Thursday, April 19, 2018

Game 17: Red Sox at Los Angeles Angels (April 18, 2018)

These late games are a killer! I coached my youngest daughter's team last night after work and by the time I sat down to watch the game, I only managed to make it partway through the second inning. What I did see was very encouraging, though. In the top of the first, the Sox managed to push a run across on Mitch Moreland's RBI double and they had runners on second and third before Rafael Devers popped up to end the inning. They were definitely getting to Angels starter Tyler Skaggs, who really labored throwing almost forty pitches in the first inning. In the bottom of the inning, LA loaded the bases with one out, but Rick Porcello got two huge strikeouts to get out of it unscathed. Looking at the box score, it looks like I should've toughed it out until the third inning like I did the night before because the Sox exploded for five runs, including a grand slam by Devers. Yet another Sox rout was on and there were two more homers: a solo shot from JD Martinez in the seventh and a two-run homer from Moreland in the ninth. The Angels never threatened and the Sox won 9-0 for their sixth straight win. This victory pushed the Sox record to 15-2 and this team is absolutely firing on all cylinders right now. Alex Cora has the team prepared, relaxed, playing hard, staying loose, and having fun and it's showing up on the field every night.

After the first week of the season, all anyone said was the Red Sox hadn't played any "real" teams yet. Well, they've now taken two of three from the Yankees and two straight on the road against the Angels (who were playing great ball heading into this series). They've knocked the Angels starters out of the game after two and four innings, and they've worn out the LA bullpen. They're winning with dominant pitching, relentless and clutch hitting, and excellent defense. Cora has pushed all the right buttons and seems to put the right lineup out for every game. Case in point, last night was a scheduled night off for Andrew Benintendi, so the lineup included Martinez in left field (*cringe*), Mitch Moreland at first base, Hanley Ramirez at DH, and Tzu-Wei Lin at shortstop. When I saw the lineup before the game, I thought it was a strange one and that we'd suffer from a bit of a dip at the plate and on defense. So what did they do? They dominated the game from the first pitch to the last. 

This Red Sox team is clicking and storming through their competition in a way I haven't seen in a long time, if ever. They're one bad inning from the bullpen and one bad inning from David Price from being undefeated. Even the fantastic teams of 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2013 were slow out of the gate (as the Red Sox traditionally are). This is unlike anything I can remember and I've been watching this game and this team religiously for over thirty years. While it's a certainty that they'll lose upwards of fifty games as that's what even the best baseball teams do over the course of the marathon MLB season, right now it doesn't look like there's going to be an extended swoon any time soon. I know it's early and there are still 145 games left to play, but I wouldn't be surprised if this team made a run at 100 wins this season. At this point, I'll be disappointed if they don't!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Game 16: Red Sox at Los Angeles Angels (April 17, 2018)

I went into this game knowing there was no way I could possibly stay up and watch the entire thing. After a full day of work, family time, taking my kids to the batting cages, and then watching the Celtics win their second playoff game, it was just after 10pm when I laid down in bed to watch the start of the Sox game. I'd been looking forward all day to seeing Shoehi Ohtani with my own eyes, and to be honest what I saw was pretty ugly. Coming into the game, he'd been lauded beyond belief by the media. The highlights I'd seen showed that he had some truly nasty stuff, but I also knew he'd only faced the woeful Oakland A's (twice). How would he fare against a real lineup like the Red Sox? The answer: not well. He lasted two innings and really labored, throwing nearly seventy pitches and didn't look sharp at all. His fastball was good but he had zero command of his off-speed stuff. Mookie Betts hit a leadoff solo home run in the top of the first and the Sox tacked on two more in the second inning. It could've been more because they had loaded the bases with one out and only came away with two runs. The top of the third is when the wheels completely fell off the cart for LA. Hitting against Angels reliever Luke Bard (brother of former Red Sox pitcher Daniel Bard, which is a sad story if you haven't read it), the Sox exploded for five runs off of three home runs! First was a two-run blast by Jackie Bradley, followed two batters later by another two-run homer from Brock Holt. Immediately after Holt, Mookie clubbed another solo shot. The Angels pushed across a run in the bottom of the third, but at that point it was 8-1 Red Sox and my 6am alarm was getting ever closer so I called it a night. Rafael Devers hit a solo shot later and Mookie hit his third homer of the game in the eighth inning as the Sox ended up embarrassing the Angels 10-1. It was the fifth straight win in their latest streak and pushes their record to an absurd 14-2 on the season. The official story from the Angels was that Ohtani was pulled from the game because he was dealing with blisters on his pitching hand...the truth or a convenient excuse after getting rocked? You decide...

