Red Sox Winning Streak Sets Them Apart

As of September 22nd, the Boston Red Sox have won seven games in a row. This accomplishment is noteworthy for a team that struggled through the summer. After sweeping the Yankees, the Red Sox traveled to Baltimore where they could very well sweep the Orioles. The Red Sox winning streak is not only good for the team, but it shows other teams that they are a team worthy of a World Series appearance.

Before the season started, many in the Red Sox Nation questioned how strong the team would beRed Sox Winning Streak. Last place finishes two years in a row gave fans little hope this year would be different. But players like Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts solidified their hitting and fielding skills. Now, Bradley Jr. might finally clinch the Gold Glove Award that eluded him in 2014. Meanwhile, Betts is in the running for an MVP award.

Two unlikely heroes in the pitching rotation also emerged this season. Steven Wright and Rick Porcello came out of nowhere to prove their worth. Porcello became the MLB’s first 20-game winner this season. As for Wright, while on the disabled list, he may return to the team within days, giving opposing teams more to groan about when they face the Sox. These two pitchers, combined with David Price and the rest of the staff, are showing more potential than ever, especially with Clay Buchholz and Eduardo Rodriguez finally solidifying their game.

Red Sox Winning Streak Signifies World Series Potential

It’s all but certain that the Red Sox are going to the playoffs. Yes, perhaps that’s bit of a bold statement to make at this point, but there’s reason to believe it. Throughout the entire season, other baseball writers and me have commented on the Red Sox inconsistency. Hitting dominated, but pitching didn’t produce. Then pitching dominated for a while, but hitting couldn’t provide enough run support. Fans held their breath going into August as fans and writers alike speculated where the Red Sox would land in the standings. Now that they are playing better than ever, it is becoming safer to assume that Boston will see the Red Sox in the playoffs.

The winning streak won’t last forever, but it doesn’t have to. All the Red Sox have to do now is win the last game of the season, and top it off with another parade through downtown Boston.

A Belated Tribute to Kevin Youkilis

I miss Kevin Youkilis. As the pennant race comes alive, we’re all reminded of former glories, and Youk was integral to the Red Sox during my childhood. This modern team is fun to watch, with young stars like Mookie Betts, but that gritty soul of yore has largely been lost. Dustin Pedroia still embodies it, but there are few grinders like Kevin Youkilis across baseball anymore, and that’s incredibly sad.

Kevin Youkilis, The Greek God of Walks

Once upon a time, few teams wanted Youk. Before Moneyball was released, teams still coveted players for the wrong reasons. Appearance often outweighing performance in the decision-making process. Therefore, many scouts disregarded Kevin Youkilis. He was too fat, they said. Couldn’t run. Couldn’t field. Very little upside. Billy Beane, the Oakland A’s general manager, saw through that. He yearned to draft The Greek God of Walks, only for the Red Sox to snatch him with the 243rd pick in 2001. The rest is history.

Kevin Youkilis

Youkilis was a rookie on the historic 2004 Red Sox. He proceeded to play nine seasons in a Red Sox uniform. His rise was steady and inspiring. First he lost a little weight and took better care of himself. Then he transitioned to first base and pushed himself to progress every single day. He became a fierce competitor, guided by a fire within the stomach. His was an insatiable desire for constant improvement. In time, he became a force of nature.

Looking back, Kevin Youkilis doesn’t have the greatest lifetime stats. He hit 150 home runs, drove in 618 runs and collected just 1,053 hits in 1,061 Major League games. Nevertheless, his peak was astonishingly good, and Boston was the main beneficiary. In 2008, Youk had 29 home runs, 115 RBI and 43 doubles. He finished third in MVP voting and was the heart of a stacked Red Sox lineup. The following year, he reached base at a .413 clip, which contributed nicely to his career .382 OBP. Only 175 men have recorded a higher lifetime mark, out of more than 18,000 to play Major League Baseball.

Why Kevin Youkilis Was So Beloved

However, the true impact of Kevin Youkilis cannot be measured in numbers. He was incredibly popular with Red Sox fans, who saw him as an everyday guy living the dream. More importantly, they saw how hard he worked and admired his determination to succeed against massive odds. Youk looked like he should have been selling beer in the stands. Instead, he was a three-time All-Star and a two-time World Series champion with the Boston Red Sox. He also won a gold glove, proving his meticulous will to get better.

There was so much to like about Kevin Youkilis, and he was a fitting hero in the post-Manny Ramirez age. I’ll never forget that quirky batting stance. Youk looked like he was sitting on an invisible toilet at the plate. The swing was a thing of beauty, however, and he was a line drive machine. The Green Monster was assaulted constantly by Youkilis, who was the perfect player for the perfect team at the perfect time. I doubt we’ll ever see his like again.

