Hotter than Hot, The Story is Just Beginning

The first 6+ weeks of the 2022 season have been awful for the Boston Red Sox. They plummeted to the bottom of the division and until this past week, struggled to win more than a single series. Now things appear to be pointing in a more positive direction and the flashy signing on offense for the Red Sox this offseason is at the heart of the offensive explosion. Over the past 5 games, Trevor Story has started to show the Fenway faithful why Chaim Bloom wanted him in the lineup every day. He has amassed 8 hits and 5 HRs in 5 games, including 4 HRs in his last 2 games, including 12 RBI over that span. He’s also been patient at the plate, drawing a walk in 6 of his last 7 games while striking out just 2 times. A rough start to the season for Story has now begun to turn around.

Over his career, entirely with the Colorado Rockies until this year, Story is a .270 hitter (including this year’s struggles) with 164 HRs. He was aided a bit by the thin air of Coors Field in Denver, but generally is a decent average, bigger power bat averaging 34 HRs per 162 games. As recently as May 15th, Story was hitting an abysmal .196 with 2 HRs in 112 at-bats, which is a HR every 56 at-bats. That’s a far cry from his numbers prior to this year, with a HR every 17.9 at-bats and obviously a significant drop in average (-.076). No matter how you slice it, that’s bad and is not because of the change in uniform or home ballpark. In just the past 5 days, Story has improved his average to .231 with 6 HRs, now with a HR every 21.7 at-bats. Its a sure-fire sign that he’s finally starting to settle into Boston after changing teams and uprooting his life in Colorado.

I certainly don’t expect Story to continue this insane run of power for an extended period of time, but it’s a true glimpse into the impact he can make in the lineup, not just defensively. He’s not going to hit for .300+ every year, but can carry the offense with his power for stretches of time. As he begins to hit, it puts tremendous pressure on the opposing pitcher knowing that there is another dangerous bat lurking besides Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and JD Martinez. If he can correct the ship and be even a .250 hitter with 25-30 HRs a season, that’s 4 big bats who can all easily hit 20-25 HRs, if not more, anchoring the lineup. If Bobby Dalbec or Triston Casas, when he eventually gets the call, can also live up to their potential, this lineup could have 5 guys in that boat. That becomes a scary order to face.

Ultimately, I’m just happy that Story is finally able to take a breath and contribute to the box score. Boston fans are passionate and can be ruthless at times and even in his short tenure, he’s felt the good and the bad. He was booed on multiple occasions at Fenway just a few weeks ago and the last few nights has felt the warmth and love. He was clearly pressing early in the year, trying to prove he was worth the big contract and now has the opportunity to settle down and just do what he does best, play baseball. We’re seeing more smiles and a seemingly more relaxed Story in the batters box, which is good for everyone involved. As he continues to grow into his role with the Red Sox, Story has the potential to be a fan favorite given his calm, down-to-earth personality. Hopefully, the early bumps and bruises are in the rearview mirror.

Three HRs on Thursday and a grand salami on Friday. What can Story do to top that on Saturday and Sunday? Who knows, but this is finally a team I’m excited to watch on a daily basis.

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.

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.

Red Sox Make Big Splash in Free Agency

After sitting back and watching everyone else in the division get better, the Red Sox jumped into the big-name free agent pool and made a big splash. The Red Sox signed SS Trevor Story to play 2B and instantly the defense and lineup improved. The righty was not the top free agent in a loaded infield class, but he’s a guy who will have an impact on day one and is locked in long term (6 or 7 years). This is by far the biggest contract Chaim Bloom has signed as Red Sox GM (by about $125 million) and it’s clear he felt this team needed a big bat and improved defense to be competitive this season. Here we go!

Story spent his whole career in Colorado, which can produce some odd home/road splits which will raise some eyebrows. The thin air allows the ball to travel further than other places, but there has been some research lately that the impact of the splits in Colorado is not as significant as it once was thought. Regardless of the impact of a thin air bump, Story has a ton of power and some speed. He is a career .272 hitter with 158 HRs and 100 stolen bases in 6 seasons. Last year was a bit of an off-year for him, with a lower average (.251), but he was still able to blast 24 HRs in 142 games. His swing should fit Fenway Park very well, with most of his power to left field. He definitely has opposite field power as well, but looking at his spray chart from last year tells the story. A shorter distance to the wall at Fenway should lead to a bump in extra base hits putting dents in the monster and homeruns onto Lansdowne St. Additionally, he now has a strong group of hitters around him in the lineup, so should get some better pitches to hit.

