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.

Tanner Houck is the Future (and Present)

You never know what to expect from young pitchers when the pressure turns up in the postseason. Some can handle it, and even thrive on it, and others collapse and lower their performance level. Good thing for the Red Sox, 25-year old Tanner Houck is thriving in his first taste of postseason baseball this season. Houck has emerged as the top long arm out of the bullpen during this postseason run, using his experience as a starter to help him stretch out in his relief appearances or give a short outing if needed. Houck has appeared in 2 postseason outings thus far and yesterday, he may have saved the Red Sox season.

In the first 3 postseason games for the Red Sox, Houck has appeared twice, throwing a shutout inning with 2 Ks against the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game and yesterday he relieved Chris Sale in the 2nd inning and threw 5 innings of 1 run, 2 hit ball with 5 Ks. The context of yesterday’s performance was incredible. He came in after Sale allowed 5 runs in the first inning, 4 off a Jordan Luplow grand slam, and was asked to stop the bleeding and try to fill some innings. Houck did more than stop the bleeding, he completely shut down the Rays throwing 4 perfect innings before allowing 2 hits, including a solo HR, in his 5th inning of relief. It was exactly what the Red Sox needed to stay in the game and let their offense get back in the game (which they did in a BIG way).

In critical, high pressure situations, Houck has been lights out. His outing prior to his two postseason appearances was essentially another postseason game. He came in early in relief of Chris Sale in the final game of the season at the Washington Nationals in essentially a must win. He spun another absolute gem, going 5 perfect innings with 8 Ks to keep the Red Sox in the game and allow for a comeback (sense a pattern here?). His last 3 appearances, in the highest of pressure situations, he has allowed 2 hits (1 HR), 0 BBs, and accumulated 15Ks in 11 innings. That’s dominance when the Red Sox needed it the most.

If the Red Sox can find a way to beat the Rays twice more and move on to the ALCS, Houck could be a pivotal piece of the pitching staff, whether as a starter or reliever. There will definitely be a decision to make about the starters in a 7-game series, especially with Eduardo Rodriguez‘s struggles and Sale clearly not being right coming off of Tommy John surgery. Eovaldi is definitely the Red Sox #1, and then it’s a mush of Nick Pivetta, Sale, ERod, and maybe Houck to either start or be long-relief. It feels like the Rays “starter” model of the last several years, where the starter is only expected to go a few innings backed up by a deep bullpen.

All of this sets Houck up to be a member of the starting rotation for the Red Sox next year, which is exciting to think about. The Red Sox have been searching for rotation depth, especially some younger talent to infuse energy. Tanner Houck is a guy who can give you a chance to win every 5th day and his ceiling is pretty high. He has the makeup to be a front-end rotation talent with a bit more experience and could be the future #1 in this rotation. Even more importantly, he’s proven he can pitch well and even be dominant when the lights are the brightest.

A Wild Finish Sets Up a Rivalry Grudge Match

Everyone take a breath. No really, it’s ok the breathe now. That was one of the wildest final few days of the regular season I’ve ever seen in the MLB and the every-team-starts-at-3pm-on-the-final-day-of-the-season was intense and absolutely amazing. Going into game 162 there were a half-dozen scenarios involving the 4 teams fighting for the 2 AL Wild Card spots, including a potential for a 4-way tie. As the games began, all Red Sox needed to host the AL Wild Card game was a W, but the anxiety increased for Red Sox fans pretty quickly.

With the 4 games that impacted the AL Wild Card all happening simultaneously, there was no time to sit back and relax. I was watching the Red Sox at Nationals and checking in on Rays at Yankees, Orioles at Blue Jays, and Angels at Mariners. Thankfully, for my sanity not for the wild card race, the Blue Jays jumped all over the Orioles early making that a game I didn’t have to keep checking. As time ticks on, the Rays and Yankees are still scoreless and Chris Sale is, well, not Chris Sale-ing, my anxiety level rose. Once Sale walked in a run and was pulled in the 3rd inning, doom and gloom began to overtake me. The Red Sox were guaranteed a game 163, but no one wanted it to be a tie-breaker game.

