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— Where Thinking Red Sox Fans Obsess about the Sox

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

A Game Out Of First

Sometimes it’s just good to remind yourself, the Boston Red Sox are one (1) game out of first place and five games up on a Wild Card spot.  If you had told me the Sox would be here at the two-thirds mark of the season back in April I would have laughed, caught my breath, and laughed again.

So why does it feel so crummy at the moment?

Well that’s the easy answer; because they are playing like it’s 2020 all over again.  Actually that’s not fair, in 2020 they were fairly entertaining at times.  The last week has been about as bleak as this team has looked in a long time and as SBPT pointed out in the trade deadline post there is more than a little evidence to suggest that there is not a big turnaround in sight.  But of course a Major League Baseball season does that to you.  The ebbs and flows can give you the bends if you aren’t careful.  A week ago they were coming off two dramatic victories over the Yankees and Blue Jays and had won 6 out of 7.  They led the division by a game and a half and were seven up on a Wild Card spot for good measure.  Since then they have gone 1-7 with a Pythagorean Record to match.  The flaws have been many; they can’t pitch, they can’t hit, the base running and defense have been spotty and the management has been questionable. 

So what is to come?  Well, that’s the tricky part.  The problem is the changes are going to have to come from within and it is hard to see where that is going to be.  Small reinforcements are in the offing.  Kyle Schwarber should help whenever he gets back in there but boy oh boy, I have to say at the time of the trade I thought we were talking days before he came back, not a couple of weeks.  Chris Sale will hopefully help but I remain skeptical of what he is going to have to offer after almost exactly two full seasons without an MLB start.  The thing I think the Sox HAVE to look into doing sooner than later is getting Tanner Houck into the rotation.  I understand it is only 39 MLB innings that he has but a 1.62 ERA is awfully good and between Perez, Richards and Rodriguez there is little to suggest that he won’t be better.  I think a case can be made for giving Garrett Whitlock a whirl too but two innings is his max since early May.  The reality is that it’s not like those other guys are going so deep in games that it’s not worth considering.  Three innings of not crummy pitching would be an improvement over 4 2/3 of disaster.

The flip side is the offense.  There is no reason to think the offense will continue to struggle this badly.  Even acknowledging some overperformances earlier in the season this is a good offensive team.  Since the All Star Game;

JD Martinez - .633 OPS
Xander Bogaerts - .607
Alex Verdugo - .645
Christian Vazquez - .575

More disturbingly other than Kiké (.982) there is no one really going bonkers to offset.  When the offense and the defense both fall apart at the same time you have a losing streak.  I think the pitching is likely to continue to struggle but the offense will get it going at some point.  For all the disappointment that seems to be enveloping this team right now a win tomorrow while Seattle beats the Rays and they are the first place Boston Red Sox again.  That is not a bad place to be.  In my over/under post from March I wrote the following;

Team Wins: 81.5 - So for me the Sox are a .500 team.  They are going to rake, I fully expect JDM to rebound and the lineup looks pretty potent to me.  That pitching staff has huge upside but I think the downside with injury is even greater.

Jose says - Under - I’ll guess 78-84

The reason for the downside on the rotation looks wrong but the reality of it is that the rotation is pretty poor.  If they play at a 78-84 pace the rest of the way they’d finish with 89 wins.  That alone would be a huge victory over last year and expectations.  Steal a couple of wins in there and you have a playoff team.  Right the ship and play the way they have up to this point and they win 94.  Split the difference? 91-92 wins.  They are in position but the question now is can they take advantage.  Step one is win a freakin’ game.

Jose Is An Absurd Balladeer Posted: August 03, 2021 at 10:15 PM | 23 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. villageidiom Posted: August 04, 2021 at 10:16 AM (#6032753)
Average score (RS/G and RA/G), by month:

4.8 - 3.9 April
5.4 - 4.6 May
5.0 - 4.9 June
4.7 - 4.7 July (more precisely 4.72-4.68)
2.0 - 3.5 August

4.0 - 4.6 post ASB

The RA per game after the All-Star break looks very much like the RA per game the rest of the season. The pitching and defense isn't suddenly the problem. The hitting hasn't fallen apart per se, but it's at a season low point, and it's unsustainable given the level pitching has been all season.

I expect the bats to rebound. I just wish they'd do it sooner.
   2. dave h Posted: August 04, 2021 at 06:05 PM (#6032872)
You can blame me for finally paying a little bit of attention, just in time to see them tank a bit.

