor by blasting a home run off of him in the seventh. That’s what baseball is all about. With the exception of Sale’s immature throw behind Machado, fans on both sides saw old fashioned baseball. The game even finished under three hours, which is rare nowadays. The highlight of the game, however, is what should turn the Boston-Baltimore conflict towards a respectable one.

Adam Jones, subjected to horrible racist taunts the night before, came to the plate in the first. Fans in Fenway Park gave Jones a standing ovation as their way of showing support. It was also an effort from Red Sox Nation to show the rest of baseball that they’re better than what Jones endured the night before. While some dimwitted fans think that Jones exaggerated, the overwhelming ovation signified a strong show of respect. More importantly, it’s this writer’s hope that it’ll end the immature antics both teams are exhibiting and the rivalry will turn into a more honest form of baseball. Instead of throwing at each other, maybe the Red Sox and Orioles will start fighting each other with home runs and strikeouts.

The Red Sox and Orioles need to stop the macho crap and need to start focusing on real baseball. It’s not about beaning or “sending a message.” It’s about seeing who’s the better team.

Did Matt Barnes Have the Right to Throw at Machado’s Head?

Baseball fans have seen it happen plenty of times before. Teams in the Big Leagues haveMatt Barnes been exchanging plunks since the inception of the league. Retaliation is fine; make it clear that your team does not play games. On the other hand, don’t just let it rip and see what happens. Throwing at someone’s head is unacceptable in this age of baseball. Matt Barnes made a mistake, and he’s lucky that a four-game suspension is all he is facing.

Why What Matt Barnes Did Was Wrong

Manny Machado broke up a double play by spiking second baseman Dustin Pedroia on his slide into second-base during last Friday’s game. Some Red Sox fans saw it as a dirty play. Don’t forget that a runner’s job is to break hard for second base and do what it takes to break up a double play. Players are literally taught to do this at more competitive levels of baseball. Manny Machado is a player who has already been caught up in some instances during his young career that showcase his fiery emotions. Machado is not afraid to let the other team know how he feels, which I believe is good for the future of baseball.

Machado broke hard toward second base and spiked Pedroia, eventually forcing Pedroia to leave the game. During the eighth inning of Sunday’s game, Matt Barnes intentionally threw at Manny Machado. From a baseball player’s perspective, this is simply retaliation. Once your star gets intentionally hurt, it is important to stand up for your teammate. The problem here is that Barnes fired his fastball past the head of Machado, (ultimately hitting his bat and being called a foul ball). For those who do not know, Matt Barnes is one of the hardest-throwing pitchers in the Red Sox’ bullpen. Barnes’ fastball is what got him to the big-leagues, as it sits in the mid-nineties. A pitch with that much velocity can cause serious damage to a batter’s head or face. God forbid Barnes’ pitch didn’t miss to the right, and strike Manny Machado up top.

Matt Barnes Isn’t Completely at Fault

Dustin Pedroia and Manny Machado were seen chirping at each other during Sunday’s game. Pedroia yelled out to Machado, “Not me, that’s them,” from the Red Sox dugout. The former MVP is right. He got taken out at second, and his teammates backed him up. Whatever may happen to Machado at the hands of Pedie’s teammates is fair game because Machado made the decision to slide with his cleats up. Matt Barnes was probably not the guy to come up with the idea to hit Machado initially. This decision could have been made by any player or group of Red Sox. Barnes could have even been instructed by a coach to hit Machado.

The fact of the matter is that fastballs around the head have no place in the game. Look at what happened to Tony Conigliaro. Conigliaro was on pace to become one of the best players in all of baseball when he got beaned. If Machado was hit up top, who knows what could have happened. Next time, just drill the guy in the thigh or find a different way to retaliate, and move on. It doesn’t make sense to potentially jeopardize the career of a promising star because he spiked a second-baseman.

Red Sox Learning To Take The Lead In Late Innings

One of the things that frustrated Red Sox Nation last year was the team’s inability to come from behind. An opposing team would outscore them, and the Red Sox couldn’t catch up. They’d load the bases but their hitter would strike out. Or they’d leave runners in scoring position inning after inning. In fact, they led the American League last year in runners left on base. With the Red Sox learning how to take the offensive in later inningRed Sox learnings fans are finally seeing a different tone.

