The Boston Red Sox Won a Game – Time for Some Wishful Thinking

The Boston Red Sox (60-55) look to double up against the Kansas City Royals (40-74) tonight at Fenway just one day after snapping an eight game losing streak with a (closer than it needed to be) 7-5 win.

Last night went the way it was supposed to, wasn’t it?  Jump out to an early lead behind a couple home runs (Travis, 3; Devers, 23) and a quality start from Rick Porcello (10-8).  Maybe the bullpen bent a little more than we would have liked it to, but they didn’t break, and that’s something.  Yes, I know it’s only Kansas City, but we can at least take heart in (relatively) tidy outings from Eovaldi (1 IP, 1 H, 1 ER) and Workman (1 IP, 1 H, 2 Ks), can’t we?  And a save – well, fancy seeing you here, Mr. Crucial Stat that the Red Sox can’t seem to accumulate!  And hey, for a day, at least, we don’t have to wonder how much longer their losing streak will last.  Yup, they’ve got one down, and if Boston wants to win 90 games, they’ve only got 30 more to go.  Time for some wishful thinking.

Let’s be clear – 90 games guarantees the Red Sox precisely nothing, especially the way Tampa Bay, Cleveland, and Oakland have been playing of late, but it’s something.  Early in the season, following Boston’s abysmal start, I took a look at win-total projections of what it would take to win the AL East.  Though those totals (93, 94, and 96 games, respectively) now look either unlikely to win the division or totally out of reach given the number of games that Boston has remaining, 90 games is doable, at least.  And it’s not as bad as you might think.

Right now, Boston has 47 games left.  To win 90 games, they’d need to go 30-17 the rest of the way, for a .638 win percentage the rest of the way.  Seems daunting, but stay with me – let’s start easy – let’s say they take the next two from Kansas City.  Boom.  Now they only need 28 wins and still have 17 losses to give.  Then the Angels come to down, currently scuffling along at 56-58 and 2-8 in their last ten, let’s say they take 3 of four.  25 wins to go, 16 losses to give.  Next, they go to Cleveland, and let’s face it, they’ll probably drop 2 out of three at the Jake (I know, I know, it’s Progressive Field now), leaving us with 24 wins to get and only 14 losses left to give.  Then back home where they need 2 out of three against the O’s and a split of a two-game set with Philly.  21 wins to go.  A road trip to San Diego, Colorado, and Los Angeles rounds out August and begins September, and if they can take two out of three from San Diego, split with Colorado, and take another couple from LA, they’d need only 16 more wins in September and would have 9 losses left to give.  16-9 in September would be a .640 win percentage.

Hooboy.  September’s where it gets dicey.  First, a three-game set at home against the Twins and then the Yankees come in for the last four games of the season series.  No two ways about it, Boston needs 2 of 3 and 3 of 4, respectively, and if they do that, they’d need 11 more wins with 7 losses to go.  Then they go up to Toronto for three games and out to Philly for two, and if they win the Toronto series and split at Citizens Bank Park, they’d need 8 more wins the rest of the way.  Now, the final 13 games of the season are as follows: three at home against San Francisco, four at Tampa Bay, three at Texas, and three games at home against Baltimore to end the season.  Presuming a split at Tampa Bay, Boston would need to win each of the San Francisco, Texas, and Baltimore series.  That, or some other combination with the same result, does the trick.    

And that’s how the Sox get to 90 wins.  Not much margin for error, though a 20-4 stretch like the one they had in 2004 would make things a lot easier.  The better question is, does 90 wins guarantee anything to Boston?  Nope.  But could it get them into the playoffs?  Absolutely.  And given where Boston would have come from, the playoffs would be an accomplishment in itself. 


Tonight, we’re looking at Jakob Junis (6-10) against Andrew Cashner (10-6).  Though it’s difficult to be certain which Andrew Cashner will show up, there’s honestly no reason to believe that Boston shouldn’t pound the Royals tonight.  In a career 10.2 innings against Boston, Junis has given up 7 ER on 15 hits and 4 BB, good for a 5.91 ERA, and if Cashner’s history against Kansas City holds serve, Boston should win this game handily.  That said, with the end of the season rapidly approaching, every game takes on added importance as the organization confronts September callup and “are we in or are we out” decision making.  It’s these, the ones the Red Sox should win, that become the most important to convert and most troublesome to lose. 

Want more baseball?  Check out past posts below or browse all posts here, or check out my podcast here.  Thanks to fangraphs, statcast, and baseballreference.com for the outstanding job they do. 

