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.

Ortiz Declines Ceremony in Tampa

As the regular season dwindles down, David Ortiz experiences his final stops in Major League cities. Each final go-around brings about a new ceremony for Big Papi; creative gifts and giant checks have come home with Ortiz seemingly every road trip. This Sunday, however, Ortiz chose to focus on a more serious matter in his final stop to Tropicana Field: his late friend Jose Fernández.

The baseball world was shaken Sunday morning with news of the death of one of its budding Ortiz declines ceremonyyoung stars, José Fernández of the Miami Marlins. Fernández was one of the best young pitchers in the game, winning the Rookie of the Year in 2013. His meteoric rise often drew comparisons to Pedro Martinez, Sandy Koufax, and Clayton Kershaw. The 24-year old Cuban defector had plenty of character outside of baseball, too. He was once imprisoned for trying to leave Cuba and, once he was able to leave, he saved his own mother from drowning on the voyage to America.

Fernández was killed in a boating accident around 3 AM along with two other friends. The news spread around the sports world, effecting not only the Marlins but Miami, as well as all of baseball. In the Red Sox clubhouse, no one was more likely effected than the retiring designated hitter.

Ortiz and Fernández were good friends; the young star idolized Big Papi growing up. Ortiz and Fernández’s friendship was on full display in this summer’s All-Star Game in San Diego. Fernández reportedly told him he’d “groove him” a pitch that he could hit, but instead walked him. The two exchanged laughs and Ortiz even tried to convince him to come to Boston in free agency.

Ortiz Defers The Day To Fernández

Of course Ortiz was stricken with grief as he prepared for his final game in Tampa Bay. Instead of an elaborate on-field ceremony, as has become customary, Ortiz said he’d rather accept his gifts privately, leaving the day to celebrate Fernández. To honor him, he put the initials “JF 16” on his hat. Every team held a moment of silence in memory and Ortiz got emotional in the Red Sox dugout.

As far as his gifts, Ortiz got an oil painting of his 500th home run which he hit in Tampa last September, and 34 handmade cigars. They were presented to him in the bowels of the Trop by Evan Longoria and Chris Archer of the Rays. So, say what you want about these retirement tours and David Ortiz, but he definitely let his class take over this time. For Big Papi, and so many around the MLB, Sunday was a shocking reminder of the fragility of life and he handled it in the classiest way he could have.

Kudos to you, Papi.

Eduardo Rodriguez Masterful Again

As the Red Sox enter the home stretch of a pennant race, it would be silly not to recognize the excellence of their starting pitching. At one point this season, fans were begging the Red Sox to pick up any starting pitcher available.That is how bad the Red Sox starters were. Red Sox starters have dominated the last month and a half and it is no surprise that they’re back in the hunt for a division title. Everyone has had success in the rotation lately, but maybe the most important piece has been Eduardo Rodriguez.

Rodriguez came into this season with a lot of hype surrounding him. He won 10 games last year as a rookie and looked to be a blossoming young star. His 2016 campaign did Rodrigueznot get off to the start he wanted; his first start of the season came in late May and he struggled in the first half. His low-light: a June game in Tampa where he was shelled for nine runs on 11 hits. Unable to make it out of the third inning, the debacle led to him being chewed out on the mound mid-game by Dustin Pedroia.

Rodriguez’s Second Half

Rodriguez was sent down to Pawtucket in late June due to his struggles. Since the All-Star Break he is only 1-3 but has a 2.73 ERA. He has brought his ERA from the brutal June 8.59 down to 4.83. The highlight of Rodriguez’s comeback has been his last three starts. In those starts he has only given up five runs in 18 and 1/3 innings. Sunday was definitely Rodriguez’s best start. He pitched 7 and 2/3 no hit innings and shutout the A’s for a full eight innings. Unfortunately for him, the Red Sox found a way to lose the game and “E-Rod” received a ‘no-decision’ for his efforts.

The most impressive part about Rodriguez’s turnaround? His complete change of attitude on the mound. While in Pawtucket, Rodriguez had to develop secondary pitches after leading the league in fastball percentage. He improved his slider and change up tremendously during that stint. When he was rushed back up to Boston, he flourished. He is pitching with confidence and craftsmanship.

The way Rodriguez and the starting rotation are going right now, the Red Sox have a great chance at playing postseason baseball again. Looking at this recent success, it is hard to understate the importance of Eduardo Rodriguez’s maturation.

Looking Into September For The Red Sox

New England: brace yourselves. The last few years have brought the ringing of the song “Wake Me Up When September Ends” for Red Sox fans. However, 2016 has proven to have been a much different year than Red Sox fans are (recently) used to. This is what the fan base has yearned for.

After a see-saw month of July and a bit of a sour end to August, Boston is ready for Septembermeaningful September baseball. Luckily for the Red Sox, they will have a serious confidence builder going into the month, ending August with a three-game set against the Rays at Fenway. From this point on, the push for a playoff spot is most certainly on.

The September Schedule

It is one thing to play meaningful baseball, it is quite another to play no meaningless baseball in September. From September 9th to the regular season finale on October 2nd, the Red Sox will only play within the division. Yes, that means the last 23 games of the regular season will be against the AL East. Every game this month is going to be a high-leverage one, leaving virtually no room for error. That is the scenario the Red Sox will surely be in if they get back on track.

The Red Sox and Blue Jays will square off for a three-game series in Boston from September 30th to October 2nd. The way these two teams have been playing, it seems as if the final series of the year will decide a division champion. After last place finishes three of the last four years, this is what Red Sox fans have dreamed of.

