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Monday, June 13, 2022

Now That’s A Road Trip

On the morning of June 2nd the Boston Red Sox headed for sunny California for a fairly terrifying road trip.  The quality of competition was not particularly frightening but I am old enough to be able to recite chapter and verse on how west coast road trips have turned Red Sox’ seasons sour.  Sitting at 24-27 the Sox had righted the ship but were still climbing out of their early season hole.  Fast forward to this morning and the Sox are 32-29 having laid waste to the left coasters in fairly decisive fashion.  Maybe the most encouraging thing about the trip is how they did it with the pitching and defense (holy crap did you SEE that catch by Refsnyder yesterday?) rather than the offensive outburst that fueled the mid-May hot streak.  Obviously as a Red Sox fan my default is a desire to see big right-handed sluggers smash baseballs great distances but the pitching was generally fantastic on this trip allowing just 24 runs in the ten games.

That’s not to say that all is well with the moundsmen.  Two of the Sox starters find themselves on the IL this morning with Nathan Eovaldi and Garrett Whitlock both out.  Neither guy seems to be in a situation where it is expected to be a long term issue but pitcher injuries are always a bit dicey.  And of course there is the not to small issue of the bullpen and particularly the closer.  I’m probably a bigger Hansel Robles fan than most but he’s not getting the job done.  Austin Davis seems to be a guy a lot of folks are angling for but I think most of us would like to see Tanner Houck getting the call at the end of games more than less.  It looks like that is Alex Cora’s plan given the way he played things in Seattle this weekend.  At some point Houck will need to demonstrate an ability to pitch on successive days but this is very similar to how Cora managed Garrett Whitlock last year.  Whitlock only pitched successive days once during the regular season last year.  I suspect Cora will be similarly cautious with Houck.

One possible option later in the season I have seen mentioned is Chris Sale.  Sale of course started his career as a reliever and you may remember him from such closing appearances as “THE FINAL FREAKING GAME OF THE WORLD ####### SERIES!”  Sale following a Dennis Eckersley path is not that hard to imagine.  While a $30 million closer is a bit silly the money is spent, so get the best out of him.  Having said that even if Sale arrives to bolster the bullpen it is hard not to think the Sox need some help out there beyond him.  Whether it’s someone internal (e.g. Seabold, Wincowski, Bello, Crawford) or a trade the Sox can’t ask Alex Cora to try and compete with this bullpen.  One guy that I think probably should be considered is Rich Hill.  Hill doesn’t go deep in games so it’s not like you are taking out some big innings-eater out of there and he throws strikes.  I don’t like curveball relievers because they are prone to the long ball but I can see Hill being pretty good at it.

A few other notes;

- Jarren Duran continues to cool his heels in Worcester but I think that’s the right thing.  He’s not hitting so well that he’s forcing the Sox’ hand and his defense is a concern.  It is highly likely that Jackie Bradley Jr. warts and all is better than Duran right now.  My hunch is that the Sox don’t want Duran in Boston playing 3-4 times a week and given the LHB heavy tone of the outfield Refsnyder makes a bit more sense.

- Bobby Dalbec had a really strong road trip but I’d still like some kind of upgrade at first base.  With Triston Casas still on the IL he is not imminent but despite the generally solid performances Dalbec just feels like a guy who is heavily dependent on the quality of opponent.

- Rafael Devers man, Rafael Freakin’ Devers.

Jose is Absurdly Correct but not Helpful Posted: June 13, 2022 at 08:56 AM | 23 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Steve Balboni's Personal Trainer Posted: June 13, 2022 at 01:12 PM (#6081487)
Some notes:
The rest of the first half breaks into three neat parts for the Red Sox:
- A 9-game home stand that isn't too scary (3 each against OAK, STL, & DET)
- A 9-game road trip against a variety of levels of quality (3 each against CLE, TOR, and the Cubs)
- A fascinating 14-game stretch that acts as a big home-and-home set of series against the Yankees and Rays (first, a 7-game homestand against TB and NY, then a 7-game road trip against TB and NY, 7 games against each during this stretch).

