The David Ortiz-less Red Sox are coming to Target Field to face the Twins this weekend! To prepare for the three-game series we sent some questions to our people at Over the Monster, and outofleftfield was kind enough to answer them.
Without further ado, let’s talk Red Sox!
A: Well, it's been kind of a rough road. I love my fellow Sox fans, but there are more than a few that have seemed to think the actions taken by the Sox in the Orioles/Sox series were reasonable/just/etc. [Editor’s Note: In case you missed it, there were all kinds of attempted bean balls, threats, ejections, etc. in the Red Sox-Orioles series this week and it was all over the news.] There's a point, though, where retaliation just has to stop, and I think we've gone beyond that point, even if there might be a reason for it (both sides have been complicit during the series, and I think both sides are at fault to a degree).
There's this sort of bitterness to the Red Sox/Orioles series that I feel I don't see all that often with other teams and fanbases. They seem to absolutely detest us, and we seem to absolutely detest them. I won't commit sacrilege here and say it's Red Sox/Yankees hatred (from the days when The Rivalry was actually alive, rather than the shell of what used to be), but the teams and fanbases are at odds with each other in a way that makes it clear this isn't the end of things between the two, even if MLB wants it to be. But worth noting, it isn't the start, either.
I feel as if things have gone too far, in any case. Rivalries are fun, they can make baseball seriously amazing sometimes, but the issue gets to a point where I want to cut it off, when players are getting hurt, needlessly thrown out of games (I do not think Gausman's pitch the other night was intentional, and he was tossed out after one inning), or so on. The series stops being about high intensity baseball, and starts becoming a shouting match over who is the most righteous, and that's just not baseball to me. I want the series to be over, so badly, just so we can get back to normal baseball, where both sides don't want to set the other on fire.
Q: How are Red Sox fans feeling about the team this year otherwise?
A: Red Sox fans are going to be Red Sox fans, there will always be a split where half the fanbase thinks the team is destined for third or fourth place, while there's another half that believes they will surge to win the division. It's still early, obviously anything can happen. But Red Sox fans (again, as much as I love them) can be needlessly pessimistic at times. Even when you have a good team on your hands (and make no mistake, even without David Ortiz, we have a good team this year), there will be those who believe the team is garbage, lacks fight, or is in some other way being a disgrace.
I think the general sentiment of how our season is going can be garnered through how the most recent game went. Not because we won, but that's how often the mindset of the fan seems to change. One second everyone is excited for the season, and the next, everyone is proclaiming how long the season is going to be.
I think the Sox are in great shape, even though they presently sit in third place, 2.5 games behind the Yankees (as of the writing of this response). A lot of the Red Sox woes (27th in runs scored, despite a .309 BABIP, good for 6th in the league) seem to be dependent on timing, and lineup fluidity. Someone gets on base, but isn't driven in, and this feels like an occurrence that happens often. They also aren't hitting for power right now, even though they do have some power threats on the team, even without Papi's bat. The Sox also have the league's worst UBR (Ultimate Base Running), which I don't expect to stay at its current dismal rate forever.
In short, the Sox offense has been disappointing, but I do believe there is hope on the way, in some way, shape, or form. They have a high OBP, and they've shown an ability to hit the ball, as well. They just aren't doing it consistently right now, with any fluidity. We're presently in the top 5 or 6 in terms of leaving people on base, and I feel like some of that is luck, when you consider just how good the team is at getting on base, and getting base hits. At the same time though, I think a lot of it is the lack of power shown.
Q: How was the retirement of David Ortiz changed the team? Or what do you think the biggest differences are?
A: This is sort of related to your last question, but without David Ortiz, the biggest thing you notice is a lack of power. In just one season, the Sox have gone from 1st to 25th in slugging percentage, and from 5th to 29th in Isolated Power. While you cannot blame the entirety of that on the loss of David Ortiz, his absence is definitely felt, and it permeates through the lineup. As a result, players with big bats are being pitched around more, knowing that there's one less huge threat to break open the game in the lineup.
I feel as if it puts a huge burden on Hanley Ramirez, who seems to be the heir apparent to David Ortiz in Boston, a big power bat who can pick up the team, and who the Sox are depending on to showcase that same power stroke. Hanley hasn't been bad this season (.258/.327/.461), and he's definitely heating up (4 home runs in his last 5 games!), but he's not used to being the guy in Boston yet. He's not our best player, and no one expects him to be, you have that luxury when you have Mookie Betts playing every day, but Hanley needs to be the guy the other team fears enough to give Mookie a pitch to hit. In that way, he's essentially the offensive catalyst that forces other teams to adjust.
Without David Ortiz, things are difficult. It's my first season following the team without David Ortiz being a part of it (I started in 2003, Papi's first season with the Sox). We knew there would be some offensive drop off, but it's not as if the guys we picked up to mitigate the loss have been bad. Mitch Moreland has done everything we've asked of him, and more, offensively. It's just a team thing, and it goes back to what I said about lineup fluidity. A guy will get on base, but be left stranded, or make a baserunning blunder, and get thrown out trying to take an extra base.
