An Ode to Cooperstown

It’s been awhile since I’ve taken time to write, primarily because it’s been tough to watch baseball lately. The Red Sox are a dumpster-fire with a depleted lineup and thin pitching staff and there are only so many ways you can say that this season is not living up to the expectations (understatement of the year). While the Red Sox were finding new and innovative ways to be embarrassed, it was the perfect time to visit the center of the baseball universe: Cooperstown, NY. It had been a number of years since I had the privilege of visiting the hallowed halls of the museum and surrounding area and this year seemed like the perfect opportunity to be in town for my first ever induction weekend. With all the hype and anticipation I was prepared to be disappointed, but was in fact blown away with the entire weekend of events and the passion with which the sleepy, quaint town in upstate New York embraces their baseball history and welcomes tens of thousands of visitors.

Lake Otsego – Photo by Brian Phair

For those who don’t know, Cooperstown is set on the southern shore of Lake Otsego and has a quintessential New England town main street lined with little shops and restaurants. At 25 Main Street, in the heart of downtown, sits the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum which is located around the corner from where most believe baseball was invented. The 3-story building is jam packed with artifacts and tchotchkes from every era of baseball and everywhere you look, you’ll find a new piece of information with a different artifact. For Red Sox fans, there are tons of artifacts represented, everything from Bill Mueller’s bat when he hit 2 grand slams in a game in 2003 to the cleats Curt Schilling wore in the bloody sock game in 2004 to a bat used by Christian Vazquez in the 2018 World Series (the first bat made by the Cooperstown Bat Company to be used on the highest stage) to the original contract Babe Ruth signed with Boston in 1917, just to name a few. Whether you are knowledgeable in baseball history or just a casual fan, there is something for everyone throughout the winding floors of the museum.

Curt Schilling’s cleats from the bloody sock game in 2004 – Photo by Brian Phair

The buzz around town during induction weekend was incredible. The streets were lined with fans wearing jerseys, t-shirts and hats representing almost every single MLB franchise. Former players and hall of famers were signing autographs up and down Main Street (for a price) at the various sports memorabilia shops. As we walked onto Main Street for the first time on Saturday morning, one of the first people we saw was Pete Rose. While obviously not a Hall of Famer thanks to some, let’s just say poor decisions, Rose was taking advantage of the massive crowds to give out autographs and take pictures with fans. Throughout the weekend, former players and Hall of Famers were out and about taking in the atmosphere. There were obviously a ton of Red Sox fans in town to see David Ortiz get inducted into the Hall of Fame and as one might expect, the Dominican community came out in force.

While the weekend as a whole was amazing, the parade of Hall of Famers on Saturday evening was by far the highlight. Watching around 50 Hall of Fame players get paraded down Main Street in the back of pickup trucks was a sight to see. Everyone from 84-year old Juan Marichal to 51-year old Jim Thome had the chance to wave to the tens of thousands of fans waiting to catch a glimpse of their favorite players. Some of the players got off the trucks and signed autographs for fans, even on a hot an humid night. Cal Ripken Jr. was a signing superstar, going up and down the rows of fans signing while sweat was dripping off his head and face. Standing across the street from the Hall of Fame where the parade ended gave us the opportunity to chat and engage with Hall of Famers in an experience I will not soon forget. Being a few feet from Ken Griffey Jr, Trevor Hoffman, Pedro Martinez, Cal Ripken Jr, Jim Thome, and others was incredibly special and an experience you just can’t get anywhere else. Watching some of the greatest players of all time take moments to chat and engage with young fans reminded me how unique the sport of baseball is and how taking a step back to appreciate the beauty of the game is important.

Cal Ripken Jr. in the parade of Hall of Famers 2022 – Photo by Brian Phair

The induction ceremony on Sunday was an extraordinary experience filled with cheers for the inductees and boos for Commissioner Rob Manfred. Despite brutal heat and humidity and a threat of torrential thunderstorms, a crowd of 35,000 people were there to witness the induction of 7 new Hall of Famers: Bud Fowler, Minnie Minoso, Buck O’Neil, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva, and David Ortiz. While the main reason I travelled to Cooperstown was see Big Papi’s induction, I learned more about the other 6 inductees throughout the weekend and I felt a sense of pride to be there supporting their induction as well. It was a deserving class of men who all had significant impacts of the game of baseball in every era of the game (1800s-today) and for most of them, this honor was a long time coming. A great example of the long wait was Gil Hodges, who had a really strong MLB career and played in 7 championships, winning 2, but is most known for being the manager of the 1969 Miracle Mets championship team. Until recently, managerial accomplishments didn’t factor into a person’s induction into the Hall of Fame and that was a barrier to his entry despite the achievement being worthy of recognition. Now, Hodges has taken his rightful place in Cooperstown.