Four of their eight wins as of April 17th were come-from-behind victories. Red Sox found themselves behind the Pittsburg Pirates during their makeup game on the 13th. Down 3-1 going into the 8th, Hanley Ramirez’s doubled home the winning run. The Red Sox did it again on Easter Sunday three days later against Tampa Bay. Down 5-4 in the seventh, the Red Sox rallied to pull ahead 7-5 by the ninth inning.

Even in instances where they didn’t win, they still showed strong effort. In an April 12th game against the Orioles, the Red Sox were down 9-0 going into the third. Despite losing the game, they finished the game 12-5. Win or lose, this was an issue the Red Sox sorely needed to work on from last season.

“The one thing that’s starting to show is that we’ve come from behind a number of games already,” manager John Farrell said in an article posted to Full Count on Weei.com.

With The Red Sox Learning To Come From Behind, Pitching Remains a Problem

I don’t think anyone anticipated the problems that the Red Sox rotation would have going into the 2017 season. We expected to see David Price at this point but he’s still down and out. Rick Porcello and Steve Wrignt have already taken their fair share of devastating losses. The Matt Barnes fiasco with Manny Machado isn’t helping things either.

Last year’s pitching was strong. Price dominated with strikeouts and Porcello became a 20-game winner. It was the offense that struggled at times. Now that the offense is heating up. it’s the pitching that’s struggling. If Farrell can find that balance the team needs, the Red Sox will be able to capture and hold onto first place.

Red Sox Have To Adjust Their Home Run Swings

It’s hard to hit a home run in Fenway, especially if you’re a visiting player. The Green Monster has robbed hundreds, if not thousands of home runs, from hitters. Right field isn’t much better with its deep unique corners. Red Sox hitters learn how to adjust their home run swings for the contours of Fenway. But they find it difficult to adjust in other ballparks.

I noticed this when I was in Baltimore last weekend for their series against the Orioles.home run swings Pablo Sandoval hit a bomb to left field that would have cleared the Green Monster. But it’s between 333-364 feet to left/left center in Camden Yards. That’s another few dozen feet that a ball has to travel for a home run. Sandoval has already hit a few homers over the Green Monster this season. However, the can of corn he hit in Baltimore shows he needs to hit for a tad more power. If Sox players like Sandoval want to hit home runs, they have to remember that most outfields are deeper than Fenway’s.

Jackie Bradley Jr. hit a home run in the second series game that traveled over 450 feet. The ball itself almost hit the B&O Warehouse that overshadows Camden Yards. Ken Griffey Jr. is the only MLB player who has hit the warehouse in Camden Yards’ twenty-five year history. But Bradley Jr. is a lefty and it’s 380 to right center field in Fenway. Bradley hits for power, hence the distance on the home run.

The way the Red Sox hit during the Baltimore series clearly showed that they’re used to playing in Fenway.

Red Sox Have to Adjust Their Home Run Swings When They’re On the Road

The Red Sox can hit for power. Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. are becoming home run hitters. Xander Bogaerts isn’t there yet but he will be. Andrew Benintendi still has a ways to go before he’s a power hitter. But players like Sandoval can’t hit to left thinking it’ll clear the wall when they’re in a different ballpark. The Wall, despite its height, its much closer to home than most left fields.

If these hitters want to add more runs to the board they need to look at each ballpark they play in and adjust their home run swings accordingly.

Spikes and Controversy Slide Into Pedrioa

Fans have seen little else beyond spikes and controversy slide into Red Sox news lately. It started Friday night in Baltimore. The O’s third baseman Manny Machado slid into second as Dustin Pedrioa attempted a double play. Machado slid and spiked Pedroia. It looked  unintentional. But Pedrioa’s teammates and fans alike believe that Machado did it on purpose.

Personally, I don’t agree.Controversy Slide

Pedrioa told the press after the game that he didn’t think Machado intentionally spiked him. Pedrioa is a tough player whose been around for years and knows the difference between an accident and a dirty play. In fact, from the stands it looked like an accident.

