Baseball Is There for You

baseball is there

It always starts before I’m ready for it, and then it sticks around. And it keeps going every day for about 7 months (except for Wednesday and Thursday of this particular week, actually). It doesn’t go away until I’m tired of it and spending most of my time thinking about football.

More than any other sport, it’s just…there. I don’t mean that it’s like wallpaper, although I’m sure some people feel that way. I mean that I could put my head down and concentrate on work for a week, come home, turn on NESN at 7:05 ET, and the Red Sox would be playing. You could take off on a Friday night for a 9-day Caribbean vacation, turn your cell phone off, forget about the world entirely, come back late on the tail end of the weekend, and catch the last three innings of Sunday Night Baseball.

I don’t mean to be sentimental. God knows there are enough people who romanticize the sport, treat great players like they’re deities, and find ways to be obnoxiously sanctimonious when discussing a game that many of us started to play at the age of 6. But it does distinguish itself from other sports that compete for our attention.

Football was my first love. I don’t know who decided that football starts at the beginning of September, but it was a smart choice, at least for my money. Growing up, I remember it as one of the only things about the fall that counteracted the dread that accompanied the start of the school year. But football has historically made us wait all week for it, to its benefit (although the NFL has recently distanced itself from this positive attribute with its foray into weekly Thursday Night Football). It’s a weekend game, designed to increase our appreciation of time spent away from daily routine.

Professional basketball and hockey are near identical in their design: they start in mid-autumn, run until late spring, and have 82 regular season games and 4 playoff rounds of 7-game series. But they also have the least predictable schedules. Are the Celtics playing on the third Wednesday of the season? I have no idea. The NBA usually has a full slate booked on Fridays, but other than that, the only thing I can tell you is that there are 4 games on Christmas Day. Don’t even bother asking me about the NHL I don’t have a clue.

But you can set your watch to baseball. Is it 9 p.m.? The Red Sox are probably playing. And if they’re not, someone else is. And because of that regularity, baseball is there for you. No matter what you have going on in your life, you can count on it (a certain strike in 1994 notwithstanding) on a daily basis. The players you look up to will fade, and then your ability to play yourself will follow or lapse into dormancy, and then players younger than you will begin to retire. But baseball will still be there for you, in one way or another.

One Month in the Books: Red Sox April Report Card

red sox outfielders

Your 2016 Boston Red Sox starting outfield. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)

Red Sox made it through a very tough April schedule (although it was loaded with home games) with a respectable 14-10 record. Pretty remarkable given the fact that they had the worst starting rotation in baseball for the majority of the month.

I only ranked the main players. Guys like Noe Ramirez and Josh Rutledge will get graded when they have proved they are worthy of my consideration. Let’s get right into it.

[I think this goes without saying, but these grades are relative to my expectation for each player coming into the season. Not who has the best numbers.]

Christian Vazquez

He’ll probably never win the Silver Slugger, but ended April on a 5-game hitting streak. More importantly, when he returned from the DL, the starting pitching made a miraculous turnaround. This guy is a great game caller and receiver, and made an immediate, tangible impact on the Red Sox pitching staff. Grade: A-

Blake Swihart

Blake only appeared in 6 games before his demotion in the middle of the month. He was batting .278 when he was sent down, but was without an extra base hit. His trip to Pawtucket wasn’t due to his performance, but due to a backlog at the catcher position once Vazquez returned form injury. The Sox like his bat and are trying him in the outfield in AAA. Grade: Incomplete

Ryan Hanigan

A solid backstop who’s struggling at the plate. Sound familiar? If he doesn’t pick it up, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Sox called up Swihart to get a little more pop out of the catcher position. Grade: C-

Hanley Ramirez

His approach at the plate has been refreshing – he’s toned down the leg kick and his hitting for average – but his power numbers have been pretty weak. Obviously the big question coming into the season was his defense at first base… Dude hasn’t made an error all year and has shown he can pick it. Given his history as a middle infielder this shouldn’t exactly be surprising, but after last year’s misadventure in left, you’d be forgiven for being nervous. Grade: B-

Dustin Pedroia

He’s healthy (for now), raking, and flashing the leather up the middle. Ho hum. Grade: A

Xander Bogaerts

He got off to a slow start, but his average is coming back up and he’s drawing walks at a better rate than last season. His power still hasn’t developed like we expected, but maybe that’ll come as the weather heats up. No errors in the field. Grade: B+

Travis Shaw

Hitting .300 with good power, while playing rock solid defense at third. Couldn’t ask for anything more. Grade: A+

Jackie Bradley Jr.