David Price started the game for the Sox and while he wasn't sharp, he was more than adequate, going five innings and only giving up a single run. He struck out six but he also walked four. He's much too talented to continue giving mediocre performances like this so I hope it's just a case of needing to get into a groove early in the season. Love him or hate him, if the Red Sox are going to make a run at the World Series, they're going to need everyone to contribute and perhaps none more so than Price. I'm now looking forward to seeing if Rick Porcello can keep up his redemption tour tonight, although once again I'm sure I won't be able to watch more than a few innings. While I've always enjoyed staying up late to watch west coast games, whether they're baseball or basketball, it's just not doable to watch entire games when I've got to be up early the next morning. With a series in Oakland following this Angels series, I'll do the best I can over the next week and hope I can catch up on my sleep next week.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Game 15: Baltimore Orioles at Red Sox (April 15, 2018)

On a day that felt more like football weather than baseball weather, the Sox got their third straight win against the hapless O's and clinched another series victory. I wasn't able to watch more than an inning of the game...we had a birthday in the family to celebrate and then some practices. Also, I spent most of my available time watching the Celtics opening playoff game and following the Sox on my phone. In any event, it was nice to see another win even if the conditions at the ballpark were atrocious. Chris Sale picked up another no decision and while he wasn't particularly sharp due to the cold weather, he didn't need to be. He gave up one run and struck out eight in five innings and the Sox were down 1-0 when he exited. The team would pick up a run in the bottom of the fifth to tie it up and another two in the sixth to take the lead. That would be enough for a 3-1 win. Andrew Benintendi had a 3-4 day including a triple in the fifth to tie the game. Backup infielder Tzu-Wei Lin went 2-4 with an RBI, and JD Martinez took advantage of a wild pitch to score the Red Sox other run. While it was a bit of an ugly game due to the weather, a win is a win and the Sox now have the league's best record at 13-2.

Almost immediately after the game ended, it was announced that the annual Patriot's Day game on Marathon Monday (today, April 16) would be postponed until May 17 due to the inclement weather. While it's understandable given how miserable it's been in April, I confess to being a bit sad that the game won't be played this year. While the players have over the years made their distaste for such an early start known, I've always loved listening to the 11am game while at school or work and then following the marathon results. It just won't feel the same although I'm glad the team will have an off day in order to rest before starting a series in Anaheim against the Angels tomorrow night. LA has been much better than expected this year: Mike Trout (my favorite non-Red Sox player) is always going to be Mike Trout, but their key offseason pick-ups have performed well for them so far, none more so than Japanese rookie Shoehi Ohtani. The Sox weren't originally scheduled to face Ohtani, but he missed his last start against Kansas City for weather-related reasons so they'll face him in the series opener. While west coast games are always tough to watch during the work week due to the 10pm start times, I'm going to do my best to watch this series, and especially Ohtani's start. It should be a fun match-up of two strong teams and another measuring stick for how good these Red Sox really are.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Game 14: Baltimore Orioles at Red Sox (April 14, 2018)