Another great example is Jim Kaat. A pitcher who appeared in 25 different MLB seasons, Kaat always felt he was a good player, but not to the level of Hall of Fame. His steady and extremely long career ended in 1983, but he was never given proper recognition because there was always an emphasis on the numbers, not the longevity (although his numbers should be enough for him to be inducted). The 3-time all-star won 16 consecutive gold gloves as a pitcher and started 625 games (17th most all time). His 25 seasons in the game were the most ever by a pitcher when he retired, now 3rd behind Nolan Ryan (27) and Tommy John (26). After his playing career was over, Kaat coached and stayed connected to the game, becoming a broadcaster in the late 1990s and still continuing that work today. Kaat was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame through the Golden Era Committee, which looks at players who were not elected in their 15 years of eligibility and has a 16-person voting panel. Many around the game believe this honor is long overdue for someone so influential on the game of baseball. *Some might know Kaat for his recent hot-water when he called Nestor Cortes Jr “Nestor the Molester” on a broadcast in June 2022. He apologized and it was settled, but he received some unwanted headlines leading up to his induction.

Overall, I was incredibly impressed with the way the Hall of Fame handled the induction weekend (with the exception of needing more porta-potties at the ceremony). With the threat of weather in the forecast, they sped up the ceremony (despite it still being very long) and handled the crowds well. Regardless of whether you want to join in with the large crowds and pomp-and-circumstance of an induction weekend or just visit the sleepy town on another summer or fall weekend to see the Hall of Fame when it’s much quieter, you’ll be happy you made the trek. Despite the long ride from the Boston area, I’ll be planning my next trip to Cooperstown very soon.

David Ortiz during his Hall of Fame induction speech – Photo by Brian Phair

Red Sox Start Gauntlet Feeling Squeaky Clean

After a tremendous run of play against bad teams, the Red Sox entered a gauntlet stretch of their schedule. They have resurrected their season from 9-games under .500 to now 11 games over .500 in a short span of time thanks to a 20-4 record since June 1, but that’s only relevant if they can beat good and great teams in the next month. During this stretch that began on June 24th, the Sox play AL East opponents (except the 5th place Orioles) 20 times in 26 games, including a 17-straight game stretch wrapping around the break, all 3 AL East teams with at least 40 wins and 8+ games over .500 as of today. This is without a doubt a season defining place in their schedule and thus far, they’re putting on a show. They started off against the red hot 36-29 (at the time) Cleveland Guardians on the road and pulled out the brooms, sweeping the 3-game set. There isn’t a better way to start a tough patch in the schedule than to take care of business against a quality opponent on the road, but now comes the even bigger test.

Starting Monday, the Red Sox travel north of the border to take on the 40-32 Toronto Blue Jays. That alone would be a tough task for any team, but when you factor in those players who can’t travel to Canada thanks to their vaccination status, it becomes an even taller task. Tanner Houck has emerged as the Red Sox closer and has proven to be reliable in that role (6 for 6 in save opportunities), but will be unable to travel with the team and leaves a hole in the late-game bullpen for the Sox. Jarren Duran has finally had another chance at the highest level and has made it difficult for the Red Sox to take him out of the lineup as he’s hitting .327 and has accumulated 4 stolen bases in 13 games this year. His speed on the base-paths is a potential game-changer for the Sox, but for arguably one of the most important series of the season thus far, he’ll be watching on TV with Houck. On the minor-league side, Ryan Fitzgerald would seem like a good replacement for the Canada trip, but he is also unvaccinated and can’t travel. In a series that could very well be the difference in playoff seeding come October, the Red Sox are in a tight spot with roster management.

Moving on from Toronto, life only gets harder. The Sox will host the depleted but still tough Tampa Bay Rays for 3, then host the hottest team in baseball, the New York Yankees. The Yankees are having a historic start to the 2022 season despite getting no-hit by the Houston Astros this week. They are 53-20 as of Monday morning, on pace for 117/118 wins and are getting strong performances across their roster. If you’re looking for a silver lining as a Red Sox fan, the Yankees are just 4-4 in their last 8 games with 2 losses against the Astros, 1 against Tampa and 1 against Toronto. They have looked like they may be settling back to just being a great and elite team, rather than a historic one, although I’m not putting my money on a huge regression (maybe just a small one). As if we couldn’t get enough of the rivalry, the Red Sox then head to Yankee Stadium for a 3-game set after a 4-game set in Tampa against the Rays. Where the Red Sox sit at the All-Star break and how legitimate of a playoff contender they are, will in large part be shaped by Tampa and New York over the first 2 weeks of July.

