Springtime Storylines: Will the Red Sox score enough runs?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Now the Red Sox: Good times never seemed so good.

The big question: Will the Red Sox score enough runs?

Just because it’s “the big question” — and it’s “big” because everyone in the Boston press corps and greater Red Sox Nation seems to want to ask it — doesn’t make it a great question. It’s worth asking simply because a team can never score too many runs, but what seems to be motivating the question this spring is not a concern about the Sox’ offense for its own sake, but a misguided belief that, simply because the team doubled down on defense this winter the offense will necessarily suffer. False dichotomies are fun and everything, but if I went through life asking myself whether I wanted chocolate or vanilla Frogurt I’d miss out on the fact that there’s a swirl option too.  Put more simply, a team can both improve run prevention and maintain a more than adequate offense, and I think the Red Sox have done that.

Projections are what they are, but the Red Sox project to have the second best lineup in the AL this year. More tangibly speaking, Jason Bay is gone, but Marco Sutaro and a full season of Victor Martinez represent significant improvements. Adrian Beltre is one of those gloves that was brought in, but with his health restored and a more friendly hitting environment I expect him to do quite well. Everyone hates on J.D. Drew, but he’s still an excellent hitter.  This team will score some runs. Not that anyone who wrote one of those hand-wringing “will the Sox score enough?” articles this spring will admit that they were grabbing for easy storylines instead of thinking about the Sox’ offense (query: is the fact that I used this as a “Springtime Storyline” hypocritical? Meta? A pun? I think it was a pun. Yes, that’s it.).

So what else is going on?

  • John Lackey was the big offseason pickup, of course, and with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester the Sox have a potent 1-2-3 in the rotation. If this team makes the playoffs, watch out, because those guys will be hard to beat;
  • The 4-5 is a bit less solid. After a rocky 2008 and a rocky beginning to his major league season last year, Clay Buchholz put up a nice run to close the season (just ignore the last two starts, please. Thanks). If he can maintain that, great, but he still has something to prove on the major league level. I think he will, but whether that comes after a few more speedbumps is up in the air. At this point Dice-K is a mystery wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a 3.5 hour game during which I fell asleep around the fourth inning. Tim Wakefield throws a knuckleball, though, and I remain convinced that one day a knuckleballer will go 35-0 with 400 strikeouts (and he’ll be limited to 35 starts only because The Man wants to keep knuckleballers down). Could be Wakefield this year. Then again, I could be letting my irrational love of the knuckleball get in the way. Hard to say;
  • I wonder about the bullpen. Papelbon is still good, but his playoff struggles worry me and overall he strikes me as a guy who could take a step back. Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez all fell off a bit last year. Maybe they all had uncharacteristic swoons, such as they were, and will roar back this year. Maybe it means that the bullpen will be a bigger problem than a lot of people think;
  • Overall run-scoring aside, David Ortiz is a big question mark. A lot of people will note that he picked things up nicely after his dismal start last year, but all 162 games count, and the Red Sox don’t need another swoon like they saw from Big Papi in 2009. If, as is totally possible, his bat just won’t play this year, the Red Sox will have a hole in the lineup that will nag.

So how are they gonna do?

Ultimately there aren’t as many questions about this team as there are about other teams because, let’s face it, every move the Red Sox make is analyzed to the nth degree.

Sometimes, however, that level of scrutiny can actually obscure the overall picture.  I can’t put my finger on it, but I just get this feeling that this team is somehow less than the sum of its parts. No, I’m not talking about chemistry or that kind of nonsense, just a feeling that a lot of guys could have less-than-stellar years. There’s less upside on this team than there is on the Rays. There’s less room of error here than there is in New York. If, say, Kevin Youkilis gets hurt and Josh Beckett stumbles, an otherwise excellent team could be merely good, and merely good isn’t going to cut it in the AL East.

Prediction: Third place in the AL East, just out of the postseason money.  This isn’t hate — The Sox will be good and I think it’s going to be a ridiculously close race all season long — but I just have less confidence in them and perhaps a touch too much confidence in the Rays. Buy hey, that’s why they play the games.

Yankees decide to keep Luis Severino on regular rest, give Twins potential Wild Card preview

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
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Yankees starter Luis Severino pitched last Friday, putting him on track to start Wednesday’s series finale against the Twins. The Yankees mulled the possibility of pushing him back to start on Friday against the Blue Jays after an off day on Thursday so that the Twins wouldn’t get an early look at Severino in a potential AL Wild Card matchup.

However, MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch reports that Severino will indeed start on Wednesday against the Twins instead of Masahiro Tanaka. Hoch adds that Severino’s preference is to pitch on regular rest.

Severino, 23, has been the Yankees’ best starter this year and would be the most reliable arm in a must-win game. The right-hander is carrying a 13-6 record with a 2.93 ERA and a 218/49 K/BB ratio in 184 1/3 innings.

Entering Tuesday’s action, the Yankees hold a five-game lead over the Twins for the first Wild Card slot. The Angels hold a 1.5-game lead over the Angels for the second slot. The Yankees are also very much in the AL East race, trailing the Red Sox by only three games with 12 games left in the regular season.

You should probably pay attention to Matt Olson

Associated Press
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The claim of “East Coast Bias” is often hurled as an accusation of smug superiority, and it’s often met with denial, but it’s a thing. It’s not the exact thing the west coast people think it is — it’s not hate, it’s just a function of time zones and TV ratings — but there are certainly factors that cause stuff that happens in California to get shorter shrift than that which happens back east, where most of the national media people are.

One thing getting short shrift this year: the performance of Oakland A’s first baseman Matt Olson, which one has to imagine would be getting all kinds of press if he played back east.

Wait, we don’t have to imagine that at all. Because Olson is doing basically the exact same thing Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez did last year, and Sanchez got tons of headlines for it while I’m guessing most baseball fans who either (a) live outside of the Bay Area; or (b) aren’t big fantasy players, attuned to all of the latest callups, haven’t heard Olson’s name much if at all . Their respective lines:

  • Sanchez 2016: 53 games, .299/.376/.657, 20 HR, 168 OPS+
  • Olson 2017: 54 games, .267/.360/.663, 22 HR 168 OPS+

Sanchez’s rate stats were better but Olson is doing it in tougher parks for hitters. Obviously Sanchez is catching and Olson playing the corner, but a dude coming out of the minors to put up these kinds of numbers in the final two months of the season is rare. That it’s happening again, in almost the same way, is quite the thing.

Part of the reason for the discrepancy in press is that Sanchez was making a strong argument for the Rookie of the Year Award despite playing less than half the season whereas Olson has no shot given what Aaron Judge has done this year. But I’m guessing more of it is simply a function of Olson’s games starting at 10:30 or so back east and most of us not seeing what he does unless we look at the box scores the next day.

Still, Olson, the A’s first round pick from 2012, is not someone to sleep on. And, given that he hit 23 homers in 79 minor league games this year — the last guy to hit 20 in both the bigs and minors in the same year was Giancarlo Stanton — he’s not a fluke. Indeed, he’s one of the few rays of sunshine for the Oakland Athletics. And someone to whom us folks back east should pay a bit more attention.