EVALUATING SOX START

Red Sox fans and the media that cover them are a difficult bunch to keep happy. The Sox came home to Boston Thursday from 50 days in Florida, including all of Spring Training and six regular season games against the Rays and the Marlins, two teams not exactly the cream of the crop in either the American or National League. They won five of the six games and were in first place, one game ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays and a game and a half ahead of the New York Yankees.

Alex Cora had started out with a better record, five wins and one loss, after his first six games as Manager of the Sox than the Red Sox had had in any of the three seasons they won the World Series in this century. In 2013, under John Farrell, their future World Champions were 4-2 after six games, in 2007, under Terry Francona, ( some Red Sox fans would genuflect at the mention of his name ), they won three and lost three and were in second place, one game behind the Blue Jays, and in 2004, the year they broke The Curse, Francona’s boys were three and three, tied for first with the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays.

The 5-1 record after six games was the best start the Sox had had since 2006 which was the only other year in this century when they were also as good as 5-1. That year, with Francona at the helm in his third year, the Sox finished in third place with an 86-76 final record. What is it they say as a disclaimer in financial management advertising, past performance is not a guarantee of future success. Let’s hope that this team fares better in the long haul than that team.

Cora’s team started the season with three of their top six starting pitchers, Drew Pomeranz, Steven Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez on the disabled list and, in those first six games, with young Hector Velasquez and Brian Johnson in the fourth and fifth slots in the rotation, the starters had given up just four runs in 35 innings for a 1.03 earned run average.

The offense had been weak to say the least. They were 14th in all of baseball in batting average, .240, 17th in runs scored, 21 (3.5 per game), 16th in slugging percentage, .373, and had just four home runs, 21st, and one of those homers was Nunez’ pop fly that was misplayed from a single to an inside the park homer.

Aside from the first game where Joe Kelly was, by his own admission, ‘pathetic’ and Carson Smith no better, the bull pen had been magnificent. Cora is intent on not having the kind of melt down at the end of the season that the Sox have seen the last two years and has instituted a policy of resting position players frequently to save them for the long haul. He has also started his pitchers, particularly Sale and his other starters, off slowly for the same reason.

In the first six games, Betts, Benintendi, Devers, Ramirez, Bradley and Martinez have all been given days off. I am sure that part of the reason for him taking this position is the fact that he has more than adequate numbers of quality players everywhere and resting them allows him to give more people playing time, a nice solution to a wonderful problem to have.

Whether this will pay off on the long run, only time will tell but he has a plan and is sticking to it. His team was 5-1 and had come within a whisker of being 6-0 when it came home.

Two old adages come to mind when you think about this first road trip of the year. The first is ‘ A 1-0 win counts the same as a 14-0 win.’ In the five they won there were three one run games and two two run games, one of them a 13 inning game, while only scoring 17 runs. The other adage is ‘ Pitching is the name of the game. ‘ They have plenty of pitching, with three more quality starters set to come off the disabled list soon.

Branson Carusille in Fansided, on line, asked Wednesday morning ‘ Should Cora be sitting players so early in the season, especially when the lineup hasn’t produced? ‘ The media criticized Cora for not using Craig Kimbrel in the first game when they blew a 4-0 lead and Cora responded ‘ For what we are trying to accomplish here we need him for the long run not just for one out on Opening Day.’

Whether you agree with his plan or not, you can’t refute the evidence that he used to develop his plan. The Sox won 93 games in each of the last two years, won the American League East and then were knocked out in the first round of the Playoffs.

The one thing Alex Cora has learned early on is that Red Sox fans, who went without a World Series win for 86 years and have been spoiled by three in the past fourteen years, are not going to be happy without a World Series win. The other thing that he is aware of is that this team knows they have the horses to at least go deep into the Playoffs and he and his players seem happy with his plan to get them there.

As Scott Lausen of ESPN said after the disappointing loss in Game 1 ‘There will be other difficult days, probably more than Cora wants, but that’s life as the Manager of the Red Sox.’

What Alex Cora has to keep in mind is that, if he motivates his players to produce at the level they are capable of producing, those fickle Red Sox fans and their media will not care if it’s pitching or hitting that wins the last game of the World Series or whether they won 2-1 or 16-0. In Boston, as in many big league cities, it’s not how you play the game, it’s whether you win or lose. Welcome back to Boston, Alex.

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SOX READY FOR SEASON

We’re almost there. This Thursday, the Red Sox open their 2018 regular season against the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in Florida. They have four games there and then go south 250 miles to play two against the Marlins in Miami’s Marlins Park starting Monday.

