Life of a Sportsaholic

This blog is intended to be insight into my life as an irrational, stats-driven, obsessive sports fan in Boston. I am a fan of all types of sports with an emphasis on Boston teams and am a proud UConn alum.

Tag: toronto blue jays (page 1 of 2)

Grading the Boston Red Sox: One Month In

It’s hard to believe we are already through the first month of the baseball season (almost). Throughout the year, about monthly, I’ll check in with the Red Sox and grade certain aspects of the past month or season as a whole. Every aspect of the team or the team’s play is fair game, from ownership on down to players in the minor leagues and other team officials. Read through my thoughts and then share how you are feeling about this team in the comments section or on our Facebook page. I look forward to hearing from you!

John Farrell – C

Since we are starting from the beginning, a natural place to start is with the bench leader. Farrell has continued his pattern of being a meh game manager in 2017. The most glaring and perfect example of Farrell’s (lack of) game management skill came on April 20th against the Toronto Blue Jays. Sale was cruising through 8 shutout innings with just 4 hits, 13 Ks, and 102 pitches. The Red Sox were winning 1-0 at the time and Sale had struck out 2 in the 8th. Instead of letting Sale go back out for the 9th, he brought in Craig Kimbrel who immediately (2nd pitch) gave up a HR to Kendrys Morales. He recovered and the Red Sox won in 10, but it was the wrong managerial move. It was so bad that Farrell had to have a closed door chat with Sale afterword to explain his decision.

Mitch Moreland – A+

Without a doubt, the biggest surprise of 2017 for me is Moreland. I figured he would be a mediocre hitter with some pop (.250 with 15 HRs) and a solid defensive first baseman, but he has far surpassed my expectations. Through 19 games played, Moreland has a .315 average with 11 doubles (1st in AL) and 2 HRs. He has an error, but has been solid defensively. I definitely don’t expect his hot start to carry on throughout the year (career .255 hitter including this year), but it seems Fenway Park is a great fit for Moreland.

Jackie Bradley Jr. – Incomplete (2 out of 10 on his topple rounding first base)

It’s been an odd start to 2017 for JBJ mostly because he has only appeared in 7 games thanks to a knee injury. The oddest part is how the injury happened. JBJ was rounding first base on a fly out when his toe got stuck, jamming his knee, and forcing him to stumble and fall like a clumsy toddler learning to walk. He was forced to the DL and didn’t come off until this past week (April 21st). Since returning he has 3 hits, including a monster HR onto Eutaw St. in Baltimore, so things are looking up.

Steven Wright – D

What the hell happened to Steven Wright? Oh yeah, he’s a knuckleballer. The most notoriously inconsistent pitch in baseball. As dominant as Wright was in the first half+ of last season, the knuckleball giveth and the knuckleball taketh away. The numbers are ugly – 8.66 ERA, 7 HRs and 17 earned runs in 4 starts with just 9 Ks – and the struggles seem to be continuing. To be fair, 2 of his starts were against the power-hitting Orioles, which is a tough match-up, but at this point it’s hard to be too optimistic.

Chris Sale – A++

With expectations through the roof for Chris Sale to be THE ace of the Red Sox staff, he pitched even better than advertised. Whenever a pitcher is being compared to Pedro Martinez after his 1st 4 starts in a Red Sox uniform, good stuff is happening. Sale has a scary low 0.91 era through 4 starts and has allowed 1 HR and just 3 earned runs while racking up a league high 42 Ks. If he had even a tiny bit of run support he could be sitting at 4-0 on the young season, but instead he has a meager 1-1 record. The runs will come at some point and then Sale will begin to pile up the Ws.

Matt Barnes – F

Overall, Barnes has pitched OK early in 2017, allowing 4 runs in 10 innings of work out of the bullpen. On it’s own, that’s probably a C-ish grade, but what dropped Barnes to an F was his throw at Manny Machado‘s head on Sunday. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: throw at someone all you want, but don’t go near the head. It was a dumbass move by the young reliever and in turn, cost him a 4 game suspension (pending appeal). That pitch started a clubhouse rift with team leader Dustin Pedroia, which for a guy still trying to earn consistent relief appearances late in the game, could be harmful. Time will tell how this pans out, but at this moment, Barnes’ reputation isn’t looking great.