Mr. April. He’s piling up clutch hits and ended the month with a bang, going 3 for 3 last night with two triples, a double, a walk, and 3 knocked in. He’s riding a 7-game hitting streak and his average is up to .272 after a rough start.

And the gold glove caliber defense in center goes without saying. Grade: B+

Mookie Betts

The homers and defense have been there, but everything else has fallen short of our (stratospheric) expectations of Mookie. Nothing to worry about, he got off to a slow start last season too, but just not what we expected thus far. Grade: B-

Brock Holt

He’s shown some pop, but his batting average is about 20 points below what we’re used to seeing. I blame this largely on being part of a platoon with Chris Young. It’s tough to stay locked in when you’re riding the pine every few games. Grade: A gentleman’s C+

Chris Young

He’s supposed to be the right-handed platoon guy, but he’s inexplicably had more plate appearances against righties thus far in 2016. The former All-Star is hitting .185. Grade: D-

Rusney Castillo

Bizarre. He appeared in one game and went 2-4 and was promptly demoted. Given his upside I’d like to see him platoon with Holt and send Young packing. He can’t do much worse than .185. Grade: Incomplete

David Ortiz

He’s slashing .321/.418/.654. His 1.071 OPS is tops in the league. Leading the team in average, home runs and RBIs. Seriously, why is this guy retiring? Grade: A+

David Price

Hasn’t been a pretty start for Boston’s new ace. His 5.76 ERA is an accurate barometer for how he’s performed so far. But there are reasons for optimism: he’s striking out a ton of guys (fanned 14 in his last start, though it was against the hapless Braves), and he’s a notoriously slow starter. I’m not worried, but he’s certainly underperformed. Grade: D+

Clay Buchholz

Hoo boy. I’m a pretty shameless Buchholz defender but this has been a disastrous start to the season. He’s had one decent start and four pretty bad ones, leading to a 6.51 ERA and a 1.59 WHIP, striking out only 19 in 27.2 innings. Grade: F (sorry Clay. You’re still my boy)

Rick Porcello

Well, well, well. After a shaky start, Freddy has settled in to a nice little groove. His home run bugaboo is still there, but outside of the gopher balls, he’s been dominant. 2.76 ERA, 0.918 WHIP, 36/6 K/BB in 32.2 innings. And he hasn’t given up a homer in his last two starts (again, thank heaven for the Braves). Grade: A

Joe Kelly

He’s on the shelf with a shoulder impingement, but owned a truly impressive 9.35 ERA before he got hurt. Given the emergence of Steven Wright and the imminent return of Eddie Rodriguez, look for Pumpsie to be returning to the bullpen. Grade: F

Steven Wright

His 1.37 ERA is second in the AL and has locked down a rotation start for the foreseeable future. Grade: A+

Henry Owens

Decent in two starts. Probably gets bumped from the rotation when Eddie returns. Grade: C

Tommy Layne

Lefties are hitting .385 against him. Righties are hitting .143. Go figure. Grade: D

Robbie Ross Jr.

Not terrible, not great. Grade: C

Matt Barnes

His numbers are ok, but he hasn’t passed the eye test. I don’t trust this guy. Grade: B

Junichi Tazawa

Lefty’s boy owns a 0.93 ERA and a microscopic 0.621 WHIP. Good to have the old Taz back to hold down the late innings. Grade: A+

Koji Uehara

He’s had some rough patches which is worrying given his age. It’s too early to tell whether or not he’ll be able to regain his old form, but his load should be lightened with the return of Carson Smith. Grade: B-

Craig Kimbrel

Papelbon 2.0. His control abandons him at times which gets him into trouble that he can’t always escape. His 4.09 ERA is twice as high as we expected, but I’m not worrying yet. Grade: C-

Dave O’Brien

Comparing him to Don would be cruel and pointless. But he’s just not Don. He’s crisp, professional, knowledgable, and has interesting anecdotes. But he doesn’t giggle like Don did and he doesn’t have the chemistry with Jerry (not yet at least). Grade: A*

*but he’s no Don Orsillo

The offense has been spectacular, and the pitching is coming around. Bring on May.

Red Sox Make Panicked Flurry of Roster Moves

ron brace

Who knew that an impingement could affect so many lives? (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

The bus/plane from Pawtucket to Boston and back has been busy recently. Since Joe Kelly hit the DL with a right shoulder impingement, a word that somehow sounds scary and boring simultaneously, it’s been all plans and backup plans and counter-plans from Sox management. And it’s all been fueled by the minor leagues.

