The Red Sox Are Who We Were Afraid They Were

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In my first Red Sox Column to be Named Later of the 2020 season, I look at the Red Sox lackluster start to the 2020 season and realize that we were fooling ourselves with hopes that the team may have a chance this season.  I also touch on the mass of coronavirus infections affecting the Marlins and Cardinals, offer to drive an underperforming Sox player to the airport, and finally take a look ahead at the coming week for the Red Sox.


Photo courtesy of boston.com

The Sum of All Fears

We waited for so long for the start of the baseball season.  We knew the 2020 Red Sox were going to have to rely on everything going right for them to have a chance to make the playoffs.  And now that we are, we are coming to the realization that our suspicions were correct all along, and that this year’s team is much like last year’s team that won only 84 games, except without starting pitching or one of the top five positional players in the game.

Coming into the season we tried to find reasons how the Red Sox could be competitive.  Despite the loss of Mookie Betts we still expected this team to hit with returning sluggers like J.D. Martinez, Rafael Devers, and Xander Bogaerts.  And even after the loss of Chris Sale to Tommy John surgery, David Price to a trade, and the Eduardo Rodriguez to the coronavirus, we thought that if the pitching could just be decent, this team will mash its way to the postseason. 

In short stretches anyone could get hot, we reasoned, so in a shortened season all you need are for two or three guys to play above their normal expectations to carry the team into a playoff spot.  And then, as Kevin Garnett said, anything is possible.

We also thought that maybe, just maybe if Nathan Eovaldi could have a dominant stretch like he did in the 2018 playoffs, and if Ryan Weber could carry his impressive spring performance into the season, and if Martin Perez could find the form he had in Minnesota, we could piece the rest of the starting rotation together with openers because Chaim Bloom was able to do it in Tampa Bay.  What were we thinking?

Eovaldi has pitched well so far as the ace of the staff.  Perez has been a mixed bag, and Weber has been shelled, going 0-2 with an 11.57 ERA in two starts in which he didn’t get out of the fourth inning.  And the “openers” (four have been used so far in two times through the rotation) have generally not been able to get out of the first inning unscored upon.

In ten games, the starters have averaged only 3 2/3 innings per start, and this includes Eovaldi pitching six and five innings, respectively, in his two starts against Baltimore and the New York Mets.  Overall the starters have given up 42 hits and eight home runs in 37 2/3 innings of work.  Opposing hitters have batted a healthy .284 against Red Sox starters, who are dead last in the league in starters’ WHIP (1.529), and ERA (5.79).  Aside from Eovaldi, Perez and Weber, the Sox have used four different starters/openers twice through the rotation (Austin Brice, Zack Godley, Matt Hall, and Josh Osich)

The plight of the Red Sox starting pitching was summed up perfectly by Manager Ron Roenicke after Friday night’s loss in the series opener in New York against the Yankees.  Roenicke was asked if he was considering replacing Weber in the rotation.  His response was “Not really.  I mean, who do we have that we can say that we’re going to put in that’s going to be better than Ryan?”  Roenicke’s brutal honesty is refreshing in today’s sports world, but hardly a confidence booster for his team or its fans.

The bullpen has performed basically the same as it did last season, which was a serious problem last year.  Bloom pieced together a lot of 4A depth for the front end of the bullpen, but the back end remained in tact with Ryan Brasier, Matt (now Matthew) Barnes and Brandon Workman.

Brasier gave up three runs in his first appearance of the season against the Mets before bouncing back with a clean inning against the Yankees on Saturday night.  He’s sitting with a 13.50 ERA and it doesn’t look like he is going to be trusted with high leverage innings in the near future.

Barnes hasn’t been much better.  He has a blown save in three appearances to go along with a 9.00 ERA.  It takes a reliever a long time and a lot of clean innings to lower his ERA after one bad outing, and with the shortened season Brasier and Barnes may never get their ERAs to a respectable level.

Workman has picked up two saves in the closer role in three appearances.  Both saves came in the two game series in Queens against the Mets, but neither were classic closer shutdowns.  In the first game, Workman nearly blew a two run lead, giving up two hits and walking two before escaping.  He followed it up the next night with a better performance, but still allowed a single to make things interesting in the ninth.

