Playing nine innings while starting to think the Red Sox aren’t going to go 64-14 the rest of the way to match last season’s record . . .
1. Sentimentality and nostalgia are part of the appeal of being a sports fan, at least for a creaky old sap like me. That red No. 4 among the retired numbers on the right field façade at Fenway? I know it’s there in homage to Joe Cronin. But I like that it always reminds me of the favorite player of my youth, ol’ No. 4, Butch Hobson. But sentimentality and nostalgia cannot be factors for those in charge of putting together the teams we care about. Theo Epstein knew this — he believed even championship teams needed some turnover — though the best general manager in franchise history didn’t always execute it perfectly. (David Wells never should have pitched for the Red Sox.) Perhaps Dave Dombrowski knows it, too, but he certainly did not heed it after 2018, and it’s costing the Red Sox now. Giving World Series MVP Steve Pearce a one-year, $6.5 million deal in November was a nice gesture and a terrible miscalculation, one that, with budget considerations considered, cost the Red Sox a chance at adding an established relief pitcher or two. Pearce was a great story, but he’s a 36-year-old journeyman, and there’s a reason he’s played for every American League East team. He’s a quality replacement-level hitter. Players like that had no market in the offseason. Dombrowski jumped the gun to keep a World Series hero around, and in a sense it has prevented them from getting what they need to make another run this year.
2. What’s scary is that the Red Sox have had more go right in their bullpen than they had a right to expect. Brandon Workman has been a workhorse, allowing just 12 hits (but 26 walks) in 37 innings over 40 appearances, which is just 20 fewer than he had between Pawtucket and Boston all of last year. Marcus Walden has hit the wall lately, but he has a 3.48 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 44 innings. Heath Hembree became useful. They’ve had some unexpected good breaks and still have a miserable ’pen, which is further confirmation of how poor the plan was in the first place. And I worry about burning out Workman, who took a long time to find his form after Tommy John surgery in 2015. What they’ve asked him to do is unfair, and borderline negligent.
3. I’ve never lamented the Red Sox’ decision to move on from Joe Kelly and Craig Kimbrel, and I’m not going to start now. Of all the positive, unexpected developments during the Red Sox’ World Series run last year, Kelly’s electric performance may have been the biggest surprise given that he had an ERA over 8 in three different months last year. Going all Fight Club on Tyler Austin can only get you so far with the fans, and he wasn’t that good. As for Kimbrel, that was exactly the time to let him go, when he was showing subtle and not-so-subtle signs of decline while looking for a fat payday based on past performance. The mistake, of course, was not finding suitable replacements for two pitchers who combined for 136 appearances and 128 innings last season.
4. Let’s get this straight right now. The idea of Nathan Eovaldi as a closer is a panic move, one that will backfire if they go through with it. This is a pitcher who has had two Tommy John surgeries, who risked his livelihood to aid the Red Sox last postseason, who has thrown just 21 innings this year because he needed surgery to remove loose bodies from his elbow, who prefers to start, who throws hard but is not a strikeout pitcher, and who is reportedly being moved into this role — a role in which it’s going to be awfully tempting to overwork him — in part because it gets him back to the big leagues faster since he won’t have to build up his arm to 100 pitches or so. The Sox need a savior and a game-saver. It’s patently unfair to ask this of him right now.
5. I’m not one to yelp about All-Star snubs. I actually like that every team gets a representative, if only for the sake of having an obscure Marlin every year or two. (Hello, Sandy Alcantara.) But holy cow did Xander Bogaerts get robbed, and this one annoys me. It’s not just that he’s had a truly excellent year. It’s beyond that. He’s picked up the slack for Mookie Betts’s weirdly uneven season. He’s picked up the slack for J.D. Martinez, who has been very good but not a decent facsimile of vintage Manny Ramirez like he was last year. Bogaerts has been the Red Sox’ leader, and they’d be totally lost without him. He is the epitome of an All-Star, and it’s joke he’s not on the roster.
6. And then there’s the brewing generational debate about whom the best AL shortstop of this era is, much like the Yount/Trammell/Ripken ’80s, or the A-Rod/Nomar/Jeter late ’90s and early 2000s. And one of the rudimentary ways we’re going to measure Bogaerts against Francisco Lindor and Carlos Correa is by All-Star appearances. Lindor, voted in ahead of Bogaerts, has four. Bogaerts and Correa (shaping up to be the Nomar of this group) have just one each. Bogaerts isn’t one to seek acclaim, but he deserved some here.
7. Remember when Alex Cora hit Rafael Devers third to start the season? It felt a little premature, didn’t last long, and it didn’t click as quickly as the Red Sox might have hoped, but it’s clear the manager saw before we did that this was coming from Devers. And by this, I mean a .336/.381/.561 slash line over his last 70 games. Devers was hitting .225 on April 7, 11 games into the season. He’s been on the short list of the most dangerous hitters in baseball since.
8. Christian Vazquez is trending toward being the opposite of what he was supposed to be coming up through the Red Sox system. He had the deserved reputation as a great-field, rocket-armed, no-hit catcher. He’s become a good hitter (.808 OPS, career-high 11 homers) but is too sloppy defensively, and his throwing arm, while strong, doesn’t have the wow factor we expected, especially after he had Tommy John surgery in 2015.
9. One more thought on Eovaldi: Don’t the Red Sox need him just as desperately in the rotation as they do in the bullpen? Hector Velazquez, Ryan Weber, Josh Smith, Brian Johnson, and Darwinzon Hernandez have combined for 15 starts. Hernandez has the lowest ERA of the pitchers in that group — at 5.06. This is starting to remind me of the collection of who’s-hes and never-weres such as Kevin Jarvis, Jason Johnson, and David Pauley that took the mound for the 2006 Red Sox as they faded away late that summer. Where’s Devern Hansack when you need him?