After the All-Star break, things don’t really calm down until August and even then, just barely. The Sox play Toronto for 3 following the break, then the Guardians for 4 at Fenway, followed by a 3-game set with the 1st place Milwaukee Brewers. Following a 3-game road set with the Houston Astros, the Red Sox have a small respite, playing 4 in Kansas City against the lowly Royals before a date with the 42-32 Atlanta Braves and then another 3-game set with the Yankees (with one game against the Orioles sandwiched between series). I don’t need to spell out the entire schedule for you, although I got pretty close, but just know it’s going to be a brutal next 4+ weeks for the Red Sox. If they can perform at a high level and beat elite opponents, the trade deadline becomes even more intriguing. What moves would the Sox be willing to make if they genuinely feel they can contend for a title? On the flip side, struggling against divisional opponents may make the trade deadline a much more low-key affair.

While sweeps are fantastic, to me this next stretch is about series wins and splits. Expecting this team to sweep opponents the caliber of the Yankees is a bit unrealistic, but taking 2 out of 3 or splitting a 4-game set is not unreasonable and would be very telling. The Sox are not likely to catch the Yankees at this point, but the focus should be on the 1st Wild Card spot and the path there is series wins, especially against their closest opponents in the standings (Toronto and Tampa Bay). If the Sox continue to win series and the Yankees were to significantly stumble, anything is possible if you hang tight. With the Red Sox potentially having some pitching reinforcements arriving back from injury in the next few weeks (Chris Sale and Garrett Whitlock), things could continue to roll on into August and beyond. After spilling tons of metaphorical ink about the Red Sox woes the first 2 months of the season, things look quite different now for the home town team. Will we still feel optimistic in a few weeks?

Huge West Coast Swing for Red Sox

After splitting a short 2-game set with the Cincinnati Reds, the Red Sox said goodbye to the friendly confines of Fenway Park after a 7-game home stand and 13 of the last 16 at home. While the home stand had a few signs of life with 3 series wins (of their 4 total on the season), including a 4-game sweep of the Seattle Mariners, it ended with some disappointing results against the Baltimore Orioles and Reds. Now the Red Sox head off on a 10-game swing in California with hopes of an above-.500 record when they return to Boston. With the calendar flipped to June, the urgency to turn around the 2022 season has ratcheted up a notch and the next stretch of series will be a true tell on whether the season is salvageable. Where will the Sox be when they return home on June 14th? Let’s take a look.

After grabbing back a little momentum on Wednesday night in the 2nd game against the Reds, the Sox are now 24-27, 3 games under .500. Losing 4 of 7 against two mediocre teams to end the home stand really put a damper on what appeared to be a turning of the tides. Getting back to the .500 mark is proving to be a challenge for this group, despite having one of the top performing offenses in baseball. The Red Sox led baseball in average, slugging percentage, and OPS in May but saw their pitching staff show signs of concern. This was everyone’s concern in the offseason, a strong offense with a weak pitching staff, but the script was flipped in April. The lack of an actual closer since they moved Garrett Whitlock to the starting rotation has been an achilles heal for this team.

Looking at their opponents in California, the Red Sox should be able to take care of business and definitely win the road trip against 3 struggling teams. They play 3 against the 20-33 Oakland Athletics to begin the trip and anything less than a series win or sweep would be a massive disappointment. It’s still a hair too early to call this series a must-win, but it’s pretty damn close. The As are coming off a 3-game sweep at the hands of the Houston Astros in Oakland and 1-6 in their last 7 games. The Red Sox are facing 2 of the As best pitchers in games 2 and 3 in Paul Blackburn, who is a surprising 5-1 with a 2.15 ERA on the season and Frankie Montas, who has a tough 2-5 record, but a strong 3.20 ERA this season. Realistically, I see the Sox taking 2 out of 3.

The Sox then head to Los Angeles for a 4-game set with the Angels. They have been scuffling as of late, losing 8 of their last 10 and 7 straight, but have a 3-game set against the lowly 22-29 Philadelphia Phillies before facing the Sox. The Angels will have a chance to get themselves back on track and come into the Sox series with more confidence. It appears that the Shohei Ohtani will pitch in the Red Sox series, so that’s always a challenge, but frankly they have been underperforming as a team. If they continue to underperform, the Red Sox could do some damage. The Sox should at least split the series, but if they can find a way to win 3 of 4, that would be a huge momentum booster.

