Way-Too-Early Overreaction for Red Sox

The first series of the year sets the tone for the season, sort of. It’s everyone’s first chance to see returning veterans, new free agent additions, and young talent getting their first taste of the big leagues. Everyone wants to put a ton of stock into the first series of the year (including me), but the Red Sox are notoriously meh early on. Last season, they got swept by the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park to open the year and they finished two wins from the World Series while the Orioles finished with 110 losses, 48 games back in the AL East. As a matter of fact, the Red Sox haven’t won an opening series since 2018 when they took 3/4 from the Tampa Bay Rays. All that aside, let’s join the masses and overreact to the first three games of the season.

Pitching Staff – B

Overall, while it wasn’t amazing, it wasn’t bad considering the opponent and location. The Red Sox staff allowed 13 runs in 27 innings against the Bronx bombers and mostly kept their offense away from big, runaway innings. In typical Yankees fashion, the majority of their runs came off the long ball and Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton mashed 4 combined in the series. Other than the length of starts, which is expected to be shorter this early in the season with a compressed Spring Training, the rotation gave them a chance to win every game. Nathan Eovaldi allowed 3 runs in 5 innings, Nick Pivetta allowed 4 runs in 5.2 innings, and Tanner Houck allowed 3 runs in 3.1 innings. On most nights when the Red Sox offense is humming, 4 or fewer runs from your starter will be enough to win if the bullpen can hold up.

The bullpen overall was very solid to start the season despite some early question marks heading into the year. In 13 innings pitched as a group, they allowed just 3 runs, only 1 earned while striking out 15. In the first month or two of the season, the bullpen takes on an even more important role and if they can get the type of contributions they’re getting from Matt Strahm, Kutter Crawford, and Hansel Robles, this team will have a real chance to compete for the division. Of that group, Crawford had the most action on the bases behind him, allowing 5 hits in 2 innings and 1 run, but was able to work out of jams. Despite taking the loss in his first appearance (and just 2nd appearance in the big leagues), he rebounded to get the win in Sunday’s finale.

The biggest story in the bullpen coming out of the series is Jake Diekman. When the signing happened in mid-March I thought it was a great move and he could be an important piece. The veteran had a rocky Spring Training and his appearance on opening day was not ideal (0.1 innings, 1 run, 1 BB), but was as clutch as can be on Sunday to secure the save and first win for the Red Sox. As a lefty, he faced righties Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton followed by Joey Gallo and struck out the side in a 1-run game in the Bronx. All three guys can absolutely crush the baseball and Judge and Stanton feast off of lefties to the tune of .274 with a HR every 12.5 at-bats and .291 with a HR every 12.1 at-bats respectively. Oh yeah, and not to be forgotten, even as a lefty, Gallo hits a HR every 13.2 at-bats against lefty pitchers. That’s an enormously impressive outing for Diekman and puts him in line to perhaps take on more closing duties if Matt Barnes can’t figure it out.

The last thing I’ll say about the pitching staff is that I was impressed with the staff’s ability to work out of jams. They gave up quite a few walks and hits to a potent lineup, but were able to strand 26 Yankees runners over 3 games. While I’d prefer fewer baserunners to begin with, that says a lot about the ability for these pitchers to step-up in clutch situations and make the big pitch. There will be a LOT of scenarios throughout the year where there are runners on and they need to limit the damage. So far, so good.

Offense – C-

It’s early and generally offenses take a bit to get going in cold weather climates, but the offensive performance this weekend left something to be desired. In each game, the Red Sox offense jumped on the starting pitcher for the Yankees in the first or second inning and hung a 2 or 3 on them. It was nice to see a strong start for the offense, but then it seemed like they would settle into a dormant stretch for innings at a time. I’ll give some credit where it’s due, the Yankees pitching staff made adjustments and was able to settle in as the game wore on, but the Red Sox offense didn’t exactly help themselves. There were quite a few short, low-quality at-bats in situations where working a pitchers pitch count would be hugely beneficial. They missed a lot of opportunities throughout the series, leaving 21 runners on base in 3 games and grounding into 4 double-plays. They relied a bit on the long-ball, scoring 5 of their 11 runs on HRs.

As I said in my season preview, if the offense can do what they did in 2021 and score 5+ runs per game, they will win most nights. In this series, they would have taken 2 out of 3 if they scored 5 runs in each game, the only loss would have been the 11-inning 6-5 loss in the opener. Instead, the team put up just 3.67 runs per game and fell short in 2 of 3. Like I said, it’s early and in the cold air in the northeast it can take a bit for bats to heat up, but I was hoping for just a little more from the offense in this opening series. If as a team they want to have success, they need to jump on pitchers like they have been early, but then keep applying the pressure. Getting a starter to throw 20+ pitches and give up a few runs in the first inning is great, but what crushes other teams is then forcing him to throw another 20+ in the second inning. Sustained pressure will make it extremely difficult for opposing pitchers to have success and will in turn force them into situations where mistakes happen and the opposing manager needs to dig into the bullpen earlier than expected.

