Playing nine innings while joining the “trade for Anthony Rizzo” chorus …
1. Considering that the Red Sox have come from behind in 32 of their 61 victories (tied with the Astros for most in the American League), it should be more challenging to identify their biggest win of the year. But I think most of us, perhaps even a vast majority, would agree: It happened Sunday.
This is not recency bias; it’s an easily made case.
The Red Sox suffered perhaps their toughest loss of the season Saturday, with the Yankees scoring four times in the eighth for a 4-3 win. For seven innings in the series finale, the Red Sox couldn’t scrounge a hit off Domingo German, and the Yankees looked poised to earn a split and perhaps gain some momentum in the AL East.
Instead, the Red Sox got revenge for Saturday, scoring five times in the eighth for a stirring 5-4 win, shoving the Yankees nine games behind them.
The Red Sox have made a habit of winning late, and sometimes improbably. But beating the Yankees after being no-hit for seven innings, and extinguishing that glimmer of hope New York had of turning its season around at the Red Sox’ expense? Yeah, that’s their biggest, and most satisfying, win so far.
2. This might seem easier to say now, but I had no problem with Alex Cora removing Nate Eovaldi after 7⅔ innings and exactly 100 pitches Saturday with the Red Sox up, 3-0.
Eovaldi has been both excellent (9-3, 3.49 ERA) and essential this season (where would they be without him?), and part of that is because Cora and pitching coach Dave Bush have handled him expertly. Eovaldi has thrown 116 innings; that’s already the fifth-most of his 10-year career, and his most since 2016, when he pitched 124⅔ for the Yankees.
The Red Sox are counting on him, but they also know they need to be cautious. If they felt that 100 pitches was the line, I trust their thinking. The problem wasn’t pulling Eovaldi. It was that the bullpen couldn’t get four outs without giving up a three-run lead.
3. Caught the latest installment of the Chris Sale Comeback Tour up in Portland Sunday. The view from the sneaky-good right-field pavilion seats at Hadlock Field: He’s not his old self quite yet, but he looks much closer to the guy who was arguably the best pitcher in the AL from 2012-18 than he did in ’19, when he went 6-11 with a 4.40 ERA and we all knew that something wasn’t right.
Harrisburg, the Nationals’ Double A team, did manage six hits against Sale (including a home run on which the batter clearly guessed right on a changeup) in 3⅔ innings, but he whiffed nine and got probably a dozen utterly hopeless swings. (The Nos. 2, 3, 5, and 6 hitters batted lefthanded; that had to be tough.)
I thought it was encouraging. He didn’t look thrilled, though, as he ran laps around the adjacent football field after his mound work was done.
4. Regarding Rizzo: The Cubs are expected to ask for a steep return in prospects, but I’m not sure they’re going to get it. In 147 games and 605 plate appearances since the start of the 2020 season, Rizzo has 23 homers, 60 RBIs, a .235 batting average, and a .766 OPS. He has a 111 OPS+ this season, same as Kiké Hernández.
He looked like a young superstar once, finishing fourth in the National League MVP race in both 2015 and ’16, but he hasn’t received an MVP vote since he finished 17th in 2018. He’s 31 and, like Kris Bryant and Javier Baez, is emblematic of the Cubs’ unfulfilled promise since winning the ’16 World Series.
I would like to see him end up here, with the organization that drafted and signed him back in 2007. He’s still an excellent defensive first baseman, his upbeat attitude would fit with this team, and the change of scenery might rejuvenate him at the plate.
5. Jarren Duran picked up two hits Friday, but he went 0 for 7 over the weekend and enters Monday’s game hitting .182 with a .614 OPS. Having nine strikeouts in 24 plate appearances so far is somewhat Dalbecian, but it’s not worth worrying about. This is the adjustment period for a player who has ascended rapidly and needs a little time to catch his breath.
You can see he has something that is going to help the Red Sox this season — a couple of somethings. He’s an electrifying baserunner, and the power sure seems to be legitimate. He’ll look a lot more comfortable a month from now, and it won’t be in Worcester.
6. I’ve mentioned it before, but Duran’s arrival reminds me quite a bit of when Jacoby Ellsbury came up at the end of June 2007 and gave a welcome spark to a Red Sox team that was on its way to memorable achievements. But I’d forgotten until I looked it up just how good Ellsbury was in a 33-game stint before helping the Sox win the World Series.
He went 1 for 8 over his first two games June 30 and July 1, then from July 2-5 he went 5 for 8 before the Red Sox sent him back down. He came up for good on Sept. 1, went 8 for 12 in his first four games to raise his average to .452, and finished the regular season at .353 with a .902 OPS. Won everyone a taco, too.
7. At some point soon, I hope fans outside of Boston catch on and realize that Rafael Devers belongs on that list of young, dynamic superstars who have fun playing the game. His personality is somewhere between Adrian Beltre’s and Manny Ramirez’s on his good days, and his production is right in that Beltre-to-Manny range too.
Devers leads the majors with 80 RBIs, already has the second-most total bases of his career (206), and given his postseason production as a young player (.311/.373/.511 in 51 plate appearances so far), he strikes me as someone who might just put the Red Sox on his back over the next couple of months.
8. As someone who not only wanted to see Giancarlo Stanton end up with the Red Sox years ago but was almost certain that he would, let me say this: Oh boy, Red Sox fans should be grateful that Giancarlo Stanton did not end up with the Red Sox years ago.
In 2015, the Marlins asked for Xander Bogaerts in return, something even Stanton Superfan over here was out on. In December 2017, when the Marlins traded him to the Yankees in what seemed like a coup for New York, the Red Sox didn’t panic, but waited two months and signed J.D. Martinez as a free agent, one of Dave Dombrowski’s best moves.
9. Craig Kimbrel is having a monster year for the Cubs, with an 0.50 ERA, 23 saves, and 61 strikeouts in 35⅔ innings. He’s expected to be traded by Saturday’s deadline, and there should be plenty of suitors. Let me go on the record as saying I hope the Red Sox aren’t one of them.
I wouldn’t blame you if you had to develop some bad habits to get through watching him pitch during the 2018 postseason. Let him go be someone else’s heart-attack closer.