Are the Red Sox Giving Up on 2022?

I’ve started to write something about this Red Sox team for nearly a month now and just couldn’t bring myself to finish a full thought. I wanted to find answers or see the silver lining, but frankly it’s becoming an incredibly difficult team to watch, root for, or understand. It began with the embarrassing fails of extension talks with Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts in Spring Training and the mood hasn’t improved from there. On the field, it’s been even worse. From the early season disaster that is 2/3 of the lineup to the surprising overachieving of the pitching staff that is now shooting back to earth, it feels like this team is both in contention for every game they play and at the same time finding new and creative ways to take the L. Every time it seems like maybe they are turning a corner, the door swings back and slams them in the face. Now 31 games into the 2022 season and 11.5 games back in the AL East, 2 games behind the Baltimore Orioles, some of the decision making appears as if Chaim Bloom and the Red Sox have given up on 2022 and are preparing for the future.

The early season offensive struggles overshadowed the strong performances from the pitching staff. At one point the Red Sox had one of the best bullpens in baseball statistically and were getting some solid starting pitching, but were losing low-scoring 1-run games thanks to the anemic lineup. Three of their starters (4 if you count Garrett Whitlock as a starter) have sub-3 ERAs and have started the season really strong. Arguably their #4 or #5 starter on opening day was Michael Wacha, who before his recent injury, was 3-0 with a 1.38 ERA allowing 4 earned runs and just 13 hits in 26 innings. Despite some shaky outings as of late, the Red Sox bullpen has actually been impressive on the season. Hansel Robles (2.70), Austin Davis (2.70), Ryan Brasier (2.45), Matt Strahm (2.70), Tyler Danish (2.35) all have sub-3 ERAs and have frankly overachieved. Thanks to the lack of offense, their outings have mostly been in high-pressure situations (1 or 2 run games), which is just not sustainable.

Lately, the glaring lack of a closer thanks to the Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock pitcher mismanagement has been a big problem. To be fair to Red Sox management, Houck didn’t exactly help the situation by not getting vaccinated and not being available for the Toronto series in Canada. Thanks to some starting depth and injury issues as well as his desire, the Red Sox are working to get Whitlock into a consistent starting role which leaves a massive hole on the back end of the bullpen that he could, and probably should, fill. If you know me at all, you know I love Matt Barnes, but at this point there is no reason he should be in the major league bullpen or throwing in major league games. Something is clearly wrong and continuing to send him out to the mound is certainly not helping. Not having your best arm, Whitlock, for clutch late game situations is proving to be a massive issue if the Red Sox plan to try and compete in 2022. If they are already looking forward to 2023, then the decision makes more sense.

The decision making around Tanner Houck is also incredibly confusing if you are trying to win in 2022. He was really strong to start the season as a rotation arm in 3 starts, then after the Toronto series when he was unavailable due to his vaccination status, it went downhill no thanks to his odd usage. He pitched out of the bullpen the day before the trip to Toronto and threw a solid 1.2 innings with 2 Ks in the loss to Tampa Bay. Then the day following the trip he pitched 3 innings (5th, 6th, and 7th) against the Orioles getting the win with 3 BBs and 4 Ks and then was not reinserted into the depleted rotation and not used until 5 games later. He came in as a reliever after a long layoff and gave up 7 runs in 3 innings against the Angels. After throwing 56 pitches, he started 3 days later and allowed 3 runs in 2.2 innings before being lifted after 39 pitches. The 25-year old came into this year as a starter and now the Red Sox can’t figure out what to do with him and are just throwing him into different situations seemingly at random. If they were looking toward success in 2022, they should be using him as a starter, especially when the rotation has as many injuries as it does. To push Houck aside a bit to get Whitlock starts doesn’t make sense in the short-term. I’m normally not a big “role” guy, but in this case, the Red Sox need to stop toying around with Houck and Whitlock and just make some decisions on roles.

I’ve spilled a lot of metaphorical ink in my rant about this team and I haven’t even touch the lineup yet. The offensive production is by far the most disappointing and embarrassing element of the 2022 Red Sox. After a strong offensive season in 2021, the Red Sox made a few moves that at very least should have kept the status quo of success, if not improve it. Swapping Hunter Renfroe for Jackie Bradley Jr.was a downgrade in the batters box, but the addition of Trevor Story at 2nd base was a big improvement in the everyday production. At least it should have been. As we sit here in mid-May, the Red Sox are averaging 3.45 runs per game, the 3rd worst in all of baseball only ahead of the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers, and frankly that’s a bit inflated because they have scored 4.67 runs per game in their last 3 games thanks to dropping 9 runs on Tuesday. That’s a pretty stark contrast to their 4th best 5.14 runs per game last season and 4.87 runs per game in 2020. Looking even deeper, this is historically bad lineup production and the first time a Red Sox team has averaged under 4 runs per game since 2014 (3.91) and the lowest franchise mark since 1907. Yes, you read that right, the Red Sox team hasn’t scored under 3.5 runs per game since 1907 and that was the only year it happened since records started being kept in 1901.

Needless to say, there is room for improvement on offense. There have been occasional signs of life, but as fans we’re waiting for the big turn of momentum. Trevor Story finally hit his first HR of the season on Wednesday, which is a promising sign, but the Red Sox still couldn’t produce more than 3 runs and lost on a walkoff HR. Kike Hernandez is batting .161 on the season and frankly it looks even worse than the numbers and Bobby Dalbec is even worse sitting at .148 with 1 HR and 3 RBI in 28 games. It’s not just bad, it’s epically bad at this point and even if the offense turns it around and gets going, 9 games under-.500 is a massive hole to dig out from in the AL East. All this offseason there were questions about when Triston Casas gets his shot in the big leagues, but I’m not sure it’s even healthy for him to come up at this point. He’s probably better off in Worchester with a lineup that isn’t digging themselves a massive hole, at least until it’s clear that the season is over and they’re just playing for pride and 2023 (which is just around the corner).

