For a Red Sox team hoping to ditch the frustrations and inconsistencies that plagued them during the first half of the season, this weekend’s second-half opener wasn’t super encouraging.
The good news: The Sox played well enough to earn a series win over the best team in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The bad news: They didn’t earn the series win.
Instead, the Red Sox dropped two out of three to the Dodgers in a World Series rematch at Fenway over the weekend. After trading offensive explosions and blowouts in the first couple games of the series, the Red Sox had to swallow a sour series finale that went into extra innings on Sunday night. Boston had a great chance to pull off a dramatic late game walk-off win, but things fell apart and cost them the opportunity to kick off their second half on a strong note.
It was a swift reminder that Boston’s issues aren’t likely to magically disappear in the second half. Change may come, but it’s probably going to come more slowly — and with some changes in personnel as well. We’ve already started to see some significant player movement over the past week, and it’s likely more will come as this month’s trade deadline inches closer.
Every MLB campaign is a grueling marathon filled with peaks and valleys though, and there are noteworthy aspects to be taken from the highs and lows and everything in between. As such, throughout the course of this season, we’ll check in with the Red Sox to see where they are in defending their throne, what we’ve learned recently and what’s next for the reigning champs.
Then: July 16, 2018: 68-30, 1st in AL East, 4.5 game lead | Now: July 16, 2019: 51-43, 3rd in AL East, 9.0 games back
Moving and shaking
Oh, hello Dave Dombrowski! It appears someone has finally awoken from his first half slumber and decided to shake things up a bit. The Sox made several roster moves over the past several days, so let’s take a look at some of the more noteworthy ones:
Tyler Thornburg released: After being activated from the injured list last week, Thornburg declined a minor league assignment and was promptly released by the Red Sox, bringing an end to his disappointing run with the club.
Thornburg was acquired by Boston from the Brewers before the 2017 season in exchange for a package of four players, including Travis Shaw. It looked like a decent deal for the Sox at the time, as they used Shaw to pick up a promising bullpen arm coming off a strong season.
But Thornburg never looked like the guy the Red Sox thought they were getting in that deal. He was plagued by injuries and he finished his three year run with just 41 appearances and an ERA north of 6.50. Meanwhile, Shaw has struggled this year but produced 63 home runs and 187 RBI in the two full seasons following the deal.
We can go ahead and chalk that trade up as a major L for Boston. It’ll probably go on to look even worse when Thornburg, 30, signs with his next team and magically rediscovers the promise he showed in Milwaukee.
Andrew Cashner acquired: Welcome to the party, pal. The Red Sox picked up a much-needed arm with the acquisition of Cashner from the Orioles over the weekend. Cashner, 32, has been somewhat of a journeyman starter recently — the Red Sox are his fifth team since 2016 — but he’s in the midst of a strong year, going 9-3 with 3.83 ERA through 17 starts with Baltimore.
He’s been especially good of late, allowing one run over his past 14 innings and winning three straight starts with a 1.35 ERA over his past 20 innings. His changeup has received plenty of praise and Boston is hoping that he’ll be able to help out a rotation that needs a little bit more insurance, especially with Nathan Eovaldi’s planned designation to the bullpen.
Eduardo Nunez DFA’d: High Noon? More like Bye Noon. Nunez’s time with the Red Sox ended this week when the veteran infielder was designated for assignment. The move wasn’t entirely surprising considering Nunez has had a tough year, hitting just .228 with two home runs and 20 RBI in 60 games.
Still, it’s a bit of a bummer for a guy who, despite his tendency to be a non-stop adventure out on the field, had become a pretty big part of Boston’s locker room and lineup over the past couple of years. After acquiring him from the Giants in a 2017 mid-season deal, the Sox liked what they saw enough to sign him to a two-year extension and he became a steady contributor on last year’s World Series team.
But the Red Sox have found success offensively year without much from Nunez, and he’s become expendable as the team explores solutions to some of their other, more pressing concerns.
Ryan Brasier optioned: Those aforementioned pressing concerns? Well, obviously Boston’s struggling bullpen sits at the top of the list. One move that came in that department was the demotion of Ryan Brasier in favor of left-handed Darwinzon Hernandez, who now gets another chance to make an impact from the pen down the stretch. Brasier was supposed to be a key piece in relief for the Sox this year but he just hasn’t been able to figure it out, and the team is seemingly done waiting for that to happen. On to the next guy.
For the most part, the pitching has been enough to make fans want to rip their hair and/or eyes out this year, but the pitching certainly hasn’t been the only source of frustration in the days since the All-Star break. Yes, they did make an adventure out of a five-run lead and, separately, a six-run lead during Monday’s game against the Blue Jays, but this team has also done a great job of shooting themselves in the foot recently.
To their credit, they’re finding ways to do so in a variety of ways, so at least that keeps things interesting.
And this…which has to be one of the worst sends of the season.
Then of course there was Jackie Bradley running into an out at third base with no outs in the in 11th inning of Sunday’s series finale against the Dodgers. The Red Sox could (and should) have bunted him over to third base to set up a potential game winning situation, but Devers hit a grounder to short and JBJ was easily thrown out.
Then, there was the pitcher obstruction in the top half of the 12th that helped load the bases for the Dodgers. Then the Red Sox walked in what would prove to be game-winning run as the wheels completely fell off. Extremely fun stuff.
If there’s a turnaround to come, there’s going to need to be smarter, cleaner baseball coming with it.
Highlight of the week
Remember all the talk about Rafael Devers being a liability in the field? All that chatter has gone pretty quiet lately as the young third baseman is starting to come around defensively. He’s made some real nice plays in the field of late, but none sweeter (and more lucky) than this one on Monday night.
Devers’ bat has stolen the show this year but he’s also starting to make some significant strides in the field and that shouldn’t get overlooked.
Monday’s contest against Toronto kicked off a 21-game stretch against AL East divisional opponents. The Red Sox play three games against the Orioles, four games against the Blue Jays, six games against the Rays and and eight games against the Yankees during that span.