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Red Sox should be concerned about Craig Kimbrel

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Craig Kimbrel once again closed out a Red Sox victory in the postseason. Once again, he caused Red Sox fans to gnaw their fingernails down to the bone. The Red Sox defeated the Astros 7-5 in Game 2 of the ALCS on Sunday night, but Kimbrel was just a few feet shy of allowing the Astros to tie the game on what could’ve been a two-run Alex Bregman home run. Instead, he earned the save, on the hook for “just” one run on a pair of hits in an inning of work.

Kimbrel has now given up runs in all three of his playoff appearances this year. It’s four in a row if you go back to Game 4 of the ALDS last year between the Red Sox and Astros. The Red Sox should probably consider having a shorter leash on Kimbrel because he can only do this tightrope act for so long.

Kimbrel, now in his third year with the Red Sox, had a solid year, saving 42 games with a 2.74 ERA. There’s no question he’s still among the elite closers in the game. But there’s also no denying the concerning peripheral stats for the 30-year-old. The most concerning is his walk rate, which shot up to 12.6 percent after settling at 5.5 percent last season. His career average is a tick below 10 percent. As far as strikeout rate goes, 2017 looks like an outlier at nearly 50 percent. His career average is 41.6 percent and came in at about 39 percent in 2018. Kimbrel’s ratio during the regular season of 3.1 strikeouts for each walk marks the second-lowest among full seasons in his career.

Of the four balls the Astros put in play on Sunday night, three had an exit velocity of 92 MPH or above. Springer’s two-out double, which sparked the beginning of a potential rally, registered at 106.3 MPH. If we go back to Kimbrel’s ALDS Game 4 appearance against the Yankees last week, the two balls put in play against him had exit velocities of 99.5 and 107.1 MPH. In Game 1, the two balls put in play against him were hit 84.4 MPH and 108.8 MPH. When bats are being put on Kimbrel’s pitches, they’re mostly being smoked. A not-insignificant amount of credit goes to the hitters, of course, for making contact in the first place, but the cluster of hard-hit batted balls is eye-popping.

While Kimbrel has issued “only” two walks this postseason — both in Game 4 against the Yankees — to the 17 batters he has faced, his command has been clearly off and when he has been around the strike zone, he has been much more hittable than a pitcher of his caliber should be. The Red Sox shouldn’t overreact to a sample size of 3 1/3 innings, but they should have a life raft attached to their boat in case Kimbrel can’t shape up in time.

Padres fire Andy Green

Andy Green
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The Padres fired manager Andy Green on Saturday, per an official team release. Bench coach Rod Barajas will step into the position for the remaining eight games of the 2019 season.

Executive Vice President and GM A.J. Preller gave a statement in the wake of Green’s dismissal:

I want to thank Andy for his tireless work and dedication to the Padres over the last four seasons. This was an incredibly difficult decision, but one we felt was necessary at this time to take our organization to the next level and expedite the process of bringing a championship to San Diego. Our search for a new manager will begin immediately.

In additional comments made to reporters, Preller added that the decision had not been made based on the Padres’ current win-loss record (a fourth-place 69-85 in the NL West), but rather on the lack of response coming from the team.

“Looking at the performance, looking at it from an improvement standing, we haven’t seen the team respond in the last few months,” Preller said. “When you get to the point where you’re questioning where things are headed … we have to make that call.”

Since his hiring in October 2015, Green has faced considerable challenges on the Padres’ long and winding path to postseason contention. He shepherded San Diego through four consecutive losing seasons, drawing a career 274-366 record as the club extended their streak to 13 seasons without a playoff appearance. And, despite some definite strides in the right direction — including an eight-year, $144 million pact with Eric Hosmer, a 10-year, $300 million pact with superstar Manny Machado, and the development of top prospect Fernando Tatís Jr. — lingering injuries and inexplicable slumps from key players stalled the rebuild longer than the Padres would have liked.

For now, they’ll prepare to roll the dice with a new skipper in 2020, though any potential candidates have yet to be identified for the role. It won’t come cheap, either, as Green inked a four-year extension back in 2017 — one that should have seen him through the team’s 2021 campaign.