Houston Is A Wagon


Just when you thought the Red Sox had found themselves and were ready to start steamrolling the competition in the American League, the Houston Astros came to town and took two out of three from the Sox and served a reminder that they are still a force to be reckoned with.  In this week’s Red Sox Column to be Named Later, I look at 2017 World Series Champion, as well as the recent use of the Red Sox bullpen.  And, as always, I give you who is trending up, who is trending down, and look to the week ahead in Red Sox baseball.

Photo courtesy of yahoosports.com
Wagon Train To The Stars

The Astros are truly an impressive team, and are arguably the most complete team in Major League Baseball.  Even without Jose Altuve, they came into Fenway this weekend and the Red Sox had all they could handle to take a single game.  When Altuve rejoins the team, he will join a solid lineup lead by George Springer, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, and new addition Michael Brantley.

On the mound they have two of the American League’s best starters in Justin Verlander and Garrit Cole.  At the back end of their bullpen they have a top notch setup man in Ryan Pressly (0.00 ERA in 18 appearance) and a shutdown closer in Roberto Osuna (0.44 ERA and 11 saves).

The Astros rank at or near the top in several major statistical categories.  Offensively, they are first in team in the American League in average (,279) and slugging (.586), second in runs (258) and doubles (88), and third in home runs (86).  The best the Red Sox in any of those categories is their fifth place ranking in runs scored with 238.

On the mound, the Astros sport the lowest WHIP of any AL team (1.05), second in ERA (3.43), and are third in strikeouts (441).  Their starters log in with a 3.80 ERA, good for fourth in the league, and are second in WHIP at 1.06.  Their relievers top the league in both categories, with a 2.72 ERA and 1.01 WHIP.

For good measure, the Astros defense chips in as well with a .988 fielding percentage, good for third in the AL. 

It’s a simple formula.  When a team can score runs in bunches, stop their opponents from doing so by limiting baserunners, and make the plays in the field, they are going to win a ton of ballgames.  This balance also helps keep a team from falling into prolonged slumps.  Expect the Astros to be their come October, and if the Red Sox can overcome their slow start and play into October as well, expect the 2017 Champions to be standing in their way in their hopes to repeat.

Sending It To Committee

Photo courtesy of masslive.com

Alex Cora was reluctant to name a true closer coming out of Spring Training to replace the departed Craig Kimbrel.  While it appeared Matt Barnes would be the heir apparent, Barnes was instead used in high leverage situations in either the seventh or the eighth inning, and Ryan Brasier was utilized more frequently in the more traditional closer role.

Over the past few weeks, Brasier has begun to falter and has been used less frequently in key situations late in the game.  However, Barnes continues to be called upon to face the toughest opposing batters regardless of the stage of the game.

Shop for officially licensed MLB Caps from New Era at Shop.MLB.comAn example of this practice occurred in Sunday’s series finale against the Astros.  After the Red Sox took a one run lead in the seventh inning, Barnes was called upon to face the four-five-six hitters (Correa-Gurriel-White) in the Houston lineup.  A somewhat risky move, because if Barnes allowed a baserunner or two it would mean the Astros top of the order would come up to bat in the ninth.  However, Barnes was up for the challenge, striking out Correa after a lengthy at-bat, then retiring Gurriel on a liner to second and white on a fly to left. 

After throwing 20 pitches in the eighth, Barnes was not brought out to start the ninth for a chance at a six out save.  Brandon Workman was instead called upon, a clear indication that Brasier’s stock has fallen in the eyes of the Sox brain trust.  Brasier had not pitched since the series opener on Friday night, yet he was not trusted hold hold a one run lead.  Workman did surrender a walk which allowed the Astros to get back to the top of their order, but fortunately Springer had been replaced earlier in the game by Tony Kemp, who flied out to end the game and gave Workman his first career save.

Using your top reliever in the higher leverage situations is not a new concept in baseball.  The approach was formerly known as “Bullpen By Committee”, and the Red Sox attempted it for a season in the early 2000s and it failed miserably.  The practice has fallen out of favor in recent times because the highest paid relievers are the closers, or in other words, the guys who get saves.  Reliever such as Kimbrell were not in favor of being utilized in a high leverage role because it did not help their stat line and could potentially affect their future earnings in free agency (how did that work out for him?).  

However, in today’s climate of ever increasing analytics, it would not be a surprise if high leverage situations are looked upon more favorably than saves, much as ERA and WHIP have become more important statistically for starting pitchers rather than wins.  With Barnes still seeking to prove himself as a premier reliever, the Red Sox will continue to use him in whatever role they need to get the W.

Trending Up

Last week Christian Vazquez was highlighted in the Trending Up feature, and this past week he has only gotten hotter.  Vazquez slashed .529/.529/.824 in the past week, catching all five games.  Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts also had a good week offensively, slashing .389/.500/.556 and .364/.391/.455 respectively.

On the mound, Barnes did not allow a run in 3 2/3 innings pitched in three appearances.  And Marcus Walden has continued to climb the ladder in the bullpen, logging four innings pitched in two appearance this week, picking up two more wins this week to run his record to 6-0.  He now leads the team in wins on a staff that features Chris Sale and a pair of former Cy Young Winners in David Price and Rick Porcello.

Oh yeah, Chris Sale struck out 27 in two starts this week, but unfortunately also allowed a two run homer in each of his starts and continues to be a victim of a lack of run support.

Trending Down

Last week Rafael Devers was the hottest hitter on the planet.  This week, he cooled off faster than a cup of hot coffee left out in a blizzard.  Devers logged only two hits in 21 at bats this week, and slashed only .095/.136/.238.  Eduardo Nunez (.083/.154/.167) and Jackie Bradley Jr. (.091/.167/.091) continued their season long funks.

No pitcher had a worse week than Hector Velazquez.  Valasquez lasted only long enough to get one out on his start of Saturday, but not before allowing five runs for a 135.00 ERA for the week.  That’s going to leave a mark.

The Week Ahead

After a moderately successful 5-3 homestand, the Red Sox head north of the border to Toronto for four games to start of seven game road trip.  The Blue Jays have not been able to get above .500 all season, and currently sit at 19-27 in fourth place in the AL East.  Price is slated to start in the series matinee opener Monday, his first action since going on the Injured List two weeks ago.

After Toronto, the Sox will head south for a three game rematch with the Astros.  The Red Sox were fortunate to miss the ‘Stros ace Justin Verlander in Fenway this past weekend, but that luck looks like it has run out.  Verlander is scheduled to make the start for Houston in the series finale next Sunday.

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Boston Sports Syndicate: Houston Is A Wagon
Houston Is A Wagon
Boston Sports Syndicate
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