The first of three straight afternoon games for Sox was this second game of the series against the O's. I spent a relaxing day at home doing chores around the house so I had the game on the TV and mainly listened to it from the other room, popping my head around the corner every few minutes to check out the action (or when I heard the crowd cheer in excitement). I was able to watch the first five innings before heading out to take my kids to the cages to get some work in before our games and practices tomorrow. The Red Sox started Hector Velazquez again and he again turned in a solid, workmanlike performance, going five innings and striking out five while giving up two runs. The Sox bats got to Baltimore starter Alex Cobb early, tagging him for eight runs in less than four innings. There was a scary moment early in the game when Mookie hurt his foot on a slide into home...he'd eventually leave the game and was replaced by Blake Swihart. Blake swung the bat well, going 2-3, and Andrew Benintendi and JD Martinez also had good days at the plate. Hanley Ramirez came back after getting struck on the hand Thursday and had a pair of hits including a home run over the Green Monster. The rout was on and the Sox cruised to the victory 10-3.

With their 12-2 start, the Sox are off to the best start in franchise history. The scary thing when I think about it is that they're one bad inning from the bullpen and one bad inning from David Price away from being 14-0. They're playing extremely well in all three phases of the game and are more fun to watch in just these first fourteen games than they were all season each of the last two years. I hate to keep harping on it, but seeing as it's mainly the same group of players since 2016 with the only change being the manager, I have to think a huge part of it is down to Alex Cora. I have several friends who swore they wouldn't watch much of the Sox this season because of how much they disliked last year's team...I hope they change their minds and give this team a chance because the fun is most definitely back. The season is still early and while the Sox are red hot, there are always tough stretches during the long season. I don't necessarily expect them to keep up this torrid pace for the next six months. Still, I have a feeling they're going to be a much tougher out in the playoffs than they have been the previous two years. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

Game 13: Baltimore Orioles at Red Sox (April 13, 2018)

Division rival Baltimore visited Fenway Park for the first time tonight to open a three game set. I had to coach my son's rec team tonight and then I took my oldest daughter to the cages to get some swings in, so I only managed to watch the last half of the game before watching highlights from the first few innings. 

The Orioles have been pesky over the last few seasons although coming into 2018 they look to be on the downward slope and not in contention. Every game against the O's in recent years irritates the hell out of me for a variety of reasons: I hate the way they play the game with their home run or bust approach to hitting and manager Buck Showalter is one of the most arrogant and smug guys in the game. Every time I watch the O's, he acts like he invented baseball which I find amusing considering the guy hasn't ever won anything as a manager. Anyway, tonight the Sox had Eduardo Rodriguez on the mound and he pitched six innings, striking out eight and only giving up a single run in the first. He's been one of those guys over the last few seasons who can look really great but can never put it together over the course of an entire season. Whether it's down to consistency or injuries, he's been very up and down. I'm hoping this is the year he can take the next step because he certainly has all the talent to make it happen. Offensively, the Sox got on the board early with four in the first, capped off by a 3-run homer from Eduardo Nunez. The O's got a couple back in the seventh, but the Sox easily kept them at bay and finished off the victory, 7-3. The bats stayed hot, especially Nunez, JD Martinez, and Rafael Devers, and once again the pitching was excellent.

The Sox have three more games on this homestand against Baltimore before they head to the west coast to take on the Angels (who are playing very well). This 11-2 start has been great to watch, especially because even in years in which they have great teams the Sox tend to start slow. Their red-hot start is something we haven't seen from this team in a while and while the talent level isn't much higher than it's already been over the last few seasons, it's very noticeable that the culture around the team is much better. I have to believe a huge part of that is due to Alex Cora. In any event, it's made for some of the most entertaining early season baseball I can remember in a long time.