Chart from Baseball Savant

The one unknown is that Story has not played 2B in the majors in his career (and just a little in the minors), but as a talented defensive SS, he should be able to pick it up over time and settle in there. Fans should be prepared for some shaky moments early on considering it’s a fairly significant shift to change sides of the diamond and get comfortable with double play throws, especially with a super-compressed Spring Training and now an even shorter runway to get in defensive reps. That being said, once he settles in, the infield defense, especially range, will be significantly improved over a year ago.

The contract locks Story in for 6 years, with a 4th year opt-out, and a potential 7th year add-on. The 29 year old provides some insurance for if/when Xander Bogaerts decides to test free agency and potentially move on, but until then, the Red Sox may have the best infield in baseball. The defense up the middle is A+ (especially when you think of Jackie Bradley Jr. in center) and all 4 infielders (assuming Bobby Dalbec at 1B) can hit for power. This certainly makes the Red Sox lineup a lot more feared top to bottom and hopefully covers the pitching staff a bit if they aren’t quite as strong without a healthy Sale (or just in general).

Now that they have made the big lineup/defensive splash, it’s time for Bloom to bring in an outfielder to round out the offense and a starter to solidify the rotation. If he does that, this team might be in the playoff hunt, even with the new power throughout the AL East.

Chaim Bloom Impact Apparent with Latest Rankings

When the Red Sox decided to hire Chaim Bloom as their new GM, they made a choice about the future. The minor league system had been depleted and was one of the worst in baseball under the previous leadership. The ownership wanted to reverse that pattern and build the system back up, while hopefully still putting a competitive product on the field. After a rough and odd 2020, the Red Sox were very competitive in 2021, reaching the ALCS while also taking care of the minor league system. In MLB’s system rankings released in December, the Red Sox jumped 12 spots, to the 12th best system in baseball.

The 12 spot jump from preseason to now was the largest of any team and is a true testament to Bloom and his staff. Bloom didn’t make the big trade deadline moves many wanted despite feeling the pressure to complete for a title this year. Instead, he made a few moves that didn’t dramatically impact the work being done to build the future pipeline within the organization. He proved that you can be competitive at the highest level while also focusing on the future. The breakout of Tristan Casas and Jaren Duran have boosted the system’s depth and have given the Red Sox something they haven’t had in awhile: prospect talent close to being major-league ready.

Assuming the 2022 season gets underway, it will be a pivotal campaign for the Red Sox. The rapid growth of prospects in the system is great, but the big question for me is whether they continue the upward trajectory or plateau after such a rapid rise? If the top 10 prospects continue to grow, then Bloom will either have some MLB talent to fill out the roster or some really strong trade bait to keep the Red Sox competitive at the trade deadline and even use the assets as needed to make a deep run into October. No matter how you look at the growth it is a positive rebuild from the Dave Dombrowski era of selling out for a title.

As I look at the top 25 prospects in the Red Sox system, the thing that jumps out at me is the middle infield depth at the top. The top pick this past year and the #1 or #2 rated prospect in the system (depending on the list), SS Marcelo Mayer, is an interesting unknown with such little professional experience. He was a high schooler when drafted #4 and many believed at the time of the draft that he had #1 talent. The left-handed bat is only 19 and will need to develop for a few years before having a look at the top level, but could be a huge asset in the infield in the future if he pans out. Both SS/2B Jeter Downs, who is closer to MLB ready, and 2B Nick Yorke provide some interesting future options in the infield as well, whether they end up at SS, 2B, or even 3B eventually. With some uncertainty around the future of Xander Bogaerts and his contract along with a long-term hole at 2nd base, this group could be critical to the future for the Red Sox.