On 4/20, Boston recalled sidearm reliever Noe Ramirez from Pawtucket, only one day after the team had sent him down to bring hard-throwing Heath Hembree up from AAA (Hembree had gone 5 innings in Pawtucket without giving up a run at that point. He’d also struck out 9 and allowed only 2 hits).The Sox also called up pitcher William Cuevas in exchange for utility man Marco Hernandez, and I’m gonna be honest, I hadn’t heard of him before this move. While only 25, he hasn’t done much to distinguish himself at the minor league level so far. It seemed that Boston intended for Cuevas to start in Kelly’s place.

But that wasn’t to be. After David Price was chased from an afternoon slugfest on 4/21, Cuevas was forced into long relief just in time to get saddled with his first major league loss. And with that, his purpose had expired, and he was sent back to Pawtucket on 4/22. In his place? Lefty Roenis Elias, who lost the 5th slot in the starting rotation to Steven Wright after coming to Boston from Seattle in the Wade Miley/Carson Smith trade.

But with an inning and two-thirds left in a 5-2 ballgame on 4/23, John Farrell elected to use Elias, too, in long relief. The lefty got out of the jam he’d been sent in to clear up in the 7th, but he blew up in the 8th, giving up 4, count ’em, 4 doubles. And so yesterday, he was summarily sent back to Pawtucket. So where does that leave us now?

Well, poor Noe Ramirez, whose WHIP has now climbed above 2.00, was on the bus with Elias. So the Sox filled the 2 open spots with 1. that freak with the big hands, Henry Owens, and 2. another player I’ve never heard of: Pat Light. Stats-wise, he seems to be lacking: he’s never really figured it out, with a career minor league ERA of 4.63. But since Owens officially got the start in Kelly’s place, maybe Light will get the chance to really own a long relief role for a week or two. Anyway, I’m sure he’ll be sent down before I can blink.


a. Former Patriots DT Ron Brace died at the age of 29. I spent some time around him during college, and he seemed like a really nice, gregarious dude. Someone once told me that his patented pass rush move was to hold his palm out in front of a lineman’s face like he was holding a plate, and then use that same hand to initiate a swim move. Or, as Ron put it, “Show them the hamburger, take it away.” So awesome. RIP.

b. Rich Hill update: he had 10 strikeouts against the Yankees the other day. He’s back (maybe)!


Weekend + Patriots’ Day Recap

Friday 4/15: Red Sox 5 Blue Jays 3

Papi stole.

Porcello was decent, but once again plagued by the long ball. He gave up two, and Josh Donaldson hit one about 418 feet to dead center that JBJ tracked down and caught, but is gone in any other park.

Saturday 4/16: Red Sox 4 Blue Jays 2

Dave Price gives up a triple to Donaldson and a double to Joey Bats in the first, but settles in to give up only one more run in seven innings, striking out 9 and walking nobody.

Xander Bogaerts provided all of the necessary offense with a 3 run dinger in the bottom of the third, and the Mayor of Ding Dong City, Travis Shaw added an RBI single for good measure.

Kimbrel struck out the heart of the Jays’ order, in order, to earn the save.

Sunday 4/17: Blue Jays 5 Red Sox 3

Jays’ starter Aaron Sanchez stifled the Sox’ bats, giving up just one run on two hits in seven dominant innings.

Steven Wright once again pitched well for Boston, giving up two earned over six innings, striking out six without walking a batter (pretty impressive for a knuckleballer). He now boasts an ERA of 2.13 on the young season.

Shaw made this one interesting by hitting a two-run homer in the ninth, but it wasn’t enough.

Monday 4/18: Blue Jays 4 Red Sox 3

Clay Buchholz tossed 6.2 scoreless innings, but the offense only managed one run in support.

Koji came in for the 8th with a 1-0 lead and gave up a hit, hit a batter, and walked two guys. John Farrell brought on Kimbrel with the bases loaded and the game still tied at one. He struck out Encarnacion, but then walked in a run and gave up a hit. More on this in a minute.

Travis Shaw once again made the 9th interesting by doubling in a run and coming around to score on a Hanley single, but there wasn’t enough 9th inning magic on this Patriots’ Day.


-Craig Kimbrel has a little too much Jon Papelbon in him for my taste. At times he’s unhittable and utterly dominant. Other times he starts nibbling at the corners and his control abandons him. Walking in a run with the bases loaded is never a good look, but he had Tulo down 1-2 and threw three straight pitches that were nowhere near the zone.

-The starting pitching was good in this series. Four games, four quality starts. Christian Vasquez was called up for Friday’s game. Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not.

-The offense came back to earth a little bit after a hot start.

-Even though they split the series, winning the first two and losing the last two feels a lot worse than any other win/loss combination that leads to a split.