Signs of Life for the Red Sox?

After a season worst 5-game losing streak on May 8th and a string of 0 back-to-back wins since April 17th, the Red Sox finally realized the season was about to slip out of their grasp. Thanks to a favorable matchup against the below-.500 Texas Rangers, the Red Sox got over the hump and won their first series of the season since early April. The energy around the team perked up a hair as they faced Houston and despite getting absolutely clobbered thanks to a Nathan Eovaldi home run derby in game 2, they rode Nick Pivetta in the rubber match to secure a 2nd straight series win. This one was much more impressive, because it was against the Houston Astros, the 1st place team in the AL West. For the first time in more than a month, there are some small signs of life in the Red Sox clubhouse.

Over the last 9 games, the biggest difference for this team has been the offense beginning to wake up. We’re finally starting to see the production we expected, as they are scoring 5.75 runs per game during the stretch. Not surprisingly, in the 6 most recent wins, the Red Sox have scored 6.33 runs per game, while just scoring 2.67 runs per game in their 3 losses. It’s no secret, we’ve known this since well before the season began, the Red Sox will go as the offense goes. Besides the big three of Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and JD Martinez, the catalysts of the mini-run have been Kike Hernandez, who has at least 1 hit in 6 straight games, Christian Vazquez, who has 7 hits in his last 7 starts behind the plate, and Trevor Story, who despite not hitting for average, has drawn a walk in 5 straight games creating traffic on the bases. All three of those mentioned, plus the rest of the lineup besides the big three, are still struggling well-below their averages, but signs of life have led to more Ws and a glimmer of hope.

Unfortunately, despite finally winning multiple series, the Red Sox have fallen even further behind in the AL East thanks to the absolutely dominant New York Yankees. A 6-3 record is a nice turnaround for the Red Sox, but during that stretch they dropped 2.5 games further behind the Yankees. While the goal at this point can’t be to catch the Bronx Bombers atop the division, you have to expect the Yankees won’t continue on their .757 winning percentage tear and set the MLB record with 122 or 123 wins on the season. The goal needs to be winning the next 2 months to determine if a Wild Card spot is possible or if it’s just not their year and the trade deadline should become a sell-a-thon.

The big question for me despite the recent optimism: Is the season realistically still salvageable? The answer is yes-ish, but it’s going to take a herculean effort. As it stands after their win on May 18th, the Red Sox are 7 games below .500 at 15-22 sitting in 4th place in the AL East, a whopping 13 games behind the Yankees. Their winning percentage is an abysmal .405 and if you think about who is in front of them in the AL East, I think they realistically need to hit 90+ wins to make the postseason (although I know it’s possible for a team to make the postseason with win totals in the upper 80s). At this moment, the 3rd AL Wild Card would go to the Toronto Blue Jays, who are surprisingly just 20-18 with a .526 winning percentage. They are on pace for just 85 wins, but you have to expect that they will pick up the pace a bit and end up near or over 90 wins. If they go 70-54 to finish the season (.564), they will hit win #90. If that is true, they the Red Sox would need to finish the season with at least a .600 winning percentage just to touch the 90-win mark and that’s likely just fighting for the 3rd Wild Card and squeaking into spot in the postseason. It’s possible that the Los Angeles Angels falter also and drop to the 3rd Wild Card, but they have a .600 winning percentage on the season thus far and with two of the best players in baseball, Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, will definitely be in the hunt. While a postseason run is not out of the question, to win over 60% of your games just to hang onto hopes of a postseason bid is a monumental task with 125 games remaining.

Before you come at me, I know there are about 1,000 variables and tons of uncertainty when projecting out potential scenarios, but in a season that has been anything but good to this point, it’s worth determining whether the Red Sox keep fighting or become sellers at the deadline. There are 68 games until the August 2nd trade deadline and ultimately the mark in the season when teams make decisions on whether to load up and make a run, stand pat, or sell. In a season with now 3 Wild Card slots per league, more teams will be competitive and in the race, which could be beneficial for teams looking to sell. The number of teams looking to buy will lead to higher asking prices and larger returns. For the Red Sox, if they win 60% of the 68 games in this stretch (that’s a big if), they will be sitting at about 66-49 and in a strong position to compete for the postseason and not be sellers. If they are winning closer to 55%, which would be the 6th highest winning percentage in the AL right now, then they are sitting at just 52-53 and are likely sellers focused on 2023. Just a percent or two can be the difference between loading up for a run and pointing toward the future. The worst place to be would be in between those two records, unsure of whether to buy or sell. Thanks to the awful start, the pressure is extremely high to have a shot at competing for the postseason come August.

