Nation STATion: Do the Sox have the pitching?

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Nation STATion: Do the Sox have the pitching?

By Bill Chuck
Special to CSNNE.com

Yes, Im well aware of the Red Sox nine hits in three games and two lost series in a row, but before you start lining up on the Zakim Bridge, youre really not concerned about the Sox bats are you?

You know the Sox will get many hits from Jacoby, Pedey, Gonzo, Youk, and Papi and an occasional contribution from ReddickDrew, SaltyTek, ScutaroLowrie, and Crawford. So the offense isnt the issue . . . at least until the postseason.

Theres the phrase that pays: At least until the postseason. Once the postseason begins, Sox (and Yankee) hitters dont get to beat up on weak sisters like the Orioles, Royals, and Twins. In the postseason, the name of the game is pitching. And yes, the Sox have reason to worry.

The performance against the Rays staff gives Red Sox Nation a reason to worry because Tampa has postseason quality pitching. Look at their ERA:

Tampas pitching overall 3.67
Tampas starters 3.56
Tampas bullpen 3.96

Now compare it to the overall ERA of all the postseason contenders:
1. Philadelphia 3.08 (1 in the majors overall)
2. San Francisco 3.14 (2)
3. Atlanta 3.42 (3)
4. Angels 3.50 (5)
5. Yankees 3.57 (6)
6. Milwaukee 3.69 (10)
7. Texas 3.71 (12)
8. White Sox 3.80 (15)
9. St. Louis 3.83 (16)
10. Cleveland 3.88 (17)
11. Red Sox 3.90 (18)
12. Arizona 4.03 (20)
13. Detroit 4.23 (24)

Lets eliminate the NL and look just at the AL contenders:
1. Angels 3.50 (1 in the AL)
2. Yankees 3.57 (2)
3. Texas 3.71 (5)
4. White Sox 3.80 (7)
5. Cleveland 3.88 (8)
6. Red Sox 3.90 (9)
7. Detroit 4.23 (11)

Overall, all the teams in the AL have a 3.97 ERA, in the NL a 3.84 ERA. Overall in the bigs, teams have a 3.90 ERA which makes the Sox average. When you look at just the American League, you dont feel a lot better. These are rankings that are simply not reassuring in the middle of August as we look toward October.

It only looks worse when we focus solely on the ERA of starting pitching.
1. Philadelphia 2.99 (1 in the majors overall)
2. San Francisco 3.28 (2)
3. Angels 3.49 (3)
4. Texas 3.62 (6)
5. Atlanta 3.64 (7)
6. Milwaukee 3.76 (11)
7. Yankees 3.78 (12)
8. St. Louis 3.90 (15)
9. White Sox 3.91 (16)
10. Arizona 4.12 (18)
11. Red Sox 4.13 (19)
12. Detroit 4.18 (20)
13. Cleveland 4.19 (21)

Here are just the AL starters:
1. Angels 3.49 (1 in the AL)
2. Texas 3.62 (3)
3. Yankees 3.78 (6)
4. White Sox 3.91 (7)
5. Red Sox 4.13 (8)
6. Detroit 4.18 (9)
7. Cleveland 4.19 (10)

Overall, all the starters in the AL have a 4.10 ERA, in the NL a 3.98 ERA. In the bigs overall, starters have a 4.04 ERA which makes the Sox starters, by any measure, less than average.

The good news is that the Sox potentially will have to face the Angels or Texas, not both. The bad news is the Sox dont match up well against Texas.

The good news is that the Sox match up really well against the Yankees and so far has owned CC Sabathia, New York's ace. The bad news is that both Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes have been pitching better for New York and that significantly improves their rotation.

The good news is that the Sox have to face only one AL Central team. The bad news is no one wants to face Justin Verlander or Justin Masterson and the combination of Mark Buehrle, John Danks, and Phil Humber is just getting better for Chicago.

The real truth is after Beckett and Lester, the Sox starters are only as good as the offensive support they have from the Boston bats and when faced with strong starters, Lackey, Wakefield, and Bedard, are not as good as the opposition.

The bullpen provides Boston with a measure of relief, so to speak. Heres how the contenders rank:
1. San Francisco 2.95 (1 in the majors overall)
2. Atlanta 2.96 (2)
3. Yankees 3.03 (3)
4. Cleveland 3.31 (5)
5. Philadelphia 3.33 (7)
6. Boston 3.44 (12)
7. Angels 3.52 (13)
8. White Sox 3.52 (14)
9. Milwaukee 3.61 (17)
10. St. Louis 3.69 (18)
11. Arizona 3.77 (19)
12. Texas 3.97 (23)
13. Detroit 4.33 (28)

Here are the bullpen rankings just in the AL:
1. Yankees 3.03 (1 in the AL)
2. Cleveland 3.31 (2)
3. Boston 3.44 (4)
4. Angels 3.52 (5)
5. White Sox 3.52 (6)
6. Texas 3.97 (11)
7. Detroit 4.33 (13)

Overall, all the relievers in the AL have a 3.74 ERA, in the NL a 3.59 ERA, and overall in the bigs, relievers have a 3.66 ERA which makes the Sox relievers better than average.

The good news here is that Boston is very strong in the 8th and 9th innings. For the most part, Daniel Bard has been lights out setting up Jonathan Papelbon, and Papelbon has been mixing his slider and fastball more effectively this season, but there is no shortage of scary moments with him. Dan Wheeler has been improving as much as Matt Albers has been fading and I think Wheeler can make some serious contributions in the postseason. Alfredo Aceves gets the Charlie Sheen Award, he is all about winning, and he does it a lot. The rest of the bullpen is a crapshoot, but hopefully the Sox wont have to go that deep.

