Red Sox Facing Strong AL East This Season

The 2017 American League East has the Red Sox facing more than its fair share of competition. Last year the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees were at the bottom of Red Sox facingthe standings. Now the Baltimore Orioles and Yankees are looking down on the Red Sox. The Toronto Blue Jays, which made it to the playoffs last year, are dead last. They’ve only won five games as of April 24th. This level of competition is making it difficult for the Red Sox to take first place. They’re playing well enough, but they’re going to have to re-strategize if they want to pass the O’s and Yankees.

Who’s Strong?

The Baltimore Orioles have been knocking at the door of the playoffs for a few seasons now. Their skipper, Buck Showalter, is a seasoned manager who knows the AL East like the back of his hand. While none of their players are standing out yet as likely MVPs, their combination of hitting, fielding, and pitching is what’s keeping them in first place.

The New York Yankees, who haven’t contended for a playoff spot in years, have strong hitting on their side this year. Aaron Judge and Starling Castro are proving to be offensive threats to opposing pitchers. Judge knocked a 460-foot home run out of PNC Park in Pittsburg last week, tied for the longest since 2009. Yankees haven’t hit home runs that far since the days of Mickey Mantle. In addition to their offense, their pitching staff allows only about three earned runs a game. With the Red Sox facing anticipated opposition from the O’s, they probably weren’t expecting the same from the Yankees, or Tampa Bay.

The Tampa Bay Rays haven’t been contenders for a few years either. But they currently rank top ten in runs, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, which is an improvement for them. They also have an ace in Chris Archer. He finally broke his eleven-game losing streak against the Red Sox while holding them to one run in 5 2/3 innings on April 15th.

It seems that the teams fans wrote off are suddenly coming alive. While it’s early in the season, these teams are scrambling to grab hold of first place and keep it. If not, they know anther team won’t hesitate to take it from them.

With The Red Sox Facing Competition in the AL East, They Struggle With Pitching

Red Sox pitchers Steve Wright and Rick Porcello are off to a tough start to the season. They were fantastic last year, and definitely have the ability to be great again this season, but it’s going to be tough. They may have started this this season with a level of confidence they didn’t think would be tested so early. But if they want to stay in the rotation they’re going to have to come up with news ways to stave off opposing hitters, who by now have clearly learned to hit them, and hit them well.

The Red Sox Rotation is Now a Strength

For almost three years, the Red Sox rotation has been a source of frustration. In 2014, Jon Lester was traded away, and Ben Cherington didn’t replace him. Boston lacked an ace for what felt like the longest time, until David Price was signed last winter. Under-performance early this season increased the worry among fans, but things have gradually clicked into place, giving the Red Sox a starting corps to be relied upon as October looms ahead.

A Resurgence for the Red Sox Rotation

In the past thirty days, the Red Sox rotation has pitched to a 3.19 ERA. Only two teams have a better mark in all of baseball: the Cubs and Rays. Boston is also fourth overall in FIP during that span, while a WHIP of 1.110 is the best any American League team can muster. Only the Blue Jays and Tigers have induced more soft contact in the past month among AL rivals, which suggests the Red Sox rotation has definitely turned a corner.

Red Sox rotation

Rick Porcello has emerged as the staff ace, as his 2.08 ERA in the past thirty days illustrates. But David Price has also improved greatly as the season has progressed. The big southpaw has a 2.36 ERA in his last six starts, and he appears to be peaking when it matters most. Meanwhile, Eduardo Rodriguez has a 2.67 ERA in his last five starts; Drew Pomeranz is at 3.31 over his last six; and Clay Buchholz has even returned from the dead with a 2.70 mark in his last 16.2 innings pitched.

Once a Weakness, Now a Strength

Whichever way you dice it, the Red Sox rotation, so often maligned, is quietly becoming a strength. Aside from the numbers, this group just inspires more confidence than it ever has before. Porcello and Price are experienced guys who should handle the pennant race pressure. Rodriguez seems to have ironed out a few issues. And the Sox still have Steven Wright to return from his stint on the disabled list, to compliment Pomeranz and Buchholz, who are also doing just fine.

All things considered, Boston is rounding into form at just the right time. The offense has been relentless all season, but it is now backed by a more consistent pitching staff. In general, the Sox seem to be grinding harder right now, and there is a newfound toughness to this team that has enabled it to win plenty of close games recently. That bodes well for the stretch run, which will feature plenty of games against division rivals such as Toronto and Baltimore.