As a minor hijack, since going to games will be much easier for me starting in two weeks, what's everyone's favorite piece to sit, accounting for the fact that I have a family of 5 and we're fairly price conscious?
   3. Jay Seaver Posted: August 04, 2021 at 06:36 PM (#6032877)
I'm in the bleachers most of the time and kind of laughed when my season ticket rep tried to upsell me to the RF boxes which basically face the Monster. They can get a little rowdy when the Yankees are in town, but you're also right by the big concourse which has a bunch of kid-friendly stuff if they get antsy, and they aren't bad seats in general. Upper bleachers are the only place in the park where you really feel far from the game.

Also, my section (43) has the Kazoo Guy, and I suspect there are more of those hyper-local bits of personality in the bleachers than other spots.

When I like to splurge a little more, the RF roof boxes are my usual go-tos - nice view, fairly affordable, and I generally feel a little less packed in than I do in the lower bowl.
   4. Nasty Nate Posted: August 04, 2021 at 07:32 PM (#6032885)
As a minor hijack, since going to games will be much easier for me starting in two weeks, what's everyone's favorite piece to sit, accounting for the fact that I have a family of 5 and we're fairly price conscious?
LF grandstand sections 32 and 33 are kid-friendly family sections and some of the cheapest (non-SRO) in the park. The viewing angle and ease of getting from street to seat is superior to equivalent sections in RF.
   5. Jose Is An Absurd Balladeer Posted: August 04, 2021 at 11:01 PM (#6032911)
Yeah I’m a huge fan of sections 32 and 33. Among other things I’m someone who takes a lot of photos and I don’t have to deal with a screen. If you don’t mind the screen I think the infield grandstand is the best value. It’s not too expensive and the view is fantastic. Friendly tip, infield grandstand first six rows you don’t have to worry about poles being in your way.
   6. villageidiom Posted: August 04, 2021 at 11:32 PM (#6032918)
Infield grandstand, first 6 rows, any section from 12 up.

1. Your straight-ahead view is of the infield. That's what your neck will want for a view.

2. Slope of the section is steep enough that your kids should be able to see over the heads of the people in front of them. For kids, any seat could have an obstructed view depending on who's sitting one row in front of them. Grandstand minimizes that impact. (So do bleachers & monster, but they're soooo far away.)

3. Priced lower than box seats, but nearly as good a view.

4. In the shade, and under cover in case of rain.
   7. Steve Balboni's Personal Trainer Posted: August 05, 2021 at 08:18 AM (#6032938)
Just as the first game of the Detroit series on Tuesday was a good example of how things are going wrong for the team (starter gives up 3+ runs and can't go five innings, offense can't string multiple hits in an inning together, and an outstanding bullpen performance isn't enough), Wednesday night's game against Detroit was a best-case scenario of how things could go right for the team (Duran and Martinez hit HRs, they continue to get positive contributions from the "stop gap" veterans like Renfroe and Kike, the starting pitcher struggles to go five...but at least pitches well in his short stint, and the bullpen is once again generally outstanding).

It was crazy, watching the game last night, to see ERod look dominant at times, and yet he was one bad pitch away in the 5th from it all falling apart. He struck out 10 in five innings, no runs allowed, was totally fooling the hitters all night, and yet here we were, with Cora trying to figure out whether to keep him in after 4.2 innings with 93 pitches and two runners on.

And so, I think that is the razor's edge between success and failure right now for the Red Sox - if the hitting gets just a little bit better, then they're probably OK. If the bullpen declines just a little bit, then they're probably going to struggle. And as for the starting pitching, it really is the difference between 5.2 innings, 3 runs and 4.2 innings, 4 runs, that kind of fine line.

Last thing: This morning on Twitter, some buzzing in Red Sox Nation about Connor Seabold, who was dominant last night in Worcester - 6 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 10 Ks, 85 pitches, 59 for strikes. In 4 starts since returning from injury, Seabold has pitched 20.1 innings, 7 ER (had one bad start), ERA of 3.09, 26/5 K/BB ratio. If he does that sort of thing for another start or two, you have to ask yourself: Is making a change this late in the season to the rotation too risky? Or is there really nothing to lose at this point?

Perez and Richards are terrible, and give the team no innings, either. Can it really be any worse to just go Sale/Eovaldi/Pivetta/ERod/Seabold, and put Houck in the bullpen with Whitlock, have them each throw 2-inning relief stints 2-3X a week for the rest of the season? The other thing I like is that it may well improve the team in 2021 - but it is absolutely a step forward in rebuilding the team for 2022 and beyond. Right now, what is your 2022 rotation?

Sale
Eovaldi
Rodriguez
Pivetta
Houck
Seabold
Whitlock

That's a nice seven guys to start building a pitching staff around. So why not start getting that group going in 2021, if they are at least as good as what you're offering up right now?
   8. Jose Is An Absurd Balladeer Posted: August 05, 2021 at 08:42 AM (#6032940)
Yeah I think Houck/Whitlock/Seabold have to be looked at as options. Eovaldi, Pivetta and Rodriguez should be in there but if Perez/Richards aren't going to be trusted a second time through the order then at least roll out someone who is.

