Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Slowly Climbing...Slowly Falling

I have been saying for most of this season that the Red Sox and Yankees are both performing at unexpected levels, just at opposite ends of the spectrum. I have also said that the only silver lining for Boston was that they had a lot of room to improve. And that the danger for the Yankees is that they were already hitting close to their ceiling.

As of today, the Yankees have lost seven of their last 10 games while Boston have won six of their last 10. The Yankees are tied for first with Tampa Bay while Boston sits just 2.5 games back in third. The Yankees just lost Jacoby Ellsbury to a knee injury. Boston changed their pitching coach and Wade Miley looks competent on the mound.

The latest turn of bad luck for the Yankees - besides the Ellsbury injury - was Andrew Miller giving up the game-winning homer to Washington in their 8-6 defeat of New York last night. One of the keys to New York's unexpected good start was the combo of Betances and Miller holding opposing teams to doing little more than getting outs. That has since been undone to some degree. Overall, they are still one of the best 1-2 punches late in a close game. But tiny cracks in their armor are starting to show. That will make it harder for New to regain the form they had early in the season.

Injuries will also make that job harder. Ellsbury getting injured kind of goes with the territory; it's one of the reasons Boston fans weren't that upset when he jumped ship. And he has definitely been one of the better bats in New York's lineup. He currently leads New York in Offensive WAR at 1.6 and that means New York is going to miss him. Chris Young may be an adequate replacement but he'll be a step back. Slade Heathcott is an interesting call-up. A 2009 first-round pick whose career appeared to be derailed by alcohol, Heathcott has turned things around and now could be starting in New York's outfield. Whether his numbers in AAA will carry over into the MLB is, as always, the big question. At the least, things will be interesting in New York.

The Red Sox fired pitching coach Juan Nieves on May 7. They hired pitching coach Carl Willis two days later and he officially joined the team on May 10. From that day on the Sox have gone 6-3. Wade Miley has cut his ERA by almost two whole runs. Joe Kelly's outing on May 14th was his best since April 11. And Clay Buchholz threw a masterpiece against the Mariners five days ago that was wasted thanks to Boston's bats going cold.

Friday, May 15, 2015

A Lot Can Change in Three Days

In the last three days, the Sox have won two of three while the Yankees dropped three straight to the Rays. Boston's first win was thanks to a gritty, surprisingly decent performance from Wade Miley. New York's first loss was due in part to a surprisingly poor appearance from Dellin Betances, who allowed two inherited runners to score.

Yes, a lot can change in three days.

Boston won again last night with another gritty outing, this time courtesy of Joe Kelly. And while it would be a stretch to say he pitched well (more walks than strikeouts is never a good thing) it would be fair to say he pitched well enough. One run on five hits over 6.1 innings gave Kelly just his second quality start of the 2015 season. That was enough to keep the Sox in the game. Matt Barnes worked around two hits in the eighth and, thanks to some quality at-bats from the Sox in the top of the ninth, got his second win of the young season. Uehara worked a perfect ninth for his eighth save of the season.

Wade Miley's win on Wednesday afternoon was, in many ways, even more surprising. It was his first win since April 21. And although he had the same walk/strikeout problem that Kelly had yesterday, he was able to keep the A's off-balance while Boston's hitters were able to scratch Sonny Grey just enough for the 2-0 win.

In watching that game, I can see where Miley can be an effective pitcher. Miley works fast, to the point that the cameramen sometimes seemed to hurriedly cut back to the game. When Miley is pitching poorly that speed can be a detriment, because it reinforces bad habits. But if he is pitching well, then it keeps the batters from getting settled. They have no time to guess at what Miley may be throwing.

More than once the Oakland batters got their bats on a pitch and hit it well...but to fielders directly or near enough for the fielder to make the play. And that, in part, comes from being hurried a bit and not settling in properly. Miley is only 2-4, but he has gone 6 innings or more in his last three outings. That is something Boston must get from Miley going forward.

