August 16, 2021
It’s the dog days of summer, and two of the biggest hounds in the land will bite and claw at each other in the Bronx this week with positioning in the American League East standings on the line. The momentum of these teams has completely reversed from earlier in the season, with the Yankees now playing their best baseball of the year and the Red Sox hopefully sputtering back to life after spinning out for the first two weeks after the trade deadline.
I say “hopefully” sputtering back to life because you can’t really get much of a feel after sweeping the Baltimore Orioles in a three-game series at home. Yes, the Sox tossed the O’s around like they were Loki. Yes, the starting pitching, offense, and bullpen dominated all weekend long. But no, that does not mean that the Red Sox are the team that they were the last time they played the Yankees.
Watching the Orioles play baseball kinda makes me sad. Wow, do those guys blow. With the exception of Cedric Mullens and Trey Mancini, it’s hard to make a case for anybody on that team to play in the Major Leagues. Everything their pitchers threw went over the middle of the plate or all the way to the backstop. Dennis Eckersley was hilarious all weekend as he commented on how nobody on the Orioles pitching staff had the ability to “execute a pitch.” And their offense might be even worse. Boston’s pitching was not exactly outstanding this weekend, but these bums continually foul off mistake pitches that most players barrel up.
Boston’s offense completely lacked authority in August until the Birds came to town. With the exception of the 20-8 outburst, which was the only win they managed in the Tampa series, they turned into the team that the Yankees had been until July, a one-dimensional butter knife of an attack that kept finding ways to lose. While the majority of that dreadful stretch came against red-hot Blue Jays and Rays teams, Red Sox hitters were in need of a confidence boost. Luckily, the Orioles are the perfect schoolyard nerd to beat up on to make yourself feel tough.
The Yankees, on the other hand, have learned how to fight for the first time this season. Despite Joey Gallo’s struggles and Anthony Rizzo’s Covid-19 diagnosis, the Yankees have figured out how to come up with timely hits in situations where Boston kept popping up and striking out. Yankee starting pitching has been decent all year except when facing the Red Sox, but their bullpen is still atrocious. Zack Britton is getting mauled now like Aroldis Chapman was getting mauled earlier in the season. Their two stud relief pitchers are basket cases, with Britton even opting out of the substitute closer role after coughing up yet another game … a game that actually took place in heaven.
The Yankees are good now, and the Red Sox have been good all year. Starting with Tuesday’s doubleheader at Yankee Stadium, the Sox will have to reassert themselves against some well-paid grown ups. Luis Gill will be starting for the Yankees Tuesday afternoon, and he has been lights out in the 11 innings he’s pitched so far (keep in mind, however, that six of those innings were pitched against Baltimore). Jordan Montgomery pitches in game two, and he has one career win against Boston in nine starts.
These guys are both miles better than the garbage that the Orioles put on the mound this weekend. Let’s hope that Boston’s last three wins, which they prevailed in by a combined score of 30-5, gave the offense the confidence boost they needed to snap out of this mental block and bring back the pop that we enjoyed watching for the first four months of the season.
The Yankees made big additions to their team at the deadline, but the positive energy that those moves contributed to that team cannot last much longer unless Gallo and Rizzo begin to personally deliver the output that is expected of them. Rizzo has Covid (and is a cancer survivor, so I’m hoping he is cleared and back in action ASAP), so that puts the onus entirely on the former Ranger strikeout machine. Gallo has 9 hits in 54 at bats thus far as a Yankee, with 3 of them leaving the park. Exactly as advertised.
The Red Sox have not yet announced who will be pitching in either of Tuesday’s games, but I’m banking on Nathan Eovaldi in game one and electric rookie Tanner Houck in game two. That sounds infinitely better than any doubleheader tandem the Red Sox would have been forced to use before this past week.
In their last 6 starts (only three of which were against the Orioles), Boston starting pitchers have a 2.36 ERA, 48 strikeouts, and 7 walks in 34.1 innings pitched. Chris Sale threw 90 pitches Saturday and looked as good as I could possibly have expected from a former elite pitcher after a two-year layoff following Tommy John surgery. Show me the weak spot in the adjusted rotation of Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez, Nick Pivetta, and Tanner Houck. Rodriguez is actually the guy I trust least in this crew right now, which tells me that the starting five should be a major strength of this team for the rest of the season.
As for Kyle Schwarber, that disgraceful sham of a deadline acquisition, he has two walks, two doubles, and two runs scored in two games since joining the team. He hit the right field wall and the left field wall with doubles on Sunday. I’m pleased so far, but again, we’re only talking about two games against the Orioles.
What I don’t understand is the media-manufactured issue of where to play him. While starting out briefly as a catcher, Schwarber has been an outfielder for essentially his whole big league career. He is going to alternate playing left field and DH with J.D. Martinez. The Red Sox have been without Christian Arroyo for like a month because he hurt his hamstring stretching for a ball at first base. They’re not going to screw around and play Schwarber there while he recovers from a hamstring issue.
Bobby Dalbec temporarily saved his job in the last two weeks, hitting .407 with 3 HRs and 12 RBI. It looks like he and old friend Travis Shaw will share duties at first in some kind of platoon situation, although I don’t trust either of them long-term. I’d prefer to see more at bats from Jonathan Arauz until Arroyo’s return, at which point he would be my everyday second baseman.
It doesn’t hurt to add Shaw, but I don’t see it helping either. He had two good years in Milwaukee, but he’s been trash ever since the start of 2019. If it were my call, I’d have Kike Hernandez starting at first base and keep Dalbec on the bench as a reserve corner infielder and Duran as a reserve outfielder. While Hernandez has only played 14 games at first base in his career, he’s played 330 games in the infield. If you can play any infield position decently, you can play an adequate first base. It’s one of the easiest positions on the diamond, so no need for Alex Cora to do any mental gymnastics in filling out the lineup card.
- Enrique Hernandez 1B
- Alex Verdugo/Jarren Duran CF
- Xander Boagerts SS
- Rafael Devers 3B
- J.D. Martinez DH/LF
- Kyle Schwarber LF/DH
- Hunter Renfroe RF
- Christian Vasquez/Kevin Plawicki C
- Jonathan Arauz/Christian Arroyo 2B
I’ve spoken with quite a few people who think the Red Sox are in the midst of an unsalvageable spiral. This week against the hated Bombers will be an excellent litmus test. Is this a good team that has snapped out of its mental funk? Or are they still spinning to the ground like Keanu with no Swayze to latch onto.
For what it’s worth, the Red Sox have the fifth easiest schedule of all Major League teams for the final 42 games of the season, If any team is in position to make a solid run to the postseason, it’s them. If Matt Barnes and Adam Ottavino get their acts together and Garrett Whitlock continues to do what he’s done all year, the bullpen will be as formidable as the lineup and the revamped starting rotation.
It’s an exciting time for the rivalry. First, every Yankee fan bailed on their team while the Red Sox kicked ass. Now, half of Red Sox fans have jumped ship as the Yankees have managed to pull their nose up. We will learn an awful lot about these two teams on Tuesday and Wednesday, the second-to-last series between these teams this year. Boston is 10-3 against the Yankees so far this season. Has either team truly turned the corner and set themselves up for a magical home stretch?
Just remember, if you bailed on the Red Sox in the last two weeks after four top-shelf months of competition, don’t try and climb back aboard the bandwagon now.
The ride is closed.