Price is Right

Steven Senne/AP

When the Red Sox announced they had signed David Price for 7 years and $217 million I was excited. The lefty has electric stuff and the Sox desperately needed an ace in order to stay competitive in the division. Then April and May happened. Price did not pitch like an ace, except for one or two starts, and had an era that ballooned to 6.75 on May 7th after 7 starts. The restlessness began to get uncomfortable and thoughts of wasting $30 million a year crept into my mind.

Then things started to improve. Since May 7th, Price has not allowed more than 3 earned runs in an outing and has posted a 2.47 era, dropping his season era to 4.33. In his last three games he has finished the 8th inning and with a little run support, would be 3-0 in those starts instead of 1-2. He has returned to ace form.

Because I can never be fully satisfied, my main concern around Price going forward are the HR balls he keeps allowing. In his last 5 games, all 10 earned runs Price has allowed came on the long call, including one on Sunday that was wrapped around the Pesky Pole. All of 2015 Price only allowed 17 HRs in 32 starts and in 2016 has allowed 13 in just 15 games. If he can figure out how to keep the ball in the ballpark, he will be fine going forward.

In order for the Red Sox to make and compete in the postseason, Price needs to pitch to his ability like we have seen the last handful of starts. The team still needs at least one more starting arm, but at least the top of the rotation is set.

Close Games Continue to Hurt Red Sox

AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Last night’s pitcher’s duel between David Price and Chris Tillman lived up to the hype. Both starters looked a little vulnerable early on, then settled in nicely with shutdown stuff. Unfortunately for Price, of the 5 hits he allowed, 2 were HRs leading to a 3-2 loss. This was the 14th game this year the Red Sox have played with the final score being a 1-run differential and they are 5-9 in those contests.

For me, close game records say a lot about a team. They give a glimpse into the team’s ability to pull together and rally. In last night’s game, the Red Sox bullpen was strong (only Craig Kimbrel for 1 inning), but their offense could not produce the big hit when needed. Earlier in the game, there were chances with runners on base and less than 2 outs that resulted in nothing.

The once over-powering offense top to bottom now has more holes than swiss cheese. Hanley Ramirez and Travis Shaw both had hits last night, but have been struggling mightily as of late. Christian Vazquez is what he is: a top tier defensive catcher who will hit in the low .200s. Jackie Bradley Jr. is coming back to earth with his average dropping from .350 on May 25th to .310 on June 15th. On their own, none of these things are season-changers, but all together it amounts to some serious struggle.

In June, the Red Sox have a 4-7 record and are 0-3 in 1-run games. Overall they are 15-17 against AL East opponents. Things are trending in the wrong direction.

Are the Red Sox a Legitimate Contender?

The short answer: No.

The longer answer begins with looking at the first 62 games of the season. On their third off-day in a week, the Red Sox sit at 36-26, tied for 1st place in the AL East with the Baltimore Orioles. On the surface, that’s a strong place to be 1/3 of the way through the year. Sitting atop a perennially great division while tied for the 2nd best record in the AL is reason to get excited, but the Red Sox roster still has several concerning holes.

We all know the Red Sox offense can score runs in bunches. They have scored 6+ runs in 30 games this year and eclipsed the double-digit mark 8 times, including 4 straight 10+ run games in early May. The bats have leveled off a little in June, but the lineup is potent top to bottom with different guys who can come up big on any given day. If everyone can stay healthy and no one dives into a deep slump (besides Travis Shaw’s current landslide) this offense is good enough to make a deep playoff run. The bigger concern is the pitching staff.

I know it’s been said 1,348,484 times this season already, but it’s still true: The Red Sox desperately need a top-tier starting pitcher. David Price has begun to look better as of late and hopefully is rounding into his ace self. Steven Wright has pitched like an ace, but we all know how finicky the knuckleball can be, especially over long periods of time. Rick Porcello has had some early success, but has allowed 3+ earned runs in 9 of his 13 starts and has been knocked out of the game before the 7th inning in 4 of his last 6 starts. After that, it’s a jumble of crap.