Opening up in stadiums with roofs, in Florida, in March, against opponents who are both predicted to be among the weakest in baseball, is a mixed blessing for the Sox. The good news is, they won’t be opening outside in the cold north and they will be facing weak opposition, as Dave O’Brien would say, right out of the gate.

The bad news is that they will not be given the extra day off in the first two series that teams who open in the north are generally given in anticipation of weather delays. For example, the Orioles open at home in Baltimore, which can be as cold as Boston in March, and, after playing Opening Day against the Twins, they have the next day off. If weather should require canceling Opening Day, they have the next day to do it.

Having to play the first six days without a break doesn’t sound like a big deal until you start to look at the Red Sox starting rotation. With three of their anticipated top starters, Drew Pomeranz. Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright recovering from injuries and most likely unavailable to start the season, that extra day off in the first week would make a big difference in Alex Cora’s plans for scheduling his pitchers.

The plan, if nothing changes between now and Opening Day, is for Chris Sale to open against the Rays’ Chris Archer, who, despite his 10-12 record and 4.07 earned run average last year, is a much better pitcher than that record indicates. Sale seems to have suffered just a minor bruise when hit with a ball on Saturday. David Price, who has looked good in limited action in the Spring, will start Game number two in Tropicana Field. Price said this week that he is in better condition at this stage of the preseason than at any time in his career.

Rick Porcello who, coming off his Cy Young season in 2016, struggled to an 11-17 record last year with a 4.65 earned run average, has had the same kind of troubles he had all last year in Spring Training. He is scheduled to start the third game at Tampa Bay. In two of his first three starts in the Spring he gave up runs early, two in the first against Baltimore and one each in the first and second against the Twins reminiscent of last year. He gave up six runs on 13 hits in his first 11 innings of the Spring. As last year, he has gotten more effective as the outing went on, giving the Sox a lot of innings but resulting in a lot of losses as well.

After Porcello, everything depends on who is healthy and available to start Game 4. On Thursday of this week, Alex Cora told the media that both Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright were ‘in play’ as far as Game 4 at Tampa Bay. Rodriguez, coming off right knee surgery has been recovering quicker than expected and could be available. Wright, recovering from left knee surgery, could also be ready but neither has had any amount of actual game time and using them could be dangerous to their long term physical health.

Pomeranz, who was a major factor in the Sox regular season success last year with his 17-6 record, suffered a flexor strain in his throwing arm on March 2nd and had not pitched in a Major League Spring Training game as of Thursday of this week.

Realistically, Brian Johnson will probably start the last game of the series at the Trop. Johnson, despite giving up three runs to the Rays in one of his four starts, did not give up a run in his other three starts and has looked good and may find himself the sixth man in the rotation as the season progresses.

If there was a day off in that first series, the Sox would be able to come back with Sale in the first game in Miami and Price for Game 2. As it is, if none of the three injured starters are available, the starter for the Game 1 in Miami is up for grabs.

Don’t be surprised if Hector Velazquez doesn’t start either the last game in Tampa or the first game in Miami if Pomeranz, Rodriguez and Wright are still unavailable. He was 8-4, with a 2.21 ERA, at Pawtucket last year and spent some time with the Sox, going 3-1 with a 2.92 ERA. The 29 year old, right hander has not had a great Spring but may be the answer to their interim problems.

The other good news is that, assuming Pomeranz, Rodriguez and/or Wright are able to return in the first few weeks of the season, the Red Sox have, potentially, one of the strongest starting rotation in all of baseball.

As far as the rest of the team is concerned, it looks like Alex Cora’s two biggest problems are which of the talented non-starters to keep. With talent like Blake Swihart, Sam Travis and Deven Marrero vying for one or maybe two positions, it’s a good problem to have.

Once that is done, how does he divide the playing time to give all his talent enough of it? With J. D. Martinez, Mitch Moreland and Hanley Ramirez all available for DH and Moreland and Ramirez for first base and Martinez expressing a desire to play the outfield when you already have the best defensive and, potentially, the best all around outfield in baseball out there, this may not be so easy to resolve.

Eduardo Nunez will fill the second base hole until Dustin Pedroia is available, but what do you do with him when Pedroia returns? By the same token, if you keep Swihart, who can catch or play the outfield, where you don’t need him, what do you do with Sandy Leon as Christian Vazquez is your first string catcher?

Lots of decisions and potential problems facing Alex Cora as his first season at the helm looms. Most people would say that they are all good but the fact is that each of them will have a positive or negative effect upon the team’s season.

