Baseball Bits #9: Why Mookie Betts Should Still Lead Off

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Although he has missed significant time due to injuries, Mookie Betts has had a phenomenal season.  As of June 18th, he is batting .340/.419/.699 with 18 HR, 38 RBI, and 13 stolen bases. As his stats show, he is a speedy, consistent leadoff hitter who hits home runs.  With stats like his, many have argued that he belongs in the middle of the line-up as he has nearly made the 30-30 club in each of the last two years.

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Despite their speed, most 30-30 hitters of the past did not lead off.  Instead, they have been middle of the line-up threats.  Alex Cora has said time and time again that Betts is his leadoff hitter and I think there is evidence to support the Sox rookie manager’s decision and it goes beyond the Sox best start in years.

Betts has hit 3 leadoff homers just this year (13 in his career).  He also bats in consecutive innings or twice in an inning very often.   And the more at-bats he gets, the more chances to help the Sox potent offense get going whether it is the start of the game or in later innings.  Read below for some more compelling stats that support the decision to keep Betts leading off.

The Research (Note: Data as of June 18th)

Baseball Bits #9_ Mookie Betts Back-2-Back Innings – 2018 At-Bats in Back-To-Back InningsSame Inning (1)

The “Baseball Bits”

  • In the 54 games Betts has played this season, he has batted in consecutive innings (including one time he batted twice in one inning) 36 times over 29 games
    • The Red Sox are 22-7 in these games (.759 winning percentage)
    • To compare, the Sox current overall record is 49-24 (.671)
    • When Betts plays and does not do it, the Red Sox are 15-10 (.600)
    • The Sox are 4-3 when Betts does it twice in one game (.571)
    • They are 1-0 when Betts bats twice in an inning (1.000)
    • The Sox are 3-1 (.750) when Betts comes up to bat in three innings in a row
  • 12 of these 36 (33%) of Betts’ consecutive inning at-bats have started in the 1st inning
  • Betts is batting .468/.533/.887 with a 1.420 OPS for all of the consecutive inning/same inning at bats
    • He has hit 8 HR and drove in 18 runs in these at bats
    • 44% of his home runs this season and 47% of his RBIs this season have been when he has batted in consecutive innings or twice in an inning

The Verdict

As much as the Red Sox would benefit from having Betts batting before J.D. Martinez, creating a 1-2 punch, I think the data shows it’s been plenty beneficial to keep Betts in the leadoff spot.  Even with the bases empty at the start of the game or after our weak end of the lineup struggles, Betts manages to come through. He has hit 13 career leadoff home runs and would not bat in consecutive innings this often if he wasn’t leading off.  33% of his consecutive inning at-bats have started in the 1st inning.

The only major downside of keeping him in the leadoff spot is that with the 7th, 8th, and 9th batters struggling, he has fewer RBI opportunities.  If the Sox find a way to get another bat or the bottom of the order heats up, that will change.  Another option is if Dustin Pedroia can return to his old self, it will help make 1 through 9 stronger like the Yankees potent offense.  Either way, it’s hard to argue with the success the Sox line-up has had with Mookie at the top.

The Sox have plenty of speed in their line-up and super utility man Brock Holt 9th could bat 9th to give them a second lead-off.  Holt has been doing well this season, while the more frequent bottom of the order consisting of Jackie Bradley Jr. (another good 9 option when hitting better), Sandy Leon, and Christian Vazquez have struggled to the point where none of them are batting .250 or higher.  Trying Holt or Pedroia in the nine-hole could potentially get Betts some runners in scoring position when he comes up, which should make him perform even better. Betts is batting .353 with runners in scoring position this year, but only 34 of his 209 at-bats (16.3%) have been with runners in scoring position.  That just shows how desperately Betts needs some end of the lineup support and how Betts’ home runs have helped his RBI total of 38.  The Red Sox have a top-heavy lineup.

They have not shown signs that they are already missing Hanley Ramirez but will they need to add another hitter in order to contend in the playoffs?  If the Sox 7-8-9 hitters keep struggling as we get closer to the July 31st trading deadline, it will be something the Sox will have to consider.  I hope they heat up but if not, expect to see a post from me on potential additions either by trade or internal or both.

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My Night to Shine

I am honored to be a recipient of the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation Shining Star Award which I received at the 2018 Night to Shine gala on Saturday, May 5th.

 

I was selected after emceeing the Flutie 5K in 2017.  For the last five years, The Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism has awarded a select group of people and companies who have truly made a difference in the autism community.

My family and I arrived at the TripAdvisor headquarters right when Doug Flutie and his wife Laurie did.  Doug was carrying a huge cymbal but he and Laurie stopped to say hello and congratulations.  This was a great start to the night that would only get better.  We checked in at the desk in the lobby and I was handed a special honoree magnetic name tag to wear.

We headed down the hall and saw Milo, a robot boy built to help learners with autism learn social and behavioral skills (https://robots4autism.com/milo/).

 

We spent the first hour networking, catching up with people I knew, and meeting new people.  We talked to Nicole Gugleimucci from the Foundation who had helped me prepare for the Flutie 5K event last October and notified me about this exciting honor.  We also met the new Executive Director of the Foundation, Nick Savarese.

After meeting several more people, we looked at the many awesome sports-related silent auction items to bid on.  At our table, we met Paul Alexander, the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for Eastern Bank.  Shortly after, we decided to wait on bidding and get seats near the stage.

We sat in stadium-style seats in a 4-story atrium area at the center of the TripAdvisor Headquarters, which had an amazing view of all the floors.  I also noticed walls made out of live plants which looked really cool.  The ceiling had a sky with clouds which made it feel like the outside was inside.  They had a huge movie-sized video screen counting down the time to start the ceremony.