Ultimately, while there are more glimmers of hope in the past week than most of the season so far, it’s going to be a tough road ahead if the Red Sox want to make the postseason. They are going to need their lineup to continually score 5+ runs per game and have their starters continue to perform well, with perhaps fewer of the duds Nathan Eovaldi put out there in game 2 of the Houston series, allowing 5 HRs in 1 inning. It’s unclear whether they will get support from James Paxton and Chris Sale this year and even if they do, when is an even bigger question mark. Perhaps we are seeing the page turn now and the Red Sox are ready to pull a Boston Celtics and emerge from the depths of despair to the sunshine of success, shocking everyone including me. I’m not holding my breath.

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.

Are the Red Sox the ‘Surprise’ AL East Team?

As opening day is finally upon us, just slightly later than expected, it’s time to take a deeper look at the Boston Red Sox and the AL East landscape. For much of the shortened free agency period, it felt like the Red Sox were just taking a back seat while their AL East competitors improved, significantly in some cases. The Red Sox appeared to be content with their roster until on March 20th it was announced they had reached an agreement with SS/2B Trevor Story. The addition is a significant one and solidifies the shift to a focus on improved team defense this year, while also adding some nice pop to the lineup. Let’s take a look at the Red Sox, who I believe are closer to being competitive in the AL East than others believe.

Roster In:

OF Jackie Bradley Jr.

SS/2B Trevor Story (FA)

RP Jake Diekman (FA)

RP Matt Strahm (FA)

RP Tyler Danish (FA)

RP Kutter Crawford (From minors)

SP Michael Wacha (FA)

SP Rich Hill (FA)

SP James Paxton (FA – 60-day IL)

Roster Out:

OF Hunter Renfroe

UTIL Marwin Gonzalez

OF Danny Santana

SS Jose Iglesias

SP Eduardo Rodriguez

SP Garrett Richards

SP Martin Perez

RP Adam Ottavino

RP Matt Andriese

What stands out to me when looking at the roster ins and outs over this offseason is just how stable the Red Sox lineup remained. In terms of the lineup, their biggest weakness in 2021 was defense. As much as fans liked Hunter Renfroe with his burst of power and occasional diving play in center, by almost all metrics he was a terrible defender. He was so bad in fact, that despite leading the league with 16 OF assists, and hitting 31 HRs he was ranked 181st (2nd to last) in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) in 2021 with a 2.4 and was ranked 172nd in defensive WAR with a -0.5 (i.e. an average defensive player would have been better defensively than he was). The addition of Jackie Bradley Jr. is surely a step down in offense, but that downgrade is compensated for by stellar defense. Jackie has the 24th highest active WAR in baseball and has proven in his career that despite being an extremely streaky hitter, his defense is consistently excellent and he’s a strong baserunner when he can find a way to get on.

In order to not see an offensive drop-off and continue to see defensive improvement this season, Chaim Bloom took a bold stance and signed SS/2B Trevor Story to a large contract. The addition immediately improves the defense at 2nd base (Story was 12th in defensive WAR in 2021) and adds a nice pop to the lineup offensively, not to mention legitimate speed on the bases. Story is a career .272 hitter with 158 HRs and 100 SBs in his 6 seasons with the Colorado Rockies (745 games). Even if there is a slight dip in production leaving the thin air of Denver, which I highly doubt will be significant, Story is coming to play in an almost perfectly-configured-for-his-swing Fenway Park for 81 games a season. No matter how you slice it, the defense and lineup improved over 2021.

The concern, as with most years in recent memory, is the pitching staff for the Red Sox. Do they have enough arms? Can the starting pitching compete with the other AL East lineups? Will Chris Sale ever be Chris Sale again? What does the backend of the bullpen look like? And so on.