Through all the hardship and uncertainty, here the Red Sox stand. It’s late August and they have a 71-54 record, good for a share of first place. Just thirty-seven games remain, and one last push is needed for a return to postseason play. For the first time in a long while, the Sox have a strong balance between offense, defense and pitching. Don’t look now, but this may be the most complete team in the American League.

Steve Wright Particularly Fascinating

Steve Wright continues to dominate American League batters with his nasty knuckleball, using it to fan five against the Chicago White Sox on June 20th at Fenway Park. The knuckleballer is 8-4 so far this season with 80 strikeouts, leading the AL with three complete games. What makes Wright particularly fascinating to watch is that he’s not just any knuckleballer. Wright seems to bring the pitch to a whole new Wright Particularly Fascinatinglevel.

For almost a century, since Chicago White Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte allegedly invented the pitch, the knuckleball has baffled hitters. Bill Lee once tried to show me how to throw one, but I got lost in his directions after a few minutes. I’m not sure if that was because Bill Lee was being himself, or because it’s so difficult to explain how to throw the pitch to begin with.

I know you start by gripping the ball with the top of your fingers instead of your actual knuckles, which keeps the ball from rotating as it (hopefully) crosses the plate. Its effectiveness is in the unpredictability of where it’s going. The ball is at the mercy of the wind, humidity, or other natural forces that physically manipulate it. This unpredictability makes it hard for batters to hit, but also for catchers to catch. Sportscaster Bon Uecker puts it best, “The way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until it stops rolling and pick it up.”

Monday’s outing against Chicago made Wright particularly fascinating to watch because, in theory, knuckleballs aren’t supposed to make one full rotation. Keeping the ball from doing so between the time it leaves the pitcher’s hand and hits the catcher’s glove is next to impossible. But Wright threw a pitch past Chicago’s Alex Avila monday night that didn’t make a single rotation. Not one. Single. Rotation. It was just as fascinating to watch Avila take a swing at it—the White Sox catcher never even had a chance.

Move over Tim Wakefield, Steve Wright is the new knuckleballer in town and, if he can keep it up, the new ace.

Red Sox Errors Are Inexcusable

The June 20th game against the Chicago White Sox highlighted a comedy of errors that exposed the Red Sox weaknesses. Travis Shaw and Steve Wright made sloppy errors in the first inning; Shaw fumbled the ball at third, and Wright made a wild throw trying to pick off a runner at second base. What exacerbated these errors was John Farrell’s decision to field and pinch hit inexperienced players who haven’t seen much action all season. With the Red Sox battling for first place, this isn’t the time to be substituting regulars for untested players. In a word, Red Sox errors at this point in the season are inexcusable.

I’ve been concerned about Travis Shaw lately. His batting average has dropped off andRed Sox Errors he’s made nine errors at first base for a less than respectable .945 fielding average. The White Sox shouldn’t have scored in the first inning but between Shaw’s error and Wright’s wild throw the Red Sox found themselves behind for a majority of the game. You can’t put 100% of the blame on Steven Wright for his error last night though. If Dustin Pedroia had been at second instead of Marco Hernandez, who by the way has only a .238 batting average in 21 at-bats this season, the White Sox wouldn’t have scored in the first inning, and Christian Vasquez’s RBI would have won the game. That wasn’t the worst of the Red Sox errors though.

Red Sox Errors Made Worse by Strong White Sox Pitching

Some might call it good pitching by the White Sox, but it seriously takes effort to blow a chance to win when it’s the bottom of the ninth inning with no outs and runners in scoring position. Dustin Pedroia, pinch hitting for Travis Shaw, put up quite the fight against Chicago’s Zach Duke before striking out, but it was the unwise choice of having Ryan LaMarre pinch hit that took the prize for worst decision of the game. Ryan LaMarre hasn’t batted all season! What was Farrell thinking putting LaMarre in against an experienced southpaw who had already bested Pedroia? There were plenty of other more experienced batters on the Red Sox bench that Farrell could have inserted.

As I left Fenway Park last night after watching the Sox blow the game 3-1, all I could think about was William Hurt’s line from the movie A History of Violence, “How do you f–k that up!?” In other words, last night’s Red Sox errors were inexcusable.