Susan Wornick, a longtime reporter and former anchor from WCVB-TV in Boston was the emcee for the event.  After Wornick introduced herself and Doug and Laurie, she passed the stage and microphone over to MUSE.

MUSE stands for Music, Unity, and Social Expansion.  They are a school that teaches independence and more skills to people with autism through music (http://www.muse-foundation.org/).  A MUSE band got on stage to play two songs and they were very impressive.  Everyone clapped to the beat for their second song as the crowd got really into the music.

After a standing ovation, Wornick returned to the stage to thank the sponsors and invite Nick Savarese to talk about his first year with the organization.  Nick asked me and a few other guests to stand up and everyone cheered which was pretty cool and I really appreciated.

Lisa Borges was called to the stage.  Lisa had worked in Nick’s position nearly as along as the Flutie Foundation had been around.  They handed her a large flower arrangement and thanked her for all she had done.  Laurie and Doug came up to the stage and thanked her as well.

A video was shown about the history of the foundation, which dates back 20 years.  The video gave an update on Doug Flutie’s son Doug Jr. and showed how the Flutie Foundation started Autism Awareness and wants to continue to build on that.  They have helped so many with autism, including me.  Thanks to the Foundation, I learned to ski with my brother in one weekend and now skiing is one of my favorite activities.  This year I was able to join my school’s ski club which has been a great social opportunity for me.

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After the video, Nick talked about how the organization has evolved and will continue to do so.  I was happy to learn that they will also add focus on the many children with autism that will be entering adulthood soon, like me, or already are adults like Doug Jr.

Wornick returned to the stage to begin announcing the Shining Stars.  I was ecstatic when my name was announced and rushed to the stage as she read my bio discussing some of my achievements including my sports blog that I started when I was 10 (https://andrewr1008.wordpress.com/).  She handed me the award, a glass star-shaped trophy with my name on it.  They took photos of me with Doug Flutie, Nick, and Susan as people continued to applaud.

Get Air Sports (a trampoline park that supports the foundation http://getairsports.com/ ), Luca and Danni jewelry (https://lucadanni.com/), John Breen, Alan Seymour (Doug Flutie’s good friend from Junior High School), Wegmans (https://www.wegmans.com/), NCGIT (https://ncgit.com/), and Amy Weinstock (http://autismhighereducationfoundation.org/amy-weinstock/) were the other Shining Stars and Get Air gave the foundation a big life-sized check for over $200,000 on the stage.

Susan then began a live auction for four very significant donated prizes.  The bidding for some of the items went over $10,000 and it was really exciting to see some of the bidders go back and forth trying to win with the final bid amount.

After the auction was over, many of the hundreds of guests came up to me to congratulate me and we exchanged contact info.  I said hello to Lisa Borges and I told her I would be back for the 2018 Flutie 5K and hoped to see her too.  I met Tyler Lagasse who Nick had asked to stand up with me.  He has autism too and plays golf competitively and wrote a book with his mom (https://www.amazon.com/What-Do-You-Say-Character/dp/1503556840).  We even caught up with Susan Wornick who wants to put me in touch with legendary sportscaster Bob Lobel to see a Red Sox game!

I did not end up winning any silent auction prizes but Jayme Parker, a longtime NESN reporter, took a picture with me and said she would keep in touch with me.  The experience of meeting her was like an auction prize that I had bid on and I went home with just as much excitement as I had at the start of the night.  The event was so much more than I could have ever imagined and I am so grateful for the experience!

______________________________

I would like to thank the Flutie Foundation for sharing this post on their own blog: http://www.flutiefoundation.org/blog/my-night-shine.

I would also like to give photo credit to Jenny Nourse Photography and thank them for the amazing pictures.

 

Baseball Bits #8: What The Unusual Amount of No-Hitters Means for Jordan’s Furniture Customers

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As they do every year, Jordan’s Furniture, a major sponsor of the Red Sox, is having a big baseball sale.  This year, they offered to make any furniture bought between March 28 and today (May 20) free if a Red Sox pitcher or pitchers throw a no-hitter (games shorter than nine innings do not count) between July 17 and the end of the regular season.  Should you buy furniture? Will the Red Sox pitch a no-hitter after July 16?

 

You can't win if you don't buy!  Plus get up to 60 months no interest with equal payments.* No minimum purchase required. Subject to credit approval. Get Details.

 

For those of you who are undecided on whether to give in and buy some new furniture, I have done some research about no-hitters based on the fact that there have already been 3 no-hitters in 2018.  Based on the data, I calculated the chance of a Red Sox no-hitter during the time that the Jordan’s Furniture sale counts towards (July 17-end of the regular season). You can also come to your own conclusions, as I have provided my official data below.  I looked at every regular season no-hitter since 1990 (according to ESPN) and tallied up all the no-hitters each year. I split it into no-hitters before July 17 and after July 16, and I also looked at how many were thrown by Red Sox pitchers.  

The Research

I have provided 5 PDFs with my research:

 

No-Hitters By Year After 7/16: Baseball Bits #8_ No-Hitters – After

No-Hitters By Year Before 7/17: Baseball Bits #8_ No-Hitters – Before

All No-Hitters By Year: Baseball Bits #8_ No-Hitters – All

Summary Pivot Table: Baseball Bits #8_ No-Hitters – Summary Pivot

List of All No-Hitters From ESPN (Cut out data from before 1990 and during the postseason) with data I added for this article: Baseball Bits #8_ No-Hitters – Master Data (Note: The “Count of No-Hitters” column was just used to help set up the pivot table)

 

The “Baseball Bits”

