The Week Ahead: History stacked against Red Sox comeback

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Despite sitting in third place in the AL East, the Boston Red Sox appear to be in pretty good shape.

Riding a two-game winning streak, they enter the week just 6 1/2 games behind the New York Yankees, and 5 1/2 behind the Tampa Bay Rays for the AL wild card spot – with no teams in between.

In addition, Josh Beckett has pitched well since his return from a two-month stint on the disabled list, and Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Jason Varitek could all return within the next couple of weeks.

Add to that the possibility – if remote – of adding help in a post-deadline trade of Jeremy Hermida and/or Mike Lowell, and the Sox should be stocked up to make a run in the final six weeks of the season.

But despite all these positive signs, ESPN researcher Jeremy Lundblad writes that history shows it is likely too little, too late.

Can the Red Sox turn the tides? It will likely take a historic final two months – one that recalls the imagery of nicknamed seasons of the past.

Soon to be fully healthy for the first time in nearly four months, the real 2010 Red Sox have fewer than 60 games to catch fire. That is, if they manage to stay healthy.

According to Lundblad, the Red Sox have never made the playoffs when facing an Aug. 1 deficit of more than two games, and have only made the playoffs four times in their history when facing any deficit at all this late in the season.

The most recent was in 2004, when the Red Sox were one game behind Texas in the AL wild card race entering August. That team was aided by the trade of Nomar Garciaparra, which netted key components in Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz. This year, Boston’s big deadline move was to deal for once-promising catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who could realize his potential at some point in the future but for now will be stashed in Pawtucket.

Apparently, Theo Epstein is content to wait for the return of the players mentioned above, and he could be right. But that won’t solve the team’s bullpen woes, including the implosion of left-hander Hideki Okajima. Even Jonathan Papelbon has been less reliable than usual, having already blown five saves and sporting an ERA at a career-worst 3.05.

So the odds are against a Boston rally, but if they are going to make a run, this would be an excellent week to start it. The Red Sox host the lowly Cleveland Indians for four games to start the week, then head to the Bronx for four more against the Yankees, a perfect opportunity to make up ground.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Mets at Braves, Aug. 2-4:
The Mets aren’t out of it yet, but this week – with six games against the top two teams in the division – could just about do them in if they continue to struggle.

Twins at Rays, Aug. 2-5: A huge four-game series for both teams, as the Twins are 1/2-game back in the Central and the Rays just one game back in the East. Touted prospect Jeremy Hellickson makes his major league debut for the Rays on Monday against Carl Pavano.

Padres at Dodgers, Aug. 2-5: If the new-look Dodgers are going to make a run, this four-game series is a great place to start. Ted Lilly makes his first start in a Dodgers uniform on Tuesday.

Mets at Phillies, Aug. 6-8: Wouldn’t the Phillies love to simultaneously bury their rivals and gain some ground on the Braves? Wouldn’t the Mets love to play spoiler and act like they still have a chance? This could be a juicy one.

Red Sox at Yankees, Aug. 6-9: It’s the mother of all baseball rivalries, even if the Earth ceases to rotate and neither team is in first place by the time they meet for this four-game series. For Boston, it’s now or never.

ON THE TUBE
Monday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Mets at Braves (ESPN)
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.: White Sox at Tigers (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Red Sox at Yankees (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Rangers at Athletics (FOX)
Sunday, 1:30 p.m.: Giants at Braves (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Red Sox at Yankees (ESPN)
*Check local listings

And for those of you who have asked for a schedule of MLB Network games, you may find that here.

Are you on Twitter? You can follow Bob here, and get all your HBT updates here.

The deeper implications of the A.J. Ellis trade

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 17:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers heads to the dugout at the end of the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Dodger Stadium on May 17, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The trade of a light-hitting backup catcher is normally about as inconsequential as it gets. The trade of A.J. Ellis by the Dodgers to the Phillies, however, is anything but that. Indeed, it may be the public manifestation of long-simmering, well, maybe “feud” is too strong a word, but a definite butting of heads between the team’s front office and its best player.