Everybody in Red Sox Nation is expecting great things from their defending division Champions who may be one of the three or four best teams in baseball on paper. After two 93 game winning Division Championships under John Farrell, Red Sox fans will not be happy with less than a trip to the World Series in Cora’s first year.

THE HOME RUN DERBY

The Yankees’ Aaron Judge, the spectacular rookie who won the Rookie of The Year Award in 2017 and finished second in the Most Valuable Player race, with his .284 batting average, 52 homers, 114 runs batted in, while also winning the Home Run Derby, told reporters this past week that he would not participate in the Home Run Derby this year. Judge was hitting .312 with 30 homers and 66 runs batted in prior to the Derby but, in the 52 games following it, he hit for just a .182 average with nine homers and 21 RBI in his next 52 games.

ESPN reported that, when asked if his decision had anything to do with the post-Derby slump, Judge said “Not at all. That’s the least of my concerns. I know everyone always talks about [how] the Derby will do that, but it didn’t have that effect on me.”

The Major League Baseball Home Run Derby is held annually, the day before the All Star Game in the park hosting the All Star Game. It draws a sell out crowd and produces some exciting moments and lots of home runs, many for a distance you would never see in a regular Major League Game.

The event began in 1985 and Dave Parker of the Cincinnati Reds won the first championship. There have been many rule and format changes since the beginning but the original intent, to create a contest where the players can hit the ball as far as a ball will carry by making the environment as hitter friendly as possible has not changed.

Any relationship to the game of baseball is purely coincidental. Contestants select their own pitcher, in some cases a relative or favorite batting practice pitcher and work together before the event to maximize the potential for the pitcher putting the ball in the exact spot where the hitter can hit it the furthest.

Major League baseball players work throughout their career to develop a swing which will allow them to make solid contact with a ball thrown by a pitcher who is trying to get them out by throwing it where they cannot hit it long and far. That pitch comes in at a rate far faster than that of a batting practice pitch, generally in the neighborhood of 90 miles an hour or higher and is almost always moving side to side or up and down rather than following a straight trajectory like a batting practice or Home Run Derby pitch.

The swing required to make the kind of contact a player in a ball game needs to make is much flatter than that required to launch a ball over the wall consistently. In today’s ‘baseball talk’ the ‘launch angle’ has to be more severe, which just means that the swing is more of an uppercut rather than flat intended to hit the ball higher so it will travel farther.

Anybody who has played wiffle ball in the back yard knows that an uppercut swing will hit the ball higher but also knows that that results in more pop flies and swinging strikes than a flat swing. Did anybody notice that, while Judge was hitting his 52 home runs, he also led the league in strikeouts with 208? Before the Derby, he struck out 36.2% of the time and after the Derby, he struck out 41.1% of the time.

Does anybody but the ‘Geeks of the Game’, as I like to call them, that gave us meaningless statistics like the OPS which adds on base percentage to slugging percentage together, (talk about combining apples and oranges), or WAR, wins above replacement, which supposedly measures the number of wins a player adds to his team compared to what a replacement player from AAA would have added, care at what angle the ball left the bat of their favorite player as long as it landed in the seats and drove in the winning run?

Many experts have contended, over the years, that the preparation for the Home Run Derby interferes with the muscle memory required for a batter to make consistent contact with the ball in game conditions once the Derby is over.

Some of the ‘experts’ have downplayed the effect of the Home Run Derby on Judge’s second half slump saying that it was effected by a shoulder problem. Looking at the players who have won the Derby over the years, there seem to be as many who did not experience reduced production in the games after their win as there are who did.

Parker, for example, in the year he won the first contest, increased his average from .304 to .320 and his homer total from 16 to 18. The next year, Darrell Strawberry went from .298 before the Derby to .214 after it. ( Home run totals are difficult to compare because over the years, the All Star Game break has occurred later in the season, reducing the number of games after the break and increasing the number before, therefore batting averages are probably the best stat to compare.)

Yoenis Cespedes, when he won the Derby in 2014, raised his average after the Derby from .246 to .279 while Miguel Tejada, the 2004 winner, hit .311 before the Derby and .311 in the games after. Obviously, all these samples are small and conditions have changed greatly in the 33 years since the Home Run Derby began. My limited research indicates that the younger a player is and the less experience he has might make him more apt to be negatively affected by the experience.

During the 2017 season, when Judge hit the ball on the ground, he average .286, when he hit a fly ball his average increased to .362. Those of you who have played the game may find some consolation in the fact that, when he hit a line drive his batting average increased to .841, but it doesn’t take a statistical genius to explain the difference in the results there.

