RSCTBNL: Red Sox Having Good Luck with Aces

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Facing another team’s ace can be a daunting task, but it’s one the Red Sox have been equal to so far in the first month of the season.  They have already faced some of the best pitchers in baseball, and have faired well on those occasions.  In this week’s Red Sox Column to be Named Later, I look at the team's success against quality starters, in addition to a surprising pitcher’s duel of a different variety, and a fun culture change that has come to the major leagues.

Photo courtesy of the New York Times


Smokin’ Aces

The Red Sox faced off against the best pitcher in the big leagues last week when they faced New York Mets right-hander and two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom Wednesday night in Queens.  In the NBA, this is what’s known as a scheduled loss.  The type of game where the star players get the night off for “maintenance”, and the remaining squad gives it the old college try, but ultimately comes up short.

Fortunately, the Red Sox are not in the NBA.  The Sox put their best lineup on the field, and while they where only able to push one run across the plate against deGrom and the subsequent relievers, Red Sox pitching kept the Mets off the board and the Sox claimed a 1-0 victory.  A nice and unexpected win, but not the first time the Red Sox have knocked off an opponent’s ace this season. In fact, it’s happened a number of times already in their 17 wins this season.

So far this season, the Red Sox have come out with victories despite facing Twins ace Kenta Maeda, Tampa Bay’s Tyler Glasnow, Chicago White Sox Lucas Giolito, Toronto’s Cy Young second runner up Hyun Jin Ryu, and, most recently, deGrom.  That group would make a very formidable starting rotation.

Red Sox Manager Alex Cora credits the team’s success with the quality of pitching they were required to face in Spring Training.  "We've been facing good pitching since the first day of spring training," Cora told NBC Sports Boston.  "We're talking about the Twins, the Braves, the Rays, we played them a lot and they're great.  I do believe it's good.  This is what it's all about.  You're going to run into stretches like this, that you're going to face the best of the best, and you have to grind it out."

While the hitters get credit for grinding out at bats, the Red Sox starting pitching also deserves credit for keeping the team in the game and within striking distance.  Glasnow allowed only one earned run in his six innings of work in Tampa Bay, Maeda allowed only two earned runs in his start in Minnesota, and deGrom only one run in New York.
 
Battle Royale

One other tidbit from Wednesday night’s win over deGrom and the Mets was the performance of Nick Pivetta.  Not his pitching performance, which was outstanding with only one hit and no earned runs in five innings pitched.  More impressive was a ten pitch at bat he had against deGrom. 

Pivetta led off in the third inning with the Red Sox already nurturing a 1-0 lead.  After running the count to 2-1, Pivetta proceeded to foul off six consecutive pitches before succumbing to a deGrom slider for a strike out.  Pivetta could have easily stood at the plate and watched three fastballs go over the plate, as so many American League pitchers do in that situation.  Instead, Pivetta made deGrom expend energy instead of cruising to an easy first out.  Though it ultimately resulted in a strikeout, Pivetta’s teammates had to appreciate the battle he put up.
 
Photo courtesy of cbc

Get Down With Your Bad Self

There was a time in baseball when if a batter stood and admired a home run, or slowly trotted around the bases, or – heaven forbid – flipped his bat, there was a good chance that batter would be drilled in the ribs in his next at bat.  Oh, how times have changed.

In just the past few years, baseball has begun to shed the stoic approach and unwritten rules used for generations and is allowing players to show their individuality.  Bat flips and pimping home runs are now acceptable parts of the game, and frankly the sport is better for it.

Now, one player has found a new and creative way to celebrate when hitting a homer.  Marcel Ozuna of the Braves has taken to stopping and taking an imaginary selfie with his team’s bench in the background.  If that were to happen just a few years ago, it’s a good bet a benches clearing brawl would have followed.  Today, it’s a fun moment in a game that desperately needs more personality.
 

Trending Up

Red Sox bats have cooled off a bit on the recent road trip, but Rafael Devers’ production has continued to climb.  In the past week, Devers slashed .333/.417/.619 with three doubles and a homer in six games.

On the pitching side, there could not be a more dramatic turnaround in performance than was shown this week from starter Garret Richards.  In two starts last week, Richards allowed only two earned runs in 12 innings pitched, striking out 17 and walking only one.
 

Trending Down

The bottom third of the Red Sox order has not come close to the production hoped.  Nowhere near as close as hoped.  This week, the group reached a new low.  In 62 plate appearances, the bottom third of the order, comprised primarily of Marwin Gonzalez, Hunter Renfroe, Bobby Dalbec, and Franchy Cordero, compiled a .081 average.  Homers by Dalbec and Renfroe kept the group from utter futility, but quiet concern is growing louder and louder.


Look Ahead

The Red Sox return home and get just what the doctor ordered for a team that has played only .500 baseball since winning nine straight earlier in the season.  Detroit comes to town for a three game set beginning Tuesday, followed by another matchup with the Orioles over the weekend.

The Tigers have lost five straight games and nine of their last ten.  They have won only nine games and sit at the bottom of the AL Central with the worst record in baseball (8-21).  Miguel Cabrera, now 38, is having a horrendous season, slashing .115/.193/.250 with only two homers and five RBI.  Tiger pitching sports a team ERA of 5.04 and have allowed 38 home runs on the season.

The Orioles have been better than expected this season, but they have already slipped below .500 (13-15) and reside in last place in the AL East a going into play on Monday night.  Centerfielder Cedric Mullins is a budding superstar.  Mullins is hitting .321 out of the leadoff spot and has scored 14 runs.  He killed the Red Sox in the finale of the Season Opening Series at Fenway, going 5-5 with three doubles and three runs scored in the Orioles 11-3 win. 

These are the series the Red Sox need to win to have hopes of being a playoff team. The continuing trend of playing .500 ball against sub .500 teams, as happened over the weekend against the Rangers, is not going to keep the Red Sox in first place in the AL East with the Blue Jays and Yankees each having won seven of their last ten games.  It's time for the Red Sox to take care of business at home against the weaker teams of the league.


Follow Bill on Twitter @BTravers_SYN

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Boston Sports Syndicate: RSCTBNL: Red Sox Having Good Luck with Aces
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