Will They Quit?

The Boston Red Sox (59-55) head home to try and get healthy against the Kansas City Royals (40-73) one day removed from a brutal four game set in the Bronx.  Though Boston swept the Royals in their only other meeting this season, a three game set from June 4th to 6th out in Kansas City, they did so under radically different circumstances.  That Boston squad was a mere 7.5 games back in the division and was tied with Texas for the second wild card – the playoffs, though distant, seemed relatively certain.  This team is on an eight game losing streak, 14.5 games back in the division, 6.5 games back of the second wild card spot, and seems dangerously close to the point where the organization, and the players, stop looking towards the playoffs and start looking towards next season.  One of the questions foremost in my mind is that, given where Boston now finds themselves, will they quit?  And if not now, what will it take?

Of course, last August, the roles were reversed: from August 2nd, 2018 through August 5th, in four glorious games, the future World Champion 2018 Boston Red Sox hosted a fragile Yankees team for four games and shattered them.  That sweep up in Fenway effectively dashed New York’s dreams of a division title and relegated them to the wild card chase.  But that was then.

This year, a Yankees and Rays strike force teamed up to deliver an eight-game beat down of their division rival during which the league-leading Boston offense was outscored by something like 30 to 512.  The starting pitching, so large a part in last year’s title run, has been consistently ineffective, and the bullpen has continued to do what the bullpen has done all year.  Sure, Boston is favored heavily against the Royals this series, but what if they drop two out of three?  Will the organization shut down key pieces of the pitching staff, effectively giving up on the season?  If not this series, what about next series, against the Angels?  Or the next, against Cleveland?  If the Red Sox can string a serious run together, when does the organization throw in the towel on the 2019 campaign? 

Best not to think about it.  Tonight, Mike Montgomery (1-4) faces off against Rick Porcello (9-8), and though neither lineup, as presently constituted, has all that much experience against either opposing pitcher, Montgomery sports a career line of 0-1 against Boston with a 12+ ERA.  Boston should win in a walk, of course, but if I might for a second, there’s added significance to this game, as there is to all remaining games, and it’s simply this: from here on out, every win keeps the flame burning, the postseason chase alive, stays the organization’s hand for another day from shutting it all down and thinking about 2020.  Every loss, well, you know what that does.  So let’s hope they win tonight, and keep on winning – I, for one, am not quite ready for the season, or the summer, to be over.     

Someone’s Gotta Figure Something Out

The Red Sox (59-54) appear to be on tilt as they head into a Sunday night clash with the New York Yankees (71-39) and try to avoid a series sweep and salvage one game from their misbegotten weekend foray into the South Bronx.  Misguided hope and bitter snark aside, Boston has now lost seven straight to their intradivision rivals and currently stands in third place in the AL East at 13.5 games back of the Yankees and a less-intimidating-but-still-significant 5.5 games behind the Rays for the second wild card.  At this point, fans might wonder what, if anything, the Red Sox should do to climb back in these races.  And while I don’t have any more answers than anyone else, and certainly fewer than anyone within the Red Sox organization, I do know this: someone’s gotta figure something out, and soon.

You kinda had a feeling, didn’t ya?  A sour, sickly, sinking feeling in your stomach as you contemplated the doubleheader yesterday.  “We can take two!” said the most hopeful among us.  “Well, we might split,” said the more reasonable ones, clearly seeking to strike some Faustian bargain with inexorability.  But in your hearts – don’t deny it – in your hearts you knew there was a better than even chance they’d get steamrolled.  You knew that the check had come, the piper needed to be paid, the devil needed his due.  And the Red Sox did not fail to oblige yesterday – they looked as if they’d been taken completely unawares, like the promiscuous couple in a 1980’s slasher.  As for myself, I’ll be honest – when DJ LeMahieu led off game one with a homer and Sale plunked Judge with a backfoot slider, I thought the rout was on then.  Turns out I was only off by three innings or so. 

And let’s be clear here – umpires, though generally garbage, were not the reason why the Boston Red Sox were swept in a doubleheader yesterday.  The umpires didn’t leave the ball out over the plate not once, but twice to LeMahieu in game one.  The umpires didn’t give up two homers and a double to Torres in game two.  The umpires didn’t come into a tie game and walk the bases loaded or give up the go-ahead single that was at once backbreaking and the difference in the game.  We know the umps are trash – they’ve been trash since at least last year – and I, for one, welcome our robot overlords to call balls and strikes.  But if you’re looking to point the finger somewhere, point it at the Red Sox.  And maybe not the whole Red Sox, either – the lineup is literally scoring more runs than anybody in the majors.  Maybe point the finger this year just at the pitching staff, how they generally haven’t been much good dating all the way back to the beginning of July, or maybe how they’ve blown 20 saves this year.  Start there, if you’re into pointing fingers.