Q: The Red Sox made a big splash in the off-season trading for Chris Sale. Were you happy about the trade and the cost of it when it happened? Are you more or less happy about it now?
A: Ah, finally, the really fun question! Before I say anything else, Chris Sale has been the most exciting player to watch, and I haven't felt this giddy over getting to watch someone pitch every 5th day since the era of Pedro Martinez. I came in towards the tail end of Pedro's career in Boston, but I'll never forget what I saw, especially in 2003. There are some guys you watch pitch, where you just know everything is going to be alright, and that there's never a doubt in your mind as to what's going to happen for almost half of the baseball game. [Editor’s Note: Great, now I miss Johan Santana.]
We've had good pitchers, like Jon Lester and (odd year) Josh Beckett. But neither of those guys, for all the praises I'll heap upon them, was so dominant and ace-like, that I felt I could say "This guy is going to go 8 strong innings, and strike out 10+ batters", and be looking at it realistically. If I say that before a Lester start, that's optimism. Even in Lester's best overall season with the team (2014), he only had one game where he went 8 innings, and struck out 10 batters (and ironically, it would be against the team he was traded to, the Athletics).
Chris Sale has already had three such games, in his first six starts. And they've all been against division rivals. Toronto, New York, Baltimore. The only team not on that list is the Tampa Bay Rays, but they got to witness a mere 7 innings of 12-strikeout baseball.
My point here, is that Sale has been everything we've expected, and more. At the time of the trade, everyone was excited, even if it meant losing Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech. And now, it feels like nobody cares those guys were part of the package to begin with, because Sale has already put up more value (2.2 fWAR) than Moncada was likely to put up in his first two or three seasons with the team (Most projections have Moncada projected for around .2-.3 WAR in 2017).
On those two players given up, Moncada was always 100% going to be the guy the Sox would have to give up, he's the cost of business, and it's not a cost Sox fans were really bothered about paying, on the whole. There are some who think he will become a monster (I among them), but many of these same people also understand that he was traded for someone who is a complete monster in his own right, and when given the choice between a possible future monster, and a current monster (under an obscenely good contract), you will take the latter every single time.
Michael Kopech is where things get interesting, because for every Noah Syndergaard comparison touted, he's got just as much chance to simply be a reliever. His heat is impressive, and the stories of his 105+ MPH readings are for real. His time in Double-A this year for the White Sox organization is impressive. But one thing stands out to me, that could hinder his path to the majors, at least as a starter. Look at the numbers, and one thing will stand out to you, too.
In 18 innings, he's walked 14 batters. This isn't a new occurrence. Last season, Kopech walked 5.3 batters per nine innings in the Red Sox organization. These weren't high level guys he was walking either, who know how to take pitches in more effective ways. He was facing primarily A+ level competition.
Even with those walks, I think he can be a great reliever... but he's not a guy you get hung up on in a deal for a Chris Sale. If he develops, and the White Sox get a steal of a player, you congratulate them on winning with their patience. The White Sox got a lot for Chris Sale, but the Red Sox also got a lot for their young chips, whose futures aren't guaranteed.
Needless to say, everyone is very happy.
Q: What has been the biggest surprise about the Red Sox so far this season?
A: For me, the biggest surprise has been Mitch Moreland. He was touted as a no-bat, all-glove first baseman, who was going to make life easy on our pitchers, just by nature of gobbling everything up, something we didn't have the luxury of last season, when Hanley was taking his glove there. Now, there's nothing wrong with a no-bat all-glove first baseman, but what we've seen has been entirely different, and better than that.
Mitch Moreland seems to be a doubles machine. There are three things you can rely on in life: Death, Taxes, and Mitch Moreland hitting another double. He leads the league in doubles, and it's been so interesting to watch. For all the talk about how Hanley has needed to be a catalyst, Moreland might be that catalyst himself.
His defense at times has been unfortunate, to say the least, but we're not generally focused on that, since he's providing more value than we expected him to.
Another early surprise (at least partially anyway) is that of Eduardo Rodriguez. Raise your hand if you thought Eduardo Rodriguez would presently be 2nd among Red Sox SP in ERA, WHIP, and K/9. OK, put your hand down, because the Sox rotation was expected to be Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Drew Pomeranz, and ONE of Rodriguez/Steven Wright.
You heard me right, Eduardo Rodriguez wasn't even guaranteed to be in the Red Sox starting rotation. In fact, there was a time where it was expected he was going to start the year in Triple-A until an injury brought him back up. Turns out, with Price injured, the debate between Rodriguez and Wright became moot, as both started in the rotation. When Price comes back, there's no chance Rodriguez gets removed, and you are looking at a rotation of Sale/Price/Porcello/E-Rod/Pomeranz, or some order or another.