Oh, and what about that potent offense that was supposed to steal the Sox a few wins?  Overall the team is batting a respectable .257, good for fifth in the majors.  However, if you take away the Opening Night game against the Orioles in which the Sox scored 13 runs, the average drops to .235, which ranks 15 th in the MLB.  The team has scored 46 runs in its ten games, but again taking away the 13 scored against the O’s on Opening night drops the average runs per game to 3.7, which is not enough to offset a pitching staff that has frequently surrendered runs in the early going.

Aside from Xander Boagaerts and Christian Vazquez, there have been few highlights on the offensive side.  The hitters have looked off balance at the plate and may be feeling the pressure of having to try to dig the team out of frequent holes.

The leadoff position has been a particular sore spot.  Andrew Benintendi has been tabbed with leading off in five of the ten games played, and he is batting only .105 in the leadoff spot with a bunt single and a double to go with seven strikeouts.  Jose Peraza and Kevin Pillar have also taken turns in the top spot without much success.  As a team the Red Sox are only slashing .175/.283/.225 with six runs scored and only two extra base hits.  Quite a drop off from the production they saw the last two years.

Of course it is still technically early, and the team could get hot and reel off a few wins to get into the race for the expanded playoff field.  But does it feel like this team is emotionally invested to do that?  So far it seems like the team has been playing without intensity.  That could be from the lack of fans or the realization that without E-Rod this team has very little chance to make the postseason, and a nearly zero chance to go deep into the playoffs if they do qualify.

If the team can’t turn it around soon, it will be time to evaluate some of the younger players and see who can contribute in 2021. 

 

This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

The season is not even two weeks old and the MLB has already needed to shut down two teams due to multiple positive coronavirus tests.  The Marlins and now the Cardinals have been the main culprits, and as a result the Phillies, Blue Jays, Nationals, Twins and Tigers have had entire series cancelled as a result.  These teams will all need to make up the games in an already cramped schedule, necessitating the creation of the seven game doubleheaders.

It has been alleged that several members of the Marlins were seen at an Atlanta’s “gentlemen’s club” while in town for an exhibition series prior to the start of the season.  Similarly, several Cardinal players were reportedly seen at a casino.  The sport is now in jeopardy of being shut down entirely if teams can’t get their acts together an follow protocols.

It really is not a surprise this has happened.  Teams do not appear to be following safety protocols on the field, with high fiving still happening on the field and little social distancing occurring in the dugouts.  If players can’t follow protocols on the field, why should we expect them to do so off the field.

Contrast the multiple positive tests in the MLB to the NBA and NHL, who have had no positive tests in their respective bubbles.  What does this latest news say for the MLB?  The league and its players butted heads until the last possible moment to return, and now it doesn’t look like some teams are taking their responsibilities seriously.

What Commissioner Rob Manfred should do is inform all teams that if there are gross violations again which result in entire teams being shut down for extended periods that those teams will be disqualified and the players will not be compensated, nor will the team share in any television revenue for the season.  That will never happen, but it would send a clear message that baseball is serious in getting its season completed and keeping their personnel safe.

 

A Ride to the Airport

In past Red Sox Columns to be Named Later I have highlighted players who have been trending up or trending down.  With so many qualifying for the trending down list, I thought I might change it up a bit.  Instead, I thought I’d offer a player who has been performing so poorly that I offer to give them a ride to the airport to get them out of town.  The inaugural winner of the award…Michael Chavis.

Chavis is part of the new breed of player who swings for the fences on every pitch, regardless of the count or the situation.  He got off to a fast start when called up last season, but has done little since then to justify keeping him in the majors.  This season he is batting just .158 and has one homer and only one RBI in six games.  He’s an average at best defensive player at first, and slightly below average at second.

Tape measure home runs look great in highlights, but this Red Sox team needs a more balanced approach.  Chavis either needs to make adjustments or hop on the Logan Shuttle.


Look Ahead

The Red Sox get a little bit of a break with two days off this week, Monday and Thursday.  They will go down to the corona hotbed of Florida for a quick two game set with the Rays, who were just swept by the Orioles this past weekend.  The Sox will then return to silent Fenway for a three game set against the Blue Jays.  The Jays’ weekend series against the Phillies was scheduled to be played in Philadelphia with the nomadic Jays as the home team, but that was cancelled when some Phillies’ personnel tested positive after they played the Marlins. And so goes the 2020 MLB Season.



Follow Bill on Twitter @BTravers_SYN

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Boston Sports Syndicate: The Red Sox Are Who We Were Afraid They Were
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