There were some notable departures this offseason that definitely left a bit of a hole in the rotation. Eduardo Rodriguez left for the Detroit Tigers in search of a change of scenery and despite my constant frustration with him, he occasionally had stretches of solid pitching for the Red Sox. The Red Sox lost some additional backend of the rotation depth in Martin Perez and with the injury to Chris Sale, the rotation looks mighty thin to begin the season. It’s shaping up to have Nathan Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta, Tanner Houck, Michael Wacha, and Rich Hill, with Garrett Whitlock in a multi-inning relief role or a rotation sub. Overall, Houck should be getting better in now his 2nd full season in the majors, Wacha is pretty similar to Martin Perez but with more upside and Rich Hill with his sub-4 career ERA as your #5 starter isn’t terrible. Not to mention that Chris Sale and James Paxton should be returning from injuries around mid-season. Call me naïve, but I think there is a potential for this rotation to be more than serviceable barring additional injuries with the offense this team puts out there each and every day. In general, this lineup should produce 5+ runs a game (5.12/game last season), so all you need from your pitching staff is to allow 5 or fewer runs and you’ll win most nights.

The other pitching area of concern is the bullpen. The absolute freefall of Matt Barnes last year became a glaring problem at the closer spot. Supposedly, he found a mechanical issue that is being corrected this spring and if that’s true and he returns to form, that solidifies the backend of the bullpen. Losing Adam Ottavino hurts, but the additions of Jake Diekman as a lefty and a more experienced Garrett Whitlock in a longer-relief role (for now), should be stable. Home grown Kutter Crawford (2017 Red Sox draft pick) has emerged in Spring Training and will have a shot in the majors after just a cup of coffee last year. The addition of free agents Tyler Danish and Matt Strahm are added to the returnees Josh Taylor, Ryan Brasier, Hirokazu Sawamura, Austin Davis and Phillips Valdez (to start the year). It’s hard to evaluate a bullpen without seeing them in action and in what roles they will be used, but I think the Red Sox have enough arms in the majors and AAA to mix-and-match a solid group. They have more lefty support than in the past and I believe Sawamura in his 2nd year with the Red Sox will be more comfortable and hopefully cut back on the walks while maintaining a 3ish ERA. He could become a high-leverage reliever for Alex Cora. I’m not sure as a group they are better than last year as of today, but I don’t think they got significantly worse.

Overall, I feel like the defense and lineup improved over 2021 while the starting rotation and bullpen still leave much to be desired. That being said, I genuinely believe there is enough talent in the pitching pool to match or potentially exceed last year’s production if you’re willing to be patient and wait for it all to settle out as the season wears on. There are some young arms (Houck, Whitlock, Crawford) who hopefully will take the next step in development this year and a few new veteran faces (Hill, Wacha, Diekman) to help them along. Yes, others in the league made splashy moves and got better, but I think the Red Sox methodically and somewhat under-the-radar got better (besides the splashy Story signing). They were 2 games from the World Series last year with a fairly similar roster, so there wasn’t the pressure for Bloom to blow it up and start over (like some other teams felt). He addressed the defense and 2nd base need and time will tell if his pitching additions were smart or a bust. If they turn out to be smart, I can’t rule out another nice playoff run in 2022. If they turn out to be busts, the offense will only carry this team so far and they may be fighting for the 3rd Wild Card come September.

AL East Prediction

  1. Toronto Blue Jays – 91-71
  2. Boston Red Sox – 88-74
  3. New York Yankees – 87-75
  4. Tampa Bay Rays – 86-76
  5. Baltimore Orioles – 60-102

Overall, I think this is finally the year the Blue Jays sit atop the AL East. They are stacked top-to-bottom and as long as they stay healthy, their offense can compete with anyone while their starting rotation continues to look daunting. I also believe that this is the season the Tampa Bay Rays fall back a bit. They have been overachieving for so long, eventually their small budget will begin to show and they will settle down in the division. Ultimately though, I think the top 4 in the division will be within 5-8 games of each other, so a win here or there in April or May could make the difference down the stretch. With a 3rd Wild Card this year, it could be a race for 3 or even 4 AL East teams to get into the playoffs. The only thing I know for certain? The Baltimore Orioles will be out of contention by the All-Star break (if not long before).