So today, Boston’s got David Price (7-4) going against J.A. Happ (8-6).  Looking at the numbers, both have pitched pretty well during this season’s series, though Happ has a slightly larger sample size, and both, in their careers, have had their share of problems with either club.  Given Happ’s career track record against Boston and Price’s at Yankee stadium (notwithstanding June 2nd of this year), I’d have to give the edge to New York.  But there’s another reason I tip the edge to New York, and that’s because this weekend, I’m not sure that this Boston team is capable of winning in the Bronx. And allow me to be even more frank: unless and until someone figures something out, and quick, I do not now have the faith that these 2019 Boston Red Sox, late of a seven game losing streak, that being this week’s team, not last week’s, are capable of mustering the collective will to beat the 2019 New York Yankees in any capacity, be it at home, on the road, in the playoffs, or otherwise.  All I ask, all any Red Sox fan can ask, I would think, is for them to try to prove us wrong. 

Want more baseball?  Check out past posts below or browse all posts here, or check out my podcast here.  Thanks to fangraphs, statcast, and baseballreference.com for the outstanding job they do. 

They Really Haven’t Been There in Awhile

The Boston Red Sox (59-52) head into a double-header today in the Bronx against the New York Yankees (69-39).  Chris Sale (5-10) faces Domingo German (13-2) in the afternoon, and Brian Johnson (1-1) takes the ball against someone on the Yanks pitching staff, presumably, in the night cap.  Boston’s 4-2 loss in the Bronx last night stung, to be sure, but following the game, my sadness turned to bewilderment as the Yankees’ twitterati took to the interwebs to celebrate.  Now, I may be a sad, bitter Red Sox fan, but this struck me as passing odd, as there’s 51 games left in the season and the Astros are heavily favored to win the American League, with odds at 5/8 to the Yanks’ very respectable, but still mathematically distant, 3-1.  What, precisely, were they celebrating?

But the more I thought about it, I realized that the Yankees haven’t really been there in awhile.  Forget about the “27 rings” t-shirts or the very concept of the “Yankees’ Universe” (a first ballot hall of fame example of sad, reactionary marketing if I ever saw one).  Forget about the fact that fully 20 of those “27 rings” came before league integration or meaningful civil rights legislation.  Forget that the titles of the late 70’s were largely predicated, and indeed, enabled, by the unprecedented collapse (so nice they did it twice!) of the Yankees’ oldest, most bitter rival. Forget that, despite 2009, people still don’t really seem to like ARod all that much.  Forget, Yankee fans, that your favorite team has 1 MLB title this century to Boston’s 4, or that, even if by some miracle the Yanks did make the World Series, that the Dodgers would likely eat them alive.  Forget about all that, and revel, revel, I say, in the fact that you beat the third place team in your division in game 111 of the 2019 MLB regular season.

You celebrate.  And anybody who says you shouldn’t or that it might be a teensy eensy weensy bit soon or “sir, this is the Port Authority – would you please put your shirt on”?  Anybody who says any of that mess?  They’re haters.  HATERS.  And you don’t need to listen to haters because you’ve been a Yankee fan for a whole two months now and quite frankly, this season is lasting forever and where in the f*** are my nachos?

Which brings us to today. 

Today, we’ve got a double header, which, to me, is depressing, as it gives the Red Sox an extra chance to lose.  Needless to say, I’m not optimistic.  Shades of what happened in Detroit aside, any momentum (I know, it’s not a thing, but still) they had after the Yanks series up in Fenway is gone because the Rays kidnapped it, took it across state lines, changed its last name, and are raising it as their own.  Boston’s lost five straight games at one of the most crucial times of the season, and they’ve got their underachieving Ace and a spot starter trying to staunch the bleeding.  Forgive me, but I’m not seeing a light at the end of this tunnel. I’d love it if they swept two today, but I don’t think they will – in fact, I would not be surprised if the Yanks swept us.  Edge to the Yanks – I hope I’m wrong, but fear, down to the marrow within my sternum, down to the core of every synapse firing within the depths of my lizard brain, that I am not.     