While almost all of the clubhouse drama in Los Angeles has surrounded a talented but aggravating corner outfielder currently toiling in the minors, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times wrote last night that the Ellis trade could very well be seen as the front office’s shot across Clayton Kershaw‘s bow:

Kershaw’s preference of Ellis was the subject of a longstanding tug-of-war between Kershaw and the front office, which wanted Yasmani Grandal behind the plate as much as possible . . . Some players interpreted the trade as a message from the front office.

This isn’t Kershaw’s team. It’s not Corey Seager’s team or Adrian Gonzalez’s, either.

It’s Friedman’s.

The notion that Kershaw likes to pitch to Ellis is pretty well-known, but the idea that it was so strong a preference that it created a dispute as to whether he has final say over a roster spot is news, at least to people who aren’t around the Dodgers all the time. Hernandez is a good columnist and is particularly well-plugged in to the Dodgers after many years of being their beat writer for the Times. He wouldn’t throw the notion of there being something of a power struggle in this regard out there all willy-nilly in order to stir the pot or something. I don’t doubt for a second that something bigger than most of us have seen is going on here.

As for the trade itself: yeah, it’s pretty debatable as to whether it makes any kind of sense. Carlos Ruiz is likely an upgrade over Ellis, but it’s a pretty marginal upgrade when you consider how few plate appearances the Dodgers backup catcher will make for the rest of the year. It’s especially marginal if you assume, as Hernandez and others assume, likely with reason, that the loss of Ellis is going to harm morale. At least in the short term before they get to know Ruiz well (worth noting, though, that he comes pretty highly recommended from Kershaw-caliber aces for all the same reasons Ellis does). I can see a lot of reasons not to make that deal even for an extra hit or two a week that Ruiz may give you over Ellis.

All of which speaks to what we don’t know. What we don’t know about the mind of Andrew Friedman and whether or not there is something more going on here than is immediately apparent. About the relationship between him and Kershaw and, for that matter, him and the rest of the team that would cause him to make a deal that plays as poorly with his own players as this one does. It could be something about Ellis. It could be something about Friedman’s relationship with Kershaw. It could be something totally unrelated to any of that, such as offseason plans and the roster in 2017 (Ruiz has a team option for next year, Ellis is a pending free agent). Unless or until Friedman speaks or a reporter gets someone to shed more light on this, there will continue to be questions.

In the meantime, I’ll grant that there are certainly different rules which apply to superstars than mere mortals, but veto power over a trade and/or playing time for other players isn’t typically one of them. If, as Hernandez suggests, there was a sense that Kershaw and Friedman didn’t see eye-to-eye on that and it wasn’t otherwise being resolved, it makes Friedman’s move somewhat more understandable.

World Baseball Classic pools, venues announced

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - MARCH 10:  Miguel Cabrera #24 of Venezuela gets a hit and drives in a run against Spain during the first round of the World Baseball Classic at Hiram Bithorn Stadium on March 10, 2013 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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Yesterday the folks who run the World Baseball Classic (i.e. the Rand Corporation, in conjunction with the saucer people, under the supervision of the reverse vampires, the Illuminati and the Trilateral Commission) announced the groupings and venues for next springs’s tournament. It breaks down thusly:

  • Pool A will play in Tokyo, featuring Australia, China, Cuba, and Japan;
  • Pool B will play in Seoul, featuring Chinese Taipei, Korea, the Netherlands, and either Brazil, Israel, Great Britain, or Pakistan (final participant to be determined at a qualifying tournament in New York next month);
  • Pool C will play in Miami, featuring Canada, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and the United States;
  • Pool D will play in Guadalajara, featuring Italy, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela.

A winner and a runner-up will advance from each pool following a round-robin competition. That will result in a second round robin made up of Pool A and B — which will be called Pool E, because it HAS to be complicated — and which will be played in Tokyo. Meanwhile, Pool C and D’s representatives will make up Pool F, who will play in San Diego at Petco Park.

The winner of Pool F will then take on the runner-up of Pool E in a semifinal at Dodger Stadium, while the winner of Pool E will face Pool F’s runner-up there as well. The winners of those matches will play in the WBC final, also at Dodger Stadium.

Got it? Good.

Now we wait. And listen to people tell us how much we should care about the World Baseball Classic between now and March.