On a footnote, though it probably doesn't deserve to be, the bullpen has also been a surprise. Excluding Kimbrel (who is a shock in his own right, seemingly returning to his high level form from way back), the Sox bullpen has gotten great contributions from just about everyone, with only Fernando Abad and Robbie Ross (who has since been demoted) with less than stellar results.
The Sox bullpen ranks 9th in ERA, 5th in K/9, 6th best in HR/9, and are doing it without having an unsustainable amount of baserunners left on base (15th in that metric). It's been a joy to watch, given the loss of both Brad Ziegler and Koji Uehara, and to a lesser extent Junichi Tazawa (who hasn't had a great 2017).
Q: Is David Price dead?
A: No, thankfully.
I'm honestly surprised that he's expected to come back this year. When the news first broke that Price was experiencing issues with his forearm and elbow, we all instantly thought the worst. That 2017 was going to be a lost season. That we would be wasting one of the three years of Sale we traded for. That this would permeate into 2018, Price's opt out year, and that he would choose not to opt out, leaving us stuck with a pitcher who we weren't sure would be David Price anymore. In a lot of ways, that injury was scarier than any loss of David Ortiz could be.
Price faced hitters for the first time on Saturday. He threw 30 pitches over 2 innings, and is ramping himself back up. He basically has to go through Spring Training all over. He's expected to throw another simulated game either today or tomorrow, and you could probably peg him for a June ETA.
It's been a slow recovery, but I'd rather see him get back at 100% than rush him back only to break him again. We already expected all of 2017 to be lost to surgery. Getting him back before July would be immense to this staff, and it's very possible we get him in or before June if everything goes perfectly.
It's worth noting there's no specific timetable on his return. The Sox are definitely easing him back. But David Price is indeed alive, and seemingly well as well.
Q: Have any predictions for the Twins-Red Sox series this weekend?
A: A fun series, for starters. I like when the Red Sox play the Twins, and I like playing at Target Field a lot too, you guys sure have a beautiful stadium. Additionally, the Twins have a lot of players I really like to watch, one of whom is currently tearing the cover off the ball in Miguel Sano.
As for a prediction on how the series goes results wise, I think we can expect a few things. On tap for the series, I believe we have Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Phil Hughes, Rick Porcello vs. Nick Tepesch, and Chris Sale vs. Ervin Santana. If that is indeed the list of probables, then I think we can expect at least one really close game (my bet would be on Sale/Santana), one game where anything could happen (Porcello/Tepesch), and one game that I would say is solidly in the Sox favor (Rodriguez/Hughes). [Editor’s Note: Sick Phil Hughes burn.]
Of course, it's baseball, so it's also entirely possible that the Sox will get no-hit by Hughes, but then absolutely crush Ervin Santana.
The thing I expect most out of our series with you, is that I think Miguel Sano is going to make Sox fans more aware of just what a threat Minnesota can be going forward. I'm not sure if being first in the AL Central will last, but it's not by pure accident either, at least from my viewpoint. Offensively, you are getting on base (which could be incredibly frustrating for Rodriguez, who is letting up too many walks, despite his great season), and when you do, you bring in enough runs to win the game. I wouldn't call the Twins a great offensive team, but they are producing, at least close to the league average.
For us to win the series, we have to hit your pitching. Our offense has had nights where it's looked positively pallid, and other nights where it looks like a team we could have had last year. For you to win the series, you have to continue to be patient in the first two games, and play your style of baseball and offense. Won't offer anything on the Sale game, because with how he's pitching, you might need to give up negative runs to win that one.
In all, I think it'll just be a fun series, with someone winning two games, and someone winning one game. If I had to pick a team to win the two, right now, I'd pick us, entirely because of Chris Sale pitching. If Sale isn't in the series because of a suspension (until I hear otherwise, I'm just assuming it's a possibility), then I give the edge to you guys.
Q: What's the one question I should have asked you but I didn't? (only if you have one)
A: If there is any one question you should have asked, I would have suggested "What's up with Xander Bogaerts?"
And the answer to that, unfortunately, is I just don't know. He's seemingly taken a step back defensively (whether because of the WBC, or something else, I have no clue), and he has absolutely no authority over the baseball right now, becoming more like his 2015 self, a trend in the wrong direction.
You can be a successful baseball player, especially a shortstop, with a lack of power. But this is a player who last year hit 21 HRs, and looked to be one of the best young shortstops in baseball, just a level below that of the Seagers and Lindors of the game. Now, it's looking more like he might be a bit overrated.
There's still a long season ahead, of course, and Xander could get out of his hole. He's hitting well, otherwise (.333/.391/.381), but I'm not sure his production is sustainable if he doesn't get more solid contact off the bat. He's hitting far too many grounders, and not getting nearly as much hard contact as he was a year (or even two years) ago.