Pablo Sandoval – D

Hopes were high for Panda in 2017 after he arrived to Fort Myers early and in great shape. He was moving well and seemed to have a renewed attitude. Now, 17 games into the season, Panda is hitting .213 with 3 HRs (the bright spot and reason he is graded a D) with 13 Ks. He has had a few big hits late in games, but that’s about all he can boast at this point. Defensively, he’s struggling just as much, with 4 errors in the early season. At this pace, he is averaging 38+ errors for every 162 games. That’s just bad. Even worse? He now has a sprained knee and is on the DL, likely keeping him out into at least the first week of May (if not longer). Different year, same story.

The Rise of Sandy Leon

 

AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

Last night, in the bottom of the 12th inning of a 0-0 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Sandy Leon deposited a 92 mph fastball from Antonio Bastardo into the monster seats for a walk-off win. The HR was the 3rd hit of the game for Leon and his 5th hit in the 2 games this season (8 at-bats). It’s just a 2-game sample, but coupled with last year’s shocking offensive output, it makes me think that Leon might actually be a good hitter after all and a legitimate everyday catcher.

Prior to last season, Sandy Leon had 209 at-bats over 4 years and hit a whopping .187 with 1 HR and 5 doubles. He was obviously not an everyday starter and was used primarily in a defensive back-up and to spell the starting catcher with the Washington Nationals, as well as during his first year in Boston. He was seen as an insurance policy in case of injury. A depth piece that turned out to be desperately needed in 2016.

Christian Vazquez was recovering from Tommy John Surgery and began the season on the DL, so the Red Sox began the year with Ryan Hanigan and Blake Swihart as the catching tandem. Swihart was not good and ended up being optioned back to Pawtucket in mid-April to be converted to an outfielder and the Red Sox catching depth shrunk. Then on June 15th, both Hanigan and Swihart (called back up as an outfielder/emergency catcher) were hurt in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays, opening the door for Sandy Leon. He didn’t just walk through the door, he sprinted through it.

In his first 40 at-bats, Leon had 20 hits. He had 9 extra base hits over that span (8 doubles and a HR) and was having a significant impact on the team, both behind the plate and in the batters box. His hot start slowed a little, but after 55 games in the majors, Leon was still hitting .350 and had amassed 7 HRs, 7x his career HR numbers (1 previous in 4 years), 14 doubles, and 2 triples (the first, and only 2 of his career thus far). He earned the starting role and didn’t look back, but his offense slipped a bit down the stretch, understandably. He finished with a highly respectable .310 average, a +.123 from his career numbers prior.

Leon earned the starting job for 2017 despite some critics. Was 2016 an aberration? He slumped late in the season, was that him coming back to the norm of a .200 hitter? Was he durable enough to catch a full season? Many of the questions are still a long way from being answered, but it sure as hell is encouraging to see Leon start 2017 on fire and hitting in clutch situations. Last night was the perfect example: 3 hits, the last being the most clutch hit of the ball game to win it. I can’t predict the future, but it certainly looks like Leon is more than just a back-up defensive specialist for this year’s Boston Red Sox.

New D’Backs Manager Torey Lovullo

Jim Davis/Boston Globe

The news at the end of last week that Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo was headed to the Diamondbacks to be their manager was not surprising. When Mike Hazen left to become the GM of the D’Backs a few weeks back, much of the speculation was around Lovullo joining him. It’s a great opportunity for Lovullo to get a sniff at managing for a franchise that is rebuilding and get a chance to prove that the short sample at the helm of the Red Sox was not a fluke. Despite being happy for Lovullo, his departure leaves a hole in the Red Sox dugout.

Lovullo has long ties with the Red Sox organization. He was the Pawtucket Red Sox manager in 2010 and took them to a 68-78 record. Despite the record, he was considered to be a candidate for some type of MLB coaching job. When John Farrell left the Red Sox for the Toronto Blue Jays managerial job, he took Lovullo with him to be his 1st base coach. After 2 seasons in that position, Farrell was released from his contract in Toronto at the push of the Red Sox and he became the Red Sox manager. Farrell brought Lovullo over as his bench coach and he has been in that position since 2013.