Top 5 People Responsible for Red Sox Postseason Run

Just 9 days ago, the Boston Red Sox were playing their final game of the regular season unsure of whether they would be in the postseason picture. They were guaranteed at least a tie-breaker game to determine who made the AL Wild Card game, but everything was up in the air and it appeared as if this just wasn’t their year to make a deep run. A victory in game 162 sent the Red Sox into the postseason for the first time in a few years and at the time, that alone felt like it was an accomplishment worth celebrating. A little over a week later and the Boston Red Sox are headed to the ALCS on Friday.

How did the Red Sox even get to this point? Predictions were all around 80 wins for this team with the postseason not really in the picture and now they will be 1 of just 4 teams still playing baseball into October. It took guts, instinct, and a bit of luck, but the Red Sox are 4 wins away from making the World Series when no one gave them a shot before the season. Let’s look at the top 5 People responsible for this improbable run.

1. Alex Cora

There are plenty of fans who devalue coaching when a team has success, but there is no denying the impact Alex Cora has had on the 2021 Red Sox. Not every decision he makes works, but they are all driven by analytics and instinct and the vast majority are correct in retrospect. After Game 4 of the ALDS, he is now 4-0 in elimination games in the postseason and 15-4 overall as a manager in the postseason (7-2 at home). That’s not a coincidence. He’s willing to make the aggressive moves early and often if he thinks, and the numbers show, an advantage. Cora will pull a starter in the 2nd inning or make a substitution in the first half of the game, if it could give his team and advantage or he sees something he doesn’t like. He doesn’t shy away  from the decisions when the don’t work, he sticks to the process and his plan.

There was no more prime example of his impact than the 2021 ALDS. He was forced to pull his starters after 1 2/3 and 1 inning in the first two games of the series, and used a combined 10 relievers in those games in order to split and come back to Boston with a tied series, which was a triumph. He leaned on rookie Tanner Houck and long-reliever/starter Nick Pivetta in crucial spots and his confidence in them drove them to perform at their best. He pulled pitchers earlier than the couch-coaches would have liked, and for the most part, he was right. I don’t think I can overstate Cora’s impact in the postseason, especially this year.

2. Nicholas Juan Carlo Pivetta

Without a doubt, Nick Pivetta is my new favorite Canadian. His performance in the ALDS is nothing less than heroic and he single-handedly saved the Red Sox in game 3.  In game 1, Pivetta was tapped in the 3rd inning to eat innings and he did just that. He went 4 2/3 and allowed 3 runs on 4 hits with 4 Ks, which was just what the Sox needed. The offense didn’t score, so they were going to lose no matter what, but Pivetta saved Cora from having to use everyone out of the bullpen. Thanks to that performance, Cora only needed to use Garrett Richards for 1/3 inning, Josh Taylor for 1/3 inning, and Adam Ottavino for 1 inning, which was critical given the pitching demand in every other game.

Then, just 3 days after throwing 73 pitches in relief, Nick Pivetta had a Nate Eovaldi-type extra innings performance that led to the series turning point. As the 7th pitcher out of the bullpen, Pivetta came into a 4-4 game in the top of the 10th in game 3, looking to just hold the tie until the Red Sox could find some postseason magic, and boy did he. He ended up going 4 innings, allowed just 3 hits and 0 runs, while striking out 7. Holding the game through the bottom of the 13th allowed Christian Vazquez to be the hero and walk-off with a massive win. Pivetta was mentally and physically dominant, despite throwing 140 pitches over 3 days, and his performance fired up his teammates. The Red Sox need him to carry the momentum into the ALCS, where he is likely to move back into his familiar starter role.

3. Chaim Bloom

You could argue that Chaim Bloom deserves to be even higher than #3 and isn’t getting nearly enough credit for this Red Sox run. He made several under-the-radar moves in the offseason that didn’t get a lot of attention at the time, but have really paid dividends. Just taking a glance at his moves, several of them ended up on this very top 5 list. Bloom’s biggest offensive signings Kike Hernandez and Hunter Renfroe have had a massive impact on this team’s success to the tune of 51 HRs and 156 RBIs and have combined for 16 hits and 2 HRs in 5 postseason games this year. If you add in the pitching moves, claiming of Garrett Whitlock and trading for Adam Ottavino, who both have been crucial to getting the team this far. If you add in the Nick Pivetta trade in August 2020, that’s an impressive record.

