Red Sox Post All-Star Break Review

The Boston Red Sox entered the All-Star break at 68-30. That was the best record in Major League Baseball, and they’ve kept a firm grasp on that honor. Back on July 2nd, Rick Porcello and the Sox took down the Washington Nationals 4-3. You may remember Porcello driving a shot into the gap and clearing the bases off a pitch from reigning NL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer to put Boston ahead. They went on to win the next nine contests. In the series opener against the Blue Jays, you may remember Mookie Betts’ at-bat heard around the world when he launched a grand slam over the Green Monster on the 13th pitch he saw. If you haven’t seen it, you should.

Boston’s next loss came eleven days later, on Friday the 13th no less, in their second All Star breakgame against the Blue Jays. The bad luck didn’t last long, however. The following game, the Sox and Jays headed to extra innings knotted at 2 when Xander Bogaerts stepped to the plate with the bases loaded. One run was all Boston needed, but Bogaerts went ahead and sent one over the fence in dead center instead, walking the game off in glorious fashion. It was Boston’s first walk-off grand slam since the year 2000.

Just a year after not hitting a single grand slam, the Sox, with nine at the break, are in striking distance of the franchise record for grand slams in a season (11), and the MLB record (14). The Red Sox concluded the first half winning 12 of their last 13 contests and 17 of their last 20. Now, as Boston’s dominant pace continues, let’s take a look back on the first half for the winningest team in Major League Baseball.

Starting Pitching

For the first time in Red Sox history, Boston entered the break with four pitchers with ten or more wins. Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez have eleven, while Chris Sale and David Price, each with ten, are just behind.

Rodriguez continues to progress in Boston, with his 11-3 record, 3.44 ERA, and 110 strikeouts on pace to be career-highs. He was just placed on the ten-day disabled list with a right ankle sprain and is still sidelined to this day. While Porcello hasn’t returned to his Cy Young form from two years ago, he remains a respectable arm in the middle of the rotation. However, Porcello looked like Cy Young himself in his recent start against the Yankees, where he tossed a complete, one-hit gem of a game that aided the Sox in their relentless sweep of New York, comfortably in second place in the AL East.

Price continues to be a wild card with his injury hiccups and apparent inability to pitch against the Yankees. At 10-6 with an ERA north of four, there is certainly room for improvement from Boston’s 217-million-dollar southpaw. While we’re on the subject, Price looked to find some sort of groove against the Yankees in their last series. He wasn’t dominant, but it was a significant step in the right direction. Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz will likely return to health soon after the break, and the claim for the fifth rotation spot is something to keep an eye on. Meanwhile, Sale, with an AL-best 2.23 ERA and MLB-best 188 strikeouts, is throwing as well as anyone in the MLB and is a front-runner for the American League Cy Young. I’ve paid my respects to him already.

Relief Pitching

In a word, unimpressive. We all know about Carson Smith by now. Joe Kelly has enjoyed a successful year as Boston’s setup man, but his ERA had ballooned to 4.31 recently after a stretch of shaky outings. Heath Hembree and Brian Johnson haven’t been anything special, and Tyler Thornburg had only appeared in four games. Craig Kimbrel had 30 saves at the break and continues to look like one of the best closers in baseball. But unfortunately, he can’t do it all.

Offense

The main reason for the best first half in franchise history? This right here. Mookie Betts led Major League Baseball with a .359 batting average and is gunning for MVP honors. J.D. Martinez, who batted .328, is third, and his 29 home runs and 80 runs batted in led the league at the break. The influence of Martinez on this lineup has been nothing short of incredible. He continues to make his case for one of the best free agent acquisitions the Red Sox have ever made. Expect his name right next to Mookie’s on the MVP ballot.

At the turning point in the season, Xander Bogaerts had already surpassed his 2017 home run total and matched his RBI total. Mitch Moreland played his way to his first career All-Star game in his second season in Beantown. Andrew Benintendi was flat out robbed of an All-Star appearance. He is on pace for career-highs in batting average, stolen bases, home runs, doubles, and RBI. The struggles of Jackie Bradley Jr. subsided as the first half wound down and he looks to have found some sort of groove at the plate. Newly acquired Steve Pearce is fitting in nicely so far. Through nine games, he’s batting .458 and is another cog in the stacked Red Sox lineup. Oh, and he absolutely torched the Yankees in the series sweep, hitting four dingers and driving in eight runs.