The most talked about story is in 2015 was when Lovullo took over for Farrell when he underwent treatments for lymphoma. He took a bad team and finished the season on a 28-20 stretch, creating a buzz around his future as a manager. He decided to stay on as bench coach for another year when Farrell returned and frankly was a back-up plan in case things when south. Since things did not go south (at least not aggressively enough), Farrell kept his job and it was only a matter of time until Lovullo either got the Red Sox managerial job, or would leave for one. Now is that time. If it wasn’t the D’Backs, it’s likely another team would have come calling.

Lovullo is a calm and intelligent presence in the clubhouse and according to many reports has a great relationship with the players. Turn on almost any Red Sox broadcast in 2016 and you will see Mookie Betts in Lovullo’s ear asking him about anything and everything. Lovullo was always in the ears of younger players and I credit him, at least partially, for some of the success that the young core had in 2016. Although Lovullo leaving isn’t going to have a significant impact on the field, it will have at least some impact in the dugout. How much? We’ll find out next year.

World Series Aspirations for the Red Sox

mlb-world-series-trophy

After a 3-year hiatus from postseason play, the Red Sox are back. They begin their postseason run tonight in Cleveland for game 1 of the ALDS after pulling away and securing the AL East crown in late September. The Indians are a formidable foe with former Red Sox manager Terry Francona at the helm and this should prove to be an interesting series, but the question I pose is much larger. Can the Red Sox win the World Series this year?

After the first month of the season, it looked as though the Red Sox offense could single-handedly win the World Series despite a struggling starting rotation, but as the year wore on, the two flipped a bit. The Red Sox starting pitching began to improve and the offense came back down to earth. The last month of the season, the Sox pitching staff had a 3.05 ERA and a strong 3.25 Ks/BB ratio, both season bests, while the Sox offense had the lowest average of the season, .267. In general I’m not worried about the offensive drop because they were still solid, but the uptick in pitching is critically important.

If we use the 2 wild card games as indicators of postseason play, pitching will be vital to success. Last night in the Mets vs. Giants game, both starters were dominate and allowed 0 ERs in a combined 16 innings. The night before in the Blue Jays vs. Orioles game, the starters allowed just 2 ERs a piece. Hits tend to be fewer and further between and runs come at a premium in the postseason, so a strong pitching staff is required to make a deep run. Timely hitting is of course crucial as well, but if your pitching rotation can’t put up 0s, then it will be very difficult to win consistently.

Tonight’s game 1 starter is Rick Porcello, arguably the favorite to win the AL Cy Young in 2016. If he continues to pitch like he can, then the Red Sox have a good chance to walkaway from game 1 with a W and gain control of the series on the road. Opposing Porcello in game 1 is Trevor Bauer, who despite having a nice year, holds a 6.39 ERA in his last 6 starts in September and October. Which Bauer will show up? The 9-6, 3.73 ERA solid pitcher until September, or the run-allowing machine in September and October.

The answer to my ultimate question is yes, if the pitching staff can hold up and perform at a high level, the Red Sox can play for the World Series. The offense will likely be good enough to win, but it all hangs on the pitching staff. With Porcello in game 1 I feel pretty confident, but David Price in game 2 and Clay Buchholz in game 3 scare me a bit. Price and Buchholz can both be lights out or absolutely terrible. If the starters sway to the side of lights out, then book your ticket for a Cubs vs. Red Sox World Series. Wouldn’t that be something…

From Fringe Playoff Team to World Series Contender

Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports

Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports

It’s been nothing short of an unreal stretch for the Boston Red Sox over the past few weeks. They are winners of 8 straight, two consecutive 4-game series sweeps against AL East foes the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles, and owners of the MLB leading 15-5 record in September. They sit 5.5 games ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays in the division and 7 games up on the Orioles just a few weeks after a 3-way tie for the division was very much in the conversation. How have the Red Sox gone from a fringe team to a legitimate contender? Pitching and a will.