The Sox wrap up the trip with 3 in Seattle against the 22-29 Mariners. Another surprise disappointment, the Mariners have really struggled this season and the Red Sox have already done some damage against them with a 4-game sweep at Fenway earlier in May. For what it’s worth, the Mariners are 5-5 in their last 10 and have a winning record at home (12-10), but it’s another series that the Red Sox should, and need to, win. A bright spot for the Mariners and someone the Red Sox will likely see, is starter Logan Gilbert. The 25-year old is 5-2 with a 2.29 ERA in 10 starts this season. He has 60Ks in 59 innings and has a WHIP of just a tick over 1. Offensively, 1B Ty France has been mashing the ball, hitting .347 with 7 HRs on the season in 229 plate appearances. This should be another series win, taking at least 2 out of 3.

Overall, the road trip consists of 2 very winnable series against the struggling As and Mariners bookending a split/winnable series against the struggling Angels. West Coast swings are always tough given the time zone changes and travel, but with a day off leading into the trip, there are no excuses. If the Red Sox want to remain in the 2022 competitive conversation, this trip needs to result in 6+ wins, 2 of 3 from the As and Mariners and at least a split with the Angels. If they can somehow squeak out 7 wins, then the Sox will come home to Boston with at least a .500 record for the first time all season. Is that too much to ask?

The End of the E-Rod Era for the Red Sox

Despite efforts to re-sign the lefty, the Eduardo Rodriguez tenure with the Boston Red Sox is over. It’s reported that E-Rod received a 5-year, $77 million contract with the Detroit Tigers. The $15+ million per year contract makes some sense for the relatively young lefty who has been up and down over his career in Boston, but has shown promise throughout. It’s probably in E-Rod’s best interest to get a change of scenery and see if he can finally put it all together and be consistently a top-end rotation talent.

After a career year in 2019, E-Rod sat out 2020 with myocarditis which emerged following a COVID-19 diagnosis. Thankfully, he was able to get back on the mound in 2021 and once again showed some flashes of being a top-end rotation arm. He also continued his consistent inconsistency and ended the year with a 13-8 record and a 4.74 ERA. He was able to rebound after building his ERA up over 6 in June thanks to his final 5 appearances of the regular season in which he didn’t allow more than 2 earned runs.

After a tough first outing in the postseason, E-Rod bounced back and finished his career in Boston with 2 strong outings against the Tampa Bay Rays and Houston Astros, striking out 13 and allowing 5 earned runs over 11 innings. He declined his $18.4 million option to stay with Boston for 2022 in order to try and get some long-term stability and that bet paid off. While the annual salary is $3 million less than his option, he is now guaranteed a really solid salary until age 33.

I’m happy for him given his health struggles in 2020. His future as an MLB player was hanging in the balance and it was a really great story to watch him rebound and turn in his second highest innings total and games total this past season. That being said, I’m not sure I would have paid $15.4 million per year for his level of inconsistency. I’m not going to dig in again, but if you’re curious on my feelings about E-Rod, I wrote this back in September. To me, he’s a middle to back-end of the rotation talent at this point and the Red Sox should be able to find a replacement.

The Red Sox are obviously in need of starting rotation help going into 2022 and have several decisions to make on whether to move certain pitchers into the rotation (i.e. Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock). They reportedly had offered a multi-year deal to E-Rod, so I’m sure to some degree were waiting for this chip to fall. A quick resolution to the Eduardo Rodriguez situation will help them move on and pursue other opportunities.

Buenos Noches, Jerry!

On Sunday morning, word spread throughout Red Sox Nation that Jerry Remy had finally lost his battle with lung cancer. At his passing, my birthday buddy was just 10 days shy of his 69th birthday and in his 33rd season as a Red Sox broadcaster while battling his 7th recurrence with the terrible disease over 13 years. It was a challenging stretch for Remy, but the Massachusetts native was a fighter and tackled each reoccurrence head-on, even when things weren’t looking great. Remy love being the voice of the Red Sox and was a Bostonian through and through. He will be sorely missed.

After a few years playing for the California Angels, the Somerset, MA native was traded to the Red Sox in 1977. Growing up a Red Sox fan, the trade made Remy “ecstatic” and his play on the field benefited from the move as 1978 became one of his best seasons, including an All-star selection. The trade worked out pretty well for him beyond 1978 also, because he played a solid 7-seasons with the Red Sox and parlayed his fan-favorite persona into a 33-year broadcasting career for his hometown team. Once he was traded back home, he never looked back.

“I was ecstatic. How many people get a chance to come back home and play for the team that they grew up watching, adoring, and loving? I couldn’t believe I was going to be playing with guys like [Carl] Yastrzemski — he was my idol as a teenager — [Carlton] Fisk and [Jim] Rice, [Dwight] Evans, [Fred] Lynn, all those guys.”