On Rodriguez Alex Speier had a good point this morning. His last 7-8 starts have been pretty good with the exception of the migraine start and the start right after it when in retrospect he probably shouldn't have been out there. If he can be solid that's a huge boost.

2022? Off the top of my head;

Sale
Eovalid
Houck
Seabold
Pivetta

I'll be curious to see what happens with Rodriguez as a free agent. There is almost nothing that will surprise me with him and a lot hinges on the next 6 weeks. If he pitches well he'll have some suitors. If he doesn't I won't be surprised if he's back on a one year deal.
   9. Jose Is An Absurd Balladeer Posted: August 05, 2021 at 04:40 PM (#6033034)
37 pitches. I think Cora is done with Martin Perez and I can't say I blame him. I like Perez, he seems like a nice guy but the Sox can't keep sending him out there (or Richards for that matter).
   10. Darren Posted: August 05, 2021 at 09:32 PM (#6033082)
This is not very fun.
   11. Darren Posted: August 05, 2021 at 09:35 PM (#6033083)
I really don't know what to make of this team. They are better than I thought, but now they are falling back to Earth. Maybe they will end up at 85 wins or maybe they're just having a little bad spell. ??????
   12. Jose Is An Absurd Balladeer Posted: August 05, 2021 at 10:49 PM (#6033097)
Honestly it feels like 2006 to me. They get to the trade deadline, don’t do much while the Yankees do a bunch of stuff and immediately go in the tank. The pitching staff is just not good enough to handle the offensive slump. I think 85 is probably fairly accurate. I’m trying to find reasons to be hopeful, I think Houck in for Perez is an upgrade (Perez had to have made his final start today) and Sale for Richards and they won’t hit .120 w/RISP the rest of the year like they have the last week (I don’t think it’s that low but it’s bad). But I just can’t see a turnaround particularly given the next couple of weeks are still tough with the schedule.
   13. pikepredator Posted: August 06, 2021 at 10:28 AM (#6033173)
I've been anticipating a stretch like this all year; every team has one at some point. It's August . . . stay the course. This team has a lot of wins already in the bag, they can afford to go through a rough patch. Assuming the hitting turns around and Sale stays strong September could be just fine.

Dog Days are here.
   14. villageidiom Posted: August 06, 2021 at 11:53 AM (#6033195)
I've been anticipating a stretch like this all year; every team has one at some point.
The 2018 team really didn't, but they were such an historical outlier that they shouldn't be used as a point of comparison. (tl;dr I agree with you.)

The optimist in me says "We're in August and it took this long for the team to have a bad stretch, that's nothing to be worried about. Nay, it should be celebrated." The pessimist says "Their divisional lead was so fragile that they had to play at a fantastic level without a bad stretch for 4 months to maintain even a slight lead." Both statements are correct, but the latter feels more real right now.
   15. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: August 06, 2021 at 12:06 PM (#6033198)
The wild cards are those front line starters returning from the long term IL (Sale, Kluber and Severino), and how much they'll be able to contribute down the stretch. There are others who are currently on the IL, but those three are the Big Ones.
   16. Jose Is An Absurd Balladeer Posted: August 06, 2021 at 01:41 PM (#6033219)
13/14 - Counterpoint: THEY'RE RUININ' MY SUMMAH!

No seriously, you both make sense. I'm just skeptical because this is a bit of confirmation bias. I've been seeing this as a .500 team all year, that they are now regressing towards that means I'm right so of course that is what is happening, I couldn't be wrong.

But I think the important point you make is that in some ways this is the opposite of 2011. For all the hubbub about September what really sunk that time was April. Had they simply started 5-7 or 6-6, they'd have still coasted into the playoffs. This team has collapsed over the last week and holds a 4 game lead in the wild card. Righting the ship just a bit changes the feeling. But man this pitching staff, I don't feel good about it.
   17. pikepredator Posted: August 06, 2021 at 01:48 PM (#6033222)
On a related note, how can I hide the run differential column in the standings? It's been bothering me more and more and now it seems to be mocking me. Major buzzkill.
   18. Steve Balboni's Personal Trainer Posted: August 06, 2021 at 04:53 PM (#6033278)
Perez is officially out of the rotation, according to Cora this afternoon.

Richards and Perez were both signed to be short-term members of the rotation, to build depth so that they would avoid a 2020 scenario, and lack even replacement-level major leaguers. They never thought they would likely be anything better than what they are, and they probably never thought Richards, in particular, would make it 70% of the way into the season without missing a start.