Thus far in September, the Red Sox pitching staff is having their best month of the season. The staff has a ratio of 4 Ks per BB, a .209 opponent batting average and a .598 OPS in September, all significantly better than any other month. Most notably, Red Sox relievers have allowed just a .186 opponent batting average this month, which is excellent. The improvement in the pitching staff has allowed the Red Sox offense to feel less pressure to score in huge bunches and just have smart at-bats. They have now scored exactly 5 runs in 5 consecutive games for the first time in history.

Although the pitching has significantly improved, the offense has also still performed at a very high level. The Red Sox batters are hitting .289 in September with 31 HRs and 119 RBIs thanks to an incredible tear from Hanley Ramirez and the continually impressive hitting of David Ortiz and Mookie Betts. It’s more than just the offensive firepower however, there is a certain intangible quality that all great teams have: a will to win.

Until September, the will to win appeared only on occasion and in spurts, but now it feels like this team will have a chance to win every game, every day. Teammates support each other and lift each other after a bad inning or a bad defensive play and celebrate together after a big win. They have each others backs and appear to believe in their ability to make a serious postseason run now, something that was missing just a short month or so ago. A streaking team is often even more dangerous that the consistently great team.

Don’t look now, but the Red Sox seem to be peaking at just the right time.

Red Sox Put Yankees on Life Support

AP/Michael Dwyer

AP/Michael Dwyer

Heading into the 4-game weekend set with the New York Yankees, the Red Sox were hanging on to a 1 game lead in the AL East. Toronto was just another game further back and the surging Yankees were 4 back in the division and just 2 back in the wild card. Just 4 games later, the Yankees chance of making the postseason has dropped to 1.7% and the Yankees are 8 games back in the division (4 in the wild card) thanks to a hugely important sweep at the hands of the Red Sox.

There are few things I enjoy more than watching the Red Sox put another nail in the Yankees coffin (actually 4 nails). Even though the rivalry has gotten quite stale and boring over the past few years, the hate is still there for at least some portion of fans and a late season series that has a serious impact on the postseason is always fun. Watching the Red Sox comeback on multiple occasions in the series, including an epic 5-run 9th inning surge on Thursday night, made me a bit more confident in this team’s future.

There are 13 games to play in the regular season, including a crucial 4-game set with the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards starting tonight. A 3-game division lead is a nice cushion, but can be erased easily with so many head-to-head matchups. Momentum is on the Red Sox side thanks to their biggest rival…now what can the Red Sox do with it?

Crazy Series Finale Grows Red Sox AL East Lead

Peter Power/The Canadian Press via AP

Peter Power/The Canadian Press via AP

As a football fan it’s easy to get caught up in the early season rush and in many years past, with the Red Sox virtually eliminated by now, the attention shift was easy. Not this year. This weekend was even more important for the Red Sox than the Patriots (and college football) given the outrageously close playoff race in the AL. Entering the weekend series against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Red Sox were 1 game ahead of the Jays in the standings, 2 games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles and just 4 games ahead of the surging New York Yankees. After Sunday’s crazy, but huge 11-8 victory over the Jays, the Red Sox have built a 2 game lead in the AL East, their largest division lead since May 31st (3 games ahead). With 20 games to go, it’s still a 4-way divisional race.

Sunday’s finale was a must win for both the Jays and the Red Sox. The Jays were 1 game back of the Red Sox and a W would have tied them atop the league. The game played like each team was desperate, once one team scored, the other would come back with a rally of their own. The game was 1-1 after 1, then Jackie Bradley Jr. hit a 3-run bomb in the 2nd inning to give the Red Sox a 4-1 lead. The bottom of the 3rd was Toronto’s chance to respond, getting 5 runs off of Clay Buchholz (how many times have I typed that line?) to take a 6-4 lead. The Red Sox tied it up in the top of the 4th, only to lose the lead again in the bottom of the inning on Edwin Encarnacion‘s 2nd HR of the game.

After grabbing a run back in the 5th inning, Brock Holt inexplicably tried to steal home with 2 outs in a 1 run game and gets caught leaving the game 8-7. File that in the head-scratcher category. Never fear Red Sox fans, David Ortiz is here for the rescue, hitting a 3-run HR to give the Red Sox the lead for good. They tacked on 1 more in the 7th to make it an incredibly important 11-8 wild win. That was a precursor to a day of close, but important wins in New England!