Jerry Remy talking about his trade to the Red Sox in 1977

The past few days have resulted in countless people talking about Remy and his strong, positive presence. One of his broadcast partners and favorite people to banter with, Dennis Eckersley, recalled his favorite quality of Remy: his laugh. “Man, I loved his laugh. When he’d get rolling and couldn’t stop himself from laughing, you know? I tried like hell to get him to laugh just to hear it.” Another of his longtime broadcast partners and friends, Red Sox fan-favorite Don Orsillo, credited Remy as the one who “Showed me the right MLB way.” The messages are different, but all have a common theme: Remy was a respected, genuine and special human being.

The man most commonly know as RemDawg has left a deep legacy and a significant positive mark on a franchise that has had so many greats over the years. His voice will be forever linked with the Red Sox, having called the darker depths of the tail end of an 80+ year championship drought, triumphantly celebrating four world series titles, and contributing to numerous other critical moments over three decades on the microphone. His ability to tell stories and go off the rails in blowouts and his honest, straight forward analysis of a tough situation are unrivalled. His voice will truly be missed on the NESN telecasts.

Watching Remy get a standing ovation from a packed Fenway Park as he took a golf-cart ride around the stadium to throw out the first pitch of the 2021 AL Wild Card game was a moment I won’t forget. It felt reminiscent of the Ted Williams golf-cart ride at the 1999 All-Star Game, just a few years before the legend’s passing. It was a final hurrah for a man that devoted damn near his entire life to the Red Sox franchise and poured his heart and soul into his job.

To me, there is only one way to end the RemDawg era in Boston, by using the line he said hundreds, maybe thousands of times over his career when introducing the ability to watch the broadcast in Spanish. Buenos Noches, Jerry.

The End of an Improbable Run for the Red Sox

The season is over for the Boston Red Sox, much later than nearly everyone predicted. An unreal, improbable deep postseason run was bonus baseball in a year following an absolute dud of a season in 2020. There are a lot of things to reflect on at this moment: defensive woes, offensive bi-polar production, a play here or there in the ALCS, but the thing that hurts the worst? This team never had a chance, but made us all believe a championship was possible.

Coming into the season, everyone expected a rebound for the Red Sox who were coming off of a 24-36 shortened-season last place finish in the AL East season. The general consensus was a .500 season was likely, somewhere around the 80-82 win threshold, missing a spot in the postseason. After an absolutely torrid first half of the season, expectations began to shift, but then reality hit and the Red Sox came back to earth. They needed every bit of 162 games to sneak into the postseason and and win their 92nd regular season game.

The playoffs began with a huge win over the New York Yankees in the AL Wild Card at Fenway Park and it felt like that was a big accomplishment regardless of what came of the ALDS against the 100-win Tampa Bay Rays. After a tough first game offensively, the production began and the Red Sox won 3-straight games to send the Rays packing. Shockingly, the Red Sox were one of 4 teams still remaining in the postseason. Once again the Red Sox offense wasn’t good enough in a game one, but turned it on for games 2 and 3. Once the Red Sox won game 3, it felt like this team had a special quality and was peaking at the right time. The mentality was to win the next two at home and never have to return to Texas, but obviously that didn’t happen.

We all believed that despite the up-and-down season and the struggles offensively in the final week of the season when everything was hanging in the balance, in October this team could beat anyone. At times, they showed us that their offense was all-powerful and could hit anyone, at any time and then other times they made opposing pitchers look like Cy Young winners. We built ourselves up to believe that this team had an x-factor and was a runaway train barreling down the tracks with nothing that could stop the momentum. Just when we felt the magic and believed, this team showed us exactly what we saw down the stretch of the regular season: inconsistency and an inability to put anyone away. It was never gone, just took a short break.

This team was never good enough to win a championship, but I certainly believed they could and I know I’m not alone. The pitching staff was held together with glue and duct tape and Cora was able to squeeze every last ounce out of each person on the roster to even get to an ALCS game 6. This may be one of the greatest managerial performances of the last decade, but it will be overshadowed by not making the World Series. Alex Cora did what he could with the roster he had, and it wasn’t enough, but it was damn close.

The future is certainly bright in Boston. Several young players made significant contributions to this team and will only continue to improve next year and beyond. In 2022 the Red Sox will have one of their strongest rotations in a long time if everything shakes out as expected and the rookie arms continue to improve. The offense needs to fill a few holes and gain greater depth on the bench, but overall is pretty close to being great without much work. The defense needs to be a huge priority this offseason, because they handed opponents run after run this season with bad plays and errors.

There will be a lot of commentary this offseason on this team, some positive and some negative (and a lot of it from me), but despite feeling the hurt of a tough series loss, I wouldn’t trade this improbable run for anything. Just 114 days until pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers.