In the ESPN article, Judge is quoted as saying “I’m a Home Run Derby champion. It was a cool experience. I enjoyed it all but I don’t think I really need to go out there and do it again. I won it once.” I don’t think he’d have the same reaction to winning his first World Series. And therein lies the difference between real baseball and the Home Run Derby.

THE OTHER CURSE

On December 26, 1919, in perhaps the most talked about transaction in the history of baseball, the Boston Red Sox sold George Herman ‘Babe’ Ruth to the New York Yankees for the princely sum of $100,000. That transaction would be blamed for the many failures of the Red Sox for the next 85 seasons.

The year before, 1918, with the Babe winning 13 and losing 7 as a pitcher and hitting .300 with 11 home runs, which tied him with Tillie Walker, of the Philadelphia Athletics, for the lead in all of baseball, the Sox had won the American League crown with a 75-51 record. They had gone on to win the World Series beating the Chicago Cubs in six games. In 1919, despite the Babe hitting .322, leading all of baseball with 29 homers and winning 9 while losing 5 with a 2.97 ERA while on the mound, the Sox had slipped to sixth place with a 66-71 record.

Red Sox fans couldn’t believe that the Babe was gone, to of all places, the Yankees. And so, the Curse of the Bambino was born. Red Sox fans would blame The Curse for every bad thing that happened to their Sox, until 2004, when the Sox finally broke The Curse winning the World Series for the first time in 86 years. That year, as all Red Sox fans know, the Sox were down to the Yankees three games to none and facing elimination in the American League Championship Series but came back to win four in a row to defeat the Yankees and then went on to sweep the Cardinals in the World Series.

Few, if any, Red Sox fans would be able to name the trade which was perhaps the second worst the Red Sox ever made. Four years after trading the Babe to the hated Yankees, on January 30, 1923, the Sox traded right handed pitcher Herb Pennock to the Yankees for Norm McMillan, George Murray and Camp Skinner and $50,000. cash. McMillan, an infielder, played one year with the Sox and hit .253 with no homers and 42 RBI’s. Murray, a pitcher, won 9 and lost 20 in two years in Boston with a 5.48 ERA. Camp Skinner, an outfielder, lasted just one year, getting 3 hits in 13 at bats.

On the other end of that trade, Pennock, who had won 62 and lost 59 with a 3.67 ERA at Boston in the eight years from 1915 to 1922 went on to win 162 while losing 90 for the Yankees in the next 11 years.

In that time, he played in four World Series with the Yankees. In 1923, when the Yankees beat the New York Giants in the Series, he started two games, won them both and had one complete game. In 1926, when the Yankees lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, he started two games, pitched complete games and won both. In 1927, when the Yankees beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, he started and completed one game and got the win. In 1932, when the Yankees defeated the Chicago Cubs, at age 38, he didn’t start a game but relieved in two and got the save in both. In four World Series with the Yankees, he was 5-0 with 4 complete games, 2 saves and a 2.07 ERA.

It probably didn’t hurt Pennock at all that, during the 11 years he played for the Yankees, he had an outfielder named Babe Ruth who hit .346 with 448 homers, 1,365 RBI’s and a .694 slugging percentage, playing behind him.

To make matters worse from a Red Sox point of view, Pennock had remarkable success against the Red Sox while with the Yankees. In his first year at New York, he won 19 and lost just six games but, remarkably, only faced the Sox once, in relief, pitching one inning and giving up one hit and no runs, with no decisions.

The next year, 1924, the Red Sox began to pay dearly for the trade. Pennock faced them in five starts, won four of them and the other was a tie called after five innings. He pitched two complete games, one of them a shutout, beating the Sox on September 3, 5-0, on five hits. He won 21 and lost 9 that year and finished fourth in the Most Valuable Player voting and had a 40-15 record overall since coming to New York from Boston.

In 1925, he started six games against them and won four while losing two, four of them, including one of the losses, were complete games. They beat him on May 26th, 3-2, despite him throwing a complete game and giving up only eight hits. In his first three years as a Yankee he had beaten the Sox 8 times while losing just 2 and had six complete games. His overall record slipped to 16-17 that year.

In 1926, while posting a 23-11 regular season record for the American League Champion Yankees, he started against the Red Sox five times, won four of them, all complete games and had one no decision. He finished third in the Most Valuable Player voting that year.