The other obvious prospect to keep an eye on is 1B Triston Casas. He rose rapidly later in 2021 and proved he can play against solid competition by crushing the ball playing for Team USA at the Olympics. I wrote more about him in August, so don’t want to rehash my love for him, but by all accounts, he is close to MLB ready and could provide a nice left-handed power bat in the lineup. With Bobby Dalbec as a strong righty bat, a Casas/Dalbec platoon at first could be an incredibly powerful young tandem. While one starts, the other could get a few looks at 3B (both have experience at the hot corner), DH, or provide a strong pinch-hitter off the bench late in games. If Dalbec has a stretch during the season where he is struggling like in 2021, Casas can step in and carry the load.

Overall, Bloom has to be happy with the impressive turnaround of the Red Sox prospect system from a liability to an asset. The job is obviously not done, it never ends, but the upward trajectory of the system is exciting.

The 2021 ALCS MVP Will Be….

There are a lot of players on the Boston Red Sox who could emerge as the MVP of the ALCS against the Houston Astros that begins on Friday. There are a lot of hitters with postseason experience in the lineup and a number of pitchers who have the potential to be dominant in a 7-game series. It wouldn’t surprise me if the most valuable player on the Red Sox is a more under-the-radar player like one of the Christians (Arroyo or Vazquez) or a critical long-reliever out of the bullpen (Tanner Houck), but if I had to pick today before the series begins, I’m picking Rafael Devers.

Devers has had a monster year for the Red Sox, slugging 38 HRs and driving in 113 RBIs while playing in 156 games. He seemed to have big hit after big hit when the Red Sox needed him the most. Down the stretch, he was still hitting bombs and driving in runs with a forearm injury that appeared to look better in game 4 of the ALDS and hopefully, with some time off this week, can be closer to 100% in this series.

One of the biggest reasons for my pick is Devers’ history in the postseason against the Houston Astros. In 2 previous series, the 2017 ALDS and the 2018 ALCS, Devers played in 8 games against the Astros and accumulated 9 hits in 24 at-bats, including 3 HRs, 11 RBIs and 4 BBs. That’s an impressive .375 batting average against a historically strong pitching staff in high-leverage situations and I’d argue that Devers is a better hitter now than he was in 2017 and 2018.

With a healthy J.D. Martinez, Raffy is also in a great position to see pitches to hit. If he’s in the 3rd spot in the lineup, then he has Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Alex Verdugo, and Hunter Renfroe behind him. In very few situations does it make sense to pitch around Devers to get to the powerful bats behind him in the lineup. On the other end, he has the patient Kyle Schwarber and red-hot Kike Hernandez in front of him to set the table, so the chances are higher that he bats with runners on base. This season Devers hit .300 with 15 HRs and 84 RBIs with runners in scoring position.

It is anyone’s guess at this point how the ALCS will unfold, but if the Red Sox are to upset the Astros, they will need a strong offensive output and that starts with Raffy Devers. You heard it here first: Rafael Devers ALCS MVP.

Postseason Fever Back for the Red Sox

The last few months for the Boston Red Sox have been filled with challenges, injuries, and underwhelming performances. Down the stretch, most every member of the offense had (or is having) a dry spell and the pitching staff has been a bit all over the map. The Red Sox season came down to game 162 and thanks to some timely hitting leading to a big comeback, postseason baseball is back in Boston. After the high of the win, reality sunk in that their triumphant return to the postseason would be shaped by a 1-game wild card showdown with none-other-than their bitter rivals, the New York Yankees.

As a Red Sox fan, last night’s AL Wild Card game was a thing of beauty. With a battle of the two staff aces, Gerrit Cole for the Yankees and Nathan Eovaldi for the Red Sox, you knew runs would be at a premium. Thankfully, one of the slumping Red Sox bats, Xander Bogaerts, turned the page and crushed a 2-run HR in the 1st inning to give the Sox an early lead. Not to be forgotten was the Rafael Devers walk, battling back from a 1-2 count, in the at-bat before to keep the inning alive. When Xander hit the HR, his reaction said it all. I haven’t seen him that excited in a loonnnggg time and it absolutely set the tone for the entire game. Xander is generally a quiet leader who lead by example. Last night, he led by example, but was anything but quiet.