  • Since 1990, the average number of no-hitters per year is 2.79
    • There is an average of 1.03/year after July 16
    • There is an average of 1.76/year before July 17
    • Based on this data, not only are we ahead of the average pace for no-hitters before July 17, we are ahead of the average pace for no-hitters all season
    • However, in the last 10 years:
      • The average number of no-hitters/year is 3.6 (2.2 before July 17, 1.4 after July 16)
      • In the last 10 years, we are only a little ahead of average pace for # of no-hitters before July 17, and we are not quite at the average pace of no-hitters/year
  • Since 1990, there have been 5 other years when there have been 3 or more no-hitters before July 17 – in those years, the average number of no-hitters after July 16 is 2.2
    • We have not had 3 no-hitters by May 8th since 1969
    • Since 1990, there has only been one time (2010) where we have even had 3 no-hitters by June 1st
      • There were 5 no-hitters that year (1 was after July 16th)
  • The Red Sox have thrown 4 no-hitters since 1990
    • It has not happened since 2008
    • 3 were before 7/17 (thrown by Jon Lester (2008), Derek Lowe (2002), and Hideo Nomo (2001))
    • Only 1 was after 7/16, thrown by Clay Buchholz in 2007
  • Just a cool anomaly about this year’s no-hitters: They have all taken place in different countries (Paxton in Canada, Manaea in USA, Buehler/Garcia/Cingrani/Liberatore combined in Mexico)

 

The Verdict

Based on my research, my previous baseball knowledge, and WHIP of MLB starters in recent years, I have concluded that there is 60.5% (about 3 in 5 chance) of a no-hitter somewhere in the MLB after July 16.  The average of 2.2 no-hitters after July 16 when there has been 3+ before July 17 (data based on no-hitters since 1990) has had a big influence on these odds. But I couldn’t say there was a 100% chance of a no-hitter because I cannot tell the future.  You have to factor in the fact that although there has been an increase in recent years, no-hitters are still very rare and unpredictable. You really cannot be more than 75% confident that one will occur during that time. I have calculated the chances of a no-hitter by the Red Sox as a 2.82% chance.  This was influenced by the MLB odds because I divided those odds amongst all 30 MLB teams based on recent WHIP of starters and what I already knew before my research.

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If the Red Sox throw a no-hitter, it will likely be from one of two pitchers.  Chris Sale’s WHIP is extremely low, and if he gets into a good rhythm and limits his pitch count, he could toss a no-hitter.  However, you have to factor in late-season fatigue that is common for Sale as well as the fact that he often throws too many pitches to go deep into a game, even in the case of a no-hitter.  They will probably not keep him in for more than about 150 pitches even if he has a no-hitter, at least with Alex Cora managing. He could start off a combined no-no if he has thrown too many pitches by the 7th or 8th despite a dominant game.  He would need backup from an inconsistent bullpen for that though.

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I think it is more likely that Rick Porcello throws a no-hitter.  His WHIP has been very low this season as it was in 2016, his Cy Young winning year.  Porcello is more of a ground-ball pitcher and is usually pretty consistent throughout the season.  These traits help increase his odds of a no-hitter, especially if he continues to dominate this season (he is 6-1 with a 3.39 ERA).

However, since it is extremely difficult to predict a no-hitter for any team, I would not recommend going all out buying furniture.  If you need furniture, go right ahead, but I wouldn’t spend much more than you normally would because I still think there is less than a 3% chance that the Red Sox pitch a no-hitter.

 

Sources

“MLB No-Hitters.” ESPN, ESPN Internet Ventures, http://www.espn.com/mlb/history/nohitters.

Red Sox Report: Sox Slowing Down, But It’s Understandable

When the Red Sox began the season 17-2, I knew they would not be able to finish the season going at that pace.  So it is understandable that the Red Sox have gone 8-7 in their last 15 games.  It does not mean the Red Sox are a fluke.  They have still shown signs in the last 14 games that they are capable contenders.  But they cannot win every game, and 8 to 10-game winning streaks interrupted by just a loss or two is not realistic for any team to maintain.

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But Mookie Betts is still on fire, and Hanley Ramirez has still put up much better numbers to start 2018.  J.D. Martinez has also begun to heat up.  Betts has gotten to the point in his hot streak where he’s breaking HR records.  We will look at Betts’ records, the cooling off of the Red Sox, and much more in this edition of the Red Sox Report.

Red Sox Beginning to Cool Off, But It’s Not a Major Concern

As I said above, although the Sox have cooled off, the Red Sox have still shown qualities of an elite playoff contender.  I still think they have the potential to make a deep run this year.  What concerns me a little bit is who they have been losing to.  They lost a series to the Rays to start their most recent homestand.  Tampa barely has a starting rotation.  But even a blind squirrel eventually finds an acorn.  They also struggled and got no-hit against the Athletics.  The A’s are not terrible, they have a powerful young lineup and an improving rotation.  But after a 17-2 start, I did not expect A’s SP Sean Manaea to no-hit the Red Sox.  It shows that our lineup is very streaky, feast or famine.

Struggles against the mediocre teams is a problem, but the Red Sox have been pretty good against tough opponents like the Angels and Blue Jays.  What the Red Sox need right now is to be competitive against playoff contenders.  If they continue to prove that they are capable of that, I will be much more confident in their World Series chances.  But if they cannot show up against subpar teams, how will they be able to continue to thrive against contenders?

Sox Lineup Has Been Streaky But Has High Ceiling

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The Red Sox lineup has really struggled at times. They have scored 3 or fewer runs in 4 of their 9 losses so far. But when the lineup is on a good streak, it can carry the team. At its best, this lineup could probably carry the Red Sox all the way to the World Series.  But several guys have failed to come through in recent weeks. Christian Vazquez, Sandy Leon, and Jackie Bradley Jr. are all batting under .200, and Eduardo Nunez hasn’t looked like the same guy that boosted the Red Sox lineup on the brink of contention.  Everyone in this lineup has struggled at some point this season.

