Playing nine innings while wondering if Dustin Pedroia is angling for Dana LeVangie’s job …
1. To paraphrase the great philosopher Lawrence P. Berra, is it getting late early for the Red Sox? At 10-15 they basically have been a near-opposite of the juggernaut that they were from the get-go a season ago, when they didn’t lose their 15th game until May 18. They already had 30 wins at that point, then ripped off four in a row to get to 34-15. They’re basically going to need Alex Cora’s version of Morgan Magic, when the ’88 Sox won 12 in a row and 24 straight at home after Joe Morgan took over for John McNamara, to get anywhere near that record this year.
2. To actually answer the question, I still believe the Red Sox will get their act together and make the postseason. The Rays deserve some overdue respect for being a very good team for the second straight year despite very little star power. And the Yankees have played well recently despite placing their 15th player of the season on the disabled list Thursday. (Jacoby Ellsbury can’t hog the whirlpool this year). The Red Sox, in their bizarre lethargy, wasted an opportunity to take advantage of the Yankees’ ailments. They’re fortunate to be just 6 games behind the Rays and 4.5 back of the Yankees.
3. It is frustrating that the Red Sox have already bobbled and thrown away decent opportunities to spark a winning streak against feeble opposition. After the turbulent 3-8 start during the season-opening 11-game swing though Seattle, Oakland, and Arizona, it was embarrassing that they could only manage a split of six games with the mediocre Jays and hapless Orioles upon returning to Fenway. Even after an encouraging sweep of the Rays, it’s hard to tell if they learned any lessons given that they’re fighting for a split with this carcass of Dave Dombrowski’s old Tigers teams. Soon, it won’t be so early anymore.
4. We still have no idea how this bullpen is going to shake out. Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier and Brandon Workman have all been good, with Barnes thriving in the highest-leverage role. I thought Colten Brewer would be a find, but he’s been lost. Marcus Walden has been a find (his slider sometimes is so sharp you wonder if he stole it from Max Scherzer) but he’s 30 years old. Tyler Thornburg is in a perpetual state of trying to find what he had in 2016. Bobby Poyner is your standard Quadruple-A bullpen lefty. I do know this much, though. I’ve seen about enough out of Heath Hembree and his John Wasdin repertoire.
5. In terms of sports media, I’ve never seen such a universally positive reaction to anything like the one Sean McDonough received during his seven-game stretch in the Red Sox’ radio broadcast booth. I can’t recall receiving even one lukewarm response to hearing McDonough, the TV voice of the Red Sox from 1988-2004, call their games again, let alone a negative comment. That’s how it should be, too – he was exceptional, and often hilarious when needling Joe Castiglione. The good news: He’s down for 20 more Sox games this season, including four in May. The bad news: He’s not down for 137 more.
6. I don’t know if it’s necessarily a fun thing because it’s sort of been done out of desperation, but it has been at least entertaining to watch Michael Chavis, Darwinzon Hernandez, and Travis Lakins make their unexpected big-league debuts so early in the season. Chavis is currently hitting .214 with a .950 OPS and one bomb of a home run in 19 plate appearances, which seems like a decent small-sample representation of what he will be. Hernandez has a high-voltage left arm and he didn’t look rattled in his brief debut, and Lakins impressed the same night. Maybe the farm system isn’t thin at the top after all.
7. I’ll admit to being befuddled by how Pedroia could casually show a new breaking ball grip to Eduardo Rodriguez, E-Rod could say, ‘’That’s cool,’’ take the pitch for a test drive in the bullpen, and then go out and deploy it against the Tigers like he’s been honing it to perfection since he was in the Florida State League or something. I guess it’s just one of those appealing quirks of baseball, where every now and then something that is supposed to be hard or improbable just clicks, and you end up with a good story to tell.
8. Here’s something I never thought I’d see this season that happens every five days or so now: Fans and media searching for small clues in mediocre-or-worse Chris Sale performances that purport to suggest everything will be OK and he’s going to find that old Slingin’ Ace form soon. I’ve seen nothing other than occasional upticks in velocity that offer hope that he will dominate again. I’ve joked about him turning into 1981 Frank Tanana minus the perm, but I don’t joke about such a career transition now. I don’t think he’s hurt, but I can’t help but wonder if last year’s injury had an altering effect.
9. Well, that Sale item was pretty grim. Since the Sox have won four of six (doubleheader loss to the Tigers? What doubleheader loss to the Tigers), we’ll wrap this on a few positive thoughts. J.D. Martinez (.344/.430/.538) has been a beast yet again; Andrew Benintendi is suddenly hitting the ball to left field like a young Fred Lynn; Mitch Moreland sure delivers a bunch of clutch hits for a guy whose top career comp is Paul Sorrento; and Pedroia’s latest injury wasn’t his end scene. And while he’s out, that leaves him more time to help the rest of the pitching staff fine-tune their repertoires.