There were so many important performances and moments in this one game that there isn’t time to recap them all (and there are plenty of other places to get that coverage), but the thing that impressed me the most about last night was the players resilience and belief. It sounds cheesy, but every time the Red Sox got in a jam, or a pitcher gave up a run, the players seemed to rally behind each other and believe in each other. They limited damage and extended the lead when the Yankees put pressure on, which is something they struggled with most of September.

The best example of limiting damage and playing together was in the 6th inning right after Eovaldi was replaced by Ryan Brasier and Giancarlo Stanton crushed his 2nd ball off the monster in the game (despite what John Sterling thinks, they both went OFF the monster, not OVER). Alex Verdugo misplayed the carom angle (which to be fair is a near impossible read), but Kike Hernandez was there to back him up, got the ball quickly in to Bogaerts and X-man threw an absolutely perfectly placed laser to home where Kevin Plawecki beautifully tagged Aaron Judge to cut down the run.

If that play doesn’t happen, then the score is 3-2 with a runner in scoring position and just 1 out. Momentum, if not the lead, would likely have shifted to the New York dugout and the intensity, and pressure, would have risen. The Red Sox needed everyone to be alert and play their positions in perfect harmony and when they did that, they finally succeeded in the elusive area of defensive fundamentals. I’ve been harping on their lack of defensive consistency all year and the numbers show they are one of the worst defensive teams in baseball and frankly, I don’t fully understand why. They have some weaker spots on the field but for the most part, they have talented players who should be at least average at their positions. All can be forgiven if they turn the page in the postseason and play clean, smart baseball.

If the Red Sox are confident and can consistently hit, pitch pretty well, and play solid defense, they have the talent to make a deep run in the playoffs, but those are big ifs. They passed their first test on Tuesday, now they have an even bigger test upcoming with the 100 win Tampa Bay Rays.

And hey, if you’re a Yankees fan, don’t get too sad because there is still something to look forward to. On Valentines Day, February 14th 2022, pitchers and catchers report.

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.

Is this Rock Bottom for the Red Sox?

The first 3 and a half months of the MLB season were incredibly fun to watch. The Red Sox were surprising just about everyone and winning games in every way possible. They led the league in come-from-behind wins and it seemed that they were never out of contention regardless of score or inning. In the 6 weeks since the All-Star break, things have gone from ok, to bad, to awful in rapid succession and the current series with the Tampa Bay Rays may be rock bottom. In the middle of losing their 2nd straight game to the division leading Rays, SS Xander Bogaerts was pulled from the game due to a positive COVID test result becoming the 6th player to go down with the virus in a few short days.

On Wednesday, we learned that there was a 7th positive test result, and likely not the last, in INF Yairo Munoz. Munoz was already a replacement for Christian Arroyo who contracted COVID. At the rate in which the Red Sox are forced to call up players from the WooSox, it would be best to just park a bus outside the WooSox locker room and keep the engine running for when, inevitably, the next player lands on the COVID-IL.

While many of the players contracting COVID were vaccinated, according to Chaim Bloom the “majority”, the outbreak shines a bright light on the fact that the Red Sox are 1 of 6 teams under the 85% vaccinated threshold in the MLB. No one can force anyone to get vaccinated, but the low rate reflects really poorly on the team’s leadership, whether fair or not. It’s raises a ton of red flags and concerns around Alex Cora, Chaim Bloom, and the other leaders in the clubhouse, players and coaches. I don’t know who is or is not vaccinated on the roster, nor do I need to, but this outbreak situation is rock bottom for an already pathetic-looking team.

Recently, even when it kept getting worse, I believed hope was still alive and this team could sneak into the playoffs and maybe make a run if the stars aligned perfectly. After all, they still have a really strong record and are technically in a playoff spot if the season ended today. After watching the last few games and seeing player after player go down with COVID and be out for likely at least 10+ days, I’m not sure sneaking into the 2nd wild card is even the most likely scenario anymore. Alex Cora looks dejected and admitted he was “exhausted” the other day and the team is reflecting that energy.

I learned a long time ago to never say never when it comes to sports, but this is the lowest I’ve felt about this Red Sox team all season. It’s hard to find the joy in each game and as more and more of the WooSox roster gets called up the the majors, it’s hard to see this team legitimately competing in the crucial short-term stretch. I hope I’m wrong, but I think this is rock bottom for the 2021 season.