Once Garrett Richards gave up the 2-run double to retiring catcher Alex Avila, I thought that was it. It was 5-1 Nationals and I was figuring out my schedule for a potential tie-breaker game on Monday and running through all the potential scenarios once again. As the game progressed, my anxiety grew even higher the longer the Rays and Yankees remained scoreless. The Red Sox got one back in the 6th, then down 3 in the 7th, three straight singles makes in 5-3 and Alex Verdugo has one of the biggest hits of the season with a 2-run double to tie the game. For those who are keeping track, the Red Sox and Nationals are tied 5-5 and the Rays and Yankees are tied 0-0, both in the very late innings.

Then, the pressure grew to new heights when Aaron Judge had the softest walkoff hit I’ve ever seen (bunts not withstanding) to give the Yankees a 1-0 victory. The Red Sox’s chances of hosting the wild card game were slipping, but there was still time. Eduardo Rodriguez shutdown the Nationals in the bottom of the 8th and then the Red Sox get their chance to bat in the top of the 9th with the heart of the lineup scheduled to bat (2-3-4). Kyle Schwarber led it off with a ground ball to the shifted 2nd baseman on the outfield grass and he couldn’t play it cleanly so the Red Sox have some life for Xander Bogaerts. Unfortunately X-man continued his awful stretch with a K, bringing Rafael Devers up to bat.

Devers swung at the first pitch splitter and missed, then watched 2 more splitters to move the count to 2-and-1. The Nationals pitcher Kyle Finnegan then made a critical error, throwing Raffy a 4th straight splitter on the inside part of the plate and Devers crushed it. A 447-foot HR to give the Red Sox their first lead of the game and put them in a position to host the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday night. In the all-hands-on-deck game 162, starter Nick Pivetta came in to close the game out in the bottom of the 9th and retired the Nationals in order, including an impressive strikeout of Juan Soto to end the game.

It wasn’t easy, but nothing has been since June. This team was one of the best in baseball for the first 3-months of the season but has struggled and had to fight and claw for everything since that point. The fact they needed 162 games to get into the postseason is hard to swallow, but if you compare that to the pre-season expectations for this team, the postseason is an accomplishment to celebrate. The Red Sox officially finish the year 92-70, which is a great record in any situation. Before the season, Sports Illustrated predicted the Red Sox would finish 80-82 this season, 17 games behind the Yankees and 4th place in the AL East and the betting over/under on wins for the Red Sox was 80.5.

I know this team almost collapsed and may bow out of the playoffs before getting into a series, but big picture, this has been a successful season for the Boston Red Sox to this point. It’s really hard to see that when watching day-in and day-out, but to be as competitive as they have been in a division stacked with 4 playoff-worthy teams. The Red Sox played nearly 1/3 of their games (57) against the Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, and Toronto Blue Jays, all 90+ win teams and 2 of the 3 are in the postseason and 1 missed the postseason by a single game. The Red Sox won the season series with the Yankees and Blue Jays, albeit by 1 game, but it’s why they are hosting the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday.

There is a lot to unpack about the 2021 season for the Red Sox and thankfully there is an offseason for that, but for now, I’m just looking forward to a single-elimination game between two storied rivals at America’s Most Beloved Ballpark on Tuesday night at 8:08pm EST.

An Appreciation for Dennis Eckersley

While the product on the field may be tough to watch at times for the Boston Red Sox, the announcing booth is in top form. The addition of Dennis Eckersley to the Red Sox booth in 2009 was one of the best decisions NESN has ever made and it’s the gift that keeps on giving. Eck’s candor, knowledge of the game and unique vocabulary make him a absolute joy to listen to regardless of how bad the game is going (sometimes he’s even better when the game is a blowout).

