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Wednesday, 04 September 2019 11:48

Red Sox Report Card - August 2019

It remains to be seen whether the Red Sox give fans a September to remember, but one thing’s for certain: it was an August worth forgetting.

It was always going to be a struggle for Boston to make up the necessary ground to push their way back into the playoff race. They were going to need a big month. Instead, they got a month that was the epitome of meh. A 14-13 record for August leaves them well behind the wild card frontrunners – the odds of them surging ahead are slim and getting slimmer.

The offense cooled off – no surprise, considering how hot the bats had been for much of the summer – but the pitching failed to pick up the slack, continuing along its sub-mediocre path. The end result was the aforementioned barely .500 record. Aside from a handful of standout performances, pretty much the whole team disappointed to some extent.

It’s hard to complain, what with the still-fresh 2018 title less than a year old. It could be worse. And yet, it would have been nice to see the Sox at least have a chance to go back-to-back. But after a month like this, it doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

On to the Report Card.

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 04 September 2019 11:48

Justin Verlander throws third no-hitter

Justin Verlander had a game for the history books.

The Houston Astros pitcher’s already-storied career saw another highlight etched into it this weekend when the 36-year-old hurler threw a no-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays, winning 2-0. The game missed perfection by just a single walk, issued to Cavan Biggio in just the second at-bat of the contest, but there’s no mistaking the dominance – Verlander struck out 14 along the way. The no-hitter marked his third, and his first since his 2011 MVP/Cy Young-winning season with the Detroit Tigers.

Throwing a no-hitter in the big leagues is a big deal – there have only been just over 300 such games in MLB history, counting combined no-hitters. Throwing two is even more rare – fewer than 40 pitchers in the game’s storied past have ever managed multiple no-hitters.

Three? Three is when you get to the truly rarified air – air now being breathed deeply by Justin Verlander.

Published in Sports
Tuesday, 30 July 2019 22:15

Red Sox Report Card - July 2019

In the standings, it was a decent July for the Red Sox. They won enough to gain a little ground in the division – though still sit a good distance behind the East-leading Yankees – and place themselves in ready contention for the wild card.

As far as how that actually happened, well … it wasn’t always pretty.

While this Boston team definitely came alive with the bats this month, the pitching left a LOT to be desired. The offense carried the day; frankly, it’s hard not to wonder what might have been with even average performance out of the pitching staff.

Still, with the All-Star break in the rearview, the team managed to come alive in some important ways. If they can continue down that path – while also working on reversing some of the regression they’ve seen – they’ve got a shot. A look back at the month just past certainly indicates that possibility.

On to the Report Card.

Published in Sports

Cooperstown is set to come alive for another Hall of Fame induction weekend. From July 19-22, festivities will abound in the small upstate New York town that plays host to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The 2019 class is another in a long line of big ones – four players were voted in by the writers, while another two were added by committee. That’s half-a-dozen new players, with the Hall’s first-ever unanimous inductee leading the way.

Longtime Yankees closer Mariano Rivera became the first player to be named on every single ballot, breaking the percentage record of 99.3 set three years ago by Ken Griffey Jr. Rivera is joined by the late Roy Halladay – also in his first year on the ballot – as well as career Seattle Mariner Edgar Martinez in his last year of eligibility and longtime starting pitcher Mike Mussina. The two committee additions are Lee Smith and Harold Baines.

Published in Sports
Tuesday, 02 July 2019 22:54

Red Sox Report Card - June 2019

With the actual halfway point of the MLB season behind us – and the unofficial halfway point that is the All-Star Game just a few days away – things are looking … OK?

June could have been worse; the team managed a 15-12 record over the span of the month. Unfortunately, it wasn’t good enough to keep pace with the division leaders; July 1 saw the Red Sox behind both the Tampa Bay Rays and the division-leading New York Yankees, who held a double-digit lead over Boston.

Still, there were bright spots. The team’s offense performed admirably over the course of the month. But the pitching staff struggled to hold up their end, resulting in a stretch of results that were above-average, but only just.

It was a solid month, but solid isn’t going to cut it if the Red Sox want a chance to become the first back-to-back champions of the 21st century. Let’s have a closer look, shall we?

On to the Report Card.

Published in Sports

While we tend to treat the All-Star Game as the midway point of the MLB season, the reality is that the actual halfway point is right now. As of press time, all major league teams have reached the 80-game mark, leaving us with fully 50% of the 2019 campaign in the books.

And things have definitely changed.

All of the first-quarter picks have fallen by the wayside; there has been a lot of turnover at the top. That said, a couple of players have continued along their paths toward postseason hardware, only to be overtaken by players that managed to somehow find yet another gear, launching them into the stratosphere and making us genuinely question what their ceilings might actually be (looking at you, Mike Trout).

