And I still think he has something left.
The Red Sox, though, decided it was no longer in their best interests to wait and see if Smoltz could turn it around. It’s hard to argue with an 8.32 ERA, and his outing last night against the Yankees was truly awful after a decent first two innings.
At this point, the guess is that Smoltz will call it a career. No contender is going to want to put him into their rotation now, and he’d probably have to accept a minor league contract if he wanted to give it another try next year. As much as he has to go through to pitch, it’s just not worth it.
I expected much better based on Smoltz’s rehab work and early appearances. His velocity did increase a bit in his first few starts before dipping recently. He still averaged 91.4 mph with his fastball, according to Pitch F/X data. That’s only down one mph from what he averaged in his final few years with Atlanta. It’s a significant drop, but not enough to ruin a pitcher. Also, his slider was still an extremely effective pitch.
The problem was that it took more effort now for him to throw that average fastball. That he was putting more into every pitch took away from his command. It wasn’t manifesting itself in the form of walks — he had just five in seven starts before piling up four yesterday — but he missed over the heart of the plate so often and 91-mph fastballs without much movement tend to get hit hard when they’re not spotted precisely.
Smoltz can still get strikeouts with the slider and splitter, but he’s a six-inning pitcher, one who was going to remain awfully prone to giving up homers against quality offenses. I really hope that we see him again in the majors — given his history, counting him out would be an awful idea — but it may well be that we all watched a Hall of Famer’s last stand last night.
The Red Sox have clinched the AL East for a third consecutive season, beating the Yankees 11-6 in the Bronx on Thursday night. It’s the third consecutive season in which the Red Sox have won the division, the first time that’s ever been done in club history. In fact, the only other times the Red Sox won the division in back-to-back years were 1903-04 and 1915-16.
AL MVP candidate Mookie Betts went 4-for-5 with a two-run single in the second inning off of Masahiro Tanaka and a three-run homer in the eighth against Aroldis Chapman to put the game out of reach. Jackie Bradley and Brock Holt also hit homers. Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez was on the hook for five runs in 3 2/3 innings, but three of them scored when Heath Hembree inherited a bases-loaded situation, then served up a grand slam to Giancarlo Stanton in the fourth. The rest of the bullpen combined to fire five scoreless innings. Steven Wright had three of them followed by zeroes from Ryan Brasier and Craig Kimbrel.
With the loss, the Yankees’ lead over the Athletics for the first Wild Card slot shrinks to 1.5 games. Meanwhile, the Red Sox will try to clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs. With a 104-49 record, their closest competitor is the 95-57 Astros. With nine games remaining in the regular season for the Red Sox, they would have to lose every game remaining in the regular season and the Astros would have to win their 10 remaining games in order to fail to claim home field advantage.