When thinking about the best color commentators in sports, there are some similar qualities that run between them. One of the most illusive qualities is someone who is knowledgeable, ideally with experience playing the sport, but not too cocky about his or her abilities. Eck fits that category like a glove. He’s clearly a confident person, but he isn’t afraid to admit when he is wrong and be self-deprecating despite being a Hall of Famer. He tells stories from his playing days, but doesn’t brag or hang on his reputation, he does it to comment on, or relate to, the game or current situation.

Another quality that’s important to an announcer is someone who isn’t afraid to tell stories and fill space, especially during a 4-hour baseball broadcast. There are so many announcers who love to leave lots of silent space in a broadcast, and while some silence can be useful, baseball needs announcers who can be entertaining and teach you something along the way. Eck checks those boxes. In a long pitching change or a slow inning, he’ll tell stories of his playing days or give his take on some of the newer headlines in baseball. His energy is contagious and makes me want to tune in just to hear his commentary.

Arguably the most enjoyable aspect of Eck in the booth is his unique vocabulary. On any given night you’ll hear gas, splitage, cheese (also educated cheese, easy cheese, and cheddar), hair, and salad (also educated salad) all describing pitches thrown. In addition to describing pitches, Eck has lots of other phrases he loves to use to describe HRs (i.e. Johnson, slam Johnson, dead central, going bridge), masterson to describe an expert in something (gas-masterson, stat-masterson), and the phrase jump street to describe the beginning of something. How can you not smile when an announcer gets excited and says “That was some educated cheese on the paint” to describe a well-located fastball on the outside corner?

With the Red Sox season spiraling in a depressing way, there is a comforting voice to narrate the journey. As far as I’m concerned, the more Eck the better.

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.

The Most Important Series of the Season

With just a few short weeks left in the 2021 MLB regular season, the Red Sox are confronted with the most important 3-game set of the year against their vaunted rival. The next 3 days will go a long way in determining the 2 AL Wild Card spots and has the potential to begin to either resurrect or bury the New York Yankees. The drama will be high and the atmosphere will be electric. What else could you ask for from the Red Sox and Yankees at Fenway Park in September?

Going into this series the Red Sox have taken care of business against inferior opponents with a 7-game win streak. They have built a 2-game cushion over the New York Yankees in the Wild Card with the Toronto Blue Jays lingering just 0.5 games behind the Yankees with the results of their contest with the Minnesota Twins on Thursday night still not decided. The lead for the Red Sox puts them in the driver’s seat entering this series. If they can win at least 1 of 3 it will allow the Red Sox to at least stay tied for a Wild Card spot with an easy final 6 games.

Obviously, the Red Sox want more than just 1 win. Taking 2 out of 3 puts a 3-game gap between the two teams, which drops the Yankees odds of making the playoffs and greatly increases the Red Sox odds. A sweep of the Yankees would be absolutely devastating for the pinstripes, putting them 5 games back of the Red Sox with 6 to play, all but guaranteeing a playoff spot for the Red Sox and putting even more pressure on the Yankees series up in Toronto immediately following their Fenway Park set. Depending on how the Blue Jays perform against the Twins, a sweep could come close to ending the Yankees season.

There is clearly a flip-side of the sweep, if the Yankees were to pull out the brooms against the Red Sox. It would put the Yankees 1 game ahead with 6 to play, but as mentioned above, the Yankees still have to go to Toronto for 3 games and then play the AL East leaders Tampa Bay Rays for 3. This is an absolute gauntlet for the Yankees and if they ultimately make the playoffs, it will be because they beat the best to get there, but they have a serious uphill climb beginning Friday. You know the Red Sox are fully aware of their position and are playing this series to bury the Yankees and get closer to, or even clinch, a playoff berth.

Stock your fridge, grab some snacks, get a comfy place on the couch, and collect every good luck charm you have, because the next three days are going to be crucial and intense.

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.

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.