But when on a hot streak, this lineup can take the league by storm.  There were several hot hitters that led us to our amazing start, and a few of our hitters are still on fire.  J.D. Martinez is 21 for his last 47 (.447) and has hit 3 dingers in that span.  Mookie Betts has been on fire all season.  Read more about Betts’ hot streak in the next section.

Mookie Betts Still On Fire, Now He’s Making History

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Betts is batting .352 (5th in the league) with 13 home runs (leading the league) and a 1.257 OPS (leading the league) on the season.  In addition, he’s 12 for his last 23 (.522).   He has hit 11 of the homers in his last 15 games and has had two 3 HR games this season (one soon after Marathon Monday in Anaheim, and another at Fenway this week against the Royals).  It’s only the start of May, and he had these 3 HR games within two weeks of each other.  He also had a pair of 3 HR games back in 2016.  He and Johnny Mize are the only players to ever have a pair of 3 HR games two times in their career.

Betts also passed Ted Williams for the most 3-HR games in team history.  Betts is only 25.  He has plenty of time in his career for more multi-HR games.  Could he become the first person to have two 3-HR games in three different seasons?  Could he eventually break the MLB 3 HR game record?  It is currently held by Mize and Sammy Sosa (6).  Betts is in the Top 10 with 4.  Betts is tied for 2nd with Manny Machado for multi-HR games since 2016 (11).  Betts and Machado are behind just Giancarlo Stanton (14).  Betts is more than just our leadoff hitter.  He is one of baseball’s biggest stars.  But there is an argument for why he should remain our leadoff hitter, and I look at that in my next Baseball Bits.

Injury Report: Thornburg Begins Rehab, Several Activated Over Last Two Weeks

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The Red Sox have continued to be hit by the injury bug.  Brock Holt went on the DL in late April with a hamstring strain.  Mookie Betts was also hurt for a few days in late April with hamstring issues but has since returned and continued to dominate.  He also left today’s game with a wrist injury.  But several of our previously injured players have returned over the last couple of weeks.  Xander Bogaerts was activated last weekend, and he lost his hot streak on the DL, but he went 3-4 in his first game back and has continued to hit well, batting .303 since his return.  Bobby Poyner has also returned from his injury but did not return to the big league roster until May 4th after a stint with the Paw Sox.

Steven Wright has returned from the DL too, but he is currently serving a 15-game domestic violence suspension.  Joe Kelly recently returned from his 6-game suspension after the Sox-Yankees brawl in April.  Eduardo Rodriguez was also out for a few days on a family medical leave but was activated on the 5th to start against the Rangers.  He did not miss a start during his absence.  Tyler Thornburg, Austin Maddox, Marco Hernandez, Brock Holt, and Dustin Pedroia are the players that remain on the DL.  Thornburg has begun his rehab assignment, and Pedroia has been rehabbing at extended spring training.  Pedey is targeting a May 25 big league return.  Brock Holt is expected to return next week.

Sox Have Caught a Break vs. Royals, Rangers, But Round 2 With Flaming Hot Yankees Ahead

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After a tough road trip, the Red Sox have enjoyed a relatively easy schedule over the last week and a half.  They have played the Rays, Royals, and Rangers.  Despite having a tough time against the Rays (who have won 11 of their last 14 on a hot streak), the Red Sox have caught a break against the Royals and Rangers, who they won 5 of 7 against.  But after that, the Red Sox could have another difficult stretch ahead, starting with a 3 game series at Yankee Stadium.  The Yankees have won 14 of their last 15, and this was against playoff contenders.

The Yanks have swept the Twins, Indians, and Angels, and took 3 of 4 in Houston.  If the Yankees continue to thrive against Boston, they will be proven as serious contenders.  But Boston had an impressive 17-2 stretch of their own.  Although it may not have been against as difficult opponents, the Sox did take 2 out of 3 when they hosted the Yankees.  However, the Yankees were without C.C. Sabathia and Aaron Hicks in that series.  They have also called up Gleyber Torres, who has done very well since that series.  They have lost Jordan Montgomery and a couple relievers to the DL since the series though.

That’s all for this edition of the Red Sox Report.  Stay tuned for more Red Sox posts coming soon.

Crazy 8th for Sox 8th Win

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After a 7-1 start to the season for the Red Sox, things were not looking good for them today.  They were down 7-2 heading into the 8th inning, as the Rays had scored at least one run in six straight innings.  Eduardo Rodriguez had been knocked out of the game after 3.2 innings, forcing the Red Sox to use numerous relievers to finish off the game.  The bullpen struggled as Hector Velazquez, Bobby Poyner, and Brian Johnson gave up four runs in 3 1/3 innings But the Red Sox came all the way back to beat the Tampa Bay Rays 8-7 and extend their winning streak to eight games.  Hanley Ramirez and Mookie Betts extended their hitting streaks to 7 games each, as they led the Sox offense.

The Red Sox started off strong with a leadoff double by Mookie Betts, and Betts was driven in by Hanley Ramirez’s groundout.  But the Rays struck back quickly, with DH C.J. Cron hitting a solo homer.  Early on, Eduardo Rodriguez was doing well, striking out five batters, including the side in the 1st inning.  But the Rays were working the count and and E-Rod’s was over 70 after three innings.

While the Rays were not crushing the ball after Cron’s home run, they scored one run every inning from the 2nd all the way to the 7th. In the 3rd inning, E-Rod gave up a walk followed by a infield single that was originally ruled an out. Matt Duffy was clearly safe, so it was a smart challenge by the Rays.  The run scored on a double by Carlos Gomez.

In the 4th inning, Daniel Robertson reached on another infield single for the Rays.  3B Rafael Devers could not make the throw in time.  That was followed by a Brad Miller walk, and Adeiny Hechavarria drove in the run with a bloop single that Andrew Benintendi couldn’t quite get to.  The Rays were trying to continue the rally, as Matt Duffy singled again after E-Rod left the game, but Hector Velazquez came in to get the last out.