Look who started at least one game for the Red Sox in 2020:
Perez, 12 starts
Eovaldi, 9
Godley, 7
Mazza, 6
Weber, 5
Brewer, 4
Houck, 3
Hart, 3
Kickham, 2
Pivetta, 2
Triggs, 2
Brasier,1
Brice, 1
Hall, 1
Leyer, 1
Osich, 1

Step #1 in getting better in avoiding lacking depth to such an extent that your pitcher with the 3rd-most starts in Zach Godley. It was the ultimate tank job.

So, they go into 2021 saying, "We won't be contenders this year, but we need our young guys to have a year to develop, rebuild the minors, keep Bogaerts, Devers, and Verdugo developing, and go from there." That's Richards and Perez.

Their five starters have all made 21 starts this year - except for Perez, who has made 22 starts. The durability of this five-man rotation is approaching historic. But they have two starters averaging under 5 innings per start for the season, and a 3rd (Richards) averaging exactly 5 innings per start (and going down fast). Nobody is averaging even 6 IP per start. The second-lowest ERA of the five is now 4.57.

At any rate, the team is now being asked to try to bring 2022 into 2021, without sacrificing the future. Perez is now replaced by Houck, practically speaking. Richards will be replaced by Sale. And in two weeks, they'll figure out if they want to slide Houck into the bullpen and put Seabold in the rotation. Basically, the 2022 rotation is being asked to save the 2021 season.
   19. pikepredator Posted: August 06, 2021 at 05:31 PM (#6033286)
Basically, the 2022 rotation is being asked to save the 2021 season.


Saving the season is the best-case outcome, right? I don't mind Houck and Seabold getting MLB exposure this year, in fact I like the idea . . . it wasn't supposed to be a playoff-year anyway. So if they are brought up and do well and the Sox make the playoffs great! If not, they still get valuable experience and hopefully are farther ahead starting 2022 than they would've been.

I supposed there's the chance they totally get destroyed and their confidence is forever crushed, but that seems a remote possibility. I don't want them taking the blame if this team does go into the tank. Fortunately we can all be confident the the Boston media would NEVER do something like that . . .
   20. Steve Balboni's Personal Trainer Posted: August 08, 2021 at 04:33 PM (#6033457)
Sunday's game against Toronto (8-4 Boston as I write this) was Garrett Richards in a nutshell this year:

5 IP, 6 hits, 4 runs, 3 earned runs, one walk, two Ks, 86 pitches. He exited the game after five innings with the team swinging the bats well, and leading 7-4. (The unearned run came on a throwing error by Devers, runner got to second on the error, then Richards gave up two singles to score the run.)

So if you were (like me) saying that it is time to get Richards out of the rotation, how does today's performance look? It seems "good enough", but it is the equivalent of a 5.40 ERA, plus the unearned run...which is pretty close to what he has delivered overall this season.

In his last 12 starts (counting today, since June 6th), he has been one of the worst starting pitchers in baseball. There is no way to sugercoat this line:

11 GS
50.1 IP
75 hits
43 runs
39 earned runs
35 Ks
18 BBs
13 HRs
6.97 ERA
.343/.402/.702 slash line (before today, but it didn't change much)
Average game is 4 2/3rds, 3.6 earned runs. He hasn't completed six innings since before this streak, on June 1st.

It is amazing to me that this team is currently in the playoffs, and in the hunt for the division title.

The back three of their rotation (ERod, Richards, Perez) are among the league leaders in games started, with a combined 65 starts, and their combined average innings per start is under five, with a combined ERA of...5.13.

   21. villageidiom Posted: August 08, 2021 at 05:12 PM (#6033463)
Sunday's game against Toronto (8-4 Boston as I write this)
Helluva jinx, man.

If they go .500 the rest of the way, Boston will finish with 89 wins.
   22. Steve Balboni's Personal Trainer Posted: August 08, 2021 at 05:18 PM (#6033464)
Also: With the Red Sox losing that game 9-8, and the entire bullpen today (Taylor, Sawamura, Ottavino, Barnes) looking like toast, it appears to be coming to this for Boston in 2021:

The greatest strength of the team (the bullpen) has been asked to do too much because of the greatest weakness of the team (the back 3/5ths of a rotation which is bizarrely durable, while consistently giving them too few innings, with too many runs allowed).

If the bullpen loses its reliability, then this last 48 games is going to be almost as ugly as this last 2-8 road trip. I just want the Red Sox to use this time to give players potentially important to 2022 and beyond as much playing time as possible (especially Sale, Houck, Seabold, Pivetta, ERod, and Whitlock).
   23. the Hugh Jorgan returns Posted: August 08, 2021 at 07:32 PM (#6033476)
Now that the pen is cooked, this season is no longer fun! It's been pretty darn good and wholly unexpected so far, but if they end up with 87-88 wins, I'll be stoked with that.

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