I think the team will win enough games during that first 18 games that - no matter how the TB and NYY series go - the Red Sox will be hanging around in the wild card race going into the All-Star break. Which will probably get the fan base and the organization thinking, with 70 games to go: What do we do with the rest of this season?

They won't be in a position to plausibly be sellers at the deadline, and Bloom has shown no inclination to go "all in" to get some flashy bat or arm. (It's not clear the 2022 Red Sox are good enough to be one impact bat away, anyway.) But I could see the team doing something similar to 2021, ironically trying to strengthen the same two areas as last year: bullpen and first base.

The team has significantly more upper-level minor-league talent for a deadline trade than last year, including several pitchers who are plausible immediate big-league starting prospects (Crawford, Seabold, Winckowski, Murphy, Walter; I think Bello is off-limits). The team also faces a pretty big 40-man roster crunch at the end of this season, and will likely have to fish or cut bait with several guys who have legit value to a rebuilding team...but probably not to the 2023 Red Sox.

They may also decide to just let a couple of those starters come to the Boston bullpen and see if they can succeed there. If the team decides to use Houck as a 3-to-6 out closer, they'll want at least one guy to play the 2021 Whitlock role, and I think Winckowski, Crawford, and Walter all have a chance to play that role. Bello could be a late-season one-inning call up, too, as could German. They have in-house pitching options that simply did not exist from 2019-2021.

On some level, my problem with this year's team boils down to: I can't believe that a team with such absolute weakness in the entire outfield and at 1B can actually be good enough to be a legitimate playoff team. And yet, despite a dreadful start to the season, they are only four games out of the top wild card spot.

Are the three hitters in the middle of their lineup, and the depth of their starting pitching options, so good that this is able to counteract these huge weaknesses? Is the AL below the top few teams just not that good? I'm just happy that, as the Celtics' awesome season is set to end in the next week, that summer baseball has postseason hope still alive!
   2. Captain Joe Bivens, Pointless and Wonderful Posted: June 13, 2022 at 04:18 PM (#6081527)
If they're buyers I'd like to see them take a run at Montas.
   3. the Hugh Jorgan returns Posted: June 13, 2022 at 06:43 PM (#6081553)
I’m probably a bigger Hansel Robles fan

Other then his mum, you're his ONLY fan.
   4. Jose is Absurdly Correct but not Helpful Posted: June 20, 2022 at 12:12 PM (#6082880)
Jeter Downs promoted.
   5. pikepredator Posted: June 20, 2022 at 12:28 PM (#6082884)
Shaky series against the Cards but the lineup continues to improve. It's nice to see everybody getting over the Mendoza line (which is kinda sad to type).

Those near-meltdowns were brutal but the pain fades much faster than when they actually lose that way.
   6. villageidiom Posted: June 20, 2022 at 01:40 PM (#6082895)
Jeter Downs promoted.
They had to replace a pitcher on the active roster to get down to 13 pitchers by today, per the MLB rule for 2022. Norwood was DFA.

Downs by month this year in AAA:

79 .330 .443 .341 April
59 .329 .339 .200 May
51 .207 .392 .061 June
   7. Nasty Nate Posted: June 20, 2022 at 03:50 PM (#6082921)
Do they think Norwood will get through waivers because everyone else is also affected by the 13 pitcher rule, or did they only get him for pitching depth for yesterday's game?

