Thursday, April 7, 2016

Two Down, One Hundred Sixty to Go

Here are some very early reactions, and probably some over-reactions, to the 2016 Red Sox
  • The 2015 version of the Red Sox would have rolled over and lost 9-1 after getting behind 5-0 early like they did last night. It was very encouraging to see this year’s club flash some grit and fight back to take the lead in the game. Perhaps even more encouraging was how they did it: with smart situational baseball. They drew the smart walk, made the crafty base running play, and hit sacrifices when they needed to.
  • Noe Ramirez and Robbie Ross Jr. are just not good enough against good teams when these games really matter. Ross looks like he and Pablo Sandoval spent the offseason bellying up to all-you-can-eat buffets. 
  • Matt Barnes is right on the edge between being a guy I want to see more of in the 7th and 8th innings, and a guy who should probably be sent back to AAA for more polish. When he gears up that big frame and fires a 95 mph fastball for a strikeout, he looks like a closer. But he still walks too many guys and his secondary pitches still aren’t sharp. I’m cheering for you, Matt. We need you.
  • I really hope the 2016 club doesn’t fall into the same horrible habit of giving up first inning runs that the 2015 team did. It seems like we played the entire month of April from behind last year. Buchholz looked truly awful yesterday. We need him to find his stuff in a hurry. Maybe he needs to grow out some gross hair and a wispy goatee?
  • Blake Swihart looks ready for a full time major league catching job. He looks like he spent the offseason lifting weights and filling out his frame. He looks much stronger than when he first got thrust onto the big league roster last year when Ryan Hanigan couldn’t stop breaking his fingers. It also appears that Swihart spent some time blocking balls in the dirt this offseason, which was an area in which he had to improve. Swihart was second in the majors with 16 passed balls in 2015 in a part-time role, behind only Russell Martin who had to catch R.A. Dickey every five games. But last night Swihart made several nice stops behind the dish to keep the runners locked where they were, even if the Remdog thought Marlon Byrd (sneaky good pickup by the Indians) should have made it to second on two of those balls in the dirt. I’ve also been impressed with the maturity in Swihart’s batting eye at the plate. He came up in the 6th with two runners on and got the bunt sign from Butter, even though he only had two sacrifice bunts in all of 2015. To Swihart’s credit, he didn’t lunge out at the first pitch he saw to try to get the bunt down. Instead, he pulled the bat back from his bunting stance three times and drew a key walk to keep the inning going instead of giving up the out through a sacrifice. Oh, and I know technically Rajai Davis was safe at third base last night, but Swihart threw that ball approximately 245 mph right on the money. What a seed. I’m buying every piece of Swihart stock I can get my hands on.
  • Speaking of the Remdog, Jerry Remy is on his game. He was good in 2015, and he was very sharp last night. I enjoyed his analysis of Hanley’s swing adjustments, Holt’s baserunning play to score in the 6th, and his opinion on the Chase Utley rule. Remy and Dave O’Brien don’t have the rapport that Don and Jerry had yet, but Remy seems to be all-in on being a top notch analyst this year.
  • Brock Holt is a good baseball player. His defensive versatility to move from LF to 3B and not miss a beat is so valuable. He works counts and he drew a big walk last night. His baserunning play, which I’ve already mentioned about five times, was the kind of play that a winner makes. He even poked one out of the yard last night. The guy is just always up to stuff.
  • Good luck getting a fly ball to drop between Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts this season. What a weapon it is to know that these guys are going to go get everything.
  • I can’t believe how much money and how many more years remain on Pablo Sandoval’s contract, who is the league’s highest paid and heaviest late-inning defensive replacement. Although I might be willing to forgive Ben Cherington for this horrific contract since he did have the good sense to not break up this Betts, Bogaerts, Blake, and Bradley core.
  • Hanley Ramirez getting his opposite field swing going is a beautiful thing. I love everything about Hanley’s start to 2016. It was a small gesture, but I liked how Hanley came over and patted Clay Buchholz on the butt and said something to him when Clay was getting yanked in the fifth last night. It was one of many signs I’ve already noticed this year that this team’s chemistry seems to be good. I think it was telling when Hanley said he feels back at home in the infield. He seems like a guy who likes to be in where the action is rather than out by himself in the outfield where it’s easier to check out. Barry might want to go back and delete his comment where he predicts Sandoval will have a better year than Hanley. And this is coming from a guy who once wrote an entire post defending Joel Hanrahan.
  • Anybody who says baseball is an old monolith of a sport that isn’t changing and adapting to the modern world isn’t paying attention. It’s not your father’s game any more, let alone your grandfather’s game. The MLB is taking measures to protect its star players, similar to how the NFL has changed its rules to protect its quarterbacks. And I can’t say I blame them. It’s the smart, prudent move for a league working to stay popular with the next generation of fans. The collision between old school take-out-the-shortstop, collide-with-the-catcher, all-while-having-a-huge-lip-full-of-dip and new school instant replay challenge decisions, protecting defenders on the base paths, and pace of play initiatives continues to be a fascinating subplot to the 2016 season. 
  • Speaking of the Chase Utley rule, count me in favor of it. John Gibbons may think I need to wear a dress. Jerry Remy might disagree and say the rule takes out an intimidation factor that creates added pressure on middle infielders that has been a part of the game since time immemorial. But if an Indians player goes hard to break up a double play tonight and instead of sliding to the bag he slides at Xander Bogaerts and breaks every bone in his leg, I would want that player suspended, let alone called out along with the baserunner. Protect the players.
  • Lastly, this doesn’t have anything to do with the Red Sox, but that John Gibbons quote about “tomorrow we’ll have to show up wearing dresses” is the kind of quote that has legs, no pun intended. We haven’t heard the end of that quote. I can already hear the keyboards clacking away with hot take think pieces all over the country using the quote as an example of how macho man-first our society still is, connecting this attitude to the gender wage gap, and maybe even a think piece connecting the quote’s implied culture to a country which might be heading towards its first ever female president, even if she wears pantsuits instead of dresses to work.

