Source: Red Sox Play, Red Sox Win Baseball Game

That's our little Brockstar! \O/ (RLRS Photo).

That’s our little Brockstar! \O/ (RLRS Photo).

The Sox won a back and forth thriller between the last two AL East champions on Friday that had a little bit of everything. For a team that has struggled to hit in the clutch scoring seven runs with two outs was nice.

What was wild is not only were all seven runs scored with two outs, all seven were scored after there were two outs and none on.

I love games that have some weirdness and this one had that.  Is there a stranger sequence of baseball possible than; Pablo Sandoval walk, Manny Machado error (the only way Allen Craig gets on base) and Brock Holt homer?  That was pretty crazy it worked out.

Then the Sox saw Hanley Ramirez foul a ball off his foot that forced him from the game.  That paid off as Holt in left made plays on balls hit by both Caleb Joseph and Steve Pearce that were critical to hold them to singles.

Ramirez would not have made those plays.  If you are wondering why the Sox do not replace Hanley in key spots defensively Rob Bradford had an interesting piece with John Farrell explaining it.  You can agree/disagree but I think it is an interesting glimpse into the sorts of things that every MLB manager deals with.

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An Attempt To Feel Good

His job is to separate the wheat from the chaff (RLRS Photo).

His job is to separate the wheat from the chaff (RLRS Photo).

For the first time in 2015 the Sox lost a series dropping two of three in Tampa.  The last week has been a frustrating one with horrible blowouts (Rick Porcello I am looking at you) and ugly giveaways (paging Joe Kelly).  I think within the negatives there are a few positives;

1. The Sox currently have four regulars hitting under .200; Mike Napoli, Mookie Betts, Shane Victorino and Ryan Hanigan.  I think there is a real chance that three of those will improve either by performance or by Rusney Castillo replacing one of Mookie or Victorino if they do not pick it up.

2. As if the Sox are not hitting enough they are even worse in clutch spots.    They are 14th in OPS with runners on and 13th with runners in scoring position.  Even if they were to improve to their current 10th in the league overall in that category that would go a long way toward helping out.

3. There is hope if the pitching staff continues to flounder. They may not be stars but they are all not this bad either.  As Scotto has noted Brian Johnson (or Bwian if you prefer), Eduardo Rodriguez (Ed-Rod) and Henry Owens (Marlins-man) all have the potential to make an impact.

4. The Sox are in first place! I mean hey, 9-7 is a 90 win pace.  Yeah yeah, I know but the fact is that the Sox have not played great baseball and they are winning some games.  You cannot win anything in April but you can lose it and the Sox have dodged that bullet.

I think with the young pitchers, Rusney Castillo and Blake Swihart plus a stocked farm system the Sox have the ability to tread water in the first half and surge in the second half.  I believe of the five teams in the division the Sox are best equipped to fix holes as the season progresses.

But man the pitching staff is killing me.

The Sox Are Doomed…Dooooooooomed

Joe Kelly...the shining star of the rotation?  (RLRS Photo).

Joe Kelly…the shining star of the rotation? (RLRS Photo).

OK, that might be a bit much but suffice it to say that after everything coming up Milhouse for the first nine games the last two days have been unsettling at best.  With a season long two game losing streak on the role it is time for another post with bolded bullet points!

The Rotation – I do not think they are this bad but they are certainly living “up” to their lowest expectations so far.   I was at the game Friday and I thought Joe Kelly did a nice job of dancing through the raindrops.  I wish he was a couple years younger because I would feel good about him learning to find a way to put hitters away.

As for the rest of the rotation…ugh.  I feel compelled to point out that even on the heels of the fiasco on Sunday Rick Porcello still has a better ERA than Jon Lester.  For a ground ball pitcher he gives up a bunch of homers though (and Mookie saved another one on Opening Day).  Clay Buchholz is the guy this team really needs to step up.

Mookie vs. Xander – Some stage whispers about Mookie Betts are surfacing with the Mookster’s average dipping below .200.  Heading into Saturday’s action his BABIP was sitting at .219 while Xander Bogaerts‘ was at .429.

Put both at a league averageish .300 BABIP and Mookie would be hitting .279 and Bogaerts .268 prior to Sunday.  With both sporting line drive rates above average I am not troubled yet.

The offending slide, in this case Sandoval still has the base but he hasn't always done that this year (RLRS Photo).

The offending slide, in this case Sandoval still has the base but he hasn’t always done that this year (RLRS Photo).

The Sliding Panda – Things got interesting when Ubaldo Jimenez plunked Pablo Sandoval presumably in response to a hard slide on Friday night.  I had mentioned to a friend after the slide (which I thought was hard but clean) that Sandoval was going to get Dustin Pedroia killed if he kept it up.  While I thought the slide Friday was clean he had a couple against Washington and New York that I thought took him well past the bag and were excessive.  He needs to tone it down a bit.