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Velazquez gave up a run in the next inning, as Daniel Robertson singled, stole second, and came home on Brad Miller’s base hit.  The Sox chipped away in the bottom of that inning.  They loaded the bases after a walk, a Christian Vazquez single, and another walk.  Rays reliever Ryan Yarbrough had come in to replace Andrew Kittredge after two innings. Today, the Rays reliever combo to start was game was able to hold the Sox to just two runs through six innings, but it was not easy.

With two outs in the fifth, Hanley Ramirez ripped an infield single that Adeiny Hechavarria snagged to save more runs from scoring.  J.D. Martinez followed, but struck out with the bases loaded. Martinez was the only Sox starter without a hit, but that did not keep the Sox from winning.

The Rays scored again in the 6th after Kevin Kiermaier hit a triple off the Green Monster to drive in Matt Duffy, who had walked.  Kiermaier hit the triple off of Bobby Poyner, but Velazquez was charged with the run as he had walked Duffy before leaving the game.  Brian Johnson came in in the 7th and struggled, giving up two more runs.  Daniel Robertson walked, and came home on a triple by pinch hitter Joey Wendle.  On that play, Xander Bogaerts hurt his ankle as he had to chase the ball into the Rays dugout after throwing to third before Devers was there.  He will be evaluated further on Monday, but his timetable is currently unknown. Bogaerts was helped off the field, and it was really concerning when he couldn’t leave without assistance because he has been Boston’s best hitter so far this season.  Brock Holt came in to replace him.

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Tampa scored their second run of the inning off Johnson after a sac fly drove in Wendle.  The Sox failed to get things going in the bottom of the 7th, but after Carson Smith came into the game, the Rays failed to score another run.  They loaded the bases after a walk, a Carlos Gomez single, and a walk.  But Smith escaped the inning by striking out Daniel Robertson.

This looked like it was going to be a Rays win, as after Hanley Ramirez led things off with a single and advanced to second on a wild pitch, the next two batters struck out and flew out.

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But with two outs, Mitch Moreland, who was a doubles machine last year, hit his first double (and hit) of 2018, driving in Ramirez to make it 7-3 Rays.  Eduardo Nunez singled and Moreland advanced to third.  Rafael Devers then knocked a ball down the third base line that bounced off the left field garage, allowing both Moreland and Nunez to score.

With that, Rays reliever Matt Andriese was done, and Rays closer Alex Colome came in, hoping to secure the 7-5 lead the Rays were still holding on to. The Red Sox had done well against Colome in the home opener. Just in case the rally continued, Cora got star closer Craig Kimbrel warming up in the bullpen next to Joe Kelly.

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Christian Vazquez kept the rally alive with a base hit.  Devers scored, making it 7-6 Red Sox.  Vazquez advanced to second on another wild pitch.  Mookie Betts tied it up with a line single to left as Vazquez came in to score with a nifty slide to avoid the tag.  Andrew Benintendi kept the rally alive by doubling to the left field gap to drive in Betts.  The outfielders were playing shallow as Benny’s double did not reach the Green Monster. It was now 8-7 Red Sox.

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Kimbrel came in and quickly retired the side, as the Red Sox locked up their comeback victory, 8-7.  This was by far their most exciting game of the season.  The Sox faced easy opponents, but the Red Sox are now 8-1 to start the season, their best record ever after nine games. They had not even started 7-1 since 1904, a World Series-winning year.

The Red Sox head into their three-game series against the Yankees on fire.  Will they win their first series against their archrivals?  The Yankees have been depleted by injuries, and are just 5-5 after losing to Baltimore today in a 12 inning game.  With Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Brandon Drury, Aaron Hicks, Jacoby Ellsbury, C.C. Sabathia, and Billy McKinney all injured, the Sox should certainly have the edge.

Red Sox Report: Sox Off to Dominant Start, But Could Face Tougher Road Ahead

Welcome to my first Red Sox Report article of 2018.  Today, I will be talking about my opinion on the Red Sox this week, and what I expect in the coming days.  I will also be talking about interesting recent Red Sox headlines.

 

Is It Time to Get Concerned About The Red Sox’s Offensive Struggles, Especially J.D. Martinez’s?  

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Up until today, J.D. Martinez had not hit a home run, and the Red Sox had only scored more than 4 runs in a game once this season.  Keep in mind that this is against rebuilding teams, and the Rays only have three regular starters, filling the rest of their rotation with committee days.  Besides Xander Bogaerts, who has shown flashes of power in a potential breakout season, and Hanley Ramirez, who is looking to rebound, the Red Sox have not been that good at the plate.

Sure, they had a 10-run game today.  So they are capable of hitting. But will the lineup show up when they need to?  J.D. Martinez is the most concerning to me. He was here to be a clutch home run hitter, and so far he has hit just 1 home run, which came when the Red Sox had already practically locked in a victory.  Despite a 6-game hitting streak, I am getting worried.

Red Sox Rotation Looking Dominant, Sign of Good Things to Come?

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The Red Sox rotation has looked great so far, and they were without Drew Pomeranz, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Steven Wright to this point.  David Price has looked like his old self in two starts against his former team, the Rays. But will he be able to keep this up against tougher opponents?  I’m sure Chris Sale will be able to keep doing what he’s doing, especially if he pitches to contact more like new manager Alex Cora was hoping for. Rick Porcello also looks like he could rebound, and he has just had two strong starts against the Rays, who caused him serious problems in 2017.