With an eye towards 2023, this team has a lot of question marks, with Xander Bogaerts at the top of that list. We had hoped that this year would be a strong one and regardless of the future, Xander would help lead a deep run. If this season continues to roll downhill and it’s clear to management that Bogaerts is not likely to return next season, do the Red Sox trade him at the deadline to get some value back? After what seems like a completely demoralizing first stretch of the season, does that impact Bogaerts’ interest in signing in Boston long term? If Bogaerts leaves, what happens with Devers and his contract? I can’t believe I’m even suggesting it at this point, but 2022 seems to be a complete wash given the current play and the division. What is the future of this team and particularly the major pieces on this roster?

I would love to be proven wrong and everyday hope for the moment that turns the tides, but there is nothing right now to indicate that 2022 should be a focus and a massive winning streak is on it’s way. Underperformance is manageable in stretches, but 30+ games of it is debilitating. We’re approaching the 1/4 tent-pole on the season and so far, it’s just hard to watch and this team is hard to root for. I’m not sure I’m ready to throw in the 2022 towel just yet, but I’m getting pretty damn close.

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).

The End of the E-Rod Era for the Red Sox

Despite efforts to re-sign the lefty, the Eduardo Rodriguez tenure with the Boston Red Sox is over. It’s reported that E-Rod received a 5-year, $77 million contract with the Detroit Tigers. The $15+ million per year contract makes some sense for the relatively young lefty who has been up and down over his career in Boston, but has shown promise throughout. It’s probably in E-Rod’s best interest to get a change of scenery and see if he can finally put it all together and be consistently a top-end rotation talent.

After a career year in 2019, E-Rod sat out 2020 with myocarditis which emerged following a COVID-19 diagnosis. Thankfully, he was able to get back on the mound in 2021 and once again showed some flashes of being a top-end rotation arm. He also continued his consistent inconsistency and ended the year with a 13-8 record and a 4.74 ERA. He was able to rebound after building his ERA up over 6 in June thanks to his final 5 appearances of the regular season in which he didn’t allow more than 2 earned runs.

After a tough first outing in the postseason, E-Rod bounced back and finished his career in Boston with 2 strong outings against the Tampa Bay Rays and Houston Astros, striking out 13 and allowing 5 earned runs over 11 innings. He declined his $18.4 million option to stay with Boston for 2022 in order to try and get some long-term stability and that bet paid off. While the annual salary is $3 million less than his option, he is now guaranteed a really solid salary until age 33.

I’m happy for him given his health struggles in 2020. His future as an MLB player was hanging in the balance and it was a really great story to watch him rebound and turn in his second highest innings total and games total this past season. That being said, I’m not sure I would have paid $15.4 million per year for his level of inconsistency. I’m not going to dig in again, but if you’re curious on my feelings about E-Rod, I wrote this back in September. To me, he’s a middle to back-end of the rotation talent at this point and the Red Sox should be able to find a replacement.

The Red Sox are obviously in need of starting rotation help going into 2022 and have several decisions to make on whether to move certain pitchers into the rotation (i.e. Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock). They reportedly had offered a multi-year deal to E-Rod, so I’m sure to some degree were waiting for this chip to fall. A quick resolution to the Eduardo Rodriguez situation will help them move on and pursue other opportunities.

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.

Orioles Just What the Doctor Ordered

The last three weeks have been brutal for the Boston Red Sox. From July 24 through Aug 12, the Red Sox went 6-13 and went from being tied with the Tampa Bay Rays for 1st in the AL East to 5 games back. Other than one 20-run outburst on August 11 against the Rays, the Red Sox bats went cold and the pitching staff was struggling to keep opponents off the scoreboard. Then the Baltimore Orioles came to town.

When a really good team is struggling, sometimes it takes a little spark, and a terrible opponent, to right the ship. In a 3-game set at home against the Orioles this past weekend, the offense exploded for 30 runs and the pitching staff held the lowly Orioles to just 5 total runs in the series. While the results are in no way surprising since the Os sit at 38-78 on the season, a whopping 24.5 games out of 4th place in the AL East, the course correction couldn’t have happened soon enough. The Red Sox are talented, but were struggling top to bottom this past month.

Hopefully seeing the bat hit the ball and the K’s pile up will instill confidence across the roster for a team that was overflowing with it the first half of the year. The return of ace SP Chris Sale on Friday for the first time in two years was definitely a moment for the team to step up and it caused an energizing jolt. Sale’s 5 IP and 2 ERs were a welcome sight and hopefully the beginning of a slow build to the postseason for him and consistent starts every five days. The official Red Sox debut of DH/OF/1B (maybe) Kyle Schwarber also provided an offensive kick with 2 BBs on Saturday and 2 doubles on Sunday. The long overdue move to put young SP Tanner Houck in the rotation permanently also helps to solidify a struggling group and moves a few decent arms into the bullpen where they are more likely to have success.

It’s just three games against the worst team in baseball, but the jolt in confidence will hopefully carry over going forward. The Red Sox schedule continues with a 3-games set in the Bronx against the New York Yankees beginning Monday, which will be hard-fought. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, they will have a tough time gaining ground in the AL East the next few weeks because the 1st place Rays are playing the Orioles 6 of their next 11 games.