We’ve Been Here Before

The Red Sox (59-51) will try to right the ship tonight against the blood rival New York Yankees (68-39) and shake off a three game sweep at Fenway at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays.  The Red Sox now find themselves 3.5 games back of the Rays for the second wild card spot, and 10.5 games back in the East.  But I’m here to tell you to keep the faith.  Not only is the season still alive – the Red Sox organization has been here, close to very spot, in fact, before – but given historical precedent, the playoffs, and yes, a championship run, remain well within the realm of possibility.  All they gotta do is get there.

I mean, I expected it – not the sweep at home, mind.  A three game sweep at home is, like the inquisition, something you never quite expect – but the reaction?  Sure.  From the comments section of the Red Sox facebook page to this piece from Michael Hurley of CBS Boston and it’s rather overwrought title, the message is clear: the 2019 Red Sox season is slipping, or has slipped, away.  Turn off the tube, take the kids to the beach, and get ready for Brady, Belichick, and the Patriots.

But if you hitch a ride back in the day with the Ghost of Baseball Seasons past, things start to looik a bit different.  And if you tell that Ghost to take you back to 2004, you see that the Red Sox, as an organization, at least, have been here before.

Like this year’s team, the 2004 Red Sox featured an immensely talented lineup that scored runs in bunches – 949 total on that season, good for tops int he league and 5.86 runs per game.  Like this year’s team, the pitching staff, as a whole, wasn’t close to the top of the league, allowing 4.74 runs per game, good for only 14th in the league.  And finally, like this year’s version, the 2004 Red Sox were a team that entered the season loaded with sky-high expectations, but who, as of early August, were still stuck in the doldrums.  What did that team do at the trading deadline?  Oh, nothing much, except ship one of the team’s preeminent stars out of town.  

And so, on August 2nd, 2004, that Red Sox team was in second place at 57-47, 9 games in back of the Yankees.  All, the hype of the previous season looked like so much overachieving – their tantalizing proximity to a title fading ever more quickly in the rearview mirror.  But then, that night, they won, beating Tampa Bay.  And though they proceeded to drop 3 of their next 6, starting on August 10th, something incredible happened.  They started winning.  And winning.  And winning some more.  In short, they caught fire, stacking 38 wins against only 14 losses the rest of the way, including a 20-4 stretch that itself included a 10 game winning streak from August 24th through September 3rd.  They finished with 98 wins and captured the American League Wild Card.  Suddenly all those dreams born out of the crucible of 2003 seemed like they just might come true.

You know what happened after that.  You know how it happened. 

So can this team do it?  Of course.  Though this staff doesn’t pitch to the level of its 2004 counterpart, and likely won’t the rest of the way, the 2019 lineup is every bit as good as the 2014 version, and that’s saying something.

But will they do it?  Will they come back from the dead to make the playoffs and go on another championship run?  Who knows.  But they’ve got the talent to get it done.

So tonight, with ERod (13-4) against James Paxton (5-6), is this the beginning of the rest of the season?  I sure hope so – even the Yankees don’t seem to know what they’re going to get out of Paxton from start to start, and if the Red Sox pitch well, this Yankees team is vulnerable this weekend.  But the broader point is this – it’s possible – playoffs, another run at a title, all of it – all of it’s possible.  But if it’s gonna happen, it needs to happen soon.  Let’s hope their series in the Bronx this weekend is the start of something magical.  

Reinforcements Will Not Be Forthcoming

Following two losses at home to the Tampa Bay Rays (62-48), the Boston Red Sox (59-50) find themselves in need of a win to salvage a three game set at Fenway.  

At the outset of last night’s game the Red Sox looked like a team that’d just been told help wasn’t on the way.  Hearing Dombrowski yesterday describe his rationale for doing diddly-frigging-squat at the trade deadline was like hearing Admiral Wellington tell the Prussians before Waterloo that “we feel we have the ability to bring an end to the battle with the guys we currently have on the field.”  Really, Admiral?  You’re sure you don’t want some help?  Those Prussians come in handy in a pinch.  But alas, that’s where we are right now.