Even Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez, who are not going to be starting regularly much longer are doing well.  But like I said, the Sox are playing rebuilding teams, so we better hope that the offense wakes up and the rotation keeps up the good work when we start playing tougher opponents.  Things also depend on how E-Rod and Pomeranz do in their return, but if they struggle, we do have Johnson, Steven Wright (who is also hurt at the moment), and Velazquez.

Will Alex Cora’s Unique Decisions Help the Red Sox Significantly?

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Cora has been a big part of this team’s success so far.  He has made good moves by giving guys the rest they need, helping Chris Sale and David Price get more innings by pitching to contact, and saving their best stuff for later in the year by giving them rest, and only challenging plays when absolutely necessary.  I like his conservative style, and he will help the Red Sox, but if he goes too far, he could cost us early on by resting guys when they could be helping the team win. He wants to save guys for October, but early success is key because the playoffs are no guarantee for any team.

Injury Update: E-Rod To Return Sunday, How Will The Injuries Affect Us Down the Road?

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It appears that we have done fine without Drew Pomeranz, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Dustin Pedroia so far, but as we face tougher opponents, it may hold us back.  However, there is good news. E-Rod will come off the disabled list to make a start against the Rays tomorrow. If he can get off to a good start and is not held back by his knee injury, he will help the Red Sox significantly.  We may be able to get away with a 4-man rotation until Pomeranz comes back, especially in weeks with more days off.

But I’m sure Johnson will get starts, and Velazquez may even stick around.  Cora’s philosophy has been giving guys more rest, not less. So keeping more starters in the rotation despite injuries may be a good idea.  They could even consider sticking with a 6-man rotation to save their best stuff for October, especially when Wright and Pomeranz return. As for Dustin Pedroia, I think we should be fine with Nunez at second until he returns, but when he does, we will be able to give more infielders rest, including a recovering Pedey.

We will need strong pitching from the rotation, as our bullpen has been inconsistent and unreliable.  Craig Kimbrel has done well, but the Sox have nobody to set him up.

Will Hanley and Bogaerts Build On Their Early Success?

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Xander Bogaerts has been straight up dominant so far.  He has hinted at a breakout season by hitting two homers, including a grand slam in the team’s first eight games.  He has batted .371/.405/.743 with 9 RBI. I think he can emerge as a 5-tool player, adding power hitting to his resume.  

I could also see Hanley Ramirez bouncing back.  He led this team during the 2-game series against the Marlins, where Hanley started his career.  But he also thrived at Fenway, as he was the hero of the home opener in an extra-innings walk-off win.  He has also hit a home run, and now that he is healthy and motivated (he is in a contract year), he will be a strong asset for the Sox.  I just hope Hanley and Bogey can keep it up against tougher opponents, especially in their upcoming series against the Yankees.

How Will Michael Chavis’ 80-game PED suspension affect the Red Sox?

Chavis was Boston’s top prospect, and while we have Devers at third, it’s always good to have a strong farm system, and this is a major setback for Chavis, and down with Chavis will go the Red Sox farm system.  The Red Sox traded away many of their strongest prospects in a once stacked farm system when working their way back towards contention in 2016 and 2017. It hurts to lose Chavis, one of their top prospects remaining, to a suspension.  Using PEDs could give him problems staying out of trouble throughout his career, as players who use steroids have a history of frequent suspensions after being caught. We will also have to see if Chavis is really the same without relying on PEDs.

Led by Rotation, Bogaerts, Devers, and Hanley, Red Sox Start Season 7-1, Hope to Continue Success vs. Yankees and Beyond

I expected a strong start for the Red Sox due to their schedule, but I have been overall impressed with how they have done, and if they stay hot, they could continue to dominate.  They have a 7 game winning streak going, led by a strong rotation. The lineup has struggled a bit, but Bogaerts, Devers, and Hanley have made up for the struggles of the rest of the lineup.  I hope J.D. Martinez can begin to help the lineup more too.

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The Red Sox will face their true test this week when they host their archrivals, the New York Yankees.  The Yankees are facing the injury bug right now, and have had depth problems with so many players injured.  They have had to force players into starting jobs who aren’t quite reliable starters yet. But they are still a tough opponent, and the Red Sox will have to be at their best to win this series.

That’s all for this edition of the Red Sox Report.  Stay tuned for more Red Sox coverage coming soon.

Ranking The Teams 12-7: My Version: Who Will Contend in 2018

Welcome to Part 4 of my MLB pre-season power rankings.  Although the season has started, I am still finishing this series.  I will also have my first Red Sox Report article of 2018 coming soon, as well as coverage on NFL free agency and the upcoming Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins games.

Last time, I covered the teams that are in the middle of the pack, and haven’t really decided what direction they want to head in.  I looked at how they did this off-season, how they’ll do this season, and where they are headed.  I also discussed best and worst case scenarios for each team and projected their records and division placements. Today I will do the same for the contending teams, but rather than talking about where they are headed (which is somewhat obvious to me), today I will be discussing what is holding them back from dominance.  Read below to find out who these six teams are and what to expect for them this year.

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Boston Sports Mania MLB Pre-Season Power Rankings

Friday, March 23: Ranking The Teams 30-25, My Version: Who’s In The Basement?

Sunday, March 25: Ranking The Teams 24-19, My Version: Teams That Will Struggle

Monday, March 26: Ranking The Teams 18-13, My Version: The Middle of the Pack

Monday, April 2: Ranking The Teams 12-7, My Version: Who Will Contend in 2018?

Wednesday, April 4: Ranking The Teams 6-1, My Version: How The Best of the Best Line Up*

*My pre-season Baseball Bits are also up.

