With a 10½-game lead in the American League East entering the weekend, it’s all about maintaining a big enough lead so the Red Sox can set their pitching rotation for the playoffs, and then take on whichever team emerges in the Division Series. It’s never too early to take a look at what may await the Red Sox in the postseason.
Of course, Saturday’s news that Chris Sale is going back on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation would certainly change the outlook for the Sox if it’s a persistent injury that spills into October.
One thing that pops up when asking baseball executives and scouts about the Red Sox is, can they win the bullpen battles in October? The Sox’ bullpen has been decent all season, but there have been instances when it has stumbled. Of course, with Sale (assuming he’s healthy), David Price, and Rick Porcello there’s a good chance the threesome can go deep enough into games to eliminate middle relief.
What are the strengths and areas of vulnerability for the playoff contenders?
It’s interesting that the Red Sox have not faced this potentially potent team until this coming week. The Indians are running away with the AL Central, but they have been a team that hasn’t clicked on all cylinders. But they might be timing this just right.
They were certainly vulnerable all season in the bullpen, but then president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti struck with two terrific acquisitions in San Diego lefthander Brad Hand and righthander Adam Cimber. Both have made a huge difference to the Indians’ bullpen depth, and with Andrew Miller also back, the Indians’ bullpen may be as strong as it was a year ago.
Don’t let the numbers fool you. The Tribe were 14th in bullpen ERA (4.86), which is horrible. But the revamped pen is much better than the numbers indicate.
Where the numbers aren’t deceiving is with their starting rotation, which is second with a 3.33 ERA. They have a deep and very good staff. Trevor Bauer is currently on the DL, but the Indians’ large lead gives him plenty of time to recuperate and take his place as the co-ace with Corey Kluber.
Offensively, two MVP candidates, Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor, are game-changing players that the Red Sox would have to be wary of.
The Red Sox split their first four games against the Astros, a true indication of how evenly matched these teams are. There are three games remaining between them and they should be telling.
The Astros have an obvious strength with their starting rotation, which entered the weekend with an AL-leading 3.05 ERA. Overall, the Astros have given up 393 runs, the fewest in the league. They also have the best bullpen ERA, 3.05. Their recent acquisition, closer Roberto Osuna, was seen as a red flag given his domestic violence suspension and anxiety issues. In four appearances since the trade that sent Ken Giles to Toronto, Osuna has allowed one run.
The Astros are fourth in the AL in runs (595), which is down from last season when they finished first in the majors with 896. They’ve had some injuries with Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Brian McCann being on the DL, but that offense should pick up when they return, though a recent five-homer game is a sign the offense may be ready to pound again. Where they’ve slumped a bit is in their home run production. They’ve hit 153 (238 last season, which was second to the Yankees), which is seventh in the AL. Their team batting average is .255, fourth in the AL, after they led the majors last season with a .282 mark. So compared to last season, the Astros are not the offensive juggernaut we saw a year ago.
With the four-game sweep in early August, the Red Sox have won eight of the 13 games between the teams. There are six games remaining between them, and the Yankees would have to sweep to have any chance of catching the Red Sox in the standings. They do finish the season with three games at Fenway.
The Yankees are 13-14 against the Rays and Orioles this year, and were 27-26 against the AL East through Thursday. The Red Sox were 43-15. Nonetheless, the Yankees are a formidable foe who have had their share of injuries to overcome. Their vaunted lineup has been without sluggers Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, and that has made this lineup much easier to navigate.
Despite the injuries and some pitching distress with a slumping Luis Severino and CC Sabathia on the DL with knee issues, they’ve been near the top of the league in most categories. They’ve allowed the fourth-fewest runs (486) and have an overall ERA of 3.70, which is third. They are vulnerable in the starting rotation with an ERA of 4.06, which is fifth overall. Their strength is the bullpen with a 3.20 ERA, second overall.
Despite their offensive injuries they’re second overall with 619 runs and have hit a major league-best 195 home runs. But their team batting average is sixth in the league at .252. All-time hits leader Pete Rose put it best when he told the New York Post during Hall of Fame weekend that the Yankees might be the best bashing team but the Red Sox are the best overall offense, able to hit for average and power.
Poor Gleyber Torres entered the weekend on a miserable 5-for-49 stretch as he’s hit that rookie wall.