Postseason Fever Back for the Red Sox

The last few months for the Boston Red Sox have been filled with challenges, injuries, and underwhelming performances. Down the stretch, most every member of the offense had (or is having) a dry spell and the pitching staff has been a bit all over the map. The Red Sox season came down to game 162 and thanks to some timely hitting leading to a big comeback, postseason baseball is back in Boston. After the high of the win, reality sunk in that their triumphant return to the postseason would be shaped by a 1-game wild card showdown with none-other-than their bitter rivals, the New York Yankees.

As a Red Sox fan, last night’s AL Wild Card game was a thing of beauty. With a battle of the two staff aces, Gerrit Cole for the Yankees and Nathan Eovaldi for the Red Sox, you knew runs would be at a premium. Thankfully, one of the slumping Red Sox bats, Xander Bogaerts, turned the page and crushed a 2-run HR in the 1st inning to give the Sox an early lead. Not to be forgotten was the Rafael Devers walk, battling back from a 1-2 count, in the at-bat before to keep the inning alive. When Xander hit the HR, his reaction said it all. I haven’t seen him that excited in a loonnnggg time and it absolutely set the tone for the entire game. Xander is generally a quiet leader who lead by example. Last night, he led by example, but was anything but quiet.

There were so many important performances and moments in this one game that there isn’t time to recap them all (and there are plenty of other places to get that coverage), but the thing that impressed me the most about last night was the players resilience and belief. It sounds cheesy, but every time the Red Sox got in a jam, or a pitcher gave up a run, the players seemed to rally behind each other and believe in each other. They limited damage and extended the lead when the Yankees put pressure on, which is something they struggled with most of September.

The best example of limiting damage and playing together was in the 6th inning right after Eovaldi was replaced by Ryan Brasier and Giancarlo Stanton crushed his 2nd ball off the monster in the game (despite what John Sterling thinks, they both went OFF the monster, not OVER). Alex Verdugo misplayed the carom angle (which to be fair is a near impossible read), but Kike Hernandez was there to back him up, got the ball quickly in to Bogaerts and X-man threw an absolutely perfectly placed laser to home where Kevin Plawecki beautifully tagged Aaron Judge to cut down the run.

If that play doesn’t happen, then the score is 3-2 with a runner in scoring position and just 1 out. Momentum, if not the lead, would likely have shifted to the New York dugout and the intensity, and pressure, would have risen. The Red Sox needed everyone to be alert and play their positions in perfect harmony and when they did that, they finally succeeded in the elusive area of defensive fundamentals. I’ve been harping on their lack of defensive consistency all year and the numbers show they are one of the worst defensive teams in baseball and frankly, I don’t fully understand why. They have some weaker spots on the field but for the most part, they have talented players who should be at least average at their positions. All can be forgiven if they turn the page in the postseason and play clean, smart baseball.

If the Red Sox are confident and can consistently hit, pitch pretty well, and play solid defense, they have the talent to make a deep run in the playoffs, but those are big ifs. They passed their first test on Tuesday, now they have an even bigger test upcoming with the 100 win Tampa Bay Rays.

And hey, if you’re a Yankees fan, don’t get too sad because there is still something to look forward to. On Valentines Day, February 14th 2022, pitchers and catchers report.

The Crazy AL Wild Card Race

From 3-way ties to AL East dominance, the AL Wild Card race is proving to be high drama in 2021. As it sits on the morning of September 17th, it is a a battle between the Toronto Blue Jays (82-64), the Boston Red Sox (83-65) and the New York Yankees (82-65, 0.5 games back), with the Oakland Athletics (79-67, 3 games back) and the Seattle Mariners (78-68, 4 games back) hoping for a slip from the teams above. With between 14-16 games remaining for every team, the final 2 weeks are absolute must-watch baseball every night.

As a Red Sox fan, it’s frustrating that the team is even in this position fighting for a playoff spot. Putting that aside, let’s take a closer look at the race, see what the next few weeks will look like for the 3 AL East teams, and make some predictions on the outcome.

Toronto Blue Jays

Playoff Odds: 84.0%

The Blue Jays have the 2nd best run differential in the AL and 4th best in the MLB this season. They have been on an absolute tear the last month or so, going 16-3 over their last 19 games, including an 8-game winning streak and a 4-game sweep of the New York Yankees about a week ago to make this race even more interesting. Their surge has been marked by tremendous offensive production. In the 15 games so far in September (13-2), the Blue Jays have scored fewer than 5 runs just twice, and have scored 10+ runs in 5 games. If they continue scoring at this same level, it will be incredibly hard to see them not getting one of the 2 wild card spots in 2 weeks. They will also be a very difficult out in the wild card game if they can continue to score in bunches.