Maybe even more critically was Bloom’s trade deadline signings in 2021. Most people, myself included, questioned the inactivity at the deadline. The notable moves Bloom made were to bring in Kyle Schwarber and Hansel Robles. I’ll include Jose Iglesias in this group even though he claimed him off waivers after the deadline. Schwarber has been a steady and important piece for the Red Sox, getting Bobby Dalbec back on track, drawing walks, and hitting bombs. In 41 regular season games, Schwarber hit .291 with 7 HRs and 33 BBs, including some big walks and hits as the Red Sox pushed for the postseason. Until game 4 of the ALDS, Robles hadn’t allowed an earned run in 17 appearances, including 2 innings in the postseason, a surprising level of success for someone who wasn’t highly regarded. The Iglesias signing is a big reason the Red Sox even made the postseason, as he hit .356 in 23 games since coming to Boston as Christian Arroyo was battling COVID and unable to play.

After letting Jackie Bradley Jr. go and trading Andrew Benintendi, it was doom and gloom in Boston, but Bloom managed to improve the roster and depth, somehow making this a better team without those guys. Bloom deserves a ton of credit for putting the right guys on the roster to make a postseason run.

4. Garrett Whitlock

There is no more important piece of the bullpen or better story on the Red Sox than Garrett Whitlock. After being drafted by the New York Yankees in 2017 in the 18th round, the Alabama-Birmingham product moved to A ball in 2018 and moved up to AA by the end of the season and started 2019 in AA. In 14 starts, he had a 3.07 ERA and 57 Ks until disaster struck and he underwent Tommy John surgery in July that would end his 2019 campaign and because of his recovery and the global pandemic that shut down minor league baseball, all of his 2020 season. In December of 2020, the annual rule-5 draft took place and thanks to Bloom’s acumen, the Red Sox selected Whitlock in the 4th round. Any player not on a 40-man roster can be drafted, but they are immediately added to the selector’s 40 man roster which is not usually a spot for many AA players.

Whitlock was drafted and added to the Red Sox 40-man roster and no one even noticed. He had missed the previous season and a half and hadn’t risen above AA yet in the Yankees system. By any angle, it seemed like Whitlock was a guy you stash at AAA and hope he pans out to be something in the future and if not, you release him to open up a 40-man roster spot. After impressing in Spring Training, the Red Sox had no choice but to give him a major-league roster spot for opening day and they never looked back. Whitlock had a spectacular rookie season, pitching 73.1 innings in 46 appearances and ending the regular season with a 1.96 ERA with 81 Ks and an 8-4 record. He emerged as high-leverage reliever as the year progressed and after allowing a solo HR in the AL Wild Card game, didn’t allow a hit against the Rays in 3.1 innings over 2 appearances. This is not the last we will see of Whitlock in a critical late-game situation this postseason.

5.  Kike “Mr. Postseason” Hernandez

All year long, Kike Hernandez has been a great player for the Red Sox. He had a career year and accumulated 127 hits in 134 games this season, including 20 HRs (1 shy of his career high) and 60 RBIs (4 shy of his career high). He primarily spent time at 2B and CF this year, with several games at SS mixed in and provided Alex Cora with flexibility and a top-of-the-lineup bat. While Kike is not known as a big hitter, he knows how to get himself in good positions and not try to do too much in the batters box, but that’s not why he’s on this list. His experience and postseason performance is why he’s #5 on this list.

Coming into the 2021 season, Hernandez had a whopping 58 games of postseason experience at the age of 30 (less than 2 months since turning 30). That’s no doubt one reason he was signed and that certainly paid dividends thus far. Through 5 postseason games, Kike has a .435 average with 10 hits and 2 HRs, including 5 of those hits in game 2 of the ALDS alone. Looking ahead to the ALCS, the Red Sox will need continued production out of Kike in the 2-hole, because it lengthens the lineup and makes the offense even scarier and more difficult to pitch against. With the on-base machine of Schwarber leading off followed by Kike 2nd, if they get on base, the next 5 bats in the lineup can absolutely crush the ball (Devers, Bogaerts, Martinez, Verdugo and Renfroe) and they can get to a starting pitcher and hang a crooked number in a hurry.

Honorable Mention: Tanner Houck

You know it’s been an incredible run when a guy like Tanner Houck doesn’t make the top 5. Houck has been absolutely crucial to the Red Sox down the stretch and has been dominant as a long-man out of the bullpen this postseason. He’ll likely play a key role of the Red Sox are to upset the Astros in the ALCS. For more on Houck, read here.


