Sox Pitching Staff, Captaincy, and More
Spring Training games have finally begun, and it’s time to look at what America’s Pastime will offer Boston
JetBlue Park is under full operation, and that only means one thing: Red Sox baseball. While many of us are bundled up in our heated homes (unless it’s 71°F in Boston like it is as I write this), Red Sox players old and new alike, are taking in the Fort Myers sun preparing for a bounce-back year. Sox fans are trying to rid the memory of the quick three and out at the hands of the Cleveland Indians last Postseason, and a few additions to this year’s squad sure helps to erase the memory of what could’ve been in 2016. Players no doubt have their blinders on and are laser-focused on increasing their success from last year. In contrast to 2016, 2017 has a much different feel to it. The biggest loss being the retirement of David Ortiz (for some that retirement isn’t set in stone, but please see David Ortiz’ tweet), but the real contrast comes in the talent of the roster. Following the rise of Mookie Betts in MLB stardom, the stunning flashes of brilliance from Andrew Benintendi, and Rick Porcello’s Cy Young season, the Red Sox added former Cy Young award winner and White Sox ace Chris Sale via trade this offseason (dealing Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe, and Victor Diaz). For more on the 2017 season, let’s continue on to our preview.
More on Chris Sale, and the Sox Pitching Staff
Red Sox fans had been clamoring for a legitimate ace ever since Jon Lester signed a contract with the Chicago Cubs, and following a less than ace-like performance from David Price. And what a better way to do so by adding a 5-time All-Star in Chris Sale. This had been a deal in the workings for quite awhile following up to the trade in December, with the asking price dropping significantly from the Red Sox first inquisition (Mookie Betts to Yoan Moncada). On paper, this Red Sox staff looks to be a dominating force, as they hold two players who have one Cy Young awards(Price and Porcello) and another close finisher in Sale (finished in top 5 for Cy Young votings from 2013–2016). Now I do say “on paper” for a reason. The expectation right out of the gates to some seems to be the Red Sox have three legitimate aces, which I do agree upon. But how likely is it that Rick Porcello will improve or even match his numbers from last year: 22–4, 3.15 ERA, 1.009 WHIP, in 223 IP? Take a look at Dallas Kuechel’s fall from his Cy Young award season in 2015: 20–8, 2.48 ERA, 1.017 WHIP. These numbers are awfully similar to Porcello’s numbers in 2016, not accounting for the Astro’s “weaker offense”. In 2016, Kuechel plummeted: 9–12, 4.55 ERA, 1.26 WHIP. Now he did pitch 64 less innings, but he still managed to give up 21 more earned runs. So what’s my point? It’s hard for players that aren’t named Clayton Kershaw to keep their numbers up. Most pitches suffer from that fall after winning the award. Factor in Fenway Park and the short porches, it’ll be a tough test for Porcello. In addition to the occasional fall offs from Cy Young Award winners is the success of first year players in Boston. If history is the only factor that decides Chris Sale’s season, it won’t be a great season. Most recently, David Price wasn’t able to find a groove on the mound until late in the season. Other less than spectacular first years includes Carl Crawford, Pablo Sandoval (we’ll talk about him) and Josh Beckett. If I was to choose anyone to break that notion, it would be Chris Sale. Lets go back to Josh Beckett in regards to David Price. In Beckett’s first year following his trade from the once Florida Marlins, he posted a 16–11 record, 5.01 ERA, and a 1.295 WHIP. Following that disappointment, went 20–7 with a 3.27 ERA, and a 1.141 ERA, leading the Red Sox to a World Series victory. Price should model his success after that career path, minus the chicken and beer in five years. One major strength of this rotation is the ability to eat innings: Price, Sale, and Porcello all ranked in the Top 10 for innings pitched in the entire league. One major criticism I see from reporters is the void behind the three at the top of the rotation. As of right now, those final spots seem to be awarded to Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright, with some competition from Drew Pomeranz and Henry Owens. E-Rod and Wright both had their seasons cut short by injury, knee issues and shoulder issues caused by baserunning respectively (yeah, I’m not covering that). Hopefully, the ability to eat innings at the top of the rotation will overshadow the instability at the bottom.
Who’s the New Leader?