The surprise bright spot early on is Alex Verdugo. It feels like he’s on a mission in 2022 to be the best player possible and has put in the work to get there. On top of a few really impressive defensive plays in left field, he’s hitting 5 for 11 (.455) to begin the season with a HR, 3 RBIs and 2 BBs. He’s locked in early and if he can sustain success throughout the season (obviously not at a .455 clip) then this lineup gets even more impressive and powerful than anticipated.

Defense – C+

A large investment this offseason was defense and so far its been just OK. The team came out of the gate with 2 errors on opening day, one for Nathan Eovaldi and one for Xander Bogaerts which was disappointing although neither from the new defensive additions. The other thing that frustrated me a bit, although completely explainable, was watching Christian Arroyo in right field on Sunday night. There were at least 2 plays that he couldn’t make that I think Jackie Bradley Jr. would have likely made that led to Yankees hits. While Jackie’s offense prohibits him from being in the lineup against the lefty starter, the defensive gap was glaring. The need for a 4th outfielder to round out the group that was talked about ad nauseum this offseason reared it’s head this weekend. While Arroyo is serviceable, a right-handed 4th outfielder to platoon with JBJ would have been useful.

On the positive end, Verdugo looked really solid in left with a few really nice diving plays and if his defense improves a bit over last year, that’s a bonus. I’m also excited about the addition of Trevor Story at second base, but we only saw him in 2 games due to a flu-like illness, so it’s a REALLY small sample size. Time will tell if the defense is really improved over 2021.

The 2021 ALCS MVP Will Be….

There are a lot of players on the Boston Red Sox who could emerge as the MVP of the ALCS against the Houston Astros that begins on Friday. There are a lot of hitters with postseason experience in the lineup and a number of pitchers who have the potential to be dominant in a 7-game series. It wouldn’t surprise me if the most valuable player on the Red Sox is a more under-the-radar player like one of the Christians (Arroyo or Vazquez) or a critical long-reliever out of the bullpen (Tanner Houck), but if I had to pick today before the series begins, I’m picking Rafael Devers.

Devers has had a monster year for the Red Sox, slugging 38 HRs and driving in 113 RBIs while playing in 156 games. He seemed to have big hit after big hit when the Red Sox needed him the most. Down the stretch, he was still hitting bombs and driving in runs with a forearm injury that appeared to look better in game 4 of the ALDS and hopefully, with some time off this week, can be closer to 100% in this series.

One of the biggest reasons for my pick is Devers’ history in the postseason against the Houston Astros. In 2 previous series, the 2017 ALDS and the 2018 ALCS, Devers played in 8 games against the Astros and accumulated 9 hits in 24 at-bats, including 3 HRs, 11 RBIs and 4 BBs. That’s an impressive .375 batting average against a historically strong pitching staff in high-leverage situations and I’d argue that Devers is a better hitter now than he was in 2017 and 2018.

With a healthy J.D. Martinez, Raffy is also in a great position to see pitches to hit. If he’s in the 3rd spot in the lineup, then he has Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Alex Verdugo, and Hunter Renfroe behind him. In very few situations does it make sense to pitch around Devers to get to the powerful bats behind him in the lineup. On the other end, he has the patient Kyle Schwarber and red-hot Kike Hernandez in front of him to set the table, so the chances are higher that he bats with runners on base. This season Devers hit .300 with 15 HRs and 84 RBIs with runners in scoring position.

It is anyone’s guess at this point how the ALCS will unfold, but if the Red Sox are to upset the Astros, they will need a strong offensive output and that starts with Raffy Devers. You heard it here first: Rafael Devers ALCS MVP.

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.

A Pathetic and Embarrassing Performance By the Red Sox

Do the Boston Red Sox players know that they are playing for their playoff lives this last week of the season? If they do, they sure fooled me. Their performance against the 51-win Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday night was pathetic and embarrassing. Their defense let them down, again, and the offense looked completely lost and uninterested. Where is the leadership on this team? Do they even want to make the wild card game at this point or would they rather be golfing?

