By: Andrew Tashian
The Red Sox were such a different team the first part of August. They won 16 of 20 from July 31st to August 23rd. Over that span they batted .277, hit 29 HR, saw 72 BB, slugged .465 and had a .817 OPS. Stretching their AL East lead over the Yankees to a 5.5 game lead everything seemed to be on the up and up. However, as I’ve said before, the 2017 Boston Red Sox are the single most inconsistent first place ball club in MLB History. They have lost 4 in a row, being outscored 38-10 and playing some of the worst defensive baseball ever seen by human eyes. The baserunning mistakes, the absolute lack of power, the comical managerial skills of John Farrell…they’ve somehow made it to late August in first place. Mostly behind the arms of Chris Sale and Drew Pomeranz, as well as, the overachieving bullpen, Boston is now facing the question that they’ve peaked too early. The same question that was presented to them last season after rattling off 11 straight victories in September, before being swept in the ALDS by the eventual AL Champion, Cleveland Indians. The fact of the matter is, the Red Sox need pitching to carry them because hitting with runners in scoring position, or with runners on base at all, doesn’t seem to be part of the gameplan.
Before Monday’s game vs Toronto, Boston was 6th in MLB leaving runners on base with 920 and had the most of any 1st place team in the big leagues. They grounded into the 5th most double plays [117, TOR leads with 130] and have had the most runners thrown out on the basepaths with 67, which doesn’t include caught stealing attempts. That number included an irrational 25 runners at home plate which, again, leads baseball. Had those runners scored, Boston would be 5th in runs scored in MLB — 4th in the AL. Even though some of the Sox’s most recent losses have been brutal, ugly beatdowns from the opposition due to awful starting pitching, it’s important to highlight how nonexistent the power game has been from Boston. It’s not something Red Sox fans, even MLB fans, are used to. With some of the most prominent power hitters to grace the Fenway batter’s boxes as home town favorites, it was always easy to label the Sox as a power hitting juggernaut with average speed and decent pitching. Those days seem long gone. It’s been a blessing to have Chris Sale, don’t get me wrong, but the Red Sox need that middle of the lineup, power bat. Hanley obviously isn’t that guy & Mookie Betts has power, but isn’t going to be a 30/100 guy we thought he was going to be. Not one person on the 2017 Red Sox is your prototypical masher of baseballs so the Red Sox can’t cover up their weaknesses with the long ball. Their weakness is the longball. They’ve only hit 137 HR on the season, the bottom of the bag in the AL & 4th worst in baseball. Teams in their company? Philadelphia – 140, Atlanta – 135, Pittsburgh – 126 , San Fransisco – 101. The low of the low, the Red Sox are keeping so pretty disgusting company. They’re below league average in 3B, HR, CS, SLG, OPS, TB, and, as highlighted above, their woes on the basepaths only magnifies how troubling these facts really are.
These offensive struggles now coupled with the bad pitching is making Sox fans uneasy, suffering a bit of deja vu, longing for the Fall of ’17 to be vastly different than the Fall of ’16. We know it’ll take great pitching, especially from the starters, to get this team to where they want to be: Contending for a World Championship. John Farrell knows that.
Being asked about the recent struggles the pitching staff as had, Farrell said:
“To be quite frank with you, our team is built to have the starter keep the game under control early,” and adding “We’re not a big swing-of-the-bat type of lineup, so to play catch-up, that’s a little bit more difficult (with) the way we’re constructed.”
With the top three pitchers in the rotation slated to pitch against the last place Blue Jays, John Farrell needs them to be much better than they’ve been.
After being outscored 36-9 and getting swept by Baltimore at Fenway Park the first time since 2014, Farrell handed the ball to LHP Drew Pomeranz to face the Blue Jays. Big Smooth posted a 3-0 record with a 1.59 ERA in his past five starts. has not allowed an earned run in his past 11.1 innings & also won a career-best seven consecutive decisions heading into Monday night. Pomeranz has endured awesome success this season vs Toronto going 2-0 with a 0.71 ERA. He pitched 6 2/3 innings in his most recent outing against the Blue Jays on July 19th at Fenway Park, giving up just one run, which was unearned. His career vs Canada’s finest: 2-1 with a 2.11 ERA in 4 starts [6 appearances.]
