Is it just me or does it feel like Opening Day was just yesterday? Andrew Benintendi took an absolutely beautiful swing to connect for his first homer of the year on a perfect Spring day in Boston. The season was full of optimism in that moment. Then the controversies started. First there was the team wide flu, which got the year off to a ridiculously weird start. Then there was the whole Dustin Pedroia/Manny Machado/Matt Barnes fiasco. Followed by fans and radio hosts wanting John Farrell fired (again). Yet the worst was when David Price went after Eck.
Yet we finally, FINALLY have had a few weeks of peace here in Boston as it relates to the Red Sox. 16 wins in 21 games will do that to a fan base. With September approaching it's fair to start looking ahead to the (gasp) playoffs and who the local nine may be taking on this October. For the past month I've been operating under the mentality that we are destined to face off against Cleveland in round one again. It seemed as if nobody was catching Houston for the AL's best record, which meant the division winners from the Central and East would be pitted against one another.
Yet just as the Red Sox caught fire the Astros began to slide. George Springer missed some time. Carlos Correa is still out. Their starting pitching is a mess. And the Sox are capitalizing. Entering this weekend Boston is just four games behind Houston for the #1 seed in the American League playoffs (and 2.5 ahead of the Tribe). Securing that one seed would give us two advantages. For one, we wouldn't have to face off with Terry Francona's squad in the ALDS again. I'm not scared of them - especially with Andrew Miller banged up right now - but it would just make more sense to want to face the winner of the Wild Card game.
So who might that be? Honestly, I'm not so sure it matters. Either way it's a better matchup than Cleveland. The Yankees are probably going to be playing in the one game playoff, which means we either A) get the first Sox/Yanks playoff series since 2004 or B) face one of the Twins, Royals, Angels, or whatever squad of scrubs claims that second spot. It's either a ridiculously entertaining matchup for us (New York) or an "easy" first round opponent. Now, we would still have to catch the Astros to pull this off BUT we close the regular season with a four game series against them and it's at Fenway. So if we enter that final weekend with a chance to grab home field throughout the AL playoffs I think the Sox should go for it. And if not then we use those games to rest some guys and get the rotation lined up for Cleveland.
More Red Sox Thoughts:
--Let's start with the negatives. Chris Sale has a 5.40 ERA spanning five starts here in the month of August. He hasn't performed as "the best pitcher in the American League" for a while now, but it's not time to go into FULL ON PANIC mode just yet. Even during his struggles this month Sale is striking guys out at his usual rate so this isn't a "stuff" problem. Looking at his Fangraphs page it hints he's been a little unlucky as evidenced by a .329 BABIP this month. His FIP (2.96) and xFIP (3.09) in August show he hasn't been as bad as that ERA suggests. Plus he's had two dominant outings recently: an eight inning, 13 strikeout performance versus Tampa Bay on August 8th and a seven inning, one run, 12 strikeout performance versus the Yankees on the 13th. Really most the damage to his ERA this month has come from his two starts against Cleveland. Worsening the situation is the fact that historically the Indians have had his number. I don't know maybe they have a good book on him. It makes avoiding them in the ALDS all the more important. I'm not worried at all about Sale fading down the stretch, but his numbers versus a likely round one opponent give me pause.
--This absolutely breaks my heart to type but arguably my favorite Red Sox player of all time, Markus Lynn Betts, has been struggling mightily lately. Since July 3rd the 24-year-old is batting just .223/.295/.321 with a measly three homers in 207 plate appearances. He has a 57 wRC+ during this span, which means he has been 43% worse than league average hitters after adjusting for stadium effects. I know it's an incredibly nerdy advanced stat but it's a good one, and it's telling us that Mookie has been #notgood for nearly two months now. Betts left last night's game with a bruised right knee and is listed as day-to-day. He isn't expected to need a DL stint but probably won't play tonight. So maybe that will give him some sort of mental break to get back on track. Simply put the team needs him if they want to go far this October.
--Finally let's close with something good. It's absolutely, positively unbelievable to fathom but Drew Pomeranz has been on a fucking roll this summer. Per Red Sox Notes on Twitter Pomeranz has a 2.47 ERA since May 20th. He has a 2.14 ERA since June 16th. And he has a 1.80 ERA SINCE JULY 7TH WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?! If the playoffs started today wouldn't that make him our number two starter after Sale? I would have to say so. Additionally, the prospect we traded for him - Anderson Espinoza - is currently undergoing Tommy John. Pomeranz's recent performance highlights the importance of not writing off a trade too quickly, no matter how horrible it may appear initially. It also makes it difficult to criticize Dave Dombrowski too much. In addition to Pomeranz working out (at least right now) Dombrowski had himself a pretty solid 2017 trade deadline. Rafael Devers looks big league ready. Eduardo Nunez gave the team a spark it desperately needed. Addison Reed hasn't been great but I would still rather have him that not. Even Carson Smith might be back soon. The Travis Shaw trade still hurts but at this point the only other negative you can say about Dombrowski is that he hasn't fired Farrell yet. Man how things change quickly...