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.  

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.          

Tonight We Got Cashner, I Suppose

All bets are off tonight as Andrew Cashner (9-3) faces off against James Paxton (5-5) in game two of this weekend’s four game set between the Red Sox and Yankees.  And I say this as a Red Sox fan still savoring the heady potency of last night’s 19-3 drubbing of the Yankees like a finely aged Amarone. So I’ll amend: all bets should be off, because if anyone tells you they know how this one’s going to go, they’re selling something.

Take Paxton.  In his lone start against the Red Sox this season, Paxton was breathing-fire dominant: 8 innings, two hits, no runs, 12 strikeouts.  Of course, one could argue (and I do) that the team Paxton faced then, on April 16th, isn’t the team Paxton’s going to face tonight.  Entering play on April 16th, the Red Sox were 6-11, had a starting pitching ERA in the low thousands, and were 20th in the league in runs per game.  Tonight, the Red Sox are 10 games above .500, 2nd in the league (by a mere hundredth of a run) in runs scored per game, and sport a pitching staff that is, for the most part, whole, even if it isn’t all that great.  

Paxton?  Well, on May 5th, he landed on the IL with a sore knee, and after his return, hasn’t looked quite as dominant as he was on that fateful day all the way back in April.  Since he’s come back, Paxton hasn’t lasted more than 6 innings in any start, and has gone more than five innings only four times, though, it should be said, three out of those four times have come this July.  Now, of those starts of more than five innings, those being 7/2 at the Mets and 7/7 and 7/15  against the Rays, he went 6 innings each time, giving up only 5 runs total over that span.  That’s good for a sub-three ERA, though the near-four FIP suggests he did get a tad lucky.  All that’s fine, but his last time out, he ran into a buzzsaw at the Stadium against Colorado, giving up 7 runs, 4 of them earned, en-route to a mere 3 1/3 innings of work.  That’s generally decent, but up and down, work, and all of it’s a far cry from the job he did against the Sox in April.  So while we might not be able to pinpoint exactly which Paxton will show up tonight, it’s a safe bet we’re probably not looking at getting blanked over eight.  Hopefully.  Knock wood, people.

Which, of course, brings us to Cashner.  Now, I’m not saying Andrew Cashner is a plant by the Orioles sent to Boston in order to exact revenge for the season-long beating the Sox laid on Baltimore in 2018, but I will say this: in his first two starts with Boston, he hasn’t exactly impressed.  Two losses, 10 runs allowed, 9 earned, with an ERA and FIP both over 7.  Oof.  Compared to his performance in Baltimore (where he sported a sub-four ERA), he’s really gone off the rails, but that said, is it really all that much worse than whatever else Boston’s had out of the five spot this year? Now, the one thing Cashner has given the Red Sox in his last couple starts is a little length.  In his (lackluster, but brief) time in Boston, Cashner’s gone at least five innings each time out, a marked improvement, generally, over Boston’s No. 5 starters to date.  And in that alone, Cashner might be serving his purpose: giving the Red Sox a little more length than they would have otherwise had out of a soft spot in the rotation, saving the bullpen just a bit, and maybe (please) sprinkling in a couple wins in for good measure.  

Which brings us back to tonight.  Maybe Cashner uses his four-pitch attack to keep the Yanks off-balance just enough so that the Red Sox don’t have the doors blown off the hinges by the third inning.  Maybe he goes six, leaves with a two run lead, and hands it over to Eovaldi & Co., who close the door and help Boston start to put the tiniest bit of pressure on New York in the division.  Or maybe the fifth spot in Boston’s rotation is cursed and Cashner gives us more of the same.  And sure, Boston’s offense could explode again, but so could New York’s. So: all things considered, and given Cashner’s recent performances and Paxton’s track-record against Boston, I’m giving the edge to the Yanks tonight.  I hope I’m wrong.