September 4, 2021
It seems that I wrote a very similar column five short months ago after the Boston Red Sox were swept at Fenway Park to begin the season against the woefully atrocious Baltimore Orioles. With Boston sports fans being the collection of pessimistic panicky Petes that they are, three-quarters of the fanbase was immediately hitting the bottle and booking their Patriots tickets, writing off the 2021 season as the dismal failure they’d all expected it to be back when spring training began.
After four months of proving the doubters clueless, we hit our first real impasse of the year about six weeks ago, just before the All-Star break. The starting pitching bottomed out and two-thirds of the trinity went cold. Then when the offense slightly improved and the starting pitchers either got their asses back in gear (Eovaldi, Rodriguez) or kicked into the bullpen (Perez, Richards), the relief pitchers fell apart. Add in a sudden Covid outbreak just as they began to plummet out of the second wild card spot, and it looked like it was time for the old town team to start polishing their golf clubs.
Then, two weeks ago, just after a demoralizing three-game sweep by the Yankees, a funny thing happened. Boston’s schedule got easier, they started winning games against bad teams, and the players began getting their confidence back. In other words, baseball happened.
The numbers that prove the indisputable fact that talented teams can only lose for so long finally broke in the Red Sox’ favor. They won consecutive series against the Rangers, Twins, and Indians before heading to Tampa on Monday to determine whether or not their season was over. Just before the Tampa series began, when Boston’s Covid Injured List began racking up more members than the NWO, I’ll admit that even I thought it looked hopeless.
The Rays nabbed easy wins in the first two games against a Covid-stripped Red Sox team featuring Brad Peacock, Stephen Gonsalves, Raynel Espinal, and two stock boys from the Burlington Coat Factory. For some reason, the brain trust in the Boston sports media and online communities everywhere placed the blame for the dismal Red Sox situation on not trading for Anthony Rizzo like the Yankees did.
Instead of acquiring Rizzo, Chaim Bloom famously picked up Kyle Schwarber, an outfielder, at the trade deadline. Bloom chose to play out the rest of the season with the flailing Bobby Dalbec playing first base, with Schwarber set to see time there as well. The peanut gallery moaned about adding an outfielder to a struggling team with four good outfielders and zero good first basemen. It’s been a full month since the trade deadline passed, so let’s see how the players in this scenario matched up in August.
Here are Anthony Rizzo’s numbers in the 18 games he played in August: .209 BA / 2 HR / 10 RBI / .276 OBP / .620 OPS / 4 BB
Here is what Kyle Schwarber has done in his 15 games with Boston: .340 BA / 3 HR / 5 RBI / .492 OBP / 1.092 OPS / 15 BB
Now let’s see what Bobby Dalbec has done in his 24 August contests: .339 BA / 7 HR / 21 RBI / .431 OBP / 1.205 OPS / 8 BB
For those of you that aren’t longtime baseball fans (and I know you’re out there): when the statistics listed above are higher, the player is doing better. In other words, Rizzo has been barely half the player Schwarber and Dalbec have been in the month of August.
Schwarber has strolled into the Red Sox lineup and quietly become the toughest guy in the order to get out. He drove in three runs Friday night in a game that the Red Sox won by three runs (Friday’s results are not even reflected in the numbers above). He’s played left field, first base, and DH, and he’s already deposited three balls into the center field bleachers. No player that was traded at the deadline has had a bigger impact on his team thus far than Kyle Schwarber.
As for Dalbec, I was more than ready to see him sent back to the minor leagues long before the trade deadline. I saw him as a big guy with raw power and tons of potential that was not yet ready for big league pitching. Then the dog days of summer got here, and all of a sudden he turned into vintage Frank Thomas.
The Sox scratched and crawled their way to a dramatic 3-2 victory on Wednesday night in Tampa, but Thursday night was where us believers began to feel some life being pumped back into this team’s veins. And Bobby Dalbec was the catalyst.
He didn’t do it by hitting a ball 450 feet, but with a pair of opposite field RBI singles that led the Red Sox to an impressive 4-0 victory. Until August, Dalbec looked like a guy who was born to hack but had no clue how to hit. Now that he’s hitting, he’s driving in runs and helping this team regain its footing, along with its sense of self.
The trinity of Martinez – Bogaerts – Devers carried the Red Sox offensively from April through mid-July, making them into one of the best offenses in the sport. Since then, Martinez got tired, Bogaerts got hurt (and sick), and Devers got mortal. The Red Sox have sputtered and stalled for a month-and-a-half because the rest of the lineup wasn’t capable of picking up the slack for them. Now, with Kike Hernandez, Christian Arroyo, and Jarren Duran also added to the pile of bodies in the infirmary, a replacement trinity has stepped up to the plate, literally, and stoked the flames of the Red Sox attack.
Kyle Schwarber, Bobby Dalbec, and Hunter Renfroe are the heart and soul of the Red Sox offense right now. Every big hit the last couple weeks has seemed to come from those three guys, with Martinez and Devers reduced to role players just trying to turn the lineup over so the new blood can deliver.
Here is a common factor that is seen in most good teams: players take turns getting hot in order to pick up the slack for those that are slumping. Can the Schwarber-Dalbec-Renfroe trinity keep this up until Martinez gets his legs back under him, Bogaerts heals up, and Devers starts hitting nightly 800 mph rockets again?
If managed properly, I think this Covid outbreak could end up being a saving grace for this team. God knows Bogaerts, Matt Barnes, and Josh Taylor needed a break after so much use throughout the season. Christian Arroyo gets some extra time to rest his hamstring, and everyone else gets a reset after a 6-week blitzkrieg of mistakes and choke jobs. Some of these players simply need to step away for a minute and remember how good they are.
Closer Matt Barnes is the prime example of a guy who routinely hits a wall in August before settling down in September. Barnes’ career ERA in August is 8.02, as opposed to a 2.87 career ERA in September. For those of you emerging fans, ERA is a pitching statistic where lower means better. 8.02 is dreadful, whereas anything under 3.00 is pretty good.
The arms of Garrett Whitlock, Adam Ottavino, and, amazingly, Garrett freakin’ Richards are doing yeoman’s work anchoring the bullpen until Barnes, Taylor, and Hirokazu Sawamura fight off Covid and rejoin the squad after a much-needed rest. Martin Perez can keep his Covid and add a side of tuberculosis for all I care, as long as he stays off the pitcher’s mound for the rest of the season.
The Red Sox are only 1.5 games behind the Yankees for the first wild card spot, three games ahead of Oakland for the second wild card spot, and they play a cupcake schedule the rest of the season. They have nine more games against the Rays, Yankees, and White Sox, while the remaining 14 are against pushovers. They won’t win the division, which is a kick in the jimmy after their scorching hot start. But consider this:
How incredible would it be to see a one-game wild card playoff between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees?
Chris Sale vs Gerrit Cole.
Bogaerts/Martinez/Devers/Schwarber/Renfroe/Verdugo vs Judge/Stanton/Voit/Rizzo/Gallo/LaMahieu.
Ben Affleck vs Spike Lee.
Papi/Pedro/Manny/Pedroia vs a bunch of dead guys.
An all-time classic baseball event could be on the horizon. All the Sox have to do to get there is tread water for a month.
One more round.