Things got off to a jagged start for Big Smooth. Allowing two runs in the first inning it seemed like Monday’s game was going to be a cut from the same cloth the previous 4 games were produced from. High pitch counts, questionable defense, early deficits….I could hear the collective groans from Red Sox Nation, they were loud, they were just. Could this really be happening? The Red Sox had made the Rogers Centre their second home, going 5-1 there this year, are they really going to get blown out by the last place team in the East?
Hell fucking no. Not on Christian Vazquez’s watch.
Boston clearly had enough of their losing ways. Eduardo Nunez started the scoring for Boston, hitting a 2nd inning solo HR off of Toronto’s Marcus Stroman. It was Nunez’s 11th HR of the season & 7th with Boston since being acquired in late July. I recently wrote about Nunez and the character he brings to the Sox lineup. After a quiet week during the Red Sox recent hot stretch, Eddie is turning the page and being the catalyst Boston has needed all year.
Drew Pomeranz settled down & gave Boston the start they needed. Big Smooth’s final line: 6 IP – 7 H – 3 R – 5 BB – 4 K. Those walks stick out, but umpire Angel Hernandez had another atrocious game behind the plate, so take those free passes with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, it was a quality start, and gave him his career high in wins with a month left to go. It was his 8th consecutive win and he, remarkably, hasn’t lost since June 11th. Pitching in a rotation that consists of the 2016 MVP Rick Porcello and God’s Gift to Pitching Chris Sale, it is Drew Pomeranz, who is tied with Sale, with 14 wins. How are those Clay Buchholz comparisons holding up now?
Heading into the 7th inning, which we all know is when Red Sox games actually begin. Toronto enjoyed a 3-2 lead. After Hanley’s second hit of the night ( I KNOW! TWO!) Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez strolled to the plate. After falling behind in the count 0-2 to Blue Jays relief man Danny Barnes, Vaz did something the Red Sox don’t see happen very often:
A clutch, late inning, two strike, go-ahead homerun on the road vs a divisional opponent! A late summer’s night miracle! It was the type of swing you’d expect from a $22,000,000 designated hitter, not a $561,000 catcher, and the Red Sox never lost the lead from there.
The Sox tacked on two more runs, after Vazquez’s moon shot, in their 4-run 7th inning. One run came on a bases loaded, infield single by Mitch Moreland. The second on a bases loaded walk to Xander Bogaerts. It was the first lead the Red Sox for Boston in 5 days as Vazquez went on to have a 4-for-4, 2 RBI game. He pushed his batting average up to .294 for the year and finished a triple shy of the cycle. Vazquez continued his scorching hot August improving his numbers to 18-for-45 [.400] with 3 HR, 6 RBI, 10 R & 5 BB.
An uneventful 8th inning saw Brandon Workman work a clean frame after Addison Reed pitched his own spotless 7th. The Sox were quiet in their half of the ninth which set up the unleashing of the Kimbrel. Mr. Kimbrel earned his 30th save, his 7th straight season hitting that mark, but it didn’t come without a little drama.
After surrendering a leadoff walk, just his 10th free pass of the season, Kimbrel got the next two batters to fly out. With the Blue Jays slugger Justin Smoak at the plate, Dirty Craig hung a 1 strike slider that Smoak ripped into the left field seats. It was his 36th of the season and made it a one run game. The Red Sox could ill-afford to allow this game to slip away and the remaining Jays fans in attendance were loud and proud. Kimbrel, clearly a bit uneasy, walked right-fielder Jose Bautista and the game-winning run came to plate in the shape of Kendrys Morales. Morales had 1 career at-bat versus the Red Sox closer, hitting a homerun in that sole opportunity. Kimbrel was having none of that and won a 5 pitch at-bat getting Toronto’s DH to pop out to Bogey to end the game. A suspenseful 9th inning to cap an electric performance by Christain Vazquez and the Sox have, maybe, turned the corner on a horrendous week of baseball. With Chris Sale pitching on Tuesday, Boston has a fantastic opportunity to re-enter the wonderful world of winning baseball games and build off their now 3.5 game division lead over NYY. With just 31 games to go, every single game holds more importance than the previous day. They’ll need their starting pitching to be strong, their baserunning to be clean, their hitting to be clutch and their manager to be on top of his game. Monday night was a great sign.
FINAL SCORE: BOSTON – 6 Toronto – 5
Photo Credit - Boston Globe