The Astros often play at home during the fourth of July holiday, but if I could have picked a place outside of Houston it would have been Boston. New England hope to much of America's history. TCB sits down with Over The Monster's Ben Buchanan to talk about the Red Sox's season and Fourth of July.
Admit it's been a whirlwind season for the Astros and my attention has been squarely on that. I had pegged the Red Sox to win the East at the beginning of the season. Now the Red Sox are 36-44 this season, seven games out of first. What has happened this year?
A little bit of everything. The pitching was miserable in April, which is what everyone thought might happen, then the lineup completely vanished in May, which isn't really what anyone thought might happen.
The first part of that is easy enough to explain. The Red Sox didn't really head into 2015 expecting to finish the year with the same five starters they had in the rotation in April. If I had to put a number on it, I'd say the over/under on successful experiments both in terms of health and quality would be something like 3.5. It's been significantly worse than that in the end, though, thanks to Rick Porcello going well beyond any struggles he's had in the past, leaving the rotation with only three particularly reliable options even with the addition of Eduardo Rodriguez from Triple-A.
The second part isn't quite so easy, but there are answers there too. Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval both ended up hurt in May, with Sandoval's numbers dragged down even further by a particularly disastrous stretch against lefties that has been remedied by abandoning switch-hitting entirely. Ryan Hanigan hit the 60-day DL, leaving the Red Sox with no-offense Sandy Leon and Blake Swihart, called up probably a month or two too early. And, yes, David Ortiz is old, and it's finally starting to show.
Throughout it all, there's been the defensive issues of Hanley (predictable) and Sandoval (less so) making an already tall task for a shaky rotation nigh-impossible.
It's not that the Red Sox have been blindside by many things. It's that every problem you could see coming headed into the season has managed to crop up, particularly early in the season, digging a hole so deep it's hard to imagine them escaping it.
2. Are there any clear paths for fixing the Red Sox problems? Health, prospects, trade? Or is this a lost season?
If the season were starting now, and everything to this point had been spring training, I'd say the Sox had a chance. It does feel like they've found a number of answers. Blake Swihart is no longer the unready prospect forced into action, but looking like a viable major league catcher. Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts have both overcome some early rough patches to emerge as some of the better players on the roster. If the rotation is still lacking in depth, we're at least past the point where we have to put 10-15 starts into lost causes that aren't going anywhere (except for Justin Masterson, who you guys will have the pleasure of facing. Somehow we're still going on that for at least one more time through).
I don't think the Sox are a team that would win the East with ease right now if we were starting over. But they'd put up a fight. The problem is they're starting from quite a few games down, and are just one month away from a trade deadline they probably won't invest in given that position. I've called it a lost season before, and I'll not reverse that stance. But I will say that the fanbase, at least, is treating this season like it's got a pulse more than they were a week or two ago, and the turning point tweets are maybe only 75% sarcastic.
3. Has Clay Buchholz figured it out or is this another turn on a roller coaster? The Nederland, TX native has a 2.13 ERA in his last nine starts.
Figuring it out hasn't been the problem with Clay Buchholz since 2008, to be honest. It's always been about healthy. It's pretty much clockwork. Buchholz is very good (2010, first half of 2011/2013) , then he misses a significant stretch of time while hurt (2nd half of 2011, 2nd half of 2013), then he's exquisitely bad (first half of 2012, most of 2014), then he's back to being good. 2015 was never really an exception to that. He had one terrible start against New York, but that happens. It just came early enough that it's taken until now for his season numbers to reflect how he's generally pitched on a game-to-game basis.
So to answer the question...he's good for now. It's just a question of how long he stays healthy.
4. How have the Red Sox uber-prospects progressed this season? Bogaerts and Betts etc.?
Betts had an insane game early on, had all his hype confirmed, went in the tank for about a month (in part because he was hitting the ball right to fielders), then got back on track and is basically one of the brightest spots on the team right now. He's doing pretty much everything right at the moment, which is a nice change of pace for our "uber-prospects".
Bogaerts is also having a fine season, though in an unexpected way. We really are still waiting on the offensive threat he was supposed to be--he can hit the ball, but he hasn't presented the home run power that was expected, leaving his bat pretty much in line with league average, though it's trending positively these days. What's really impressed is how smoothly he's played shortstop this season. He's turned what was supposed to be (and looked to be in 2013) the biggest weakness of his game into a strength. Maybe the bat rises to the heights it was expected to (he is only 22), maybe not, but with the glove looking this good, league average is plenty.
Things have also been going fairly well for Eduardo Rodriguez when he's not tipping his pitches, and Blake Swihart has coped reasonably well with an unreasonable task, particularly these last couple weeks. Hopefully he's not about to spend a weekend losing out on playing time to Sandy Leon.
5. Favorite Fourth of July activity?
Nothing special here, I'm afraid. Don't have a barbecue tradition, so I guess I'll just have to go with fireworks, preferably with bourbon.