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Red Sox Column to be Named Later

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In this week’s BSoT Red Sox Column to be Named Later, I take advantage of the Red Sox off day Monday to take a look back at the past week.  I also look at who on the Sox is trending up, who’s trending down, and take a closer look at an interesting decision by Cora for the upcoming series against the Tigers. 

Finally, I give my thoughts on the broadcasting talents of ESPN’s Jessica Mendoza. (Spoiler Alert: I’m not a fan!)

The Week That Was

With a weekend rematch of last season’s AL Division Series looming against the World Champion Houston Astros, the Red Sox series with the Blue Jays had all the makings of a classic trap series.  To their credit, the Red Sox did not get caught looking ahead to Houston and took care of business with a sweep over their division rivals north of the border. 

The Blue Jays series was largely un-eventful, and the results were never really in doubt.  The only semblance of drama occurred in the Thursday afternoon matinee finale when Brian Johnson (more on him in a bit) was unable to record an out in the ninth inning with a four run lead, forcing the use of Craig Kimbrel in what should have been a day off heading into the Houston series.

The Houston series started out exactly where last season’s ALDS ended off.  The Red Sox dropped the first two games in the series, unable to generate offense against two of the weaker Astro starters. 

Despite the league’s top ranked offense, the Red Sox scored only 5 runs in the first two days.  With Justin Verlander and Charlie Morton waiting to take the ball for Houston in Games 3 and 4, and without the services of Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia, the Red Sox faced a tall order to come out of Texas with a split in the series.

It appeared that, despite their strong start to the season against questionable competition, the Red Sox simply weren’t ready to compete with the league’s elite.  But as we have written and discussed so frequently here at Boston Sports on Tap, this year’s Red Sox team is different. 

In Game 3, the Red Sox battled Verlander (1.11 ERA coming into the game), forced him out after six innings before getting into the Astro bullpen for three runs.  David Price pitched well enough (3 ER in 6 IP) to pick up the victory with some help from the bullpen.  With the monkey off their back, the Red Sox handed Morton his first loss of the season and gained a split in the series with a decisive 9-3 victory.

Some may say a four game series in June is meaningless over the course of a 162 game season.  Manager Alex Cora downplayed expectations going into the series with similar comments.  But beating the top two Houston starters on their home field and gaining a split in the series after dropping the first two games had to boost the team’s morale, and served notice to the Astros that this year’s Red Sox team thinks it can play on the big stage.

Who’s Trending Up

Andrew Benintendi has stepped up in a big way to fill the void created by the injury to Mookie Betts.  Benintendi was inserted into the lead-off spot and the Red Sox hardly missed a beat.  Over the past seven games, Benintendi logged 11 hits, with two doubles, a triple, three homers, eight RBIs and scored seven runs.  Benintendi’s slash line over that span is a Betts-like .379/.438/1.265.  If Benintendi can maintain this pace when Betts returns from the disabled list, the Red Sox will have some serious thump at the top of their lineup in front of J.D. Martinez.

Eduardo Nunez also had a strong week, batting .400 over five games with eight hits, a double, home run and a lofty 1.029 OPS.

For the pitchers, Matt Barnes was credited with two holds, over four innings pitched.  He faced 14 batters and allowed only two singles and no walks while striking out four. 

Who’s Trending Down

Joe Kelly’s streak of scoreless innings came to a screeching halt in the second game of the Astros series when he gave up three runs on a pair of homers sandwiched around a walk without recording an out trying to preserve a one run deficit in the eighth inning.  Kelly followed up that performance by giving up a run in one inning pitched in Game 3.  For the week, Kelly’s posted an ERA of 13.50 in 2 2/3 innings pitched.  He allowed three hits, two of them home runs, and walked three with only one strikeout.

Brian Johnson also had difficulties holding leads out of the bullpen.  Johnson gave up four hits and two runs in only 2/3 of an inning for an lofty 27.00 ERA.

Rafael Devers struggles at the plate continued over the past week, picking up only four hits (one double) in six games with nine strikeouts and zero RBIS.  His slash line over that span was a meager .167/.208/.375.

A Look Ahead

After the off day on Monday, the Red Sox return to Fenway for a pair of three game series.  The Tigers make their only trip to Fenway for a three games Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, followed by a three game set over the weekend against the White Sox.

Despite the off day, which would give the starting pitchers an extra days rest, Cora has decided to give knuckleballer Wright a start Tuesday against Detroit.  This allows all starters to get a full week’s rest between starts. 

An interesting move at this point in the season, but one supported by Wright’s strong comeback to this point.  Wright has pitched well out of the bullpen with a 2.25 ERA in 16 innings pitched.

Cora has also suggested that Blake Swihart may be in line to get his first start of the season at catcher in Wright’s start.  This is a questionable move given Swihart’s lack of time behind the plate this season and combining that with the unpredictable nature of the knuckleball. 

In his career, Swihart has been charged with 20 passed balls over 754 total innings caught for a rate of 1 PB per 37.7 innings.  By comparison, Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon have allowed passed balls at a rate of 1/62.2 IC and 1/89 IC, respectively.  There are similar disparities when looking at wild pitches allowed for the trio.  If Swihart gets the start, it bears watching how often Wright’s knuckleball ends up at the backstop.

Jessica Mendoza

Over the past few weeks I have shared my thoughts and impressions on NBC’s hockey play-by-play announcer Doc Emrick (who I enjoy very much) and NESN baseball analyst Jonny Gomes (not so much).  My impressions of sports broadcasters continues this week with ESPN Sunday Night Baseball’s Jessica Mendoza.

For the record, I have no problem with woman in the workplace or in sports journalism.  I have no problem with the Doris Burkes, Suzy Kolbers, Michele Tafoyas, or the countless other female sportscasters who display journalist talents in their craft. 

The staples of Mendoza’s analysis relies on the same two basic observations – “the hitter got the head of the bat to the ball” and “he barreled up that ball”.  If someone just hit a home run, do we really need to be told that he hit the ball hard?

As I have stated before, what I want from an analyst is to be told something I don’t know or something I can’t see for myself.  Not only does Mendoza do neither of these, but her constant gushing and fawning over even the most routine plays is an insult to the knowledgeable sports fan.

Follow Bill on Twitter @BTravers_BSoT. 

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