Eduardo Rodriguez has the potential to be great, but after coming back from his spring training injury, has not been the savior Red Sox nation had hoped. Clay Buchholz is in the bullpen because he is terrible, Joe Kelly is back in Pawtucket for the same reason, and the Red Sox have yet to name a 5th starter for this week because there is no obvious choice waiting in the wing.

The bullpen has been decent this year, but incredibly overtaxed. John Farrell is putting 41-year old Koji Uehara on the mound significantly more than he would like and placing Matt Barnes in high-leverage situations because he has no other choice. Craig Kimbrel has been very good this year, collecting 14 saves, but deep into the season and postseason, who bridges the gap to him? Will Koji and Tazawa have anything left in the tank? With the loss of Carson Smith, the Red Sox also need a late-innings bullpen arm to relieve the pressure.

All of this amounts to trouble the remainder of the season and certainly in the postseason unless some moves are made by the deadline. A common refrain is pitching wins championships and it tends to be true. Hitting can cover-up for mediocre pitching during the regular season, but the postseason exposes those weaknesses. 

In order to win a divisional series you need a strong 1-2 with a solid late-inning bullpen, but to win a championship series or World Series you need 3 strong starters and a deep, strong bullpen. The Red Sox have holes in both the rotation and bullpen. They have a ways to go before I declare them a legitimate contender.

Price Must Perform Like an Ace

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AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

The adjustment period is over, now is the time the Red Sox need their ace to pitch like an ace. Tonight, Price will be facing off against one of the best pitchers (and hitters) in the NL this season, Madison Bumgarner. Despite the fact Price has shrunk his era each of his last 5 starts after reaching 6.75 on May 7th, he has not pitched like a lights-out, shutdown ace since joining the Red Sox this offseason. He has yet to have a scoreless outing through 12 starts, allowing at least 2 earned runs in all but 1 start (May 12th vs the Astros, 1 earned run).

The Red Sox are paying Price $30 million this year, making him the 3rd highest paid pitcher in baseball behind Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers and Zach Greinke of the Diamondbacks. Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball and is earning every bit of his $34.5 million salary with an 8-1 record, 1.46 era, 109 Ks stat line and although Greinke is far from Kershaw’s level, he has allowed fewer runs than Price and has had 4 starts in which he allowed fewer than 2 earned runs, including his most recent two starts in which he allowed 0 earned runs. Price needs to pitch like he is one of the best pitchers in baseball to justify the Red Sox paying him like one. Tonight is the night to prove his worth.

Bumgarner has been grabbing a lot of headlines lately, but not for his great pitching numbers this year. He has 2 HRs in just 32 at-bats this season and now has 13 career bombs, including 5 in 2015 in just 77 at-bats. He may be batting .156 this season and .180 for his career, but when he makes contact, watch out. To go along with this offensive prowess, Bumgarner has a 7-2 record alongside a nifty 1.91 era in his 12 starts this season. It’s going to be difficult for the Red Sox offense to pile up runs tonight, so they will need to take advantage of any opportunities and jump all over any mistakes Bumgarner makes, if there are any.

Despite improvement from Price, I still have no confidence in him to shut down a lineup. Without Buster Posey and Hunter Pence, the Giants lineup is run-of-the-mill and doesn’t scare anyone, making this a perfect opportunity for Price to shine and continue to gain confidence by putting 0s on the board.


Meanwhile 3,000 miles away, the Baltimore Orioles are surging and have won 7 of their last 10. They have been propelled into 1st in the AL East by 0.5 game, so every W is critical for the Red Sox. The Orioles have even more momentum after a brawl erupted last night when Manny Machado charged the mound after being hit by Kansas City Royals starter Yordano Ventura. The Orioles won 9-1, their 3rd straight victory.