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108 Stitches Newsletter with Alex Speier

Thursday, July 20, 2017
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Over the course of a baseball season, there are challenges that teams can anticipate even if they arrive without a schedule – the so-called known unknowns. The first five days after the All-Star break for the Red Sox, however, represented a mind-blowing exercise in unknown unknowns.

The Red Sox’ 15-inning, 5-4 victory over the Blue Jays – one in which the Sox erased an early 3-0 deficit while also overcoming a 4-3 disadvantage in the 11th inning against All-Star closer Roberto Osuna – represented an impressive exercise in will for a team that was three days removed from a 16-inning loss and two days clear of a doubleheader against the Yankees.

Yet to view the game in isolation does it a disservice. What the Red Sox have gone through over a five-day span is astonishing, the sort of thing that the team hadn’t experienced in decades.

Some markers of the rarity of the stretch:

■ The Red Sox have thrown 67 innings since the break – nine more innings than the Yankees (who have played the second-most games in that time), 16 more than the Blue Jays (who have played the third most), and at least 20 innings more than any other team.

■ That is an average of 13.4 innings per day – meaning roughly one and a half games per day over a five-day stretch.

■ The Red Sox have thrown 1,066 pitches – an average of 213.2 per day. The Angels, by contrast, have thrown 539 pitches over four games, and the Diamondbacks have logged 549 pitches, just over half the pitching volume of the Sox.

■ Despite that workload, the Sox have given up fewer runs (19) than 17 teams – including the aforementioned D-backs (20).

■ The Red Sox hadn’t played two games of 15 or more innings in a span of four or fewer days since July 12 and 13, 1951, when they played consecutive games of 17 and 19 innings against the White Sox. Remarkably, the first of those games in 1951 was the back end of a doubleheader – just as was the Red Sox’ 20-inning contest against the Yankees on Aug. 29, 1967.

■ Their five games have totaled 23 hours, 46 minutes – or roughly the equivalent of eight Padres games. (San Diego has the lowest average time of game in the majors at 2 hours, 58 minutes.) “There’s a lot of toll. And it’s not just the number of innings pitched. It’s the hours on the feet by every guy that’s manning his position,” said manager John Farrell. “That’s unique but credit to our guys. We’re in tight games throughout, there’s high stress to pitches, high stress to plays, they’ve done an outstanding job to go through this stretch.”

The pitching, of course, has been brilliant – helping to explain why the Red Sox have been able to split the six contests. The offense has disappeared for considerable stretches – particularly against the starters they’ve faced, particularly with runners in scoring position (.125/.177/.161 in 62 plate appearances).

That said, the team has continued its season-long pattern of late-inning rallies. The Sox produced a ninth-inning walkoff against the Yankees last Friday, a three-run rally against the Jays on Monday, and then the two game-tying rallies on Tuesday. There is an ugly toughness to the way that the Red Sox are playing. They are defining themselves as an inelegant first-place team, but a first-place team nonetheless.

“There’s going to be stretches where things are getting rough,” said Mookie Betts. “We’re at that stretch right now. Luckily we’re still winning games.”

To the links!

ABOUT LAST NIGHT: Finally, it was time to go home. Hanley Ramirez demolished a Mike Bolsinger curveball at 1:08 a.m., his 108 miles per hour rocket finally sending the few thousand remaining stragglers home in a state of happy (and surprisingly boisterous) delirium. Julian Benbow has the story of a neverending game that finally ended.

Ramirez was the Sox’ first baseman on Tuesday night – a role that the team expects him to play regularly against lefties going forward. Brad Almquist looks at a changing Red Sox equation at first base.

Peter Abraham, meanwhile, in his beat writer’s notebook, writes that the performance of Ramirez, Mookie Betts (who had a game-tying hit off Osuna in the 11th), and Xander Bogaerts will have more to do with determining the performance of the team down the stretch than any upgrades at the trade deadline.

Dustin Pedroia – moved into the No. 3 spot in the lineup – had a standout game, going 2-for-7 with a solo homer and game-tying double. In 15 games this month, he’s hitting .354/.417/.554 with three homers (one more than he had from April through June) and seven extra-base hits, improving his season line to .307/.384/.409. Pedroia also converted a game-changing double play, writes Andrew Mahoney.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox withstood the ongoing test of pitching depth thanks in no small part to 12 innings of work from a trio of players who weren’t on the big league roster a week ago. Brian Johnson submitted a credible six-inning, three-run effort, Brandon Workman continued to show a resurrected arsenal over the course of two innings, and Hector Velazquez had his most impressive big league outing, delivering four shutout innings for the win.