There are obviously a ton of reasons why the Red Sox are playing the Houston Astros on Friday in the ALCS and these were just a handful of the people that made that possible. There are still a ton of storylines to write in the 2021 postseason and we’ll see how the wind blows when things get underway on Friday. 

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.

Can the Bleeding Be Stopped for the Red Sox?

The last few weeks have been an abject disaster for the Boston Red Sox. The team has gone from an over-achieving, likable contender that was fun to watch to an under-achieving, disappointing mess that makes me want to turn off the TV at least twice a game. Since July 28th, the Red Sox are 3-10 and have gone from 1st place in the AL East, 2.5 games ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays and 8.5 games ahead of the New York Yankees, to 2nd place in the AL East, 4 games back of the Rays and just 1.5 games ahead of the Yankees. The team is collapsing in every aspect of play with less than 50 games left. Can the season be salvaged at this point?

The 2021 season has been a tail of two halves (pre/post All Star game). The 1st half saw the Red Sox surprise everyone with a 55-36 record and a +57 run differential. After a sweep at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles to start the year, the team turned on the jets and were winning games in every way, including 30+ come from behind victories. It felt like this team had the championship contender x-factors: grittiness and never-give-up-mentality. Then the 2nd half of the season kicked off and the team has lost the qualities we fell in love with earlier in the year. Their 10-13 record in the 2nd half is highlighted by a -24 run differential.

The biggest issue with the team right now? It depends on the game, but basically everything. For most of the season the starting pitching has been just OK but the offense has more than made up for poor starts. The offense overall was averaging a very strong 5.1 runs per game before the All-Star break, but since the break, that number has dropped more than a run per game to 3.8. On the pitching side, the staff was allowing 4.0 runs per game in the first half and have been allowing 4.6 runs per game since the break. While the pitching jump isn’t as drastic as the offensive production drop, the combination of the two is dramatic.

The struggles on offense can be directly linked to the top two hitters in the lineup, J.D. Martinez (.253 in 21 games in the 2nd half with just 3 HRs and 9 RBIs) and Xander Bogaerts (.221 in 20 games in the 2nd half with 1 HR and 5 RBIs). During the 1st half of the season, Martinez’s average was .046 points higher and Bogaerts’ average was .100 points higher than the 2nd half. Overall, the team average dropped .009, which doesn’t seem significant in a small sample, but is obviously showing itself in runs scored. There is also some diminished power in the 2nd half of the season with the team’s HRs per game number dropping from 1.26 to 1.13, but even the 1.13 is inflated thanks to a 6 HR and 5 HR game on July 19 and 21. Since July 21, the Red Sox are hitting just 0.72 HRs per game.

The the pitching side, it’s a different chapter of the same story. Only 2 of the 5 primary starting pitchers on the Red Sox has an ERA at or below their career average, meaning that based on ERA alone, 3/5 of the starting rotation is underachieving this season. Since ERA doesn’t tell the whole story, a look at WHIP (Walks and Hits per Inning) confirms the struggles with 3/5 of the rotation above their career average. While the overall picture isn’t great, the 1st half vs 2nd half disparity is even worse. The ERA growth in the 2nd half of the season is absolutely crushing the team right now. All but one starter’s ERA has grown since the All-Star break, and the lone exception, E-Rod, was already so high at 5.52 before the break that a drop isn’t shocking (Garrett Richards +1.84 ERA, Nathan Eovaldi +2.30, Eduardo Rodriguez -1.32, Martin Perez +4.78, Nick Pivetta +0.20).

There has been, and will continue to be, a lot of talk around the inactivity at the trade deadline for the Red Sox, but I’m honestly not sure it would have made enough of a difference. As the offense has come back down to earth and the pitching staff has struggle a bit more, one more starter and one more offensive player weren’t going to turn around the fortunes of this club, but could have helped win a game or two. It’s an overall team struggle at the moment.

There were a few encouraging offensive signs in the series finale against the Toronto Blue Jays. If the bats can come alive and return to form and the pitching staff can begin to right the ship just a little, even just a little, they can recover. The addition of a 75% Chris Sale will help significantly by moving a starter to the bullpen helping to alleviate some strain there. The Red Sox are still 16 games above .500 despite the horrible slide, so a course correction could leave them in the hunt. I don’t think they are good enough to be a legitimate championship contender anymore the way the roster stands, but some competitive postseason baseball would be nice…please.