He only started against the Red Sox three times in 1927, beating them 7-3 on June 3rd in a complete game, 7-4 on July 1st and 14-2 in another complete game on September 6th. He had now won 15 and lost 2 against the Sox in the last four years, while compiling a 98-61 record.

In 1928, at the age of 34, he won 17 and lost 6 overall with a 2.56 ERA. He started four games against the Sox, beating them with a complete game, 7-2, on April 19th, losing to them 7-1 on June 23rd and shutting them out, on three hits, for a complete game win 8-0 on August 12th. He also started and went seven innings with no decision against them on July 24th, leaving behind 3-1 in a game the Yankees scored four runs to win 5-3 in the ninth.

From 1929 until 1933, his last year with the Yankees, Pennock won 47 and lost 33 and was 13-5 against the Red Sox with 11 complete games in 18 starts.

After the 1933 season in which he won 7 and lost 4 but was used mostly in relief, starting only five games, at age 39, he was released by the Yankees on January 5, 1934. The Red Sox signed him as a Free Agent on January 20th. That year, he started only two games and had a 2-0 record as a reliever. Ironically, after winning 30 and losing just 8 games for the Yankees against the Sox, he faced the Yankees three times in relief for the Red Sox and got no decisions but the Sox lost all three games. In games in which he pitched that year, the Sox won 6 and lost 24. He retired as a player after the 1934 season.

Herbert Jefferis Pennock was born on February 10, 1894 in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. He was signed as a Free Agent by the Philadelphia Athletics in May of 1912 at age 18 and went right to the Major Leagues. In four years with the Athletics, used primarily in relief, he pitched in 70 games and won 17 and lost 13 with a 3.77 ERA.

He spent 1912 until June of 1915 with the Athletics. In 1914, he won 11 and lost 4 as the Athletics won the American League League pennant with a 99-53 record. They were swept in the World Series by the Boston Braves and Pennock only got into one game in relief, pitching three scoreless innings and giving up two hits.

On June 6, 1915, the Red Sox claimed him off waivers from the Athletics and he won 55 and lost 52 with a 3.68 ERA from 1916 until 1922.

He had won 10 and lost 17, with a 4.32 ERA in 1922 and the Red Sox traded him to the Yankees and the Knight of Kennett Square, as he was known, made them pay for it in the next 11 years. In the 11 years Pennock and Ruth teamed up on the Yankees, they finished first five times, second four times, third once and seventh once. In the same period the Sox, without Ruth and Pennock, finished in last eight times, seventh once and sixth once.

Pennock was named to the Hall of Fame in 1948. In his career, he won 241 and lost 162 with a 3.60 earned run average. After he retired from play, he became General Manager of the Philadelphia Phillies and stayed in that position until he passed away in 1948.

The Curse of the Bambino got the publicity but the trade of Herb Pennock may have hurt the Sox just as much.

CORA HAS HISTORY ON HIS SIDE

Much has been written and said about the fact that the Red Sox and Yankees, the two teams viewed by almost everyone as the two strongest teams in the American League East and likely to battle each other for the Division Championship, are both being led by Managers with no managerial experience.

The Red Sox Manager, Alex Cora, was the Bench Coach of the World Championship Houston Astros last year, which most people feel gives him an advantage over the Yankees Aaron Boone who jumped into managing straight from the broadcast booth.

On paper, the teams look pretty evenly matched with the Yankees having the edge in the power and offensive departments and the Sox with the stronger pitching staff.

How important is the Manager? Don’t ask a Red Sox fan who gloried in the Francona years, only to have to endure a year with Bobby Valentine. But, on the other hand, John Farrell, who most members of Red Sox Nation were unhappy with, gave them three regular season Division titles and a World Series win in five years as Manager.

Cora recently said that the Red Sox are a strong team, having won two Division Titles in a row, while winning 93 games both seasons, but he also said that Red Sox fans are generally not happy with less than a World Championship.

The 2016 and 2017 Red Sox will be a hard act to follow for Cora. Coming off two 93 game win seasons and adding J. D. Martinez to the mix, a lot will be expected of him. Even though they won those two regular season titles, they were defeated in the first round of the Playoffs which, in Boston, is the equivalent of a bad year. It was especially bad in 2017, when the hated Yankees won the Division Playoff round and came within one game of making the World Series after the Red Sox had bowed out in the Division Series.

Cora has history on his side in his first year as he takes over the Red Sox. The franchise started out as the Boston Americans and became the Red Sox in 1908. Since 1908, the Sox have won eight World Series of the 11 they have played in.