This isn’t to say that Boston rolled over and played dead yesterday.  Following a victorious skirmish against a pair of monitors in the dugout after a first inning that wasn’t all that bad, Rick Porcello tried to hold the line but was predictably swamped under the Tampa onslaught.  Boston’s middle innings guys out of the bullpen fared little better, fighting like Highlanders in four square (these Napoleonic Wars references doing anything for you?) but giving up just enough ground to put the game ultimately out of reach for Boston’s (admittedly talented) lineup.  Boston’s from-behind bullpen seems designed not to keep the game close, but rather to avoid catastrophic embarassment.  On that latter score last night, they succeeded, but just. 

Tonight, we’ve got Andrew Cashner (10-5) against Tampa’s Brendan McKay (1-1).  I’d be lying to you if I said I knew all that much about McKay other than the fact that he was drafted in 2017 as a two-way player (though it appears that he’s further along in his development as a pitcher than a position player) and that he pitched well in his debut and a few subsequent starts.  For the Red Sox, though, tonight’s not really about Brendan McKay, is it?  Potential positional oddities in the other dugout aside, the Red Sox need to find a way to salvage what remains of this series befoe they head down to the Bronx and a Yankee squad that’s undoutedly looking for some payback.  Boston is 2.5 back of the Rays for the second wild card spot and 5 games in back of Cleveland, and a loss tonight coupled with a rough weekend could well get some in the organization looking ahead to next year.  They’ve got to turn this ship around again, and tonight’s as good as any other night to get started.

So tonight, I’m going with Boston.  Cashner’s pitched well against Tampa in limited time this year  and the Sox need the game.  Sure, McKay could come out tonight and do what he did against Texas, New York, and Baltimore, but I say what’s life without a little hope?  Right now, that’s about all the Sox have going for them.

Only Uphill From Here

The Red Sox (59-49) suddenly find themselves looking up a bit further at the Rays (61-48) heading into tonight’s clash featuring Rick Porcello (9-7) against opener Andrew Kittredge (1-0). 

Oy.  And no, I’m not talking about the fact that the Boston Red Sox did precisely squat at today’s trade deadline, or the fact that the Astros made themselves, on paper, at least, prohibitive favorites to win the American League by acquiring Zack Greinke from the Diamondbacks.

I’m talking about last night, and how it happened just as I’d feared it would, though it came about a bit differently than I would have imagined.  Not so much Morton, but the Rays’ bullpen proved stingy when it counted most as the Sox left seven (7!!!) men on base in the late innings during last night’s 6-5 defeat.  A common dig at New England sports fans is that their knowledge and analysis tends to be, well, New England-centric.  And while I suppose that’s true, allow me to extend some credit to the Rays.  Though Charlie Morton wasn’t quite the same guy we saw last week and didn’t really resemble the guy whose virtues I extolled last night, he did just enough (though some will say he wasn’t allowed to do enough) to put his club in a position to win.  Morton’s quick hook from Kevin Cash aside, Houdini-esque work from a unit that’s blown 8 saves this month and a big night from Avisail Garcia were more than enough to sink the Sox, the latter of whom had chance after chance after chance to win the game but somehow just couldn’t quite come up Milhouse.  I mean, if winning makes everything easier, what does losing do?  You guessed it. It’s only uphill from here.

Tonight, we’ve got Rick Porcello against the entirety of the Tampa Bay pitching staff.  Of the Rays’ arms used, only Emilio Pagan and Adam Kolarek went more than 1 inning last night, so the vast majority of arms in the bullpen should be available.  As for Porcello, well – though I would normally say that it depends on which Rock Porcello we get, it just so happens that within the confines of his performances against the Rays this year, there’s decidedly less of a variance.  In two starts this year against the Rays in 2019, Porcello’s gone 11 and two thirds innings, giving up six runs, all of them earned, on fourteen hits with 9 K’s.  And you know what?  I’ll take it, and here’s why: over the last seven days, Boston is batting .351 as a team.  J.D. Martinez is 8 for his last 26 with two home runs and 6 RBI, Xander Bogaerts is 10 for his last 29 with two home runs and 5 RBI, and Andrew Benintendi?  He’s 13 for his last 26 with 3 doubles, 3 home runs, and 9 RBI.  Yikes. 

So tonight, for me, the edge goes to Boston.  No, I don’t believe that Porcello is going to equal the masterpiece he threw against the Twins back in June, but I don’t think he has to, not tonight, not the way the lineup has been swinging the bat of late.  Look, Charlie Morton couldn’t quite keep Boston down, so is it likely that Tampa’s bullpen can succeed where Morton couldn’t over the course of 9 innings?  I may be forced to eat my words, but I don’t see it.  The bottom line is, if the Red Sox are going to make the playoffs, it’s the lineup, in many ways, that will have to carry this team through, and tonight, I think they’ll do just that. 