Kevin last played for the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan in 2014. He is currently a special assistant to Cubs baseball mastermind Theo Epstein, the executive who gave him an opportunity to shine in Boston. There’s no telling what the future may hold for Kevin Youkilis, be it scouting or front office work. But the past will always sparkle bright, and his place in the hearts of Red Sox fans all over the world will never be diminished.

Hanley Ramirez Deserves More Praise

Entering the season, Hanley Ramirez caused plenty of debate across New England. After signing a four-year, $88 million deal to rejoin the Red Sox, Ramirez delivered a sub-par season in 2015, leading many to question his future in Boston. Hanley hit just .249 last year with 19 home runs and only 12 doubles. He was also one of the worst defenders in baseball, as judged by a slew of metrics. Therefore, little was expected of him entering 2016.

Hanley Ramirez

Unlike his under-performing sidekick Pablo Sandoval, Ramirez was willing to make sacrifices to prolong his Red Sox career. Hanley recommitted to a winter training program and agreed to move positions yet again. First base became his new home and fans at least appreciated the effort. Nevertheless, few dared expect anything other than league average performance at best in 2016, with many bracing for something far worse. Thus, his strong resurgence in recent months has been a pleasant surprise.

The Resurgence of Hanley Ramirez

With David Ortiz soaking up much of the attention, Hanley Ramirez has found the time and space to rediscover himself. While the power numbers of old may never return, Ramirez has been a steady contributor at the plate. As August rounds into view, he’s currently hitting .283 with 11 home runs and 54 RBI. Ramirez has already surpassed his RBI total from last season with over two months remaining, while his on-base percentage has risen by seventy points.

Defensively, Hanley has also been decent. He ranks fifteenth among first basemen in Ultimate Zone Rating and has made only three errors all season. Of course, first base isn’t the most demanding of positions, especially for a former shortstop, but what Hanley Ramirez is currently providing far exceeds what many expected from him. And that should be praised.

Aside from the numbers, Ramirez just seems to have rediscovered some of his old spark. In one game this week, he hit three mammoth home runs, becoming the first Red Sox player to do so at Fenway Park since Kevin Millar in 2004. Those moments of inspiration may still be fleeting for Hanley Ramirez, but they’re far more frequent than last season and are now backed by a solid baseline performance.

Is Hanley Ramirez an elite player right now? No, probably not. A Wins Above Replacement score of 1 ranks him thirteenth among first baseman. The Red Sox are still destined to overpay grossly on this contract. However, it’s impossible to overstate the improvement from last season, when Fangraphs WAR adjudged him to be the third-worst position player in baseball.

Why Hanley Ramirez Deserves More Support

On a spiritual level, Hanley Ramirez deserves our appreciation here. With criticism poring in from every quarter, he identified and made the necessary changes to justify his continued inclusion on this team. When everybody doubted him, Ramirez swallowed some pride and worked hard to win back support. Deep down we must admire that from a human standpoint. The guy has worked his butt off to make Red Sox Nation happy, and that effort should be acknowledged.

We were all quick to chastise Hanley Ramirez when things didn’t go well, and perhaps he deserved it. Even now, nothing is perfect, and there are still flaws in the game of a man paid to be flawless. But instead of getting carried away and looking too far back or forward, we should take some time to stay in the moment and appreciate his determination to salvage some respectability.

Replacing Castillo With Holt Makes Defense Weaker

Replacing Castillo with Holt in left field is leaving many in Red Sox Nation scratching their heads. While a quick glance at Rusney Castillo’s offensive numbers justifies manager John Farrell’s decision, it leaves a gaping hole in the Red Sox defense, a hole that Brock Holt isn’t qualified to fill.

Castillo hasn’t done well in spring training games this year. He was hitting only .189 as ofReplacing Castillo
March 31st, not exactly a reflection of the $72.5 million investment the Red Sox made when they signed him in 2014. But making Holt a left fielder and benching Castillo fixes a defensive problem that wasn’t quite broken to begin with. Castillo’s fielding isn’t the problem. He only made five errors as an outfielder (and none as a left fielder) in 80 games last season. It’s Castillo’s hitting that needs work.

Again, Castillo’s inconsistent hitting is definitely a problem. He hit .253 last season but this season’s spring training proves that he still has a lot of progress to make before he can reclaim a spot in the line up. Jackie Bradley Jr. had the same problem, but after tweaking his stance and swing, the Glove Glove-nominated outfielder found his stride in 2015 to finish the season with 31 extra base hits and a .249 batting average, up from the .198 he hit in 2014. Another important thing to keep in mind is Castillo’s $72.5 million contract. Stop and think about that for a second.  After taxes he’ll still have around $30 million or so. The President of the United States makes $400,000 a year (which is ten times more than what most teachers make). How are Red Sox fans supposed to react to the fact that Castillo is now an eight figure salary back up player?