Review of the Red Sox After the All-Star Break

The Red Sox entered the break with a 4.5 game lead on the Yankees in the AL East, and it has skyrocketed since then. Betts, Martinez, Moreland, Sale, and Kimbrel all secured a trip to the All-Star Game. The Sox were the only team in the American League with multiple starters in the All-Star Game (Betts, Martinez).

Looking back, the Red Sox started the year 17-2 on their way to the best start in franchise history. And they hit the All-Star break after going 17-3 over their last 20. The Boston Red Sox are statistically the best team in Major League Baseball. If their historic first half is any indication, this ballclub will be a force to be reckoned with come October.

Sox Pitching Shows Glimpse Of How Good It Can Be

We are just five games into the 2018 season, but right now things look good for the Red Sox. We’ve seen one turn through the starting rotation so far and although it doesn’t mean much, there is reason for optimism. The pitching so far has shown us a glimpse of just how good it could be. In five games, the Red Sox have given up a total of 12 runs. Half of those runs came in thePitching first game alone when Joe Kelly and Carson Smith melted down to ruin Chris Sale’s gem. Out of the 12 runs, only three have been given up by the starters. Making it even more impressive is that the two men at the back end are not the usual guys. Hector Velazquez and Brian Johnson did their jobs to come in and be not just effective, but very good, in spot-starts.

At the front end of the rotation, we saw Chris Sale, David Price and Rick Porcello form a three-headed monster in consecutive starts for the first time since they’ve been together. Again, it’s too early to get excited but things have certainly looked encouraging.

The one thing you can come back and challenge about this is the fact that they are facing anemic lineups. The Rays and Marlins both look like Triple-A clubs, which may have something to do with the lack of offense. If you want to look at it that way, that’s perfectly fine and consistent with being a Boston sports fan. However, all you can ask is for the Sox to take care of business against whomever the opponent is. That is what they have done thus far.

The next go-round for the rotation will be similar as Sale will get the Marlins tomorrow to kick it off. After that it’ll be Price, Porcello and Velazquez going against Tampa Bay in the opening series at Fenway. Finally, Brian Johnson will face a test against the New York Yankees next week. That’s when we’ll start to get a gauge on how things are going to go on the mound.

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.

David Price in Top Form

The Red Sox have cooled off from their hot start, playing sub-.500 ball over the past few weeks. Several Sox, including Travis Shaw and Hanley Ramirez, are in a bad slump. One Bostonian playing well lately, however, is star pitcher David Price. Price began the year in a terrible rut, but has since turned his season around after discovering a mechanical flaw in his delivery (with some help from Dustin Pedroia). He delivered another dominant turn Sunday, with Price in top form as Boston edged Seattle 2-1 at Fenway Park.

Victory would not have been possible without David Price’s phenomenal performance, which saw him limit the Mariners to one run on eight hits and no walks with seven strikeouts over eight inningsDavid Price in Top Form. Seattle’s lone run came on a solo shot by the red-hot Franklin Gutierrez, who reached out and flicked Price’s 44th pitch just past Pesky’s Pole for a cheap home run. Other than that, Price stifled a dangerous Mariners offense.

With Boston clinging to a one-run lead, Price buckled down. He capped his excellent start with a 1-2-3 eighth, fanning the final two batters. In came Craig Kimbrel, who nailed down the save by striking out the side in the ninth. Without David Price, however, there is likely no save opportunity.

After completing eight innings just once before June, Price has gone eight innings in each of his last three outings. He leads the league in innings as well as strikeouts and has ripped off eight straight quality starts. Except homers, the rest of his stats are falling in line, too. Fans and media haven’t forgotten his early season funk, but it’s quickly fading away. Every time David Price pitches now, his slow start looks increasingly anomalous.

With the back of Boston’s rotation in flux, Price has given his team stability at the top. He’s come as advertised. More importantly, he’s been the stopper they hoped for when they opened the vault for him last winter  Now the Red Sox would like to see David Price in top form come October. That’s when he’ll really earn his money.