Want more baseball?  Check out past posts below or browse all posts here, or check out my podcast here.  Thanks to fangraphs, statcast, and baseballreference.com for the outstanding job they do. 

Gotta Beat the Best to Be the Best

It’s Charlie Morton (12-3) against David Price (7-4) as the Red Sox (59-48) try to keep the good times rolling in Fenway as the Tampa Bay Rays (60-48) come to visit for a three game set.  Both the Rays and the Red Sox are currently on the outside looking in in terms of the Wild Card, at a half game and a game, respectively, behind Oakland for the second spot.     

Ah, Christ, not these guys again.  News of possible bullpen relief notwithstanding, this Rays team has been a thorn in Boston’s side all year and a consistent intradivision competitor.  Not only have the Rays played the Red Sox tougher this year than in years past, but this year, they always seem to come around, like the ever-present raven in the eponymous poem, when they’re least wanted.  To wit: the first time the Rays played the Sox this year up in Fenway was on April 27.  Boston was still trying to right the ship at 10-15, but had recently won 5 of their last seven, including a couple nice wins to close a series with Detroit and a sweep of those same Rays in a three game set at Tropicana Field.  So what happened?  A two game sweep, which in turn bought the Red Sox another 10 days before they’d see .500 on the year, on May 8th, in Baltimore. 

The next time the Rays came to visit, Boston was 33-29 and looked poised to build on recent successes and race to 10 games above .500.  Sadly, it wasn’t to be, as the Rays pasted an at-times-uncompetitive looking Sox squad in three games out of four.  Now I know that the Rays have lost 6 of their last ten and have seemed, at times, to be in freefall, and I know that the Red Sox have taken Morty’s advice to a certain degree and seem to have gotten their s*** together, but the fact is, and despite the fact that the season series is knotted at 6-6, Tampa’s been just a little bit better than Boston, scoring 4.3 runs and only allowing 3.7 per game.  So will Tampa politely and quietly move out of the way as Boston tries to catapult themselves back into division competition?  Quoth the Rays-vens: Nevermore. 

Which brings us to the biggest impediment to not only a win tonight, but also to a series win, and that’s Charlie Morton.  Over the last couple series, the Red Sox have used the first game of each series to set a tone, beating the Rays 9-4 last Monday and the Yankees, in delicious, glorious fashion, 19-3, but as the title of this post says, if you want to be the best you’ve got to beat the best, and Charlie Morton has been, I would argue, not only among the best in the American League this year, but among the best he’s ever been in his career.

At 12-3, Morton is on pace not only for most wins in his career in a single season, but also the lowest ERA, lowest FIP, highest K/9, lowest BB/9, and most IP of any single season in his career.  He could win the Cy Young and, ah, seems to have gotten better as he’s gotten older. For him, he’s having a fantastic year, and even a cursory look at the underlying metrics provides some indication as to why.  For instance, per statcast, though the average velocity of Morton’s four-seamer is down a tick to 94.72 Mph from last year’s high of 96.10, he’s generating the highest average spin rate in the last three years on that pitch.  But oh, that curveball.  Per statcast, Morton’s thrown his curve more often than his four seamer over the past three years, and it’s not hard to see why: though he’s generating slightly less average velocity on it than in years past, it’s spinning, ducking, and darting just about as much as it ever has.  Not only that, but he’s freezing batters in their tracks: in 2019, of the 133 called strikes he’s thrown with the pitch (also on pace to be easily the most in any season in his career), fully 20, or 15%, have been called third strikes, good for the highest rate of called third strikes with the curveball over the last three years, nearly doubling the rate from 2018. 

As for Price and the Red Sox, their success off of Morton has been, in a word, spotty.  Though Boston batted .338 off of Morton last year and had an OPS against him of 1.052, that success has not carried over into this year, where they’re batting a scant .178 and slugging a mere .265.  As for Price, he’s been good-but-not-great this year against the Rays, showing a 1-2 record with a 3.13 ERA, but he’s been able to hold them to a .217 BA in 23 innings, the most against any opponent this year.  He has, however, had a couple of stellar games against them, throwing 6 innings of one-run ball on June 8th at Fenway (their only win of that series, you’ll recall) and giving up a mere 2 runs in a gutty 5 innings on April 21 in a no-decision at the Trop. 