The situation seemed absolutely perfect for a big win on Tuesday. Chris Sale was on the mound following a rough weekend sweep by the Yankees and the Orioles are the worst team in baseball. That certainly should be enough for a W with this Red Sox offense. As it turns out, they couldn’t get more than 2 hits against the Orioles starter Bruce Zimmerman who was making his first MLB start since mid-June and mustered just 1 hit against the Orioles bullpen in 5 innings. Once again the defense made several critical mistakes, including 2 huge ones in the 8th inning with Rafael Devers‘ errant throw to first and Alex Verdugo‘s complete misplay of a ball in right leading to the Orioles 4th run.

The most egregious issue to me was the complete lack of plate discipline in the final stretch of the game when the team needed base runners and a spark on offense. According to Alex Speier on Twitter, from the 6th through the 8th inning, the Red Sox saw just 2.4 pitches per plate appearance including 5 plate appearances of 2 or fewer pitches seen. The impatience shows a lack of urgency and understanding the situation, not to mention the batters came across as listless and uninterested at times. Where was Alex Cora during that stretch? Clearly not reminding his players of the situation and approach.

I honestly just don’t understand Tuesday night’s performance. It feels like this team has not only lost its way, but is so far off the rails that no one can bring them back. At this point even if they make the playoffs, which has suddenly become a giant if, they have no chance at moving on unless something magical happens and they learn how to play defense, hit consistently, and pitch in clutch situations. This has been an epically embarrassing collapse.

Defense is Absolutely Killing the Red Sox

The old adage in sports is that defense wins championships. The Red Sox are trying to prove that to be true, by doing the exact opposite. We’re witnessing, day-in and day-out, one of the worst defensive teams in baseball and if they ultimately lose in the AL Wild Card game or take an early bow out in the playoffs, the defense will likely be a big reason why.

Sitting with 6 games remaining, the Red Sox are 14th out of 15 teams in the AL with 104 errors on the season and 33 of those errors have come from their starting corner infielders. Rafael Devers has had moments of strong defense this year followed by complete meltdowns and big mistakes. In terms of errors, he’s the worst defensive 3rd baseman in baseball, clear of the 2nd worst by 6 errors. For a team trying to make the playoffs, that’s awful, even if his bat has been on fire.

Now some would argue, and I agree, that the error stat is antiquated and doesn’t tell you the whole story about a player defensively. Here is where we jump into newer analytics to analyze Devers’ performance on defense this year.

A good overall defensive metric I like to look at is Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Avg or Rtot for short (it’s a mouthful). Rtot is described on Baseball-Reference.com as the number of runs above or below average the player was worth based on the number of plays made. Essentially, it’s the most accurate way to rate a player defensively where a 0 means someone is at the league average, a positive number indicates above average, and a negative number is below average. Looking at all 654 players with an Rtot score in 2021 and Rafael Devers is dead last, 654th at -19.

Then flipping across the diamond, 1B Bobby Dalbec has had a rollercoaster year with stretches of power and defensive flashes followed by completely falling apart in both areas. His Rtot is better than Devers (it had to be since Devers was last), but just barely at -11, 640th out of 654 players. His 11 errors are the 2nd most by a first baseman in baseball this year and frankly he could have had a handful more errors this season on plays he could, and should, have made. He’s cost the Red Sox runs on multiple occasions and has looked lost at times in the field (i.e. the pop foul off the bat of Aaron Judge on Sunday night). That’s not ideal when you have a partner across the diamond performing even worse.

While I don’t want to go position by position through the whole roster, there is one more player worth talking about, OF Hunter Renfroe. He has received a lot of attention for his outfield assists, and rightfully so, he leads all outfielders with 16, but he also leads all outfielders with 12 errors. The 16 assists and occasional stellar catch are great, but if 75% of them are offset by errors, then it’s not nearly as impressive or helpful for the Red Sox. Surprisingly, Renfroe’s Rtot is -9, 634th out of 654, just ahead of his 3 other teammates, the afore mentioned Devers and Dalbec, and Kike Hernandez, who sits at -11 and 643rd out of 654. Then just above Renfroe is Alex Verdugo who sits at -8 and 627th. As a team, they are -59, by far the worst in baseball. I think you get the point.


We need to be focusing more on defense as a major issue with the 2021 Red Sox. If you are a fan of the team, it needs to be addressed this offseason, because most of the worst defensive players are likely here for several more years. When 5 of your regular starters are in the bottom 4.1% of the all MLB players in defense, you’re in big trouble and put a ton more pressure on pitching and offense to compensate for mistakes. When fighting for a wild card spot in September, every game matters and poor defense could easily be the reason a team can’t get the job done. Nothing will change in the next week, but if this team is tied for the 2nd worst fielding percentage in baseball next year, don’t expect to see them in the playoffs again.

Defense and fundamentals might not always be the recipe for a championship team, but not paying attention to them will surely prevent a team from making a playoff run.