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.

Bobby D is on 🔥

Since shortly after the trade deadline, 1B Bobby Dalbec has been tearing it up at the dish. The Red Sox brought in OF Kyle Schwarber with the intent on moving him to at least platoon at 1B with the struggling Dalbec. To add even more depth at first, the Red Sox then later added the veteran 1B Travis Shaw (and he has already made a big contribution). However, since August 5th there is no one hotter on the roster than Bobby Dalbec. Over that span, he has appeared in 17 games (13 starts) and is hitting .386 with 5 HRs and 19 RBIs. Whether it’s in response to being pushed by Schwarber and Shaw, a tweak in mechanics, or just a much-needed boost in confidence, the Red Sox are benefiting from improved production out of the young first baseman.

Bobby added to his extra base total on Thursday with a career night. He hit 2 HRs and drove in 7 runs in 4 plate appearances. You’d be hard-pressed to find a hotter hitter over that stretch and the offensive success is bleeding into his defensive play. He has just 1 error over that span of games and made a beautiful pick on a tricky ball down the line early in Thursday night’s game. In a surprising twist of fate, since August 5th, Bobby has 5 more HRs, 8 more extra base hits, and a nearly .300 point higher batting average than the New York Yankees 1B acquisition Anthony Rizzo. To be fair, Rizzo was out on the COVID IL for a stretch in there, but it’s still a win for the Red Sox (in a period of very few!).

Dalbec’s success has a ripple effect and opens up the option for Kyle Schwarber to stay in his natural position in the outfield or as an alternate DH, rather than primarily at 1B. As we have seen, it’s important to keep Schwarber in the lineup given his plate discipline and knack for getting on base. If Bobby can play most games at first and be given a spell by Travis Shaw or Kyle Schwarber, it makes this Red Sox lineup stronger top to bottom. With Schwarber being freed up to play more outfield, it allows the Red Sox to move OF Jarren Duran back to AAA to give him more regular at-bats and not keep him in situations where he looks overmatched.

The Red Sox are hanging on to the 2nd AL Wild Card spot and will need to consistently score runs to remain in the hunt. A hot #8 or #9 hitter in the lineup in Bobby D helps everyone top to bottom. Keep the Bobby 💣s coming.

48+ Hours of Crazy in the AL East – Grading the Moves

With the exception of the Baltimore Orioles, AL East teams were all active participants in one of the craziest trade deadlines in history. The race for the division is now tighter than even the standings show, with 4 teams vying for the division title with around 57 or 58 games to play. Let’s review the moves and rate the success as the sprint to the playoffs begins…

Red Sox – C

In: OF Kyle Schwarber, P Hansel Robles, P Austin Davis

Out: INF/OF Michael Chavis, P Alex Scherff, P Aldo Ramirez

Currently hanging on by a thread as the 1st place team in the division, the Red Sox had a disappointing deadline. In need of a 1B and a SP or RP to bolster their chances, they filled 1/2 of one of their needs and got a few mediocre arms that may or may not fit into the picture. The addition of Kyle Schwarber is strong and the only reason they got a C-. If he can recover quickly from his hamstring issue then he can be an asset, but when put in the context of needs and what the rest of the division did, it’s not good enough.

That being said, the prospect price for bigger names was sky-high this year and Chaim Bloom stuck to his guns of not giving up the farm to contend this year. He didn’t want to hurt the system he is building for the future, a stark contrast to Dave Dombrowski’s approach. By continuing to build and grow the system, the Red Sox will be able to compete each and every year, although I don’t think they have the pitching to contend in 2021.

Rays – C+

In: OF/DH Nelson Cruz, P JT Chargois, 3B Austin Shenton, OF Jordan Luplow, P DJ Johnson

Out: P Rich Hill, P Diego Castillo, P Peyton Battenfield

The Rays had a bit of a puzzling week before the trade deadline. They brought in notorious Red Sox killer Nelson Cruz, who will help when the two teams face off 13 times the remainder of the season. Then they traded away veteran starter Rich Hill which seemed like the beginning of a flurry of moves, and then they didn’t do a whole lot. They traded away P Diego Castillo and brought in a handful of prospects, but other than Cruz, they didn’t get much better.

The Rays are in a strong position to fight for the division title and didn’t need to do a lot at the deadline. I’m surprised they didn’t add another piece or two, but I’m also not sure they needed to add.

Yankees – B

In: OF Joey Gallo, 1B Anthony Rizzo, P Andrew Heaney, P Joely Rodriguez

Out: P Glenn Otto, 2B Josh Smith, SS Ezequiel Duran, 2B Trevor Hauver, P Alexander Vizcaino, OF Kevin Alcantara, P Janson Junk, P Elvis Peguero

Like the Red Sox, the Yankees failed to seriously address one need: starting pitching. However, they did address a major need for left-handed power in the lineup by bringing in two big-power guys in OF Joey Gallo and 1B Anthony Rizzo. It’s unclear whether they really needed Rizzo or were just adamant about keeping him away from the Red Sox, but he will certainly improve the Yankees lineup. Rodriguez and Heaney don’t move the needle much, if at all.

