Offense- 1st quarter grade A+, 2nd quarter grade A-, 3rd quarter grade B+
This area of the team is trending downward, but at a very slow rate. In a season that has been so up and down, the offense has never stayed down for long. That being said, there are a few individuals in the lineup that haven’t rebounded since their lofty heights of the beginning of the season. Travis Shaw who in May was batting .330, has played himself into a platoon with feather-light hitting Aaron Hill who himself is batting a svelte .194. Much like 2013, 3rd base has become the weakest spot in an otherwise relentless line up. Then it was Xander Bogaerts stepping in and slowly taking over the hot corner, in 2016 in could very well be Yoan Moncada stepping in and getting some reps through September at a position he’s recently added to his areas of conquer. If Moncada can hit big league pitching, and he’s hit at every level, his speed could become yet another weapon originating from the bottom of the order that this year has spawned surprise contributors Sandy Leon, Chris Young and Andrew Benintendi. It must be mentioned here that Mookie Betts might have taken the leap this semester into the orbit of the Trout-stratosphere. With his move from table setting leadoff man to middle of the order thumper, Betts seems to have tapped into yet another level of power. I was present for his 3 home run game vs Arizona on August 14th and he has the quickest hands I’ve ever seen. Some credit his hand and wrist strength to being a bowler since about age 4. I guess more little league parents will be sending away for Pete Weber’s instructional video instead of the Tom Emanski tapes. (Does anybody still send away for videos? What the heck was a C.O.D?)
Bench- 1st quarter grade B, 2nd quarter grade B-, 3rd quarter grade C
Who is even coming off of this bench now? There was a Marco Hernandez sighting last week. I saw Michael Martinez the week before that, granted he was back playing 2nd base for the Cleveland Indians at the time. Speaking of which, how weird was the Michael Martinez era in Boston? The Red Sox acquired him the Randy Moss way, with “Straight Cash Homey”. He hung around the dugout for a couple of weeks and then suddenly was starting for Cleveland. It’s the weirdest baseball moment I’ve learned in August aside from the fact that Darnell McDonald runs a very popular sunrise meditation/yoga movement for the Chicago Cubs. Chris Young has returned, just as Andrew Benintendi hits the 15-day disabled list, so the bench depth of this team will again have to wait. This grade dropped this term, but if everybody can get healthy for the stretch run of September, this is an area that could develop.
Defense- 1st quarter grade A, 2nd quarter grade A, 3rd quarter grade A
Defense is the one area of the team that has remained consistent this year, and in a season with the greatest swings one way or another, (see: Starting Pitching). Also, if Mookie or Jackie or both don’t win a Gold Glove this year, the system needs to be scraped and reevaluated. Bob Ryan said earlier this month on The Drive that Jackie Bradley Jr. was the best centerfielder he has ever seen, full stop.
Starting Pitching- 1st quarter grade B-, 2nd quarter grade D+, 3rd quarter grade B+
The biggest swing this year goes to the starting pitching staff. Just as the bullpen was starting it’s free fall in July, the starting rotation came to the front like it was drawn up before the season. David Prices seems to have figured out (or maybe it was Dustin Pedroia) what was up with his mechanics, Rick Porcello has continued his march to the Cy Young conversation and even Clay Buchholz, CLAY BUCHHOLZ hasn’t been a complete dumpster fire. Did anybody else notice that as soon as Clay ditched his drowned squirrel hair cut he added like 3 miles an hour to his fastball and stopped giving up 2 first inning home runs every start? Just me? Okay then, let’s continue. Injuries have slowed the staff down a bit as we head towards the end of the month, most notably to Steven Wright who returned Friday night only to give up 5 first inning runs to the Royals. The crucial theme for September will be Price and Porcello at the top of the rotation and the health of Rodriquez and Wright. The wild card as you imagine is not Buchholz, but Drew Pomeranz. After a couple of rough outings, the former Padre, former Athletic, former Indian south paw has become phenomenal to watch. A left hander who can throw a curveball in any count for a strike can be a tremendous weapon, but there’s a but coming BUT he’s never thrown this many innings before in his career and in a recent start threw the most pitches he ever has in one outing.
Bullpen- 1st quarter grade B+, 2nd quarter grade C-, 3rd quarter grade D-
In a stretch where the starting rotation became all that we knew it could be, the bullpen became a molten heap of corn field fertilizer. In each quality start the rotation had, the bullpen would almost quite literally throw up all over themselves. Junichi Tazawa came back from a restful stint on the DL and regained his form of batting practice pitching without missing a beat. Brad Ziegler, the savior from the Arizona trade has been put in more tight spots than an overweight escape artist and has blown 4 saves. Fernando Abad has lived up to his name sake and Matt Barnes has been the most confounding set up man since Craig Hanson; at times dominant and others dominated. Barnes looks like the one most likely to step up into a set up man’s role, or at least that has to be the hope. Because of all the talk of Tazawa finding what made him a bedrock of this bullpen the last 4 seasons, I put about as much stock in him coming through in September/October as I do Koji Uehara nailing down Game 7 of the World Series. The one bright spot is that after a couple shakey outings after his return from the disabled list, Craig Kimbrel has been lights out and right now that’s the only thing that is keeping this grade from being an F. The wild card as it has been all season is Joe Kelly. If Matt Barnes is confounding, then Joe Kelly is an enigma wrapped in why the Detroit Pistons took Darko Milicic over Carmelo, Wade and Bosh in 2003 NBA Draft. (And just as confusing.) For all intents and purposes, Kelly looks like he should be a door slammer at the back end of your bullpen at best and at worst a hard thrower who can get a key punch out when needed. That being said, I’ve never seen a pitcher who less is known about. In his last 10 outings in Pawtucket, Kelly pitched 12 innings, struck out 17, while only allowing 1 run on 9 hits and 2 walks. The question remains, why isn’t he in Boston? Maybe we’ll find out in September.
Manager- 1st quarter grade A-, 2nd quarter grade C, 3rd quarter grade C-
Farrell has made some odd decisions this month: pitching failed left handed specialists against righties and lefties (Abad against lefties, Ahorrible against righties), ever pitching Junichi Tazawa but the worst and least scrutinized was using Stephen Wright as a pinch runner against the Dodgers where right on cue he injured his shoulder diving back into second base on a pickoff attempt. All reports this semester though is that the team has continued to rebound from down spells due to Farrell’s style of just letting players play. Which as Terry Francona found out can be very rewarding, but as Tito also learned, when the inmates run the asylum, it can all go away in a bath of beer and chicken.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree on Twitter) is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow The Drive on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.