Following the retirement of David Ortiz, the Red Sox had a large gap in terms of a clubhouse presence (looking from the outside in). If you count cutting up alternate jerseys as a presence, then Sale’s your guy. Otherwise, it seemed like Big Papi’s absence would do a lot to morale and clubhouse leadership. But as Spring training rolled on, Pedey stepped up.
Pedroia calls for pop up, Moreland yells “take it”. Pedroia shouts back “ We don’t say that here, that’s little league bullshit”.
Even just from one Lou Merloni tweet, you can see Pedroia’s presence. But it’s nothing new. Dustin has always seemed to have that fiery edge to him, and I’m sure he’s been just as prevalent in leadership as Ortiz had been. I’ll go out and say it now, Dustin Pedroia should wear a “C”. He’d join just David Wright as the only captains following more recently, Derek Jeter and Jason Varitek. Pedroia is the perfect case for overcoming the odds. At 5'9", which I still don’t buy, Pedroia throughout his college career and early minor league career was criticized for his stature. What has he done in response? Won 2007 ROY, 2008 AL MVP, all along with 4 Gold Gloves.
People always ask me if I wish I were bigger. I tell them no. I always wanted to be a miniature badass.
And oh yeah, he called A-Rod a “dork” way back. Give him the captaincy.
40 Pounds Lighter
I’ll say it here and I’ll say it now: I believe this is the year that Pablo Sandoval finally earns his stripes. With Yoan Moncada and Travis Shaw now out of Boston, there’s no one besides Rafael Devers to compete for the third base job (I still expect Devers to be at least a year out). Third base is Pablo Sandoval’s, and for the first time since he signed that contract, I have confidence in saying it. Brock Holt is always around the corner, but he has truly fallen off since he was the lone Red Sox All Star back in 2015. The Panda needs to produce results, or the Red Sox are in big trouble. Short and sweet talk here, but we’ll see if the lack of competition heals or harms Sandoval.
Why a picture of Kyle Kendrick? We’ll get back to that. One of the more underrated moves for the Red Sox was the signing of Mitch Moreland, agreeing to a 1 year/$5,500,000 deal. Once again, the retirement of David Ortiz is a large proponent for all the moves the Red Sox have made. With the DH spot open, Hanley Ramirez should leave 1B and take over at the DH spot, with Moreland sliding into Ramirez’ role. Moreland does add some extra versatility to the lineup, as he can always slide into the OF when need be, which shouldn’t be all too often. Moreland is coming off a poor year in terms of average, hitting a measly .233 but adding 22 homers (1 shy of his career high in 2013 & 2015). While he’s no David Ortiz, his power numbers should elevate with a similar short porch in the left field corner, just like Globe Life. Add in the Green Monster, and maybe Moreland will tend to send the ball the other way. Tough to pull players out of tendencies, but Moreland pulled about 45% of his hits last year, while about 21% went the other way. The occasional wall ball will definitely impact the ol’ slugging percentage. Lets get back to Kyle Kendrick, whom the Red Sox signed to a minor league deal recently. Kendrick last logged MLB innings in 2015, where he posted an abysmal 6.32 ERA in Colorado. When with the Philadelphia Phillies, Kendrick hovered around low 4 ERA’s to mid 3 ERAs. Combined with pitching guru Brian Bannister, Kendrick may see some adjustments to his mechanics and a reawakening of sorts. Maybe this change of scenery will see Kendrick crack a rotation spot down the road, but for now he’ll have to prove himself in Pawtucket.
What’s Next for Betts, Bradley, and Benintendi?
What else do you need to say about this outfield? Betts almost won an MVP (2nd in voting), Bradley has the defense of a perennial gold glover, and Benintendi who put up 31 hits in 34 games following his short minor league career. I watched Benintendi in Spring Training batting practice, and the kid is already blasting homers. I think he had about 4 in his round of 10 pitches. This is the core of this Red Sox lineup. The only weakness I could potentially see is Jackie Bradley, where is high average eventually settled at .267, which is still impressive along with his 26 homers. It’ll be tough to match, but Bradley has shown some real strides in his bat. And I have nothing to say about Mookie. Except that he should have won the Celebrity Bowling Championship.
Some small takeaways from this article, but I like to sum up alot of the offseason pretty quickly. Overall, this team has alot more promise than last year. With the reassurance of the outfield, the acquisition of Sale, and the continually rise of all the young Sox, I think this Red Sox team will be one to reckon with this year. Hopefully we’ll be able to see this again: