Red Sox seem a bit arrogant with this bullpen issue, and other thoughts
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Picked-up pieces from another 10 days hunkered down in the Fort:
■ The Red Sox are a wagon. They have 22 of 25 players back from a 119-win season. They have the best starting staff in baseball. They will score a ton of runs. Most of the competition in the American League stinks. The Sox are going to make the playoffs, even if everything goes wrong. They are vulnerable in only one area, and we all know what that is . . . the bullpen.
The bullpen wasn’t great last season, but Craig Kimbrel was out there, and so was hot-and-cold Joe Kelly. Now both are gone and the Sox have not addressed this area.
It feels a little arrogant. It feels as if the Sox worked it out last year and feel they are smart enough to work it out again in absence of all evidence.
Please don’t tell me that they fixed things in the playoffs and therefore they can fix things now. The reason they fixed things in the postseason was because they used starters Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, David Price, and Nathan Eovaldi NINE times out of the bullpen in October. That is not a sustainable system for the 162-game season.
So what do you say, Dave Dombrowski?
“I think we’ll be ready,’’ answered the Sox baseball boss. “A few of the guys we haven’t seen. Matt Barnes. Ryan Brasier. Heath Hembree. We haven’t seen much of them. We just need to get them out there and have them ready, which we still have a couple of weeks to do.
“Any time you have unknowns . . . I still think we have ability out there. We have some guys who have been successful at the major league level. I understand there’s no proven closer and until somebody gets out there and does that, there’s always an uncertainty, but we think we have enough ability there to get the job done.
“We know why this gets so much attention. It’s hard to say anything about our starting rotation. It’s one of the best in baseball. Our positional players — we led the league in runs scored — and our defense was good and almost everybody is back.
“So the one area where there’s any change is the bullpen. With rare exceptions, bullpens seem to get a lot of focus when I talk to other clubs. It’s an area that is kind of up and down from year to year and gets a lot of attention in that regard. We’ll be fine out there, I believe. Give the guys a chance and we’ll see what takes place.’’
■ I’m not a fan of baseball’s anything-for-a-buck partnership with big-time gambling. The DraftKings connection was bad enough, but now MLB demands that managers send in the daily lineup cards 15 minutes before it public. It’s outrageous and begs for corruption. How can MLB keep punishing Pete Rose with all this going on?
■ Also not a fan of relievers being required to face at least three batters (or finish a half-inning), which will start in 2020. It’s artificial and tampers with legitimate strategy.
■ Stunned by the lengths parents go to in order to get their kids to elite colleges and universities? Perfect College Match, a company that helps high school pitchers get college scholarships, reports parents scheduling unnecessary Tommy John surgery for their sons in hopes that the boys will come back throwing harder than before. Nice.
■ Quiz: Kenley Jansen will become the all-time leader in games pitched for the Dodgers when he gets into his eighth game this season. Who holds the current record? (Answer below.)
■ Theo Epstein to the New York Times: “In the second half [of 2018] we completely fell apart offensively.’’ The Cubs boss said it probably was an anomaly, but added, “If not, then we’re not who we think we are, and we’ll have to make sweeping changes. We’ll find out this season.’’
■ Aaron Judge plans to eliminate his distinctive leg kick when he has two strikes on him.
■ I believe the Red Sox would have won the 1986 World Series if Tom Seaver didn’t suffer a season-ending injury in September. Seaver compiled a 3.80 ERA over 16 starts with the Sox after Lou Gorman acquired him for Steve Lyons (Cy Young for Psycho) in midsummer.
■ After Carl Yastrzemski noted that producers of the “Impossible Dream” record cut off his head in the album’s cover illustration (Yaz said it was to prevent them from paying him royalties), a reader asked if the album art was conceived by the late Eddie Stanky. It was Stanky, you old-timers will recall, who foolishly called Yaz “an All-Star from the neck down’’ in 1967.
■ Why we will always love the New York Post: In the first days of spring training, the Post ran a piece from Tampa on Jacoby Ellsbury’s latest injury. The article included a photo of Ellsbury in a batting cage with a cutline (file photo — of course!). Ellsbury, who signed a seven-year, $153 million contract in 2013, has missed 290 of a possible 810 games with the Yankees thus far. GM Brian Cashman said he expects Ellsbury in camp any day now.
■ Some of us are legitimately happy to see Alex Rodriguez engaged to Jennifer Lopez. Then there’s attention-seeking Jose Canseco, who fired off a series of vile tweets charging A-Rod with cheating on J-Lo. Every outrageous Canseco missive is accompanied by a phone number in case you to want hire Jose for a boxing match or maybe a kid’s birthday party.
■ The Red Sox attempted to simulate the left-field wall at Fenway when they built JetBlue Park. But Fenway South is nothing like the real thing. The wall in Fort Myers has fans seated behind netting in the upper third of the faux Monster. “I hate it,’’ says Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi. “They got that net right in the middle and that screws up everything. The other day there were two balls off the net, and one dropped straight down and one shot back toward right. It’s not very realistic.’’
■ One more note on Benny. Born in Cincinnati in 1994, he has been a Bengals fan his whole life. This is not easy. “I’ve never seen a playoff win, not in my lifetime,” says Benintendi. “Marvin Lewis had 16 years. You’ve got to win in the playoffs and he had seven chances at it. I still root for them even though it’s tough sometimes.’’
■ Julia Ruth Stevens, the adopted daughter of Babe Ruth, died last week at the age of 102. She was a delight. She spent much of her life in New Hampshire and threw out a ceremonial first pitch at Fenway in July 2016 to mark her 100th birthday. When I asked her about the Curse of the Bambino back in the late 1980s, she said, “Daddy never would have done something like that.’’ Years later, she said, “Mostly I think it’s a myth, but it is a coincidence definitely that there’s been many, many, many years since the Red Sox managed to win a World Series.’’
■ There’s a sign on the Sox clubhouse wall offering car shipping for Sox players who want their spring vehicles moved to Boston after the team leaves spring training. There’s a specific fee assigned to what type of vehicle the player wants shipped and it states that the car should have no gas and contain “no more than 200 pounds.’’ When Manny Ramirez saw that sign in 2004, he asked one of the clubbies, “What about me? I weigh 205. That’s more than 200 pounds.’’ The clubbie informed Manny that he would not be inside the car during transport.
■ Check out Danny Knobler’s “Unwritten: Bat Flips, the Fun Police, and Baseball’s New Future.’’ Meanwhile, Bud Selig’s memoir, which had no less than three ghostwriters (including Red Sox exec Dr. Charles Steinberg), is due out this summer. Careful not to drop it on your toe.
■ Great moment at Alex Cora’s postgame press conference Tuesday at JetBlue. As the manager was attempting to explain his team’s six-game preseason losing streak, video of his epic 18-pitch at-bat (which culminated with a home run) magically came on the television in the interview room. Cora quickly switched the topic and narrated his epic at-bat against the White Sox in 2004. “You foul pitches off and then you hit homers,’’ he said.
■ A national media person asked me what I think of the prospect of Epstein someday coming back to Boston to buy the Red Sox.
■ Quiz answer: Don Sutton.