I was attending the game in Baltimore with my friend Taylor that night. We were sitting behind the visiting dugout. At first, it didn’t look like Pedrioa was hurt that badly. I didn’t see any animosity between Machado and Pedrioa following the slide. In fact, as Machado slid into second he wrapped his arms around Pedrioa in an effort to cushion the impact. To see this kind of controversy slide into the game was unwarranted.

There were a lot of Red Sox fans at Camden Yards Friday night. I didn’t hear any of them suggest that Machado spiked him intentionally. O’s fans seemed to feel the same way. As I left the ballpark I didn’t hear anyone mention it. I didn’t hear anything about it in the bars I went into for an after-game drink. No one was talking about it. In other words, this is nothing more than an effort to make something out of nothing.

Anger and Controversy Slide Into The Red Sox Clubhouse

This incident was about to blow over until reliever Matt Barnes threw at Manny Machado on Sunday. Barnes was immediately ejected, making Friday’s incident a much bigger issue. Now some are saying Pedrioa is partly to blame. Following Sunday’s game, the O’s Zach Britton called Pedrioa’s leadership into question. Britton suggested that Pedrioa can’t control his teammates. It’s one thing to call this a “mishandled situation,” as Pedrioa put it, but it’s another thing to question Pedroia’s integrity. There’s no better ambassador for the Red Sox than Pedrioa. He’s one of those players whose love for the game equals his efforts.

This isn’t something the Red Sox need right now. Barnes should have known better than to throw at Machado over a nothing issue. Pedrioa likely didn’t tell him to do it; it’s not his style. It was an issue that was about to die down until  Barnes made it worse. It was something he decided to do on his own. But that’s between Barnes, his teammates, and John Farrell. Let the Red Sox deal with Barnes and focus on getting Pedrioa back into the lineup.

The best way to deal with this issue is to refocus on baseball. The AL East is unusually competitive this season and the Red Sox need to move on. Instead of dwelling on this insignificant issue, let the Red Sox focus on capturing first place.

The American League East Remains a Powerhouse

Once upon a time, the American League East was baseball’s most powerful division. In the early part of this century, watching the Red Sox and Yankees battle for supremacy was exhilarating. The rivalry had never been stronger. It was Derek Jeter against Nomar Garciaparra. It was Alex Rodriguez against David Ortiz. It was Theo Epstein against the American League EastEvil Empire. Every game was crucial.

That intensity was ultimately cooled, as the Red Sox won multiple championships and old Yankee Stadium was demolished. Some of the history and passion was lost, as the other teams caught up. Tampa Bay won the division in 2008 and 2010. Baltimore rode a renaissance to the crown in 2014. Toronto even won the American League East last year, as the old duopoly was dismantled.

A New Era in the American League East

This year, in a new world order, four teams have a legitimate shot at winning the division as mid-September approaches. And while the division has changed irreparably from the halcyon days, few divisions in Major League Baseball can match the American League East for quality. It’s still by far the most difficult division to win.

 

Right now, the American League East has a combined winning percentage of .523. That’s the best in all of baseball. The National League Central is second at .505. Meanwhile, the National League East currently has a joint winning percentage of just .487 among its five teams. While romping to a playoff berth is always preferable, this may suggest a competitive advantage to whichever team eventually emerges from the American League East. That team will be more battle-tested than any other, having beaten three other teams to the crown.

The Fight for a Title

The Red Sox and Blue Jays currently sit atop the division at 77-61. Baltimore lurks just one game behind. But this is actually becoming a four-team race, because the Yankees continue to surge despite trading away three of their best players in July. The Bombers are in fourth place with a 72-65 record, just four-and-a-half games behind the leaders. That may seem like a lot at this stage, but the Yankees are closer to first place than all but one second-place team throughout baseball. Whether people like it or not, New York is in this thing, too. And that makes for a compelling finish to a bizarre season.

September is full of inter-division games. The Red Sox will play six against Toronto, seven against Baltimore, seven against New York, and three against Tampa Bay. Each division rival faces a similar schedule, with one more interleague series thrown in for some of them. Therefore, this thing could change on an almost hourly basis until the death.

With multiple games affecting the standings each night, scoreboard watching will be imperative. One streak, either positive or negative, could have massive consequences at this point, for a variety of teams. Only the best will survive, as the battle for October reaches boiling point. Let the strongest team emerge victorious.