Still, tonight’s game seems like it’ll be an uphill battle for the Old Towne Team.  Charlie Morton seems like he’s at the height of his powers, and the Rays, like the Sox, are right in the thick of the wild card chase.  If the Red Sox don’t get to Morton early, it doesn’t seem all that likely that they’ll get to him at all.  While the off-day should have benefitted the bullpen and Price should get a relatively quick hook in case of trouble in the middle innings, the Sox are going to have trouble using this game to set the tone for the series.  Of course you never know and That’s Why They Play the Games, but it feels like the Rays have the edge tonight.      

Want more baseball?  Check out past posts below or browse all posts here, or check out my podcast here.  Thanks to fangraphs, statcast, and baseballreference.com for the outstanding job they do. 

Still 8 Games Back

The Red Sox (59-47) try to make it a clean sweep against the Yankees (66-38) as putative ace Chris Sale (5-9) takes the hill against Domingo German (12-2) in one of those rare games that might mean more to New York than it does to Boston.

Did you hear that sound at the end of yesterday’s 9-5 Red Sox win?  That short, sharp sound, like a sudden intake of air writ over a fanbase of over 23 million people?  That, my friends, was the sound of Yankees fans’ sphincters tightening as they collectively realized that the 2019 Boston Red Sox, who are not substantially different than the 2018 version, are “only” 8 games back in the division and share control with Oakland over the second wild card spot.  I think Yankees fans are justified in worrying, too – their starters have been atrocious during the series, giving up 24 runs on 30 hits in only 11 innings, and the Yanks’ vaunted, “best-in-the-majors” bullpen is worth precisely squat if you can’t get to them with the lead. 

Of additional concern, I would think, is the lineup itself, and how it seems that they never have all the pieces together at the same time.  Yesterday, for instance, it was no small loss that DJ LeMahieu was out with a groin injury, and it doesn’t appear that he’ll start today, either.  The Yankees have an indisputably outstanding lineup when healthy – it’s easily top three in the majors – and as I’ve said repeatedly on the You May Be Right Podcast, I still believe there’s some real magic going on up in the Bronx this season, but the fact is that these nickel-and-dime injuries could very well change the division race from a foregone conclusion to a September slugfest.  Look, the Yanks can win the East with half a lineup – but they can’t run away with it.

But it’s still 8 games (9 with a loss and 7 with a win), and 7 games isn’t nothing, never mind 9.  Credit the relative privilege of the modern Yankee fan for worrying a collapse is imminent with an 8 game lead in July when, historically, the Yankees haven’t really had to deal with the in-season collapse of the chicken n’ beer or the Bucky F’n Dent varieties.  Sure, there will always, gloriously, be 2004, but there’s not too many other occasions in Yankee history when everything seemed to be going along famously and the team just broke down over the course of weeks or months.  So I’ll say this to Yankee fans: after today, the Sox will be, at least, 7 games back in the division.  That’s kinda alot.  Listen to Aaron Boone, and chill.  It’s a long season, and every team has bad stretches from time to time. 

Which brings us to today – Domingo German and his twelve wins vs. Chris Sale and his five.  Of course, records are meaningless compound numbers and Chris Sale’s star is ascendant, as any shameless homer from New England will tell you, but homerism aside, I’m not a believer in German.  I know, I get it, he’s the Next Big Thing in New York (behind Severino, of course), but I’m not buying it.  Over the last two years, he’s faced Boston all of three times, once in relief, once as an opener, and he’s never lasted more than four innings.  Last time out, earlier this season, he went three and two thirds, gave up three runs on six hits in a no decision and an eventual Red Sox loss (the Gardy granny game), and in his career (spanning only those three outings), the Sox are batting .294 against him with an OPS of .780 and a .474 BABIP.  Maybe he turns it around today, but I dunno.  I don’t see it. 

As for Chris Sale, look, I understand the #SaleDay enthusiasm, even if I don’t particularly get the provenance of the nomenclature.  Sale is undoubtedly a top-20 arm in the league, and he’s famously competitive – there’s never any doubt he’s going to leave it all on the mound.  He’s an Ace, no matter the record.  And though this year ain’t last year, and it ain’t 2017, and though Sale is quite obviously a man no longer at the summit of his powers, he’s been lately the best he’s been all year (2 wins and only 2 runs in 12 innings), and if anyone understands what tonight “means”, it’s him. 