Ladies and gentlemen, your Clubhouse Leaders.

Published in Sports
Tuesday, 18 June 2019 19:34

Roger Dodger – ‘They Bled Blue’

Perhaps more than any other sport, baseball is entangled with its history. Even as we witness magnificent feats in the present, our eyes turn ever toward the past. Whether it is through statistics or stories, baseball fans love to look back.

Author Jason Turbow has a knack for transporting us to times gone by and thoroughly revisiting players and teams from the game’s history. We’re not talking about grainy black-and-white history, however – these are teams whose memories are still vivid in the minds of fans of a certain age.

His latest is “They Bled Blue: Fernandomania, Strike-Season Mayhem, and the Weirdest Championship Baseball Had Ever Seen: The 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26). That mouthful of a title looks back nearly 40 years, digging into the particulars of an iconic franchise during one of the strangest seasons baseball had ever seen.

Seriously – the sport had never seen anything quite like the 1981 Dodgers. From the full-on phenomenon that was Fernando Valenzuela to the era-ending turn from one of the game’s longest-serving infields, from a season split in two by labor strife to the strangest postseason set-up ever, it was a time of turmoil and triumph.

Published in Sports

The Major League Baseball draft is vastly different from those of the other major sports leagues. In the NFL and the NBA and to a slightly lesser extent the NHL, draft picks are expected to join their new teams and start performing more or less immediately.

Not so with MLB.

Due to the sport's massive minor league infrastructure, baseball draftees aren't immediately thrust into the spotlight with the big club. In fact, it's a rarity for a player to have any real impact in the first couple of years after they've been selected. While the other drafts feature names and faces that we're likely to see quickly, we probably won't see our team's baseball selections at the big-league level for at least a little while.

Obviously, this makes draft grading an even more ludicrous prospect in baseball than it is in other sports. Predicting the future is already impossible - predicting the future of an 18-year-old high school pitcher with great stuff and questionable maturity is even more so.

Still, it's fun to look at the choices our team makes - even if we won't get the payoff until sometime further down the road.

So what does Boston’s 2019 draft class look like? There’s no first round pick thanks to luxury tax penalties (although it’s a small price to pay for winning the World Series), so their first selection landed in the second round.

The Sox have added 40 new players to their system. Among them are 27 collegiate players and 13 high schoolers. There are 21 pitchers, 10 of whom are right-handers with just five southpaws. There are 19 position players: seven outfielders, two catchers, five middle infielders and five first basemen.

Obviously, we don’t have space to discuss all 40, but let’s check out the top 10.

(Please note that, as always, we will refrain from assigning any sort of grade to this draft. The notion of grading a draft from which the players are literally years away from contributing to the team that chose them is utter nonsense. We’re not claiming a win or a loss here. This is just a look at who the team has selected, nothing more.)

Published in Sports

One of the longest-standing truisms in the athletic realm is that nothing is more important than inborn natural talent; while practice can make you better, there’s no amount of practice that can compensate for a lack of inherent ability.

But in baseball’s brave new world, with reams of data available at the press of a button, perhaps that truism isn’t quite so true after all.

“The MVP Machine: How Baseball’s New Nonconformists are Using Data to Build Better Ballplayers (Basic, $30), by Ben Lindbergh and Travis Sawchik, is an exploration of the rapidly-blossoming notion that there’s more to it than that. Teams are turning their vast data-collecting capabilities toward the field of player development, trying to find ways to maximize the talent of their players in new and sometimes unconventional ways.

It’s a new frontier, one awash in high-speed cameras and swing gurus. It’s all about spin rates and launch angles and elevating the velocity of the ball, be it thrown or batted. And the people who are the earliest adopters, from the front offices to the fields, are reaping the rewards.

Published in Sports
Tuesday, 04 June 2019 16:01

Red Sox Report Card - May 2019

All in all, not a terrible month. Not a great month, but not a terrible month.

The Red Sox went 16-11 in the month of May, fighting their way back to the right side of .500. However, that’s not nearly enough in the grand scheme of things – they aren’t in fourth place anymore, having climbed up to third, but it’s a distant third … and it’s getting more distant by the day.

It’s not the fault of the Red Sox on the field, necessarily – we saw a fair amount of strong performances out of the team over the course of the month – but five games over .500 isn’t going to cut it when you have a Yankees team hitting its stride (and due to return some injured talent) and a Rays team that is proving surprisingly resilient.

Still, it beats the hell out of the trash fire that was April. And the team is still very much in playoff contention. Here’s hoping that Boston can make the same kind of leap in June that it did in May; we’ll really have something then.

On to the Report Card.

Published in Sports
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