The bad news is that the Yankee bullpen is more than Mariano Rivera this year. While Rivera has been shaky of late, the rest of the So-Ro-Mo, Rafael Soriano and David Robertson have been outstanding in the 7th and 8th. You really want to get to the Yankee starters.

The other really bad news is the massive improvement that the Rangers made in their pen at the trading deadline, which you really cant yet see reflected in their overall numbers. While the Yankees stood pat, the Sox added Erik Bedard, the Rangers added Mike Adams, who has a 1.12 ERA, and 1.08 with Texas. And they added Koji Uehara, who has a 0.708 WHIP this season.

So were these nine hits against the Rays an indicator of the Sox capabilities in the postseason? Probably not, but there is reason for concern. Granted the Sox were without David Ortiz when facing the Rays and that changes the face of this lineup. But they could be without Big Papi for up to four games in a World Series, including a Game 7, if they get that far.

Theres the key phrase, if they get far. And only then will we see if the Rays were an ill omen for the Sox.

This weekend, you may pooh-pooh this column as the Sox bats will probably come alive against the weak KC pitching staff.

But the stats in todays Nation STATion are not about the Sox hitters, this is all about the Sox pitching which may not be good enough to contain the opposition if the Boston batters are held in check. That question will not be answered in Kansas City or the rest of this regular season. We will see the answer in the postseason and that will determine how far this team goes.

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

BOSTON -- Every year it seems like there are major issues or question marks to start spring training where the answers are up in the air.

In 2015, the Red Sox lacked an ace, had Hanley Ramirez moving to left field and Pablo Sandoval coming to town.

In 2016, Ramirez was moving back to the infield, but at a new position, and his bat was in question. Sandoval was coming off a year where he couldn’t hit his weight (he hit .245 and he last weighed in at 255 pounds). How would the starting rotation look after David Price?

This year, there seem to be three questions, but in a way, they’ve already been answered.

How will the Red Sox make up for David Ortiz’s absence?

Well, for one, the Red Sox have three Cy Young-caliber starting pitchers (Price, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello) in their rotation.

And two, Hanley Ramirez is coming off a career year with his highest career output in RBI (111) and second-highest home run total (30). And while Mitch Moreland isn’t the greatest hitter, he’s good for 20 or more home runs. Plus, it seems he’s holding a spot for a certain Red Sox prospect who’s bouncing back well from an injury.

 

Will Sandoval earn the starting third base job back?

The weight loss is a good sign, not only for the physical reasons, but it shows he’s mentally committed to being better.

However, that doesn’t guarantee he gets his job back.

“I’m not going to say [third base] resolved itself,” John Farrell told CSNNE.com, “but you know Panda’s done a very good job of committing to get himself in better shape and we’re looking forward to seeing that play to in spring training.”

Even if Panda can’t put it all together, Farrell told reporters before Thursday’s BBWAA dinner, both Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge would be competing for the job as well.

Holt as plan B -- in the infield? Who wouldn’t take that?

Who’s going to start at catcher?

Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart each have their pros an cons.

Leon did it all last year, but went from hitting .383 in his first 39 games to .242 in his last 39.

Vazquez has Ivan Rodriguez-esque abilities behind the plate, but couldn’t keep the staff under control last year and cannot hit.

Swihart, who turns 25 April 3, is the youngest of the three, has the most potential at the plate, but is far and away the worst of the three defensively at the most important defensive position -- excluding pitcher -- on the field.

They all have their drawbacks, but they’ve all shown at some point why they can be the Red Sox starting catcher in the present and future.

Everywhere else, the Red Sox seem to be in a comfortable position as pitchers and catchers reporting to camp draws ever nearer.

“I think the fact that we’ve got veteran players that have done a great job in staying healthy [and] young players that are getting more establishing in their return, we’re in a pretty good place in terms of the overall status of our position player group,” Farrell told CSNNE.com.

And it seems some players are confident in the team’s options as they ready for camp.

“We’re looking good in a lot of areas,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts told CSNNE.com. “Especially the pitching staff, [since] we just got Chris Sale one of the best in the game.”

“Pablo’s definitely going to bounce back, especially with the weight he’s lost."

Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

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Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

BOSTON -- “I didn’t feel that love after I made a pitching change in the sixth inning,” Terry Francona said after a 45-second standing ovation from Boston fans upon receiving the MLB Manager of the Year award from the BBWAA Thursday.

It’s without question the love for Francona runs deep in the city. Why wouldn’t it? He was the leader in breaking the 86-year old curse, and wound up winning another World Series title for Boston three years later.

Actually, he was more of a co-leader, working alongside the same person who won the MLB Executive of the Year honors from the BBWAA for 2016.

Theo Epstein -- who received an ovation 17 seconds shorter than Francona, but who’s counting -- reminisced about the Red Sox ownership group that took a chance on a young kid who wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate to take over as GM of a team, but now that’s helped him build the Chicago Cubs into a winning franchise and establish a great working environment.

This October marks 13 years since the ’04 championship, 10 years since ’07 and six years since the pair left Boston. Without question they’ve left their mark on the city and forever changed Red Sox baseball.

And while the fans showed their undying gratitude for Francona with an ovation almost as long as his acceptance speech, the Indians manager recognized the favor the current Red Sox brass has done for him.

“I’d like to thank Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox for getting Chris Sale the hell out of the Central Division,” Francona said.