The Rays won to remain two games behind the Sox, while the Yankees kept pace with their own victory to remain 3 ½ games behind Boston in the AL East.

YANKEES DELIVER A PUNCH WITH FRAZIER: Surprise! The Yankees ended up landing Todd Frazier from the White Sox, dealing for the power-hitting third baseman along with relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle. Nick Cafardo details the unexpected turn of events.

With the deal, the Yankees addressed their most glaring weakness (the bullpen) while flexing their farm system muscle – with the ability to package a highly regarded prospect like Blake Rutherford helping to crystallize the distinction between the farm systems of AL East rivals. Here’s my trade analysis.

The Sox were wise not to bankrupt their farm system for Frazier, writes Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald.

Ian Browne of MLB.com examines the pool of available third base alternatives with Frazier off the board.

With Frazier’s departure freeing up a lineup spot, the White Sox are calling up Yoan Moncada.

OTHER TRADE WINS KEEP BLOWING: The Diamondbacks pounced on the top bat available on the market this summer, sending three prospects to the Tigers in exchange for corner outfielder J.D. Martinez. The prospect return lacked name value, resulting in surprise that a) Detroit couldn’t get more for Martinez and b) they didn’t wait to let more of a market emerge. Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press explored why the Tigers ended up striking this particular deal involving Martinez – a player whom the Sox had discussed internally as a candidate to pursue.

Chad Finn examines what he considers the absurdity of Alex Rodriguez’s suggestion that the Red Sox might try to swing a deal for Miguel Cabrera.

ROSTER MACHINATIONS: With the Red Sox pitching staff desperately depleted, the team is calling up righthanders Kyle Martin and Ben Taylor.

SORE SPOT FOR BOGAERTS: Xander Bogaerts was scratched from the lineup due to a sore right hand. Benbow looks at the shortstop’s injury.

SWIHART’S DEVELOPMENT COMES WITH A (PART-TIME) CATCH: Ongoing discomfort in Blake Swihart’s surgically repaired ankle will prevent the 25-year-old from being able to handle full-time catching duties over the rest of 2017. He will catch as often as once or twice a year, but the Red Sox are also going to have him DH and play elsewhere in the infield (initially first base, and eventually third base) over the duration of this season. Here’s my look at a second straight challenging season that will take Swihart away from his preferred position.

SHAW DOING IT HIS OWN WAY: At a time when major league hitters seem obsessed with hitting the ball in the air, Travis Shaw has committed to hitting more balls on the ground this year – an approach that has made him both a contrarian and an extraordinary success. Travis Sawchik of Fangraphs explores Shaw’s zigging-to-everyone-else’s-zag offensive approach.

(Of course, Shaw’s offensive approach is geared towards ensuring that when he hits the ball in the air, he crushes it – as he did on Tuesday in depositing a ball into the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh.)

MINOR DETAILS: In Triple A Pawtucket, Bryce Brentz continued his remarkable run, going 2-for-4 with an opposite-field homer (his 20th) to right-center and a double. Brentz is now hitting .272/.345/.544, including .337/.422/.697 with 16 homers in his last 48 games. “There’s big league value in that bat,” said PawSox manager Kevin Boles.

Rafael Devers went 2-for-4, leaving him with a .467/.529/.733 line in four Triple A games (though it’s worth noting that, with a fielding error on Thursday, he has three errors in his first five PawSox contests).

In High A Salem, righthander Roniel Raudes made his second straight scoreless start, logging six shutout innings while allowing four hits and two walks. He struck out four. The 19-year-old now has a 4.15 ERA with 7.5 strikeouts and 3.1 walks per nine innings.

In the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League, second-rounder Cole Brannen went 2-for-5 with a steal. He’s had multiple hits in five of his first 13 pro games, forging a .273 average and .439 OBP while going 3-for-3 in stolen-base attempts.

Alex Speier can be reached at alex.speier@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @alexspeier.

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