According to the ESPN calculation, the Red Sox now have an 93.4% chance of making the playoffs, which was hard to imagine a few weeks ago. The Jays have dropped to 74.5%, the Orioles at 56.7% and the Yankees still hanging in at 13.5%. All 4 teams are still within 4 games of the division lead and the Jays and Orioles are currently 2 games ahead of the Detroit Tigers and Yankees for the 2 wild card spots. There is a real chance 3 AL East teams make the postseason in 2016, but with dozens of divisional games remaining, who knows.

Another Missed Opportunity for Red Sox

When the Toronto Blue Jays lost to the New York Yankees 5-3, the door opened for the Red Sox to move back into a tie for 1st place in the AL East. Considering their opponent, the 56-80 San Diego Padres, it seemed as though the situation was aligned perfectly and an easy W was there for the taking. Unfortunately the league’s most powerful offense went dormant for a 2nd straight day and managed just 1 run on a Chris Young solo HR. The 2-1 loss was just the most recent example of a low-scoring, 1-run loss for this Red Sox team.

In the grand scheme of the season, this game likely won’t mean anything, but with 25 games remaining and just 5 against teams with losing records, it hurts. After taking 2 of 3 from the Oakland Athletics, then need to win this series with the lowly Padres or they may be in trouble. If they win the next 2, then all is right with the world and they finish their last 6 games at 4-2 against bad teams, but if they manage to lose 1 or 2 of the remaining games, it tells me they are not ready to make or compete in the post season.

The offensive inconsistency has continued all season and is certainly concerning. They are leaving an awfully high number of men on base and are not able to come through in clutch situations (6 left on Monday). They had a runner on 3rd base in a 1 run game in the 8th inning with 1 out and they couldn’t drive him in. Those situations are critically important and determine the outcome of close games. When faced with an opportunity like the one on Monday, finding a way to score is what separates a great team from a good team.

In their last 4 games they scored 16, 11, 0, 1 runs. On average, those numbers make it appear the Red Sox are scoring 7 runs a game, which in any context, should at least get them 3 wins in their last 4, if not 4, but numbers can be deceiving and they are just 2-2. When it comes playoff time, it will be much harder to have the high-scoring games, and significantly easier to score 3 or fewer runs given the top pitching faced on a daily basis. Right now, even if this team makes the postseason, don’t expect much advancement.

Red Sox Reset: 5 Things to Watch for the Final 29 Games

AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

As September arrives and minor league call-ups are beginning to get the good news from the Red Sox front office, a postseason run is in the air over Fenway Park. This year has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride and I suspect September will be no exception. If you are a Red Sox fan and invested in the team’s success, stock up on Tums and Pepto-Bismol now, because you are definitely going to need it. Here are 5 things to watch for with 29 games remaining in the Red Sox season.

5. The next 3 series will set the tone for the final 3 weeks

I know it’s cliche, but momentum down the stretch is absolutely critical. The final 23 games of the season are against AL East rivals, including teams directly in front and behind the Red Sox in the standings. The 6 games prior to that stretch are games on the west coast against the Oakland Athletics and the San Diego Padres, two last-place, sub-.500 teams. I know west coast travel and playing on the road is tough, but if the Red Sox do not win 4 of 6 in these 2 series, it will be a failure. You have to beat the teams you are supposed to beat and these are the only remaining series in which you should have a significantly more talented group than your opponent.

4. The Red Sox starting pitching must avoid bad mistakes

The Red Sox pitching staff has gone through good and bad stretches throughout the season. In order to make the postseason and have a chance at perhaps winning a wild card game or a series, the Red Sox starters have to be smart and not give up the big hit or make a big pitch mistake in a tight situation. As of late, a bad pitch leading to a big HR or a big base hit has hurt the Red Sox and in closely contested, playoff-like games, one big pitch mistake could be the difference between a W and an L. The starters don’t need to shutout opponents because their offense is so talented, but consistent quality starts (6IP+, 3 or less ER) will go a long way to help the bullpen and put Ws on the board.