It’s Time to Push the Red Sox Panic Button

After a disappointing and flat trade deadline that did not address the most glaring needs on the roster, the Red Sox opened a 3-game set with the 2nd place Tampa Bay Rays just 0.5 games ahead in the AL East. After being swept in, at times, embarrassing fashion, and on a 4-game losing streak, it’s officially time to panic. The 1.5 game deficit in the division is obviously not insurmountable, but with the improved New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays poised to make a run at 2nd and a wild card berth (now just 5.5 and 6.5 games behind the Red Sox respectively), it’s going to get worse before it’s over.

The major issue for this team is the pitching staff. Before a great outing from P Nick Pivetta on Sunday to kick-off August, the staff struggled. In July, the staff had a 4.56 ERA, allowed 29 HRs, and walked 76 batters in 25 games. That translates to 1.16 HRs and 3.04 BBs per game during the month. Your current “ace” P Eduardo Rodriguez hasn’t gone past 6 innings since April and hasn’t even recorded an out in the 6th inning in 10 of his last 15 starts. His past two starts are a combined 4.1 innings with 7 earned runs and his ERA for the season is now 5.60 including a concerning 1 inning outing where he left with a migraine. E-Rod just can’t seem to reach his potential for any extended period of time.

The rest of the rotation has been up and down as well. The down is definitely P Garrett Richards who just doesn’t look like he belongs in a major league rotation at this point. I’m sure the Red Sox are waiting for Sale to return to boot him, but it’s getting hard to watch when his turn is up. In his last 10 starts, his ERA has steadily grown every single game from 3.75 to 5.15. He’s a guaranteed 4 runs allowed per game in 4-5 innings. The up has been P Nathan Eovaldi when he’s on, but just like everyone else, has had several bad games in the last month or two, allowing 5 runs in 2 of his last 4 starts.

Chris Sale will be returning at some point, but even if he is 100% vintage Sale, which he will not be, he can only pitch every 5 days. When the other 4 days are up and down short outings and taxed bullpen arms, the losses will pile up, especially with 20 more games to play against the Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, and Toronto Blue Jays. If the Red Sox make the postseason, and that’s a big if, I have very little confidence in the pitching staff to hold off a heavy-hitting lineup.

If the pitching staff is just ok, then the offense for the Red Sox needs to step up and score a ton of runs. That leads me to the other glaring weakness of the team, first base. Red Sox first baseman this year are hitting a combined .217 with an OBP of .261 and just 14 HRs in 107 games. The leader of the pack is 1B Bobby Dalbec with a WAR of -1.1 and a staggering .214 average. Everyone knew coming up that he had a tendency to strikeout, but that could be offset by his power and decent average. In 86 games (299 PAs), he is hitting .214 with 11 HRs and 113 Ks. If the Red Sox had any other option, he would be in AAA right now. The addition of OF Kyle Schwarber could help if he can convert to first base, but he’s still a week or two away from being able to play with his hamstring issue and then needs to take some time to get comfortable there. By that point, the Red Sox could be 5-6 games out and hanging on by a thread to 3rd or even 4th place in the division.

The larger offensive concern right now is the overall team production. Everyone thought OF Jarren Duran would be the spark to light the team on fire, but he’s struggling big time with a .150 average and just 1 HR and 17 Ks in 14 games (43 PAs). He’s more of a liability than an asset and may just find himself out of the playoff picture (if the Sox get there) replaced by Schwarber, or anyone else, in the outfield. The heavy-hitters in the lineup are also struggling, with DH/OF J.D. Martinez looking a bit lost at the plate hitting .146 in his last 12 games and SS Xander Bogaerts hitting .225 in his last 22 games. This team needs a lot of offensive production to compensate for shaky pitching at times and right now, they are getting neither.


There is obviously still time for things to turn around. The offense could begin to get going and return to their big-hitting form and the starting pitching could give this team just enough to win a bunch of games, but right now, things look pretty scary. It’s the worst this team has looked all season at the worst possible time to be struggling with everyone around them turning it on for the stretch run. On top of that, the AL West may grab one of the two wild card berths, making it a 4-way fight for two spots, instead of three in another year. I want to believe, but I just don’t have a good feeling about how this will end.