Their schedule going forward isn’t terribly difficult, but has a few potential hurdles. They face the 64-83, 5th place in the AL Central Minnesota Twins 7 times in the final 16 games, including a 4-game set on the road at Target Field and a 3-game set to end the season at home against the lowly Baltimore Orioles. They do have 3 games at Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay against the Rays and a huge 3-game set at home against the New York Yankees, but overall that’s a fairly light schedule for the highly potent Blue Jays offense. Overall, I think the remaining games are favorable for Toronto assuming they can beat the teams they are supposed to beat and not get swept by the Rays or Yankees. Their playoff odds have jumped a massive 42.5% in 30 days and it’s looking better and better for the team north of the border.

Boston Red Sox

Playoff Odds: 71%

The strange rollercoaster of a season continues in Boston. The most dominant and surprising team early on in the year is now in the mix to miss the playoffs all together with 2 weeks remaining. The Red Sox went from first place on July 30th to 8 games back tied for 2nd as of writing this, which is amazingly and improvement after spending 19 games in 3rd place in the end of August and into September. The September schedule for the Red Sox has been tough, with all but 3 of the 14 games against above .500 teams and the other 3 games were against Cleveland who are 71-73 and 2nd in the AL Central. The Red Sox went 8-6, which while not amazing, has kept them in the hunt for a wild card spot.

The good news for Red Sox fans is their schedule. They face the lowly Baltimore Orioles 6 times (3 at home, 3 on the road), the New York Mets 2 times at home, and the Washington Nationals for 3 on the road to end the season. The biggest three games in the middle are a homestand with the New York Yankees. If the Red Sox can win the majority of the games they are supposed to win against lesser opponents, they may have a chance to sink the Yankees chances with a series win at Fenway September 24-26. The Red Sox are 21-12 against their remaining opponents (they haven’t play the Nationals yet) and have the most favorable schedule of the 3 AL East teams fighting for the 2 wild card spots.

New York Yankees

Playoff Odds: 36.4%

After an incredibly hot August, the Yankees are struggling in a big way in September. In August the Yankees went 21-8 and climbed as close as 4 games back in the division race and 2 games up in the top wild card spot on August 27th. Now 15 games into September, the Yankees have fallen to 9 games back in the division and are 0.5 games back of even the 2nd wild card spot. According to Baseball Reference, over the last 30 days the Yankees playoff odds have dropped 12%, which is a tough spot to be in with 2 weeks remaining. That being said, if they get hot and start rolling, they have a reasonable shot at the 2nd wild card position and even the top spot if Toronto and Boston falter.

The upcoming schedule is really tough for the Yankees. On one hand, they have the opportunity to face the Blue Jays and Red Sox head-to-head which could change the race dramatically, but on the other hand, they finish the season with 6 of 9 on the road and all 9 against teams in the division fighting for a playoff spot. This season, the Yankees have been outscored in games on the road (322-321) despite a 41-34 record and more importantly, they are 19-29 against the Rays, Blue Jays, and Red Sox combined. If the Yankees want to put themselves in a better position, they need to take care of business at home against the Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers over the next 6 games. Both teams are under .500, although Cleveland just barely, and the Yankees have gone 6-2 against the 2 clubs so far this season. The wild card will likely be decided in games 154-159 on the road in Boston and Toronto.


Prediction

  • 1st Wild Card – Toronto Blue Jays
  • 2nd Wild Card – Boston Red Sox
  • Wild Card winner – Toronto Blue Jays

While I think this will be a battle until the bitter end, the Blue Jays and Red Sox have the advantage going into the final few weeks. The Yankees are more than capable of making a run and stealing a spot from one of the 2 teams, but the way they have been playing and their schedule will make it a tough task. When it comes to the actual Wild Card game, I give the advantage to the Blue Jays regardless of location, but an even more significant advantage if they are playing in the Rogers Centre. If the game were to be at Fenway, it would be a closer call for me, but I always favor the hotter team and it’s hard to find a team with more momentum (as of today) than the Blue Jays. With all that said, a LOT can happen in two weeks of baseball and the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners are not going to sit back and watch the battle in front of them passively.

*All playoff odds are from Baseball Reference.

Is Eduardo Rodriguez a Front End Starter?

Before every season when making predictions about the upcoming Red Sox campaign, I tell myself that this is the year Eduardo Rodriguez will live up to his potential and become the #2 starter the team desperately needs. And most every year around September, I look back and contemplate what went wrong with my prediction. To me, a #2 starter is a really strong pitcher who gives the team a chance to win every 5th day with only an occasional hiccup or rough patch. E-Rod has stretches of dominance that are bookended by duds and disappointing streaks.