To get there, the starting pitching will need to continue to be formidable. Rick Porcello and David Price have been anchors in the rotation this  August. They will need the Eddie Rodriguez we’ve seen most of the second half, not the one we saw Sunday night. Also, the weather should cool down soon, eliminating most of Steven Wright’s excuses. If those guys can pitch well in September, the Red Sox will certainly be a tough team to beat. Also, the bullpen needs to suck just a little bit less. There can be no more of these eight-run innings in a playoff race. If they can avoid being horrendous, the Red Sox should find themselves playing after October 2nd.

So, with that said, it is time to buckle up Red Sox fans. Your team is in for a wild ride in September.

Is Benintendi Proving To Be The Real Deal?

I was concerned when the Red Sox called up Andrew Benintendi from the minors. The kid hadn’t even played in AAA Pawtucket yet. Regardless, Dave Dombrowski and John Farrell were eager to put him in the lineup. I thought Benintendi would have a hard time hitting against major league pitchers. I also thought about his lack of strength. He’s not nearly as big as his teammates. However, after almost two dozen games, while it’s great to see Benintendi proving himself, we have yet to see if he’s a fluke or the real thing. Will Benintendi maintain his consistency?

As of August 23rd, Benintendi is carrying a .306 batting average. That’s not too bad inBenintendi Proving 62 at-bats. It’s certainly better than what Jackie Bradley Jr. had his first year in Boston. In 2013, Bradley Jr. hit only .189 in 95 at-bats. Xander Bogaerts didn’t fare much better during the same time. So to see Benintendi proving himself by posting respectable numbers in that many at-bats is a sign that he could be the real deal.

One thing that people don’t discuss about Benintendi is his fielding. Before he was called up, Benintendi made zero errors in 143 chances in Double-A Portland. Before Portland, he made only one error in Single-A Salem. The same goes for the season before. In 2015 he made only one error in 131 chances at Single-A. That mades for  a.994 fielding percentage over two seasons in the minors. Not too shabby.

 It’s Great To See Benintendi Proving Himself At Defense, Too!

On August 22nd in a game against Tampa, Benintendi robbed Tampa Bay’s Steven Souza Jr. of a two-run home run in the eighth inning. Benintendi defied both gravity and the left field wall to keep the Rays from scoring another two runs. Earlier in the game, Benintendi drove in a run in the fourth inning with a sacrifice fly. At this point, it is safe to say that Benintendi has delivered on the expectations Dombrowski and Farrell set for the rookie when he arrived in Boston. Now Benintendi has to prove that he’s the real deal by continuing to adjust his skills to maintain his success at the plate. We have yet to see if he can do so. But one thing is for sure. He’s off to a great start!

It’s Time to Worry About David Price

David Price was supposed to be the savior. When the Red Sox gave him a seven-year, $217 million contract in the winter, a major void was filled at Fenway Park. The ghost of Jon Lester was exorcised, as Boston welcomed the most expensive pitcher ever to grace planet earth. Here was the leader of a new generation.

David Price

Fast forward seven months, and that situation is yet to materialize. Steven Wright has been the Red Sox’ ace this season, while David Price has struggled in a variety of ways. Fans waited through the early April struggles, when the new superstar was settling in. Then they waited a few more weeks, a couple extra months. David Price is still yet to deliver. And with August rounding into view, it’s time to debate exactly what’s happening. It might even be time to worry.

David Price Has a Great Track Record

Quite simply, David Price has never pitched this bad for this long. He came up with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008, famously closing out their ALCS triumph over the Red Sox. He then developed a brilliant reputation, with a 3.18 ERA in 170 starts. Price won twenty games and the Cy Young Award in 2012, further enhancing his legacy. The Tigers traded for him in 2014, and he was even better in Detroit, pitching to a 2.90 ERA. Finally, he was dealt to the Blue Jays last season and became a key cog in a team that reached the postseason for the first time in twenty-two years.

Nobody doubts the resume. Throughout his career, David Price has been a dominant horse capable of anchoring any rotation. The Red Sox were in dire need of that, and they pursued him hard in free agency. Price was viewed as the next great Boston ace, in the mold of Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett. He was the guy onto whom Red Sox Nation conveyed so much expectation. He was the cornerstone.

So far, it just hasn’t worked out. David Price currently has a 9-7 record, a 4.51 ERA and a 1.275 WHIP. Only two pitchers in all of baseball have allowed more hits: Mike Pelfrey and Marcus Stroman. Perhaps these numbers would be acceptable early in the season, as a new player becomes accustomed to fresh surroundings. But it’s no longer April. It’s no longer May or June. We have just sixty-four games left in the regular season, and the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history has been barely league average for the Boston Red Sox.

The Future of David Price

David Price knows he hasn’t been good enough. In every press conference, he has owned it. Perhaps more than any athlete in Boston sports history, he’s looked at the camera and criticized himself at appropriate times. That’s good. We appreciate that. But it still doesn’t change the fact that the Red Sox have extracted very little value from the part of this deal one would expect to be the most productive. David Price is only going to age from here on out. Generally, his performance is only going to trend downwards, just like any pitcher over the age of thirty. And if he’s already struggling to perform in Year One, the landscape is pretty scary moving forward.

While Price has accepted responsibility for his productivity, the wider public has been very lenient, perhaps to a fault. We’ve heard plenty of excuses. It was too cold. It was too windy. There’s something wrong with his mechanics. Enough already. David Price could be the nicest guy in the world, but he’s still not getting the job done with enough regularity. Therefore, it’s quite strange to see how little criticism he’s received. That may be a good thing, and a step in the right direction, but I can’t remember such an under-performing Boston star receiving this much support from the fans.

Hopefully that faith is rewarded. Hopefully David Price will rediscover his old delivery, his old strategy, his old magic. Hopefully the ace begins to deliver when it matters most, should October baseball return to Yawkey Way.