All that said, it’s still not clear to me that tonight’s game even comes down to the starters.  As a sweep creates serious problems of optics in New York, I believe that German most likely gets a quick hook at the first sign of trouble while Boone tries to muscle his way to a sweep-averting win with his vaunted bullpen.  If Sale goes six (and I think he can), however, I believe that the Eovaldi-lengthened-bullpen might just be able to hold them, particularly if the offense keeps adding late.  I think this one’s the closest of the four, but even so, I’m giving the edge to the Sox as they try to sweep the Yanks out of Fenway.       

Eduardo or Bust

Eduardo Rodriguez (12-4) and CC Sabathia (5-5) are set to tangle as the Boston Red Sox (58-47) look for a series win against the New York Yankees (66-37).

Now, if you read last night’s post, you know that my faith in Andrew Cashner wasn’t exactly, ah, unshakeable.  Cashner, however, gave no indication that he found my lack of faith disturbing as he went out and tossed six and two thirds manful innings en route to earning his first victory in a Red Sox uniform.  And, if you watched the game, you also saw how the offense did what this now-1st-in-the-league-in-runs-scored offense can do: they scored them some runs, including three dingers from Mookie (helping him, incredibly, Make a Wish come truemove over Paul O’Neill!) and this gorgeous JD Martinez outta-stater.  Truly, spectacular sights to behold. 

Of course I saw none of this – I only heard that it happened.  Oh yes, I listened to the game via the call on the WEEI sports radio network featuring none other than the great Joe Castiglione and the equally venerable Sean McDonough.  This was a pleasurable experience – listening to two masters ply their trades over the airwaves always is – but it’s not a particularly visual one.  And why didn’t I watch the game?  Well, because it seems that Sling TV (yep, I’m a slinger) got into a tiff with the YES network, which carries the game to the exclusion of all other outlets in my geographic area, and decided to drop them mere hours before the game.  Of course, the Yanks were also blacked out on mlb.com because they’re supposed to be on locally, and neither Hulu TV nor YouTube TV were carrying the game live.  This chain of events led me to watch, even as I listened to the call on WEEI, Cyfair Evans and Cyfair Coop clash in the Junior NBA Global Championship Regional, none of which I even knew existed before last night.  Meh. Still better than Spectrum.

But what are we to make of today, as the CC Sabathia farewell tour pulls into Fenway Park as the Red Sox cling to life in the division race?  For a moment, try and forget that the age gap between ERod and CC is almost as wide (well, not really) as that between Leonardo DiCaprio and Camila Morrone (don’t listen to the haters, Camila, age is just a number – that is, until Leo’s 80 and you’re 58 – I could see differences becoming conveniently irreconcilable at that point) According to Fangraphs, dating back to last season, Sabathia is 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA against the Red Sox in four outings, only one of which came at Fenway Park.  In his lone Fenway outing, Sabathia only lasted three innings, giving up three runs, all of them earned, in the process.  That outing, however, came during Boston’s sweep of the Yankees in early August of last year, and the quick hook after only three innings was more indicative of Boone’s desperation in the face of the 2018 Boston juggernaut than CC’s ability to get outs.  Well, mostly.  All in all, though, CC hasn’t been terrible over the past two seasons against Boston, but he hasn’t been dominant, either. 

As for ERod and his one-behind-league-leading-Lance-Lynn 12 wins, the former of whom, by the way, I predicted on this podcast would be in the Cy Young conversation at some point this year, this game is big.  Not only is Boston attempting to make the Yankees feel pressure from a team that’s not the Tampa Bay Rays, but with a win, ERod could equal his career high in wins set just a year ago, and all before the end of July.  While there’s no doubt ERod’s had a good year so far – just look at the breathless articles about how he’s the ace of the staff – I’d ask you to consider this: according to baseballreference.com, in 15 of his twenty starts this season, the Red Sox have scored six or more runs and he’s only won ten of those games.  Doubtless, the bullpen is responsible for a couple of those five no-decisions, but the fact remains that ERod is 2-3 when Boston scores 3-5 runs, and 0-1 when they score two or fewer. By traditional metrics, ERod is having a very good year, and this one may very well go down as his best, but once you look deeper, a more complicated narrative emerges.

Today’s game feels like it’ll be different than the last two – a little tighter, a little more nip-and-tuck.  I’m looking for the Yankees’ offense to assert itself a little more and for Boston’s to come back a bit down to Earth. That said, while CC’s been relatively durable this year, I have to like ERod’s 12 wins and Boston’s penchant for scoring in bunches when he pitches.  Edge to the Red Sox.