 

Ol’ Reliable – When the season began I felt one of John Farrell‘s biggest tasks would be figuring out who to count on in the bullpen.  Craig Breslow dealt three crucial relief innings on Sunday and has allowed just three hits in 9.2 innings on the year.  If he is truly back to 2013 form he will join Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara who looks good so far in giving Farrell options.

Pitching in a Pinch – Among the Sox problems right now is a very low strand rate.  Heading into Sunday FanGraphs had them at a 66.8% strand rate, only Tampa worse in the AL.  Some of that is performance and some of that may be a bit of luck so hopefully the Sox can see some improvement there.

Series Thread – vs. Baltimore Orioles

Fri, 4/17 7:10p Joe Kelly (1-0) vs. Ubaldo Jimenez (1-0)
Sat, 4/18 4:05p Clay Buchholz (1-1) Chris Tillman (1-1)
Sun, 4/19 1:35p Rick Porcello (1-1) Miguel Gonzalez (1-1)
Mon, 4/20 11:05a Justin Masterson (1-0) Wei-Yin Chen (0-0)

Note: I am greatly amused that both pitchers in Friday’s game started World Series games against the Red Sox; Kelly game four in 2013 and Jimenez game two in 2007.

So Far, So Good

This has happened twice as often as the other thing so far (RLRS Photo).

This has happened twice as often as the other thing so far (RLRS Photo).

Three series into the season the Sox are a rosy shade of Red at 6-3.  The words “small,” “sample” and “size” are being thrown around pretty liberally.

But have we learned anything yet?  Alex Speier noted that the Sox are 14th in the AL in runs allowed and that last year the bottom four teams in runs allowed finished as the bottom four at the end of the season.

So what do we think we know so far?  I have a few observations;

Runs are coming thick and fast despite a slow start from the bearded one (RLRS Photo).

Runs are coming thick and fast despite a slow start from the bearded one (RLRS Photo).

The Lineup – This team is going to score a bunch of runs.  There is a temptation to say the Sox have feasted on lesser teams but that is not fair.  Of their first nine games they have faced Cole Hamels, Masahiro Tanaka, Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez.

The simple truth is that the Sox have battered some good pitchers.

The Rotation – Right now I do not feel any differently about the rotation than I did two weeks ago.  I still have no faith in Wade Miley, I still find Clay Buchholz exasperating and I am still pleased with the Rick Porcello deal.

If you want to see the positives you can focus on the second in the AL five quality starts or you can see the negatives and the 6.16 starter ERA.  I expect some of that to even out but in the end if the Sox can stay middle of the pack in quality starts that is more important than overall ERA.

In 2014 the Sox were last in cheap wins (wins without a quality start) and 11th in tough losses (losses with a quality start).  Neither of those flaws is likely to exist with this offense.

Hanley Ramirez – Hanley looks both better and worse than I anticipated.  I knew he could hit but I cannot get over just how good he looks.  The comparisons to Manny Ramirez are easy on so many levels but they have been earned.  He looks the part at the plate.

In the field…I would pay for him to be as good as Manny.  It is not that he is particularly poor but how bad he looks in the process.  He is unbelievably tentative out there and I know he is a big leaguer but for my sanity it would be nice if he would use two hands.

Xander is doing it in the field too (RLRS Photo).

Xander is doing it in the field too (RLRS Photo).

Xander Bogaerts – Everyone is flipping out about Mookie but Xander has really impressed. His agility was vital in the 19 inning win with a key stolen base and a couple of clutch defensive plays.  The four walks against five strikeouts are an extremely positive sign as well.  It remains my opinion that this is the young player with the highest upside on the club.

Mookie Betts – Deep breaths everyone…deep breaths.  He is hitting just .225/.273/.425 so far and has been exposed by those down and away sliders that flummoxed Bogaerts last year.

But that is just a blip.  He certainly looks like he will be a star.  His defense has gone from being a question mark to potentially being well above average and on the bases he runs with a nearly reckless abandon that I think even Jacoby Ellsbury never had.  While I expect Bogaerts to be the better player it is Betts who has the duende to own this town someday.

 

Lining Up The Minors

For a thin dude Wendell Rijo is hitting the ball hard so far (RLRS Photo).

For a thin dude Wendell Rijo is hitting the ball hard so far (RLRS Photo).

The big boys have gotten off to a strong start winning six out of their first nine.  The minor league side of things has also gotten going and with the big club off on Thursday why not take a look at the kiddie corps;

1B – Nick Longhi - Greenville – .333/.407/.667 – A 30th round pick last year Longhi was sparkling when an injury ended his season.  He has picked up right where he left off and has already clubbed a couple of dingers and a 4:3 K:BB rate in 27 plate appearances.  Longhi has split time between the outfield and first base.

2B – Wendell Rijo - Salem – .267/.313/.667 - Rijo is the youngest player in the Carolina League and acquitting himself quite nicely thank you very much.  He has hit for the cycle so far with exactly one single, double, triple and home run making up his four hits.

Rijo is emblematic of a Sox system that aggressively promotes players up the system in a way that they are among the younger players at their level.

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