I'm not an expert on the transaction rules, so bear with me if I misunderstood things.
   8. Jose is Absurdly Correct but not Helpful Posted: June 20, 2022 at 04:13 PM (#6082925)
I hadn't thought of that (the 13 pitcher thing) but it makes sense. I suspect there isn't a lot of room for pitchers to get claimed the next few days.
   9. villageidiom Posted: June 20, 2022 at 05:08 PM (#6082936)
Boston's 40-man roster is at 39 right now, so in theory they could claim someone. However, the 39-player count doesn't include Christian Arroyo who is on the COVID list, nor Chris Sale who is maybe a month away from returning from the 60=day IL. Likewise, it would need to be someone they can stash in AAA - which is unlikely because the team waiving the guy would also have that option instead of waiving him.
   10. Jay Seaver Posted: June 20, 2022 at 09:20 PM (#6082981)
As I mentioned on the other thread, Dalbec or Vazquez are probably the guys who wind up in the middle infield if Story or Bogaerts has to leave a game right now, which doesn't seem ideal, and I suspect Downs is the only other infielder on the 40-man.
   11. Jose is Absurdly Correct but not Helpful Posted: June 21, 2022 at 08:18 AM (#6083031)
One bit of wiggle room the Sox have on the 40 man is that they can "promote" Darwinzon and put him on the 60 day IL to open up a spot.

Jay asked in the other thread about Duran staying up. It would be interesting to see how that played out. I think you can realistically give him 4-5 games a week fairly easily. Day off for each of the OF, play him against a tough righty for Kiké, occasional day off for JD and of course they use Hernandez to spell an infielder if they want with Duran in the outfield. But if he keeps hitting I'd rather he stick around.
   12. Captain Joe Bivens, Pointless and Wonderful Posted: June 21, 2022 at 01:51 PM (#6083071)
In the opening, you said he should be in Worcester. 8 days ago.
   13. villageidiom Posted: June 21, 2022 at 02:39 PM (#6083083)
Yeah, but given he's not there, and they have capacity for him to play, he should stay and play.
   14. Jose is Absurdly Correct but not Helpful Posted: June 21, 2022 at 02:50 PM (#6083084)
12 - He's hitting .310/.394/.517 (albeit in 8 games). If he's going to hit like that he should be in Boston and playing regularly. If he's going to hit .240/.290/.330 then my statement about JBJ being better remains true. He's looked very good so far though.
   15. Captain Joe Bivens, Pointless and Wonderful Posted: June 21, 2022 at 02:57 PM (#6083089)
13..yeah, sure, play the kids. I'm all for it.
   16. Captain Joe Bivens, Pointless and Wonderful Posted: June 21, 2022 at 04:12 PM (#6083121)
Duran isn't a kid, he's 25, and he's being blocked by JBJ. It seems like a no brainer. Either trade JBJ or Kiké, and if they can't do either, they should DFA JBJ.

   17. Jose is Absurdly Correct but not Helpful Posted: June 22, 2022 at 06:47 PM (#6083327)
Jeter Downs called up and is starting at third base tonight. A position he has played…zero times as a professional. Presumably he should be OK over there but that doesn’t seem exactly like “putting someone in a position to succeed.”

Also Jarren Duran unvaccinated so if Hernandez isn’t back for the Toronto series the outfield is going to be underwhelming.
   18. Captain Joe Bivens, Pointless and Wonderful Posted: June 22, 2022 at 07:34 PM (#6083337)
Downs looks ok at 3rd.

To add to 16...vaccinate Duran!
   19. Steve Balboni's Personal Trainer Posted: June 23, 2022 at 08:30 AM (#6083388)
After last night's sweep of the Tigers, a few facts/thoughts:

1) At 39-31, the Red Sox are (for the first time this year) at a 90-win pace. Note, however, that they still have 16 games left against the Yankees.

2) At the beginning of this homestand, I thought of the rest of the first half of the season in three parts:

9-game homestand against Oak, StL, and Det. They went 7-2.
9-game road trip against Cle, Tor, and the Cubs. Can they go 5-4 on this road trip?
14 games against Tampa and the Yankees (7 home, 7 away).

If they come out of this remaining pre-ASG schedule in a wild card spot, I feel pretty good about their chances to stick in it until the end.

3) I am amazed at how deep the starting pitching on the team is poised to be in the second half of the season. I don't know how sustainable their performance is, but Wacha and Pivetta have been all-star good for a while now:
- Wacha isn't allowed to get to 90 pitches very often (only four out of 12 starts), but he is very efficient, in part because he relies on strikeouts much less than most pitchers today. It simply takes him fewer pitches to get through 5+ innings than most pitchers.
- Pivetta's last nine starts have been remarkable: 7-1 with a 1.63 ERA, striking out a guy an inning, low walks and hits allowed, averaging almost 7 innings a start.