This is a team that has caused the Red Sox fits. The Sox are 2-4 against the A’s but haven’t played them since May 16. The A’s have since added starter Mike Fiers and relievers Jeurys Familia and Fernando Rodney. For some reason the Mariners failed to block Fiers on waivers and he fell to the A’s, who gladly made a deal with the Tigers.
The A’s don’t wow you in the stats department, but they are one of those teams that do everything well. They have a nice combination of youth and veterans, and a terrific manager in Bob Melvin, who brings it all together.
They are 10th in the AL in runs allowed (506), sixth in ERA (3.80), sixth in starters’ ERA (4.10), third in bullpen ERA (3.37), sixth in runs (571), seventh in batting average (.249), and fifth in homers (162). So nothing there really wows you, but they’re a hungry team, so they could pose a problem to the Yankees in that wild-card game if that’s what we’re looking at.
Their starters have been terrific of late — a sub-2.00 ERA in their last 14 games entering the weekend. Lefthander Brett Anderson has been terrific.
The Mariners have to have a red-hot finish to overtake the A’s. They were having a very good season but fell off the map and allowed the A’s to catch them (Oakland was up by 2½ games entering the weekend). Seattle got Robinson Cano back after his 80-game PED suspension and he started at first base for the first time in his career this past week. The Mariners didn’t obtain a starting pitcher, which they needed, and yet, as we pointed out, allowed the A’s to deal for Fiers.
They played the Red Sox fairly tough, losing four of the seven games. They’ve had problems with their pitching. They’ve allowed 531 runs, which is eighth in the league. Their ERA is 4.10, which is eighth, and their starters’ ERA is 4.20, also eighth. Felix Hernandez was demoted to the bullpen in a dramatic move involving the iconic Mariner.
And the offense has been blah. They’ve scored only 509 runs, which is 10th in the league, but their team batting average (.257) is third. Power has also been an issue — their 138 long balls rank 10th.
The Red Sox have been off the charts in rankings, which explains them starting the weekend 50 games over .500. Their strengths are plentiful. Their hitters lead the majors in average (.270), slugging (.463), and OPS (.802). Their pitchers are second in ERA (3.49), second in runs allowed (454), and fourth in batting average (.232). But if there’s one vulnerable area it’s the bullpen, and even that is fourth with a 3.39 ERA.
But we’ve seen some warning signs there with erratic performances of late by Heath Hembree and Joe Kelly, and once in a while by Craig Kimbrel. We’ve also seen an unexpected plus from Ryan Brasier. But can Drew Pomeranz be trusted out of the pen as a lefthanded option? For the playoffs it would appear Eduardo Rodriguez and Nathan Eovaldi would compete for the No. 4 starter job with the loser, or the one who doesn’t match up well, going to the bullpen.
Apropos of nothing
1. We know NESN cameraman John Martin’s story — he is battling ALS. But his book, “Waiting for Greatness,” is about his experiences as a cameraman covering great and interesting stories in his distinguished career. Martin is a talented videographer who produced a great documentary on Alaska baseball. Lots of great stuff on his experiences and the talented people he worked with at NESN.
2. The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum, which is located in Milwaukee, just put out its All-American Girls Professional Baseball League bobbleheads. They are on sale at the Hall of Fame and Museum online store. They were produced for each of the 15 AAGPBL teams that played from 1943-54.
3. Take a look at the Royals’ Lexington Legends Low A farm team. It’s loaded with prospects. There’s outfielder Seuly Matias with 31 homers, catcher MJ Melendez with 64 RBIs, outfielder Brewer Hicklen with 22 steals and a .294 average with 13 homers, and first baseman Nick Pratto with 10 homers and 48 RBIs. The Royals’ future looks pretty bright.
4. Former Red Sox center fielder Ellis Burks, who serves as a special assistant to San Francisco GM Bobby Evans, was also a Barry Bonds protector during his three seasons with the Giants. ‘We had to police the clubhouse for Barry and I was the chief of police,” said Burks, who would often speak for Bonds when the temperamental superstar refused to talk to the media. Burks has kept in touch with Bonds over the years and was sorry he couldn’t attend the Bonds number retirement ceremony at AT&T Park last weekend. “He was well represented,” said Burks, who was out on assignment. “Hopefully someday he gets into the Hall of Fame.” Burks played with Bonds and Roger Clemens, both of whom find themselves in the same predicament over PED charges.
