July 21, 2021
With the Red Sox on the verge of a crisis, they are looking to the franchise’s best manager of all time to try and right the ship. Monday night, we saw what I hope is the first step toward moving past this funk and back in the direction of consistent excellence that we have come to expect this year.
Boston’s offense got stuck in the mud on the west coast two weeks ago, and as lovely gearhead Mona Lisa Vito will tell you, getting stuck in the mud leads to nothing but spinning your wheels uselessly (1:24).
The Red Sox have lost their past three series, all to inferior teams hovering around .500. After capping off an eight-game winning streak in Oakland, during which Boston began to show signs of running away with the American League East, the Red Sox let their guard down and allowed the 4.5 game lead they had held in the American League East to evaporate.
The losses to the Angels on the west coast were close games that could have gone either way, but losing two games each to the Phillies and Yankees was flat-out unacceptable. With five Red Sox on their way to Colorado for the All-Star Game and the entire team feeling great about their excellent first half of the season, Boston proceeded to cough up two losses to the perennially disappointing Philadelphia Phillies, letting their teetering starter off the hook on Saturday and then getting pummeled in a blowout loss on Sunday.
After the break, the Red Sox squandered a golden opportunity to get back on track against a tailor-made slumpbuster, the 2021 New York Yankees. Not only are the Yankees a generally bad, stinky team this year, they fielded a minor-league caliber team last weekend due to a Covid outbreak that sidelined, among other players, the only star player they have this year, Aaron Judge.
After Eduardo Rodriguez, now firmly past his month-long gag-fest and dealing once again, dominated the Yankees en route to a shutout on Friday, the Red Sox offense continued to sputter. They managed only a single run Saturday night in a monsoon that was “surprisingly” ended in the sixth inning due to rain immediately after the Yankees took their first lead of the series.
The Sox offense duplicated that trash effort the following night, putting up a mere two runs while the Yankee C-team raked their way to a 9-2 victory.
Bear in mind, the Yankees have still not won the series yet. After being postponed due to the Covid outbreak, Thursday night’s game has been rescheduled as part of a doubleheader in mid-August. For some odd reason that I’m sure has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the Yankees were missing their star player this past weekend, the league opted not to play a doubleheader last Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, but four weeks from now instead. So, the Red Sox do still have a chance to earn a split of this four-game series and avoid the pathetic stigma of having lost a series to the 2021 New York Yankees.
Not only did the Red Sox make believers out of a Yankee team that should have no excuse to believe in themselves, they allowed the Rays to get right back on their heels for first place in the division. These ups and downs obviously happen over the course of a 162-game season, but you can’t help but be alarmed when an offense that has been so nasty all season falls into a prolonged period of mediocrity.
Thank God for Alex Cora and Chaim Bloom.
Rather than keep the offense intact and allow the players to figure out their issues on their own, the Red Sox brain trust got to work on rectifying this downturn.
Bloom called intriguing prospect Jarren Duran up from AAA Worcester. Duran had been the darling of the Red Sox minor league ranks all season, showing the type of power and athleticism that all teams crave in a young outfielder. Rather than wait until rosters expand in September, Bloom opted to call up the 24-year-old at the beginning of the second-half of the season in response to Marwin Gonzalez’ hamstring injury.
Duran responded by lining the first big league pitch he ever saw, a fastball from Gerrit Cole nonetheless, into right center for a single. Since then, he has shown the kind of patience at the plate and ability to hit to all fields that you love to see in a young player at the Major League level.
Cora, for his part, tweaked the lineup. He didn’t do anything drastic like pick the lineup out of a hat the way mythology-crazed Yankee fans pretend Billy Martin did in the 70s. Cora simply shuffled the lineup accordingly.
Alex Verdugo, ineffectual and lost at the plate for the past month, was dropped from second in the order to sixth. Cora even dared to change the holy trinity of Martinez – Bogaerts – Devers, which had not really been tampered with all season long, to Bogaerts – Devers – Martinez. The lineup shuffle was intended to put some of the thump back in the offense by giving J.D. Martinez more opportunities to hit with runners on base and drive in runs. With Duran called up to the big-league team and Verdugo struggling so badly, Cora was presented with an ideal opportunity to try out a fresh-faced number two hitter and take some pressure off Verdugo in a re-worked batting order.
Cora is too smart to abide by the age-old baseball fallacy of “shaking things up” with no rationale just to show the fans that you’re doing something to try and fix things. He had a genuine plan with a schematic purpose as to why the new lineup he debuted Monday night had a chance of improving things, rather than sticking a wad of tobacco in his cheek and drawing a bunch of arrows on his scorecard.
“Today just felt like, let’s try this and see what happens,” Cora said of the changes before Monday night’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays of Buffalo. “Maybe Jarren gets on and we can run and we can put pressure on them. Dugie (Verdugo) comes up with the bases loaded and no outs, he might hit a grand slam. You never know.”
Sadly, Cora was mistaken. Jarren Duran had no opportunity to run in the first inning Monday, because he was too busy celebrating his first career home run.
And it was Hunter Renfroe, rather than Alex Verdugo, that hit a grand slam four batters later.
Alex Cora’s new-look Red Sox lineup scored six runs before Blue Jays pitcher Ross Stripling recorded a single out. Martinez notched four hits, the Red Sox hit six home runs, and Boston’s offense resurged in a big way en route to a 13-4 trouncing of the Blue Jays.
It’s unfortunate that the momentum after a win like that was halted by last night’s rainout, but there can be little doubt that everyone in the Red Sox clubhouse is feeling a lot better about themselves after Monday night. Boston plays its next 16 games against Toronto, New York, and Tampa, the three division rivals that are gunning for their position at the top of the standings. This will be a three-week meat grinder of a stretch, possibly the toughest of the entire season, and they cannot afford to let their issues work themselves out naturally.
Good thing they have the greatest manager in franchise history to lead the way.