They've been able to with arguably their three best starters injured: Eovaldi, Whitlock, and of course Sale. One could imagine an August-September rotation of Sale, Eovaldi, Whitlock, Pivetta, and Wacha, with Hill, Winckowski, and Seabold as the first three options after them. Brayan Bello has taken very well to AAA, and could be a late-season addition to the bullpen (40 IP, 57/15 K/BB ratio, has thrown about 75 innings between AA and AAA this year). I give Bloom a lot of credit for building up starting pitching depth so quickly and effectively.

4) The offense still pretty much sucks. It is three beasts, then Vazquez and Story doing fine for the positions they play, then four positions (1B and all three outfield positions) where if you get anything you're pleasantly surprised. Their three Opening Day outfielders (Hernandez, Verdugo, JBJ) have a combined WAR of... -0.1...for the season. Rob Refsnyder has 0.6 in 32 PAs. And Dalbec is at -0.3 for the season as their primary first baseman. But there isn't a lot of evidence that help on the way. Casas is injured at AAA. Duran is up and playing pretty well, so maybe they'll ride that out as long as he's playing well. They could use some of their improved minor-league depth to get 1B or OF help at the deadline.

5) THe low point of the season thus far was probably after they fell to 10-19 on May 8th. After the games of May 8th, the AL East standings:

NYY 19-8 -
TB 18-11 2
TOR 17-13 3.5
BAL 11-17 8.5
BOS 10-19 10

Then the Sox went 29-12 since then, and actually lost 2.5 games to the Yankees! Since May 8th:

NYY 32-10 --
BOS 29-12 2.5
TOR 22-17 8.5
BAL 20-22 12
TB 19-21 12

This Yankees team is just a steamroller.
   20. Captain Joe Bivens, Pointless and Wonderful Posted: June 23, 2022 at 01:16 PM (#6083429)
I'm more concerned about the SP than the offense. Wacha has been great. At what other period has he ever been great? Same for Pivetta. They need a starter. I hope they try to pry Montas away from the A's. Would the Tigers deal Skubal? How about Fullmer, for the bullpen?

Sale, supposedly, has 2-3 more rehab starts before they bring him up. When they do, he's likely to be a 3-5 inning pitcher, for a while. We'll see if he can get back to being a reliable SP this year.

That's all I can say about this team, in general: We'll see. The have a rough 32 games between now and Aug. 1st. If they go 13-19 they'll be a game over .500. We'll see.

And Eovaldi has what sounds like a sciatic problem, or some other nerve issue, and it's affecting his hip as well as his lower back.
   21. villageidiom Posted: June 23, 2022 at 01:40 PM (#6083432)
Wacha has been great. At what other period has he ever been great?
2013-15. And also mid-August 2021 onward, after he dumped his cutter and started throwing a sinker more often. I know that doesn't mean he's going to be pitching this well forever, but he's done this well before, and one can at least point to a reason he's improved other than just being lucky.
   22. Steve Balboni's Personal Trainer Posted: June 23, 2022 at 02:39 PM (#6083450)
Quick Wacha thoughts:

1) There have been times where he has been very good, so I don't think it is totally out of left field.
2) He can be less good the rest of the way and still be very useful, particularly at the back end of the rotation.
3) I am more excited about the depth of the options than anything else. Wacha and Pivetta have wildly exceeded my expectations through 70 games, and if Eovaldi and Whitlock come back before those two guys turn into pumpkins, then our depth will get us through. What I like about the depth - which is a combination of guys like Hill and Wacha with younger guys like Winckowski, Ballo, and Seabold, is that it is a sign of a healthy and improving organization.
   23. Captain Joe Bivens, Pointless and Wonderful Posted: June 23, 2022 at 06:06 PM (#6083501)
Bello is the one who has a high upside. The other guys will be lucky to last 5 years in the majors.

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