In 1912, when they won their first World Series as the Red Sox, Jake Stahl was in his first year as Manager of the Sox. In 1915 and 1916 when they won the next two, Bill Carrigan was the Manager and he was in his third and fourth years as Manager. In 1918, Ed Barrow, in his first year as the Sox Manager, took them to a World Series win.

Of course, from 1916 until 2004, there were no World Series victories for the Sox but, in 2004, when they won their first title in 86 years, their leader, Terry Francona, was in his first year as Manager. The next Series win was in 2007, with Terry Francona still at the helm. In 2013, John Farrell, in his first year as Manager of the Sox, took them to a World Series win.

There have been seven Red Sox World Series victories in 111 years, since they became the Red Sox in 2008. Only five Managers of the 40 who have led the Sox in that time have brought a World Series Title to Boston. Four of the five Managers who have led the Sox to a World Series Championship did so in their first year at the helm. Stahl, Barrow, Francona and Farrell won in their first year. Of the five, only Carrigan did not win a title in his first year.

Does this give Cora an advantage as he enters his first year? I don’t think so but it won’t be like he’s trying to do something that has never been done before. On the other hand, there have been 35 Managers since 2008 who have not won a World Series in their first or any year compared to just the five who have won.

So far, I like what I have seen with Cora. He seems more involved with his players, coaches and the game than Farrell was. I was impressed with the way he interacted with the players from Boston University and Northeastern during their exhibition games. He is obviously getting an early look at his core players while giving those players who might make the team, like Blake Swihart, Sam Travis and Deven Marrero plenty of opportunities to show what they can do.

I like that he is in the game and talking with his staff and the players, teaching when it’s needed and congratulating when it’s earned. I like it that, when Roenis Elias obviously balked twice in the Minnesota game on Tuesday, Cora took the time to talk with the umpire who made the call to find out just what he saw so he could correct it.

( Do they really believe that Elias, who was 2-7 at Pawtucket last year with a 5.59 earned run average, has a 15-21 overall record in the Majors and has thrown just eight innings, giving up 11 runs, in the Majors, in the last two years, can be an effective part of their starting rotation this year? )

I like the fact that the players seem to be comfortable with approaching their new boss in the dugout and that he is just as comfortable with them. He seems to have the desire and the personality to lead this talented team to success.

I am sure that we have a lot to learn about Alex Cora, some things that we will like and some that we won’t. Knowing Boston fans, the things that they found they didn’t like will be forgotten if history repeats itself and he gives them a Championship in his first year. If not, Cora may find that, in the pressure cooker that is Boston, it can get really hot.

THE RIGHT TIME FOR J. D.

On the surface, it looks like the Red Sox got J. D. Martinez at just the right time in his career. He started the 2017 season with the Detroit Tigers and was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 18. He had missed the first 33 games of the season after suffering a sprain in his right foot in Spring Training.

After coming back, he played 119 of the two teams’ 129 remaining games, a larger percentage of his teams’ games than he had played in any of his seven seasons with the exception of 2015, when he played 158 games for the Tigers. In his 119 games, he hit 45 home runs and drove in 104 runs while posting a .303 batting average and a .690 slugging percentage which was the highest average in the Majors but he did not have enough at bats to qualify for number one.

Forty-five home runs in 119 games is the equivalent of 61 home runs in a 162 game season and 104 RBI’s is the equivalent of 142 over the whole season. In addition to playing more than he usually does, he was more productive than he had ever been.

Martinez, as I am sure every Red Sox fan knows, was signed by the Sox on Monday of last week as a Free Agent for five years at $110. million. He is a 30 year old right handed hitting, outfielder/designated hitter that everyone expects will take over the role of DH in the Sox lineup to fill the hole that has exited since David Ortiz retired at the end of the 2016 season.

His doing so will allow the Sox to platoon the right handed hitting Hanley Ramirez and left handed hitting Mitch Moreland at first base. Neither of those two were very productive last year. Moreland hit .246 with 22 homers and 79 runs batted in, just about his average over the past five years, after a good start. Ramirez, who had hit. 286 with 30 homers and 111 RBI’s in 2016, fell of to a .242 batting average and 62 RBI’s. If one of the two should have a good year, the other may get lost in the shuffle. Ramirez can opt out of his contract and become a Free Agent in 2019 if he gets less than 497 at bats and the Sox may want that to happen to free up his salary to use to retain other players.

This may have to be the year the Red Sox make their move to go all the way as anyone who thinks that the young nucleus of this club, Betts, Bogaerts, Bradley, Vazquez and company are all going to be here for many more years does not understand the lure of Free Agency that will be facing them all soon.

