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Whether He's Hitting or Not, the Red Sox Need JBJ in the Lineup

In this week’s BSoT Red Sox Column to be Named Later, I make the case for Jackie Bradley Jr.’s importance to the Red Sox, for Curt Schilling’s candidacy for induction into the Hall of Fame, and offer some thoughts on the August trade deadline.  And, as always, I see who is trending up, who’s trending down, and take a very quick look at the week ahead for the Boston Red Sox.

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No Glove, No Love

Rarely has a Red Sox player elicited such a disparity of emotions than Jackie Bradley, Jr.  Bradley is the poster child for streaky hitters.  He has had long stretches in which he appears to have no idea what he is doing at the plate.  Bradley has struggled for much of the season to get his average above the Mendoza line.

One thing that has been a constant throughout all of Bradley’s offensive struggles is the brilliance with which he plays center field.  You can throw out all the defensive metrics that have been developed and just believe your eyes.  Bradley is an elite defensive player, the rarest of players who can win you a game with his glove alone.

Not only does Bradley make difficult catches look like a can of corn, he routinely flags down balls in the gap and over his head and turns what look to be sure extra base hits coming off the bat into outs.  If you don’t think this has a major impact on a game, you simply don’t understand the game.  The difference between having a runner on second or third and having the bases empty takes a tremendous amount of stress of a pitcher, not to mention the additional pitches that must be thrown.

The Red Sox outfield of Bradley, Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi may be the best in the game defensively, and are certainly the best defensive outfield I have seen from a Red Sox team since the days when Carl Yastrzemski played left field with Fred Lynn in center and Dwight Evans in right.  In this era of the launch angle approach, with players intentionally hitting the ball in the air to beat infield shifts, defense in the outfield takes on even more significance.

Since getting off to a dismal start at the plate, Bradley has improved offensively of late.  Since July 1st, Bradley has batted a respectable .261, and has chipped in with 17 RBI in 20 games in that stretch.  The Red Sox would gladly take that level of production from him moving forward.  Whether Bradley can maintain that level for the rest of the season remains to be seen.  But whether he does or not, I have seen enough of Bradley’s defense to continue to pencil him into the lineup on a regular basis for just his glove alone.  He is simply that important to this team.

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Schilling’s Turn

The induction of Jack Morris into the Baseball Hall of Fame this weekend raises the question of the chances of former Phillies, D-Backs and Red Sox ace Curt Schilling.  Morris was a solid pitcher throughout his 18 year career, but was not considered one of the dominant pitchers of his generation.  He posted a 254-186 lifetime record, with a career 3.90 ERA and 1.296 WHIP.  Morris won 20 games or more only three times, twice leading the league in wins.  Morris was named to the All-Star Game in only five of his 18 seasons, and never won a Cy Young Award.

It was the postseason in which Morris gained his fame and his reputation as a big game pitcher.  Morris was a respectable 7-4 in 13 postseason starts, but it was in the World Series where Morris shined on the biggest stage.  In his seven World Series starts, Morris went 4-2 with a 2.96 ERA and pitched three complete games.  Morris’ signature postseason performance came in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series when, as a member of the Minnesota Twins, he threw a 10 inning shutout to earn a 1-0 win against the heavily favored Atlanta Braves.

As Morris did in the 80’s and 90’s, Curt Schilling gained a reputation as the guy who wanted the ball in the biggest of moments with everyone watching.  Schilling’s career stats are very good (20 seasons, 216-146, 3.46 ERA), but Schilling kicked his game up two or three notches when he reached the postseason.  In 19 postseason starts, Schilling was an outstanding 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA and a 0.968 WHIP.  In the World Series, Schilling took it to yet another level.  In seven World Series starts, Schilling went 4-1, and lowered his ERA to 2.06 and WHIP to 0.896.

Schilling’s signature postseason moment?  Other than Kirk Gibson’s pinch-hit walkoff against Dennis Eckersley, is there a more iconic symbol of postseason guts and determination than Schilling’s bloody sock?

For all of his statistics, and for what he has added to baseball lore, Schilling has been on the Hall Ballot for six seasons and has not come close to gaining the requisite 75% of the votes to gain induction.  In 2018, he received votes on only 52.3% of ballots, and slight increase from 2017, but still far short.

Schilling has certainly hurt his chances with his outspoken political views.  He still has nine years of eligibility remaining among Hall voters, the same voters who deemed Morris to be worthy of the highest honor baseball can bestow to its players.  Let’s hope these voters can look beyond the politics and give Schilling his rightful place among the all-time greats.

Second Trade Deadline

With Tuesday’s non-waiver trade deadline quickly approaching, it is important to remember that sometimes the biggest trades happen after the July deadline in August.  Several teams who think they may still be in contention now, such as the Nationals, Pirates or Cardinals, may fall out of contention by the August deadline and decide to become sellers.  Justin Verlander was such a deal last season when he made it through waivers in August and accepted a trade to the Astros.  The Red Sox trade of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to the Dodgers also happened in late August.  Stay tuned.

Who’s Trending Up

Since pitching coach Dana Lavangie made an adjustment to his mechanics following a rough outing in Detroit after the All-Star Break, Tyler Thornburg has pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings out of the pen.  In that stretch, he has not allowed a hit or surrendered a walk while seeing his velocity jump to the mid-90’s.  He has yet to pitch in a high leverage situation, but if he continues to pitch well he could be putting himself in position to compete with Matt Barnes and Heath Hembree for the eighth inning role.

Chris Sale – do we need to look at the numbers?

Who’s Trending Down

Since the All-Star Break, and assuming the bulk of the catching duties, Sandy Leon has struggled at the plate.  Going into play Monday, Leon has hit only .048 (1 for 21) in six games.

Joe Kelly – do we need to look at the numbers?

Finally, Mookie Betts has not exactly been on fire since the break, batting only .238.  Maybe he should have participated in the Home Run Derby.

A Look Ahead

The National League East leading Phillies come to Fenway for a quick pair of Interleague games on Monday and Tuesday.  Hopefully the Red Sox do not get caught in a classic trap series as they look ahead to four big games with the Yankees over the weekend.  Check back on later this week for more coverage of the Yankee series.  (Spoiler Alert – David Price gets the ball again for the Sunday Night Game).

Follow Bill on Twitter @BTravers_BSoT. 

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