3. Effectively use September call-ups – especially at 3rd base

On September 1st (today), MLB rosters expand to 40 from 25. It allows teams to bring up younger talent and give them a chance to play in the big leagues. In this case, the name with a chance to have the biggest impact is Yoan Moncada, who has been working out at 3rd base in the minors. Since Spring Training, the hot corner has been a questionable spot in the Red Sox lineup. Pablo Sandoval is gone for the season (thankfully) and Travis Shaw started strong, but has accumulated 15 errors and been just OK in the batter’s box since. With call-ups, young phenom Moncada can get his chance to grab the 3rd base job from Shaw and potentially provide a nice spark for the Red Sox.

2. Avoid situations where John Farrell needs to make an in-game decision

I understand the premise of this is flawed, but bear with me because it’s incredibly important. John Farrell is a below-average manager when it comes to making in-game decisions, especially with the pitching staff (great for a former pitching coach, eh?). He has repeatedly made head-scratching decisions about which bullpen arm to use later in games and many of them have back-fired. The easiest way to avoid his incompetence without firing him? Avoid close games late. Take the game out of Farrell’s hands by putting games out of reach earlier on and leaving fewer guys on base. This is mostly on the Red Sox offense to round back into April/May form and put crooked numbers on the board whenever a decent scoring opportunity arises. I know it’s much easier said then done and they are never not trying to score, but a shift in mindset is necessary give the managerial incompetence.

1. Simply treat every remaining game like a 1-game playoff

Throughout the course of an 162-game season, there are some games you don’t push your pitching staff or bench as much as you could in order to rest players. It’s justified as an effort to preserve player health for the long-haul of a season. That’s over now. The Red Sox are 2 games back of the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East (who they play 6 more times) and 2 games ahead of the 3rd place Baltimore Orioles (who they play 7 more times). These and other opponents are playing for their playoff lives and it is highly likely that 1 game will have a significant impact on the difference between winning the division, grabbing a wild card spot and playing golf on October 3rd. Unless there is an extremely compelling reason, everyone should be available every single day, whether it’s off the bench for a pinch-run or pinch-hit scenario or out of the bullpen for a batter or two. Every game is absolutely critical and September is no time to be cautious.

There’s Something About the Rays

Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Brian Blanco/Getty Images

When looking at the remaining schedule for the Red Sox, it’s hard not have both some anxiety and some hope. The final 23 games of the season are against AL East foe, including 6 against the team just in front of them in the standings (Toronto Blue Jays) and 7 against the team right behind them in the standings (Baltimore Orioles) which offer incredible opportunity for both rising and falling int he standings. On paper the most winnable games are the 3 against the Tampa Bay Rays, but so far in 2016, that’s been far from a foregone conclusion. Thus far in 2016, the Red Sox are 8-7 against the AL East bottom-dwellers, who currently sit with a 56-75 overall record.

Of the last 5 games the Red Sox and Rays have played head-to-head, 4 have been decided by just 1 run including last night’s 4-3 Rays victory. These two teams seem to have a knack for keeping games close into the late innings when one big play or hit becomes a turning point. Last night that was Evan Longoria‘s massive game-winning HR against Clay Buchholz in the 8th inning of a tie game. Despite having a terrible overall record, there is something about this year’s Rays team that just believes they can take down the Red Sox, regardless of their overall talent level. The reason? Familiarity.

The way baseball schedules are set-up, divisional rivals generally match-up 19 times throughout the course of an 162 game season. By the time the team is playing their 9th and 10th games against each other, they are intimately aware of strengths and weaknesses and have likely seen a lot of the opponent’s pitching staff. Then factor in players who spend multiple seasons in the division and the familiarity level sky-rockets. When players feel comfortable with a match-up, regardless of their season successes or failures overall, they can be more comfortable in their approach at the plate. It doesn’t always work that way, but it has certainly help the Rays in their time against the Red Sox this season.

The remaining games against the Blue Jays and Orioles are critical for making the postseason, but don’t sleep on the 7 against the surging New York Yankees and the 4 remaining against the Tampa Bay Rays either. Every single game is huge from now until the beginning of October so strap in and come along for the ride.

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