Chaim Bloom: Trade Deadline Success?

Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

With the trade deadline just 2+ days away, it’s worth looking at Chaim Bloom’s history with trades this time of year. Beginning with Bloom’s promotion to Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations (2nd in command) in late 2016, he has been quite active leading up to the deadline. Overall, he has a decent track record of success over the past 4 years, even when the Rays were sellers in 2018. Although he wasn’t the only one calling the shots during his time in Tampa, he was a major voice in the decision-making. What will the 2021 trade deadline bring for Bloom and the Red Sox?

Let’s look, year-by-year, at the deals Bloom has made leading up to the trade deadline.

2017 – Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays made some small acquisitions in 2017, including bolstering their bullpen and attempting to improve at 1B.

Acquired

Traded Away

Analysis: This was a decent deadline with P Chaz Roe and P Sergio Romo having extremely strong remainders to 2017 despite the Rays missing the playoffs (Roe – 9 appearances – 8.2 IP, 1.04 ERA, 12 Ks, 3 BBs and Romo – 25 appearances – 30.2 IP, 1.47 ERA, 28 Ks, 7 BBs). While neither repeated their miniscule ERAs going forward, Roe is still with the team and Romo had a good 2018 before heading to the Miami Marlins. 1B Lucas Duda and P Dan Jennings were mostly irrelevant the remainder of 2017 before leaving the Rays. P Drew Smith has had minimal impact for the New York Mets since making his debut in 2018 and 1B Casey Gillaspie, at 28, has not risen above AA.

2018 – Tampa Bay Rays

This was a classic seller-minded trade deadline for the Rays. With more than a half-dozen transactions, they completely re-made their roster, mostly by trading away their pitching rotation.

Acquired

Traded Away

Analysis: While the Rays certainly traded away some serious assets at the deadline, it wasn’t a complete blow-up and restart. They traded away some big pitching names in Archer and Eovaldi but acquired a few players with some big upside. The biggest future impacts came from P Tyler Glasnow, OF Austin Meadows, and OF Tommy Pham. All three had a major impact in clinching the 2019 2nd Wild Card spot and beating the Oakland Athletics in the ALWC game and Glasnow and Meadows were on the 2020 roster that reached the World Series. P Jalen Beeks was performing well in 2020 before needing Tommy John surgery in August 2020. Since the trade, Archer’s ERA has grown from 3.70 to 4.92 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, which is a check in Bloom’s column.

2019 – Tampa Bay Rays

In his last year with the Rays, the trade deadline was much quieter for Bloom than 2018.

Acquired

Traded Away

Analysis: Overall this is a decent trade deadline. While 1B Jesus Aguilar was only on the roster for the remainder of 2019 before heading to Miami, P Nick Anderson and P Trevor Richards are still with the Rays. Anderson had a strong 2020 before ending up with an elbow tear and has yet to appear in 2021. Richards is 4-1 with a 3.72 ERA in 27 games (38.2 IP) for the Rays this year. OF Jesus Sanchez has been solid for the Marlins, but Stanek (HOU), Kolarek (OAK), and Faria (MIL) haven’t been anything to write home about.  

2020 – Boston Red Sox

In his first year at the Red Sox helm, it was one of the oddest seasons in MLB history. The shortened year, sign-stealing scandal leading to the firing of Alex Cora, and the COVID pandemic, it was difficult to truly judge Bloom’s effectiveness at the deadline.

Acquired

Traded Away

Analysis: The 2020 deadline was an opportunity for Bloom to begin rebuilding the farm system that was cleaned out by his predecessor Dave Dombrowski. Bloom brought in 4 prospects: P Connor Seabold (#6 prospect), OF Jeisson Rosario (#24 prospect), 3B Hudson Potts (#26 prospect), and Jacob Wallace (#48 prospect – was #28, but the UConn product has struggled in 2021). Along with the prospects, Bloom brought in P Nick Pivetta, who has had a solid impact on the AL East leading 2021 Red Sox. While it was sad to see 1B Mitch Moreland go and frankly, they could use him right now, overall it was successful deadline for Bloom.

*As of July 2021, rankings by SoxProspects.com