Replacing Castillo Is A Waste Of His Defense Experience

Obviously, Castillo’s poor hitting can’t be ignored. It’d be just as much of a waste if the Red Sox ignored his offensive numbers. But making Holt left fielder isn’t the answer. The only way Castillo is going to become a better hitter is if he gets more at-bats at the major league level where the experience he gains will help him. I hate to see a good left fielder replaced with someone who doesn’t know the Green Monster well. After all, it took Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice years to learn how to play off the wall. Replacing Castillo only dilutes the defensive experience he’s gained.

Red Sox Nation is Rooting for Travis Shaw

Spring training should never be taken too seriously, even for deeply passionate Red Sox fans. You’re likely tired of hearing that already, but it’s generally one of the great truisms of baseball. It’s only March, and players are more focused on alleviating the winter rust than producing exceptional results. Nevertheless, for one Red Sox player, a strong spring is Travis Shawsubstantiating the fine work he did last year, and forcing the front office into making a difficult decision.

Travis Shaw is nothing short of an aberration at this point. Last season, the imposing first baseman enjoyed 65 games with the Red Sox, hitting at a .270/.327/.487 clip with 13 home runs and 36 RBI. A rather unheralded prospect, he crept quietly onto the radar, before impressing many people with a robust introduction to the Major Leagues.

This spring, the 25-year old Shaw has continued his maturation. He is hitting .522 through eight exhibition games, with 2 home runs, 9 RBI and a 1.430 OPS. Obviously, we can’t extrapolate too much meaning from such an inconsequentially small sample size, but it is mildly notable that Shaw leads all players in batting average and on-base percentage so far this spring, forcing the front office to reconsider his future.

From time to time, Red Sox Nation falls in love with an underdog-type player and compels him to make the team and fulfill his potential. Shaw is the latest beneficiary of that phenomenon. In this regard, he reminds me a little of Kevin Youkilis, in terms of striving for progress by sheer force of work ethic. And, just like Youk, Shaw has added a second position to his repertoire in the selfless determination to help the Red Sox moving forward.

Travis has played plenty of third base this spring, with Hanley Ramirez clogging up his natural position. Similarly, plans are afoot to try Shaw in left field, adding another tool to his arsenal. At this point, it seems that Shaw will hit his way onto the roster, even if only as a Brock Holt-type utility guy initially. Yet, for John Farrell and Dave Dombrowski, it’s reassuring to know that, should the experiments with Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval fail, they have an adequate replacement waiting in the wings.

We should never read too much into the statistics of spring training, but actions and attitudes speak volumes regardless of our location in the calendar. Right now, Travis Shaw is gaining attention for his impressive production, but perhaps more importantly, he’s gaining admirers for his altruistic outlook and dedicated approach. If only roster decisions were made on true merit, rather than pure economics.

Could Ortiz Match Williams In His Final At-Bat?

Few Hall of Famers can say that their final Major League at-bat was a memorable one. Mickey Mantle popped out to Red Sox shortstop Rico Petrocello in 1968, who by then was merely a shadow of the player he once was. Babe Ruth, playing his final year for the Boston Braves in 1935, grounded out, a less than stellar ending to a career that had all but turned into an embarrassment (A pinch runner often took Ruth’s place in his last season because he had become too heavy to run). Even our own Carl Yazstrezemski’s final at-bat was uninspiring as he popped out in the bottom of the seventh against the Indians in Ortiz Match Williams1983. Many in the Red Sox Nation are hoping that David Ortiz won’t go the way of Mantle, Ruth, and Yazstremski when he takes his last at bat this season. In fact, I’m hoping he’ll leave the game the same way Ted Williams did, but in the post-season instead  of the regular season.

Ted Williams, a.k.a. the Splendid Splinter, bid adieu to baseball on September 28th, 1960 when he hit a solo home run to center off of Baltimore’s Jack Fisher in the bottom of the eighth, giving the Sox the edge in a 5-4 win. No other Hall of Famer had ever homered in his last at-bat, and none to date have done it since (as far as I know). But that was in a year when the Red Sox weren’t playoff contenders (they finished 7th in the American League with a 65-89 record). So if the Red Sox make the playoffs this season after a two-year hiatus, Ortiz might not only leave the game in a memorable way of his own, but might do so at Fenway Park during the World Series, perhaps with a home run of his own.

Winning the World Series for Boston with a home run is a LONG shot for Ortiz, and many factors would have to align perfectly in order for there to even be a chance of that happening (If Ortiz pulled that off I’d push to have the Baseball Hall of Fame’s five-year waiting period waived so he could be inducted right away). But if the Sox reach the playoffs, then Ortiz will have a chance to reclaim his role as a clutch hitter (he did hit five home runs and batted .400 in fourteen playoff games in 2004, including a game-winning home run in Game 4 of the ALCS). So if Price and Bucholtz throw the heat, Bogaerts hits over .300, and Betts and Bradley Jr. keep playing like the Gold Glove winners that they are, then I think it will be safe to dream about what Big Papi will do in his final at-bat. Whether it will be with a home run or not remains to be seen. But when we’re talking about Big Papi, anything is possible!