12. minnesota-twins Minnesota Twins

Off-Season Review

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The Twins quietly put together a strong off-season after acquiring Jake Odorizzi and signing Logan Morrison at the last minute.  They also signed Lance Lynn to add to a rotation that will be without Ervin Santana and new signing Michael Pineda to start the season.  With Odorizzi and Lynn on board, it will be a respectable rotation throughout the season and could take the League by storm when Pineda and Santana return.  Morrison is here to upgrade at the DH position over Kennys Vargas, who only got his job back because Byung-Ho Park was a bust in 2016. They also added Fernando Rodney and Addison Reed in the bullpen to replace Glen Perkins, who retired.

The Case for the Twins

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The Twins will be able to contend.  Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are primed for breakouts, Brian Dozier has emerged as a veteran leader, and Logan Morrison, Jake Odorizzi, and Lance Lynn are nice additions that put this roster in position to continue to contend after surprisingly cracking the playoff field in 2017.  But the competition for the AL Wild Card will be tougher this year after the moves that have been made by the Angels and Red Sox to make their own Wild Card cases.  The Red Sox could even challenge the Yankees in the AL East, but the Yankees are likely to make the playoffs either way.

What’s Holding Them Back

A month ago I would have said rotation depth problems, but now I think they have a bigger problem at shortstop.  With Jorge Polanco suspended for 80 games, they will have to start Eduardo Escobar, who has struggled in recent years and is not 100% proven as a starter.  I honestly don’t think they were ever doing great at shortstop.  I thought the combination of Polanco and Escobar was okay, but I’m not even so high on Polanco anyways.  They also have problems in the bullpen.  Signing Fernando Rodney and Addison Reed help, but they lack depth, and will Rodney and Reed succeed with their new team?
Best Case Scenario: Buxton and Sano breakthrough, Minnesota’s late off-season moves pay off, and the Twins quietly sneak to the top of the AL Central.
Worst Case Scenario: The injury-riddled rotation lacks depth and gets tired, the new bullpen additions do not help all that much, and the lineup fails to have much more than another decent year as the Twins finish in a distant second to the Indians, just above .500.

Projected Finish: 87-75, 2nd in AL Central

11. milwaukee-brewers Milwaukee Brewers

Off-Season Review

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After coming inches away from a playoff berth in 2017, the Brewers made some upgrades in hopes of a playoff run.  They did not add the ace they desperately needed, but they did sign Yovani Gallardo, Wade Miley, and Jhoulys Chacin (Gallardo has since been released).  Chase Anderson and Zach Davies could also step it up in the rotation until the injured Jimmy Nelson returns.  They could re-assess at the trade deadline if needed.  They did add to the bullpen by signing Boone Logan and Matt Albers though.  They could still use a closer.  They also added to their outfield by signing Lorenzo Cain and trading for Christian Yelich.  As a result, Ryan Braun will be able to help out at first in addition to playing outfield.  Eric Thames is no longer an everyday starter, but Braun is, and he will see a lot of starts at first and in the outfield.  They could’ve also added Neil Walker back, but should be fine at second between Jonathan Villar and Eric Sogard as Walker joins the Yankees.

The Case for the Brewers

Milwaukee could make a serious run in 2018, or they could bust.  It’s hard to predict, but I have them somewhere in the middle.  Cain and Yelich will prove to be nice additions among others.  But if the Brewers were really hoping to contend, they would’ve considered adding an ace, a closer, and a second baseman.  They have various holes in the roster that will hold them back.  This is a good team with a nice roster that includes a lot of great pieces.  But they could still use some fine-tuning before they make a run.

What’s Holding Them Back

Milwaukee has a nice rotation, but the rotation lacks a #1 starter.  Signing someone like Alex Cobb would have worked out, but instead, they stayed put.  The Brewers would be in a much better position right now if they were able to sign an ace.  The Cubs added Yu Darvish.  How did the Brewers respond?  By sitting tight and calling Chase Anderson their #1 starter.  Anderson may be a good #2, but that will not work out well.  Even Jimmy Nelson is not quite a viable #1 starter, and he’s out until at least May.
Best Case Scenario: The rotation is able to survive on its own, the lineup dominates, and the bullpen surprises the league after using their new additions to their advantage.  The Brewers make a nice playoff run after clinching a Wild Card spot.
Worst Case Scenario: The rotation is nothing more than mediocre without a known ace, the lineup thrives, but struggle to figure out what to do as Eric Thames struggles and Ryan Braun cannot adjust to the infield, and the Brewers disappoint, winning less than 85 games.

Projected Finish: 88-74, 3rd in NL Central

10. colorado-rockies Colorado Rockies

Off-Season Review

The Rockies seemed pretty confident with what they have this off-season, as they did not add a first baseman or a starting pitcher.  They could have used a veteran mentor at either position.  They did bring back Carlos Gonzalez for depth though.  This off-season, CarGo’s market has been limited due to regressive struggles in 2017, but the Rockies brought him back anyway, hoping he would rebound.  In the meantime, Ian Desmond and prospect Ryan McMahon will both get time at first and the young rotation will have to survive without a veteran influence.

The Case for the Rockies

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The Rockies are coming off a strong 2017 season, where they finally cracked the playoff field.  But they haven’t secured themselves as regular contenders yet.  To contend again in 2018, the young rotation will have to at least have a decent year, and they need Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado to pick up from where they left off last season.  DJ LeMahieu, CarGo, and Trevor Story have also helped provide their lineup with the power they need to contend. Will the Rockies make the playoffs?  Tell me what you think in the comments.

What’s Holding Them Back

The Rockies play in a severely hitter-friendly ballpark, so it’s understandable if the Rockies lineup is significantly better than the rotation.  But the Rockies will have to perform well on the road to become a true playoff contender, and in most ballparks, that requires a better rotation than what Colorado has.  I think this team can make the playoffs, but they could be eliminated early once again if the pitching struggles, especially in the 1 game wild-card round.
Best Case Scenario: The young Rockies rotation exceeds their expectations, the powerful lineup dominates, and the Rockies win the NL West and get ready to make a run in the playoffs.
Worst Case Scenario: Charlie Blackmon cannot repeat his success, CarGo, and other hitters begin to decline, and the Rockies struggle, finishing 4th in the NL West just below .500.