Updates on nine
1. J.T. Realmuto, C, Marlins — The Nationals have tried to obtain Realmuto a few times and will likely try again in the offseason. The Nationals have to be willing to part with a package that would include outfielder Victor Robles and others. The Marlins really value Realmuto, which is why they haven’t pulled the trigger on a deal. The Marlins will not trade him unless major talent comes in return.
2. Jonny Venters, LHP, Braves — The lefthanded reliever, who has endured three Tommy John procedures, entered the weekend having thrown seven scoreless innings for the Braves since they acquired him from Tampa Bay. Venters, who was once Craig Kimbrel’s setup man in Atlanta, is truly a medical miracle. And while he’s not throwing the 98-99 miles per hour he once did, Venters gets people out with a 94-m.p.h. sinker that has a lot of movement. Probably would have been a good fit for the Red Sox given Sox vice president Frank Wren’s familiarity with him from the early Braves days.
3. Adam Jones, OF, Orioles — Orioles manager Buck Showalter said recently he thought that Jones might agree to be traded before Aug. 31. Jones had turned down a trade to Philadelphia before the deadline, not feeling he was ready for it. Jones is currently on the bereavement list. The Phillies may still be interested. The Yankees are also mentioned quite often. Jones still has another $4 million on his deal, which could be a deterrent.
4. Jose Bautista, OF, Mets — It would seem that Bautista would be that good bat off the bench in the National League, and a possible outfield/DH platoon with someone in the AL. Bautista is still capable of running into one on occasion.
5. Curtis Granderson, OF, Blue Jays — Another great clubhouse guy who could be a strategic bat off the bench or a platoon for the Yankees, A’s, or maybe even the Indians. Granderson brings that natural leadership aspect to a team that’s been exhibited virtually everywhere he’s played. Toronto bench coach DeMarlo Hale said Granderson has been a tremendous leader.
6. Josh Donaldson, 3B, Blue Jays — In his Twitter posts, Donaldson has said he’s getting closer to a return, but the Jays will believe it when he shows up in Toronto. Time is running out to include Donaldson on a postseason roster. He must be traded by Aug. 31 for that to happen. Donaldson has missed 67 games because of calf tightness. The former AL MVP could be valuable if he can come back healthy. Would the Red Sox, for instance, be interested if Rafael Devers struggles with a hamstring injury? Or the Yankees?
7. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B, Blue Jays — Not a bad Triple A start for Vlad Jr. In 51 at-bats, he has four homers, seven RBIs, a .353 average, and a 1.079 OPS. Guerrero will be Donaldson’s replacement next season and in the years to come (unless the Blue Jays’ brass doesn’t want the arbitration clock to start ticking early in 2019). Blue Jays fans are starving for something to be excited about. And Pedro Martinez’s godson does that.
8. Bronson Arroyo, RHP, retired — Arroyo “has been writing music and attending Pearl Jam concerts” in his retirement. The former Red Sox righthander says he occasionally shows up to the Reds’ clubhouse in Cincinnati and helps the clubhouse guys clean shoes and launder uniforms. No lie.
9. Casey Kelly, RHP, Giants — You wonder after all these years (he was the Red Sox’ No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft, 30th overall) if Kelly has finally arrived as a major league pitcher. Between injuries and unmet expectations, Kelly, who had to choose between shortstop and pitcher when he was drafted, was traded to San Diego along with Anthony Rizzo for Adrian Gonzalez on Dec. 6, 2010. Kelly went 10-9 with a 4.78 ERA for Triple A Sacramento and threw five scoreless innings in his Giants debut last Saturday.
From the Bill Chuck files — “Last year, MLB set a record with 117 players with 20-plus homers. Through Wednesday, there were 45 this season. At an approximate equivalent point last season, there were 54 20-homer hitters.” . . . Also, “National League teams are hitting .248, their lowest batting average since they hit .248 in 1988 (which was the lowest since they hit .248 in 1972 and 1915).” . . . Happy birthday, Chris Capuano (40) and Gary Gaetti (60).