Kelly’s Demotion was Long Overdue

Joe Kelly got lit up again Wednesday night, allowing seven runs on seven hits in 2 1/3 innings against the Orioles at Camden Yards. Afterwards, the Red Sox announced that Kelly was being sent down to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he will work on his game and hope to return a better pitcher than the one who posted an 8.46 ERA and 2.24 WHIP over his first six starts. Numbers like that wouldn’t fly on the Braves, let alone a first-place team, and in that sense Kelly’s demotion was long overdue.

While Kelly has dominated for brief stretches as a starter, he’s also had periods where he’s been absolutely terribleKelly's Demotion was Long Overdue. In 79 starts he has a 4.13 ERA, 1.44 WHIP and 1.75 K/BB ratio while allowing opponents to bat .266/.340/.401 against him—essentially what Hanley Ramirez is hitting this year. And don’t forget that nearly half of those starts came against weaker competition in the National League, making his numbers look better than they really are.

When Ben Cherington traded for Kelly two summers ago, he thought he was getting a young, hard-throwing hurler on the rise. Instead, it’s been one step forward and two steps back. Kelly’s walk rate nearly doubled immediately after the trade, while his strikeout rate remained shockingly low for someone averaging 95 miles per hour on his heater. The following year he picked himself to win the American League Cy Young award, only to wind up with a 4.82 ERA and 1.44 WHIP after making a midsummer pit stop in Pawtucket.

Rather than build off last year’s strong second half, Kelly reverted to his previous level of awfulness. He was walking nearly a batter per inning and allowing hits at a dizzying rate, looking generally lost on the mound. Last year the Red Sox could afford to let him work through his struggles, as they were out of the race by August. This year they can’t, which is why Kelly’s demotion was long overdue.

Kelly says his problems are mechanical, pointing to an issue with his arm slot. Hopefully he sorts things out and returns to the Sox a much-improved pitcher, as he did last year. But when or if he does, John Farrell shouldn’t be so quick to give him his job back. The Red Sox have seen this movie before, and they know how it ends.

Kelly the Key to Red Sox Rotation

The Red Sox rotation is an interesting collection of starters. There’s David Price, the obvious ace and former Cy Young winner (not to mention the richest pitcher in history). Behind him are potential number twos Rick Porcello and Clay Buchholz, who have frustrated Boston fans and media with their uneven performance. There’s Steven Wright, the enigmatic knuckle-baller who’s been the team’s best pitcher thus far in 2016. Then there’s Joe Kelly the key to Red Sox rotation.

Is Joe Kelly the Key to Red Sox Rotation?

It might seem crazy to call a number five starter the key to any rotation, let alone one of a first-place team, but that’s what Kelly isKelly the Key to Red Sox Rotation. When he;s right, the Red Sox go five deep in the rotation, with each member capable of churning out a quality start on any given night. But when he’s not (or hurt), the back of their rotation suddenly looks much thinner. That much was clear during Kelly’s month-long absence earlier this year due to a shoulder impingement, during which time Sean O’Sullivan started twice. No offense to O’Sullivan, but he should not be starting for a postseason contender or any team that wants to win..

At least you know what you”re getting out of O’Sullivan, even if it isn’t much. The same can not be said of Kelly, who like his rotationmate Clay Buchholz is still an unknown quantity despite spending several years in Major League rotations and possessing dazzling stuff. While both have shown flashes of greatness, neither has evolved into the consistently great starter everyone hoped they’d become based on their obvious talent. Most recently, Kelly showed how dominant he can be in his return from the disabled list last Saturday, when he limited a red-hot Indians lineup to one hit over 6 2/3 innings.

The problem with Kelly is that he’s just as likely to endure a stinker. In his first three starts of 2016  he had more earned runs than innings pitched and nearly as many walks as strikeouts. If anything, his month-long DL stint was a welcome reprieve, allowing him to work on becoming the pitcher who finished last year 7-0 with a 2.35 ERA over his final eight starts rather than the trainwreck with a 6.11 ERA in 17 starts leading up to that run.

Which version of Kelly is going to show up this year remains to be seen. The Red Sox would like to open their series against the Blue Jays with a win tomorrow, but for that to happen they’ll likely need a good start from Kelly. In fact, they’re going to need quite a few of those from him in order to get where they want to go this year. That might be asking too much of the erratic 27-year-old, and if it is then they should stick him in the bullpen where belongs and trade for a more established starter. They might even explore trading Joe Kelly the key to Red Sox rotation.