Meanwhile, the shine has come off of the Yankees' start somewhat. Losing three in a row to the Rays is hardly what New York was looking to accomplish.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Sox Start to Turn Around, Yanks Continue to Win

Boston beat Oakland last night 5-4 in eleven innings to register their first back-to-back wins since April 20-21. It definitely wasn't easy. Once again, the Boston starter (Porcello this time) failed to make it at least six innings. The bullpen was heavily leaned upon. But this time, the Sox had a fresh arm in Matt Barnes.

Barnes made a handful of appearances last year in September call-ups and this was just his third appearance in 2015. But he has impressed, with just one earned run in 5.1 innings of work. Last night, his two scoreless innings of relief gave Boston the space they needed to manufacture that fifth run and get the win.

As a Boston fan, the Barnes outing is encouraging as he is the first of the highly touted young arms in the system to make an appearance in 2015. I also think he isn't going back; as of right now he is one of the most effective relief pitchers Boston has had in 2015.

Pablo Sandoval continues to prove that his signing was a good move. He only got one hit last night but it was a solo homer that gave Boston their 5-4 lead. For the year he has an .820 OPS, trailing only Hanley Ramirez on the Boston roster.

Porcello had a tough outing; his five innings of work marked his shortest appearance in almost a month. The notable difference, however, is that in that April game he gave up eight runs on 12 hits. Last night he only gave up three runs on nine hits. Not great, but even while Porcello struggled on the mound he left Boston in a position where they could still win the game. That's an important difference.

Over these past two games, the Sox seem to be scrapping more, fighting to win. That's a good quality and hopefully these two wins will keep that attitude going.

Then you have the Yankees. As a Boston fan, I want them to go 0-162 every year. But as a baseball fan, I am fascinated to see how long they can keep this going.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Rough Weekend, Rough Rotation

For the first time since 2006, the Yankees swept the Red Sox in a series. Boston is now 12-13, four games out of first. They have gone 3-7 in their last 10 games.

As a whole, Boston's pitching staff is 28th out of 30, one of three teams with a collective ERA over five. The starting rotation is dead last, with a collective 5.70 ERA.

Meanwhile, Boston's defense is solidly in the top third of the league. So is their offense overall. So it is obvious that to turn things around, Boston has to figure out their pitching situation sooner than later.

The relative weakness of the AL East this year has allowed Boston to survive despite their poor pitching. But if New York's bullpen keeps performing as it has been and the rest of their team maintains their productivity, the window for Boston to turn it around in 2015 will close and close soon.

The Boston bullpen has not given the Sox nearly enough, though part of that can be explained by their overuse due to the starters not getting deep enough into games. Some of the big bullpen signings people thought would strengthen the pen (Robbie Ross, Alexi Ogando) have been disappointing. If management thought this bullpen was strong enough to cover for an average rotation (as New York has done quite successfully with Betances and Miller leading the way), they miscalculated and in grand fashion.

But as stated before, Boston's true problems lie in their rotation. Rick Porcello is 2-2 with a 5.34 ERA. In his defense, however, his last two starts have been solid and he almost cut his ERA by almost 1.5 runs in the process. If any pitcher looks to be turning a corner, it's Porcello.

And a nod must be given to Justin Masterson as well. Over his last three starts he has lowered his ERA by almost three runs. He should have gotten a win on Friday but Boston's offense failed to exploit a run-down CC Sabathia. He needs to be consistent as well going forward, not being dominant but good enough to give the Sox a chance to win in his games. If Porcello and Masterson can continue their performance, then Boston will have something of a foundation to build upon.

But it will be a shaky foundation thanks to the other three starters. Buchholz's inconsistency has been well-documented here. His last outing against the Blue Jays was atrocious. Wade Miley has gotten past the sixth inning exactly once, though to be fair he did pitch decently against the Yankees on Saturday. And Joe Kelly...for a guy who can hit 100 on the radar gun, he doesn't seem to know how to pitch. His ERA has risen in each of his five starts, from 1.29 to his current 5.72. He has surrendered five earned runs in each of his last three starts. But he has great stuff which makes him all the more frustrating. In my fever dreams I like to pretend that Kelly is like Nolan Ryan; great stuff, mediocre at first but after a few seasons somehow puts it all together.