The Week Ahead: History stacked against Red Sox comeback

6 Comments

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.

Don Mattingly thinks pace of play can be improved by changing views on strikeouts

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly sits in the dugout prior to a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Monday, April 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo
3 Comments

Marlins manager Don Mattingly has one potential solution to the pace of play issue: change the way people value strikeouts, the Associated Press reports.

Strikeouts have been rising steadily since 2005. Then, a typical game averaged 6.30 strikeouts. In 2016, there were 8.03 strikeouts per game. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. For one, teams are searching specifically for young pitchers who can throw hard — like triple-digits hard. They figure they can teach them the other pertinent skills in the minors. Second, Sabermetrics has shown that a strikeout is only marginally worse than an out made on a ball put in play. Sometimes, the strikeout is preferable, especially if there’s a runner on first base with less than two outs and a weak hitter at the plate. Sabermetrics has also shown home runs to be the best and most efficient way to contribute on offense. Furthermore, younger players tend to focus more on power in order to get noticed by scouts. Unless it’s paired with other elite skills, a scout isn’t going to remember a player who hit the ball into the hole on the right side, but he will remember the kid who blasted a 450-foot homer.

Here’s what Mattingly had to say:

Analytically, a few years back nobody cared about the strikeout, so it’s OK to strike out 150, 160, 170 times, and that guy’s still valued in a big way. Well, as soon as we start causing that to be a bad value — the strikeouts — guys will put the ball in play more. So once we say strikeouts are bad and it’s going to cost you money the more you strike out, then the strikeouts will go away. Guys will start making adjustments and putting the ball in play more.

[…]

If our game values [say that] strikeouts don’t matter, they are going to keep striking out, hitting homers, trying to hit home runs and striking out.

Simply believing strikeouts are bad won’t magically change its value. However, creating social pressure regarding striking out can change it. Theoretically, anyway. Creating that social pressure is easier said than done.

There is a dichotomy here as well. Home runs are exciting. Strikeouts and walks are not. Often, though, the three go hand-in-hand-in-hand. A player actively trying to cut down on his strikeouts by putting the ball in play will also likely cut down on his strikeout and walk rates. There doesn’t seem to be an elegant solution here. Wishing for fewer strikeouts, walks, and homers doesn’t really seem to give way to a more exciting game.

Sean Doolittle: “Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans.”

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 25:  Sean Doolittle #62 of the Oakland Athletics pitches during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 25, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
30 Comments

In the past, we’ve commented on Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan’s community service. In 2015, the pair hosted Syrian refugee families for Thanksgiving and their other charitable efforts have included LGBTQ outreach and help for veterans.

Athletes and their significant others have typically avoided stepping into political waters, but Doolittle and Dolan have shown that it’s clearly no concern to them. In the time since, the Syrian refugee issue has become even more of a hot-button issue and Doolittle recently discussed it with Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

I think America is the best country in the world because we’ve been able to attract the best and brightest people from all over the world. We have the smartest doctors and scientists, the most creative and innovative thinkers. A travel ban like this puts that in serious jeopardy.

I’ve always thought that all boats rise with the tide. Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans. But if we include them, we can make the pie that much bigger, thus ensuring more opportunities for everyone.

Doolittle, of course, is referring to Executive Order 13769 signed by President Trump which sought to limit incoming travel to the United States from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. A temporary restraining order on the executive order was placed on February 3, a result of State of Washington v. Trump.

Doolittle spoke more about the plight refugees face:

These are people fleeing civil wars, violence and oppression that we can’t even begin to relate to. I think people think refugees just kind of decide to come over. They might not realize it takes 18-24 months while they wait in a refugee camp. They go through more than 20 background checks and meetings with immigration officers. They are being vetted.

They come here, and they want to contribute to society. They’re so grateful to be out of a war zone or whatever they were running from in their country that they get jobs, their kids go to our schools, they’re paying taxes, and in a lot of cases, they join our military.

Around this time last year, Craig wrote about Doolittle and Dolan not sticking to baseball. They’re still not, nor should they be. Hopefully, the duo’s outspokenness inspires other players and their loved ones to speak up for what’s right.

[Hat tip: Deadspin’s Hannah Keyser]