This week, the man that I think of as ‘The Idiot in the Commissioner’s Office’ announced his latest attempts to tinker with the game of baseball, which he appears to know less about than a young Tee Ball player.

In an attempt to speed up play, he and his Pace of the Game Committee have convinced the Major League Baseball Player’s Association to agree to changes in the rules which will take effect at the start of the 2018 season.

Manager’s, Coaches and players will be limited to a maximum of six visits to the mound during each nine inning game. If a game goes into extra innings, one additional visit will be allowed for each inning. These six visits will not include trips for purposes of cleaning cleats on rainy days, injuries or visits caused by an offensive substitution. It will not include communication from players to pitchers if either does not leave his normal position. Umpires will also be allowed to grant an exception where a catcher and pitcher have gotten crossed up on a sign.

Breaks between innings will be limited to 2 minutes five seconds for locally televised games, 2 minutes 25 seconds for nationally televised games and 2 minutes 55 seconds for tie breaker or post season games. The pitcher will not be limited to eight warmup pitches between innings but the amount he gets will be limited to the amount he can throw up to 20 seconds before the start of play. The pitcher must deliver the first pitch and the batter must be ready for it before the end of the break. The timing above applies to relief pitchers as well and the time starts when the pitcher crosses the warning track on his way in.

Given the fact that baseball’s previous attempts to make a pitcher deliver a pitch in a timely fashion have failed because of the umpires inability or unwillingness to impose penalties, this will probably fail, too. The next step will probably involve some other stupid idea like setting up time clocks in the dug outs, bull pens and batter’s box so that players can sign in.

Trying to fix some of the problems caused by lengthy instant replay delays, each team will be provided with slow motion cameras in the club house and telephones between the clubhouse and the dugout to relay information about questionable calls. Of course, because the communications systems could be used for sign stealing, all calls will be recorded.

If the instant replay system, which slows down the pace of play, were never started, we wouldn’t have to worry about this. What would have been wrong with leaving baseball as the one place where the technological explosion did not rear its ugly head?

On Wednesday of this week, John Healy, reported in the New York Daily News that, according to Rich Eisen, on his radio show, said “an MLB executive told him of an idea about allowing the manager of the trailing team to bat whomever he chooses in the ninth inning in an effort to ramp up more excitement.”

Baseball is the only sport by mere randomness and happenstance, the best players are not out on the field with the game on the line,” Eisen said. “Potentially down by two, ninth inning, you got 7-8-9 up.”

There have been some ludicrous ideas disguised as methods to make the game more exciting but this one literally takes the cake. Get ready because the next idea may be participation trophies for everybody who doesn’t make the playoffs to keep the weaker teams’ fans excited and involved.

On a brighter note, here we are on February 25th, just 32 days from the Red Sox opening game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field and things look a lot better for the Sox than they did a week ago.

YANKEES VS. RED SOX, 2018

BigPapi ScanWhen the Yankees got Giancarlo Stanton from the Miami Marlins on December 7, 2017, for second baseman Starlin Castro and two minor leaguers, it was the Chicken Little story all over again in Boston. The sky was falling!! How could this happen?

The Red Sox had barely edged the Yankees for the American League East championship in 2017. The Yankees had gotten into the Playoffs as a Wild Card and knocked off the powerful Cleveland Indians in the American League Division Series before taking the eventual World Series winning Houston Astros to seven games in the American League Championship Series before bowing out.

They had led all of baseball with 241 home runs, in the year of the homer, and were second in scoring with 858 runs. Rookie right fielder Aaron Judge had driven in 114 runs, led the league in home runs with 52, runs scored, 128, walks, with 127 and strikeouts, with 208, won the Rookie of the Year Award and finished second in the voting for Most Valuable Player.

Catcher Gary Sanchez, 25, had hit 33 homers and driven in 90 runs. Derek Jeter’s replacement, as he will always be known, Didi Gregorious, came into his own and hit 25 homers and drove in 87 runs. First Baseman Marlon Bird, who only played in 48 games after his injury, hit nine homers and drove in 28 runs. Veteran left fielder Brett Gardner had 21 homers and 63 RBI’s despite batting lead off most of the year and center fielder Aaron Hicks had 15 homers and 52 RBI’s in just 88 games.

Now you add Stanton, who, by the way, had hit 59 homers and driven in 132 runs, both league leading numbers while playing in all 162 of his team’s games and winning the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award. He has hit 267 homers in his first eight seasons and is just 28 years old.