Projected Finish: 88-74, 2nd in NL West

9. St_Louis_Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals

Off-Season Review

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Much like the Blue Jays are doing now, the Cardinals have quietly rebuilt without regressing majorly.  They are already hoping to contend after beginning to rebuild in the 2015-16 off-season.  This off-season, they acquired Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins, and were hoping to land Mike Moustakas, but lost out on him. Ozuna is an upgrade over Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk, both of whom the Cardinals traded away this off-season.  However, they have been fine in their first few games as Jose Martinez continues to dominate.  Matt Carpenter can now help at third base with Martinez playing first on some days.  They also upgraded their pitching staff, signing Miles Mikolas in his return to the MLB.  They also added Luke Gregerson and Greg Holland in a remodeling of the bullpen.

The Case for the Cardinals

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The Cardinals are ready to work towards a return to the playoffs.  With a roster that is flooded with young talent as well as veterans, who they will need to win now.  They were lucky with how fast their rebuild went.  Tommy Pham, Jose Martinez, and other top prospects broke through quickly.  The Cardinals went into rebuild mode because they had such a strong farm system, and those players will help lead this team along with veterans like Dexter Fowler, Marcell Ozuna, Matt Carpenter, and Michael Wacha who St. Louis either held on to from 2015 or has acquired since then.

What’s Holding Them Back

I like the Cardinals young rotation, but I feel that Jack Flaherty and Luke Weaver could have used more time to develop, and Alex Reyes will need it after his elbow injury.  Reyes has even considered switching to become a late-inning reliever.  If they had signed a veteran mentor like John Lackey, Ubaldo Jimenez, or Scott Kazmir, who are all still available, to a 1-year deal, then they might be in better shape.  Signing Moose also would have helped.

Best Case Scenario: The young Cardinals leaders dominate, including the rotation, and help lead the Cardinals to an NL Central win and a playoff run.

Worst Case Scenario: The young rotation cannot handle the pressure, Tommy Pham cannot repeat his 2017 success as well as some of their other recent breakout players, and the Cardinals finish around .500, third or fourth in the division.

Projected Finish: 90-72, 2nd in NL Central

8. la-angels-of-anaheim Los Angeles Angels

Off-Season Review

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The Angels were one of the most active teams in the league this off-season, especially early on, when very few moves were made across the league.  They brought back Justin Upton and acquired another player from the Tigers in 2B Ian Kinsler (Upton was acquired from Detroit in a trade last season).  They added Zack Cozart too.  The combination of those three will really boost their lineup.  They had enough depth and power in the lineup for 2018 that they were able to trade away mediocre 1B C.J. Cron.  Their biggest move came early on when they signed Japanese two-way player Shohei Ohtani, who has already done great at the big league level as a hitter and a pitcher.

The Case for the Angels

The Angels are ready to return to contention after struggling over the last two years.  Their struggles were caused by the injury-riddled rotation and the lack of a strong lineup.  But now, all has changed after the Halos added some rotation depth and boosted their lineup.  The Angels will fight for a Wild Card spot, but they may be a division contender if they did not play in the same division as the defending World Series champions, the Houston Astros.

What’s Holding Them Back

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The Angels do not have much on their own roster that can hold them back.  But there are two problems: a) they do not have the same kind of talent that the dominant teams of the league have and b) they compete in a tough division that is led by the defending World Series champion, who has only gotten better this off-season.  They have Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, but what other All Star players do they have?  They will face a tough schedule and that will hold them back as they struggle to compete with the best.

Best Case Scenario: Shohei Ohtani and the Angels rotation avoid injuries and dominate, the lineup returns to dominance after adding Upton, Kinsler, and Cozart, and the Angels compete for the AL West title and make a playoff run.

Worst Case Scenario: The rotation’s injury problems continue, Ohtani cannot handle the pressure of MLB level pitching, and the lineup ends up underperforming, leading the Angels to another mediocre season.

Projected Finish: 88-74, 2nd in AL West

7. cleveland-indians Cleveland Indians

Off-Season Review

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The Indians were able to replace 1B Carlos Santana (lost in free agency) by upgrading with a signing of Yonder Alonso, who had a very strong season with the A’s and Mariners in 2017.  They also brought back familiar faces in Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis.  The Indians have been able to maintain a strong roster without spending too much money, as they did not lose too many people to free agency.  All they needed was one more outfielder, a little bullpen help, and a replacement for Santana.

The Case for the Indians

Cleveland is one of what is known as the MLB’s Super Seven, a group of teams that are bound for long term success after dominance in 2017.  However, I see Cleveland as the bottom team of these seven, as although they have maintained a strong roster, they have not made many upgrades after losing to the Yankees in the 2017 ALDS and losing to the Cubs in the 2016 World Series.  They will still be significant contenders and clear division favorites (despite a weak division), but do not expect a run beyond the ALDS this year.  I see an AL pennant as their ceiling.

What’s Holding Them Back

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Like I said, they could use a couple more upgrades over what they have.  Michael Brantley is getting older and is very injury prone, Jason Kipnis is declining, and the bullpen could use a little more depth to aid a strong rotation.  There are other teams that I see as much more likely World Series winners than them.

Best Case Scenario: The lineup keeps up the good work, the rotation looks dominant as it is led by two star pitchers in Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, and the Indians make a deep playoff run.

Worst Case Scenario: Injuries and old age hold back the Indians as they lose the division to the Minnesota Twins and just barely snag a Wild Card.

Projected Finish: 92-70, 1st in AL Central

That’s all for this article.  Stay tuned for more Red Sox and other baseball articles coming soon.