7 comments:

  1. Excellent reactions and overreactions. For what's it's worth I predicted that Sandoval will have a better season than Travis Shaw. With that being said I should probably withdraw that comment as well. Shaw has looked good so far. I do think in the long run the Red Sox will be better served using the versatility of Shaw and Holt instead of using them only at 3B and LF.

    Hanley's body language has given me hope that he will have a better season. The first to third stuff, the defense and the opposite field hitting are all things that he did at times last season, so I'm not going to overreact to those. But, his involvement in the games and his body language give me the impression that he is more invested this season. He also seems more at home in the infield, but let's see what happens when his defense cost the team a game or two. Hopefully he'll hit enough to make it worth it.

    I'm also all in on Swihart right now. I too noticed that he has improved his blocking of pitches in the dirt. He has also hit a number of balls right on the nose that have been caught. He's due for some babip improvement. When he gets hot at the plate...watch out!

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  2. I do have one thing that I disagree with. I think Noe Ramirez has a chance to be a right handed submarine Chad Bradford type of guy. He's my sleeper for a bullpen guy who will be pitching in some key situations later in the year, over a guy like Matt Barnes.

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    1. I hope you're right. Wednesday night Cleveland's hitters were making very hard contact with Ramirez's stuff even though they were hitting them foul. The sound off the bat was very loud. He didn't seem to be fooling anyone even if the end results were good. But maybe his funky herky-jerky delivery will be tough on righties. Here's hoping.

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    2. If used in the proper role I think he can be an asset. With his delivery he ought to be able to get righties out in the 5/6/7th innings. The run that he gave up came on a leadoff walk which obviously you can't have relievers doing but the next hit was the blooper of all bloopers right on the chalk down the right field line. I didn't see him getting hit very hard the inning before. His ball also has some sink to it which means he may be called on to get a double play when needed.

      Maybe I'm using wishful thinking, but I don't think this guy is going to be a premiere set up guy or anything. I just think he could be very effective in a certain role. Every year each team seems to have a bullpen pitcher come out of nowhere to have a very good season. I think Ramirez could be that guy for us...which of course is the kiss of death for him as he'll likely spend the entire season on the DL...in Pawtucket)

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  3. Now that we've played 3 games I have a few more comments on your points. First of all, #1 couldn't be more true. The Red Sox once again fell behind big early, but unlike last year they didn't fold up they came storming back and this time they were able to find a way to win in the late innings.

    Joe Kelly did give up one first inning run, but the Sox quickly tied it up and took the lead by the third inning. You're right that last year it felt like we were behind from the get go every game and this year we have given up 5 first inning runs in 3 games. But, maybe it's an increased confidence in the offense or misplaced confidence in the starting pitchers but it doesn't seem like this is going to be an on going problem this year and if it is the offense appears poised to keep this team in every game.

    With that being said, the Red Sox do not want to make a habit of having to go to the bullpen in the 4th inning and needing the offense to put up big runs every night. That is not a recipe for success. It's also a sure fire plan to blow out every arm in the bullpen by the 4th of July. Junichi Tazawa is on pace to pitch in all 162. The starters need to stop giving up big innings and getting knocked out of the game by the 4th innings. Here's to hoping that Rick Porcello reverses that trend today and gives the team a quality start. That will be a tall task against a very good Blue Jays offense, but the team is already in desperate need of quality innings by a starter.

    Great call on the Rem Dawg. He has been really good this year. And in case anyone hasn't heard he's lost 20 pounds by eating half portions!

    I may end up being wrong about Brock Holt, Hanley Ramirez and Travis Shaw, but so far my boy Noe Ramirez is looking good! He went right through the heart of the Toronto order last night in the 4th and 5th innings and only allowed 2 baserunners neither of which got passed first base.

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  4. Well shit here we go. Two first inning runs already given up by Porcello and he's not out of the inning yet. Maybe 2016 is going to be more like 2015 in that respect. Constantly playing from behind is not something you want to do regularly.

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  5. No question the starting pitching must be better ( I think it will). But the work of the bullpen has been very encouraging. I felt going into 2016 the pen could be a strength, & when Carson Smith returns, I still think it will be. Smith may be back in less than two weeks, who goes? Likely Noe R. but could they go with one lefty and cut Tommy Layne?

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