The amount and level of prospects traded is significant for the Yankees, including their #7 (Alcantara), #8 (Duran), #11 (Vizcaino), #19 (Smith), #29 (Hauver), and #37 (Otto) according to the FanGraphs in February. The Red Sox don’t have the luxury of trading that level of prospects for some rental players.

Blue Jays – A-

In: P Jose Berrios, P Brad Hand, P Joakim Soria, P Shawn Armstrong

Out: SS Austin Martin, P Simeon Woods Richardson, C Riley Adams, P T.J. Zeuch

The addition of Jose Berrios and Brad Hand were big get for the Jays. Their pitching staff was very strong and now is undoubtedly the best in the division. Between starters Hyun Jun Ryu, Robbie Ray, Ross Stripling, and reliever Jordan Romano added to the new additions, they are potent. The biggest issue for the Jays is the traffic in front of them as they sit in 4th in the division and back a bit in the wild card race.

With the bolstering of the pitching staff and an already strong lineup, the Yankees better watch their back over the final stretch. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Jays grab a wild card spot or pressure the Red Sox and Rays for the division lead.

Orioles – N/A

In: P Tyler Burch

Out: SS Freddy Galvis, P Shawn Armstrong

What can I say? The Orioles are terrible and didn’t do anything to improve and why would they? They sent Freddy Galvis to the Phillies and Shawn Armstrong to the Rays and they will still finish last in the division by 30+ games. I can’t in good conscience give the Orioles a grade, because it’s just not fair, or worth it.

Anthony Rizzo: The Right Player at the Right Time

Just as the 2008 season was about to begin, I remember hearing about a kid in the Red Sox minor-league system. He was a 6-3 220lb (now 240lbs) first base prospect, but it wasn’t his baseball prowess that was being talked about; it was his health. The 6th round selection in 2007 out of high school, Anthony Rizzo, had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age 18. Rizzo began a 6-month battle including chemotherapy that thankfully resulted in the cancer going into remission in September 2008.

This was obviously terrible news for me personally, but it was even more grueling for my family because my Grandma was facing her own battle with breast cancer at the very same time. As bad as my chemotherapy treatments made me feel, I knew I had to dig deep and stay strong for everyone around me.

Anthony Rizzo, Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation website

After recovering and feeling strong enough to resume his baseball career, Rizzo began to take off in 2009. Between A Greenville and A+ Salem, Rizzo hit .297 with 12 HRs and 166 RBIs. The biggest knock on him was his lack of power for a first baseman, but he was still climbing up the Red Sox prospect list to #8 in September 2009* and began 2010 at #5. In 2010, Rizzo began the year in A+ Salem before moving up to AA Portland and combined for to hit .334 with 25 HRs and 100 RBIs. The expectations were rapidly rising for the 6th round pick and he finished the season as the #3 prospect in the system.

It looked as though Rizzo would make the jump to AAA in 2011 and perhaps knock on the major league door as the year wore on, but his Red Sox story was cut short. In December 2010, Theo Epstein traded Anthony Rizzo, P Casey Kelly, OF Reymond Fuentes, and OF/2B Eric Patterson (player-to-be-named-later) to the San Diego Padres for 1B Adrian Gonzalez. Rizzo was then traded to the Chicago Cubs in 2012.

Since arriving in Chicago, Rizzo has shown what we saw glimpses of when he was younger. He is a 3x all-star, 4x gold glove award winner, a silver slugger award winner, and helped the Cubs break their world series drought in 2016. He appeared in at least 85% of his teams’ games from 2013 to 2020 and didn’t see his first DL-stint until 2018. At nearly 32, his best days are probably behind him in his career, but now is the perfect time for him to return to where his career began.


The rumors of a Rizzo return to Boston have been gaining momentum each day as the trade deadline approaches. One of the only offensive/defensive needs the Red Sox have through 101 games in the 2021 season is at first base and Rizzo has an expiring contract on a terrible Cubs team, so will come at a lower price than some other options. It wouldn’t just be a feel-good story, he would be a useful addition to the roster. Bobby Dalbec is just not getting the job done and the rotation of a 2B/OF Michael Chavis and OF Franchy Cordero in that spot is a clear weakness.

While I’m still hopeful that Dalbec can improve and take the 1B spot beyond 2021, the Red Sox need to fill the hole for the remainder of this year if they want to continue competing with the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East and ultimately for a championship. A veteran leader in the clubhouse, a strong defensive presence, and someone who can hit for power from the left-side of the plate. What more could you want?

*According to SoxProspects.com