After a rough year in 2020, where a complication from COVID forced E-Rod to sit out the year with a heart issue, myocarditis, he came into 2021 with a lot of promise and hope. In both 2018 and 2019, E-Rod had a solid ERA in the upper 3s (3.82 in 2018 and 3.81 in 2019) and finally broke the 200 inning mark in 2019 for the first time in his career. Prior to 2019, E-Rod had never started more than 24 games in a season due to injuries. In 2018 alone, he began the season on the DL after knee surgery, then a few months after being activated, landed back on the DL with an ankle sprain in July and didn’t return until September.

In between injuries, E-Rod has had masterful stretches of pitching. Between May 5th and June 17th 2018, E-Rod had 9 straight starts that lasted at least 5 innings and he went 8-1 with a 2.98 ERA and 61 Ks to just 13 BBs. His batting average against was a stingy .239 and he gave the team a chance to win in every single appearance. Just a few weeks later, the 3 starts prior to his 2nd DL stint of the year, he didn’t allow a run, going at least 5.1 innings in all three games. That is what you want out of a #2 starter.

This season has had stretches of strong pitching from E-Rod followed by unexplained struggles. After a 4-0 April with a 3.52 ERA and a .209 opponent batting average, he went 1-4 in May with a 7.28 ERA and a .360 opponent batting average. Then in June he went 1-0, but had a 6.23 ERA and didn’t even reach the 5th inning in 2 of his 5 starts. Not to belabor the point, but then in July, he had an improved ERA thanks to 2 shutout performances of 6 and 5.2 innings, followed by a 6-run 3.1 inning stinker against the Toronto Blue Jays to end the month. On any given day, you don’t know which E-Rod will show up.

It’s getting harder to see E-Rod as an option for the #2 spot in the rotation on a contending team going forward. He has the ability to perform at an incredibly high level, albeit not getting past the 6th inning in most cases. Since July 1, he has 5 appearances where he went at least 5 innings and allowed 0 runs, but has also had 6 outings in 2021 where he allowed 5+ runs. The inconsistency is the only constant with E-Rod and it’s frustrating to watch him continually not reach the level I feel he can reach.

E-Rod is still an asset to the Red Sox, especially if he can stay healthy and start 30+ times a year, but I can’t consider him a front-end starter anymore. He’s pitching more like a #4 or #5 starter on a contending team, with some great surprise performances followed by some less-than-stellar games. As of today, he has the highest ERA of any regular starter on the Red Sox, which is hard to swallow when you consider what the rotation looks like.

I suppose it’s finally time to temper my expectations and not expect E-Rod to be a front-line starter.

Is this Rock Bottom for the Red Sox?

The first 3 and a half months of the MLB season were incredibly fun to watch. The Red Sox were surprising just about everyone and winning games in every way possible. They led the league in come-from-behind wins and it seemed that they were never out of contention regardless of score or inning. In the 6 weeks since the All-Star break, things have gone from ok, to bad, to awful in rapid succession and the current series with the Tampa Bay Rays may be rock bottom. In the middle of losing their 2nd straight game to the division leading Rays, SS Xander Bogaerts was pulled from the game due to a positive COVID test result becoming the 6th player to go down with the virus in a few short days.

On Wednesday, we learned that there was a 7th positive test result, and likely not the last, in INF Yairo Munoz. Munoz was already a replacement for Christian Arroyo who contracted COVID. At the rate in which the Red Sox are forced to call up players from the WooSox, it would be best to just park a bus outside the WooSox locker room and keep the engine running for when, inevitably, the next player lands on the COVID-IL.

While many of the players contracting COVID were vaccinated, according to Chaim Bloom the “majority”, the outbreak shines a bright light on the fact that the Red Sox are 1 of 6 teams under the 85% vaccinated threshold in the MLB. No one can force anyone to get vaccinated, but the low rate reflects really poorly on the team’s leadership, whether fair or not. It’s raises a ton of red flags and concerns around Alex Cora, Chaim Bloom, and the other leaders in the clubhouse, players and coaches. I don’t know who is or is not vaccinated on the roster, nor do I need to, but this outbreak situation is rock bottom for an already pathetic-looking team.

Recently, even when it kept getting worse, I believed hope was still alive and this team could sneak into the playoffs and maybe make a run if the stars aligned perfectly. After all, they still have a really strong record and are technically in a playoff spot if the season ended today. After watching the last few games and seeing player after player go down with COVID and be out for likely at least 10+ days, I’m not sure sneaking into the 2nd wild card is even the most likely scenario anymore. Alex Cora looks dejected and admitted he was “exhausted” the other day and the team is reflecting that energy.

I learned a long time ago to never say never when it comes to sports, but this is the lowest I’ve felt about this Red Sox team all season. It’s hard to find the joy in each game and as more and more of the WooSox roster gets called up the the majors, it’s hard to see this team legitimately competing in the crucial short-term stretch. I hope I’m wrong, but I think this is rock bottom for the 2021 season.