Game 12: New York Yankees at Red Sox (April 12, 2018)

Two out of three ain't bad. Especially when it means the Red Sox have taken the first series of the season from the Yankees. I was coaching my son's travel team tonight so missed the first three innings, checking in regularly with the updates on my phone before getting home to turn the game on. I was greeted by a 6-0 Red Sox lead which, after the previous night, made me very happy. Rick Porcello in his third start of the season looks to have reverted to his 2016 Cy Young-winning form, leaving last season's debacle behind. By the time of the 45 minute rain delay after the fifth inning, he had a no-hitter going. It was eventually broken up by Aaron Judge who hit a double in the seventh. When he left the game after the seventh, Porcello had given up just two hits and struck out six...another great outing and the polar opposite of David Price the night before. The only bit of drama came later in the top of the ninth when Marcus Walden had a brutal outing, loading the bases and giving up a 3-RBI double to Gary Sanchez to let the Yankees on the board. Craig Kimbrel, who didn't expect to pitch given that there was a six run lead in the ninth, had to come in and get the save. Luckily, he made quick work of the Yankees, getting three outs (striking the last two). With that, the Sox took the series and got their tenth win on the young season with a final score of 6-3.

There was a scary moment in the first when Hanley Ramirez was hit on the hand by a pitch and had to leave the game. His X-Rays came back negative which is good, but it looks like we'll be seeing more of Mitch Moreland at first base for the time being. That's fine with me...in addition to a 2-3 night at the plate, he played some of his usual stellar defense in the field. It's also nice to see Jackie Bradley heating up with the bat...he had a nice night and overall had a good series. If everyone starts to bash going forward this team is going to be scary, especially with how dominant the pitching has been.

Bring on the Orioles!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Game 11: New York Yankees at Red Sox (April 11, 2018)

So much for a sweep! As I said yesterday, I was expecting this to be a tough series and even though it was nice that the Sox blew the Yankees out in the first game, I knew the whole series wasn't going to be like that. Last night was the first practice I coached for my youngest daughter's softball team, so as soon as it was done I got home to watch the game. I missed the first couple of innings which I ended up being thankful for. David Price was awful, giving up four runs in the first and leaving the game with what was called a "sensation" in his pitching hand. I wonder if that "sensation" was really just wanting to get out of the game after getting lit up...

(normally I wouldn't question a player's injury, but with as much of a drama queen as this guy has been the last couple of seasons, I wonder...)

Things got interesting when Yankees rookie Tyler Austin spiked Brock Holt while sliding into second base. Both benches and bullpens cleared and there was a lot of standing around and shouting, but they got back down to business. After going down 8-1, the Sox made it interesting by scoring five runs in the fifth inning capped off by a JD Martinez grand slam. However, the Sox coughed two runs back up in the sixth to make any talk of a comeback that much more difficult. It was the seventh inning when this great rivalry heated up again: Joe Kelly threw inside at Tyler Austin and then, two pitches later, drilled him in the back with a 98 mph fastball. Austin slammed his bat and helmet down, charged the mound, and the benches and bullpens emptied in a classic Sox/Yankees brawl. Kelly took Austin down and got some good licks in to the back of Austin's head before the behemoth Aaron Judge pulled Kelly up and pushed him over to the Sox dugout to try and diffuse the situation. Austin charged the pile and took a wild swing, connecting with a Red Sox bench coach. Expect suspensions for Kelly and (especially) Austin. A lot of people talk about how much they think baseball's unwritten rules are stupid and how they dislike the way the game polices itself, but I personally love it. It's been this way for 100+ years and it's part of baseball culture. The Sox made things interesting in the bottom of the ninth when they got two quick hits off of Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman and scored on a passed ball. However, Sandy Leon, Mookie Betts, and Rafael Devers went down in quick succession to end the game in a 10-7 Yankees win, ending the Red Sox winning streak at nine games.

As bad as the Yankees looked in the first game, their bats came alive in this one. Gary Sanchez clubbed two 2-run home runs and while Stanton still flailed away and looked like he was pressing, he did look more comfortable tonight. The Sox swung the bats well...it was the pitching, and in particular David Price, that lost this one. Hopefully Rick Porcello can right the ship tonight and the Sox can take the series. 

It doesn't matter whether it's April, July, or October...nothing beats Red Sox/Yankees!