Boston fans immediately assumed the worst, it was almost the Curse of the Babe all over again. Of course, the fact that Derek Jeter, the scourge of the Red Sox when he played with the Yankees, and now part owner and CEO of the Marlins, had been involved with the deal that sent Stanton to the Yankees, did not go unnoticed.

The Yankees, of course, are supremely confident. Just this past week, as Spring Training began, Gardner said, in an interview with Tom Hanslin of Bronx Pinstripes “Come out early and watch these guys take BP. I think it’s gonna be fun,” he said. “I think I’m gonna start taking batting practice inside so those big guys don’t make me look bad.”

So what does this all mean for the Red Sox? Will they have to play second fiddle to the Yankees again. The Yankees are a strong club, there is no argument there. But, and it’s a Big But, no pun intended, they have some weaknesses.

To get Stanton, they gave up the All Star second baseman, Starlin Castro, who hit .300 with 16 homers and 63 RBI’s last year. Todd Frazier, one of their third basemen, who hit 11 homers and drove in 32 runs in 66 games after coming over from the White Sox last year, signed a Free Agent contract with the Mets the week before last, and the other, Chase Headley, was traded to the San Diego Padres.

It looks like Greyber Torres, the number five prospect in all of baseball, who lost most of last year to Tommy John surgery, may have the inside track at second but Ronald Torreyes, who hit .292 in 108 games, 43 at second, with the Yankees will challenge him. Whichever of the two ends up at second, my money is on the other to at least start the season at third. Either way, they have really untested rookies at two key infield positions. Greg Bird, if he stays healthy, gives them a potent bat and good glove at first and Didi Gregorious appears to have come into his own at short.

The outfield, with Gardner in left, Hicks in center and Judge in right is among the better in baseball with plenty of power. Jacoby Ellsbury looks to be odd man out and Stanton gives them a potent designated hitter and extra outfielder.

Their starting pitching with Luis Severino, 14-6, with a 2.98 ERA, Masahiro Tanaka, sore elbow and all, 13-12, 4.74 ERA, C. C. Sabathia, at age 36 and injury prone, 14-5 with a 3.69 ERA, Jordan Montgomery, 9-7 and a 3.88 ERA, Sonny Gray, 4-7 and a 3.72 ERA, after coming over from the Athletics at the trading deadline, is far from strong and has the potential to be a disaster. Those five had a combined ERA of 3.80 last year. Of course, often injured , Michael Pineda, who won 8 and lost 4 with a 4.39 ERA in just 17 starts last year, was lost to the Twins over the winter.

Rumor had it last week that the Yankees might still have a shot at getting right handed starter Jake Odorizzi from the Tampa Bay Rays, where he was 10-8 with a 4.14 ERA last year. Should that happen, they would be a lot stronger but there would still be too many IF’S in the rotation.

Closer Aroldis Chapman, whose ERA ballooned to 3.22 last year from 1.55 the year before and who had only 22 saves and Dellin Betances, with perhaps the best stuff in baseball, if he could only control it consistently, had 10 saves while filling in for Chapman, will both have to improve on last year’s performance.

Their set up man, David Robertson, who has closing stuff, was 5-0 in 30 games with a 1.03 ERA, after coming back from the White Sox with Tommy Kahnle who had a 2.70 ERA in 32 games. With Chasen Shreve, 4-1 with a 3.77 ERA in 44 games and Adam Warren, with a 2.35 ERA in 46 games, they have a fairly strong bull pen.

Head to head, the Sox starting pitching, with left handers Sale, Price, Pomeranz and Rodriguez, in the starting rotation, they match up pretty well against the Yankee sluggers. Judge, for example, although a right handed hitter, hit only .230 against lefties as opposed to .298 against righties, Sanchez, another right hander, hit .266 against lefties and .282 against right handers, Gregorious, .264 against left handers and .295 right handers, Gardner, .209 against left handers and .283 against right handers. On the other hand, the new Yankee, Stanton, hit only .270 against right handers but bombed left handers for a .323 average.

Unfortunately, most of the other teams the Yankees will face have a majority of right handed starters and the Sox will only have 18 times, out of 162 games, to throw their left handers at the Yankees during the season. The Yankee lineup is as powerful as any in baseball but good pitching will almost always beat good hitting in the long run so don’t look for the Yankees to run away and hide from the Red Sox unless there are major personnel changes or injuries between now and Opening Day, which, by the way, is just 39 days from today.

Absent any major changes, it looks to me like the Sox and Yankees will be locked in a great pennant race while the rest of the American League East watches. At this point, Yankee and Red Sox fans just can’t wait for it to get started.