By Sterling Pingree
- The Red Sox are in Houston for a series that should be considered a litmus test for where Boston ranks in the American League. Houston is off to another good start, but surprisingly only hold a narrow lead on Seattle in the West. The only surprising thing about Houston’s success thus far is that they’ve done it more with pitching than with the big bats up and down their lineup.
- This 4-game series in Houston is important because we’re seeing some separation in the American League. The Sox and Yankees will be in the playoffs, Cleveland will win a putrid Central, and the Astros will win the West. The only question is who will be the second wild card team? (My bet is the Angels.) It’s safe to say that there is a pretty good chance that these two teams will play again in the post season, but what makes this such a good representation of what the future could look like is that besides Thursday’s game, the rotation gods have smiled down upon us. Friday, Saturday and Sunday’s pitching match ups are exactly how you would set them up in a playoff series, (without regard to home/road splits perhaps.) Friday night it’s Chris Sale vs Gerrit Cole, the two leading strike out artists in the American League. Saturday features David Price vs Justin Verlander, two former Cy Young winners and Sunday night we see Rick Porcello (another Cy Young winner) vs perhaps the AL front runner for the award this year, Charlie Morton. This series will be a true test for both teams.
- Joe Kelly has had a terrific first two months of the season, but I was reminded by Rob Bradford’s column yesterday that Kelly is at an important time in his career. Kelly has finally found a role that lends itself to his electric stuff and he’s set to become a free agent after the season. What market will materialize for Kelly in the offseason: a closer’s market or that of a (potentially) elite set up man?
The name that came to mind when I was considering Joe Kelly’s career arc was Andrew Miller. (I was in an optimistic mood.) Miller had been a failed starter in Florida and Detroit and was a middle of the road middle reliever until he fell under the tutelage of John Farrell and turned his career around in 2013. This season aside, Miller for the last 5 seasons has been one of the most dominant middle relief pitchers we’ve ever seen. Kelly dropped his ERA 3 points in 2017 which saw his most productive season as a reliever, that is until 2018.
What do both of these pitchers have in common? Both have electric stuff that they never fully harnessed until they turned 29. It’s not outside of the realm of possibility to see Kelly go on a Miller-esque run the next couple of seasons. With the Red Sox bullpen in the thin state that it currently is, it would benefit them greatly to try and extend Kelly now before he hits the open market after the season. (FYI, Kelly has allowed 1 earned run since opening day, granted he gave up 4 runs on opening day.)
- Speaking of the future of the Red Sox bullpen, if Joe Kelly is underrated, then Matt Barnes isn’t rated at all. Case in point, compare the following two stat lines:
Relief Pitcher A: 23 innings, 6 runs, 10 hits, 32 strike outs, 12 walks
Relief Pitcher B: 25 innings, 6 runs, 15 hits, 34 strike outs, 6 walks
A is Matt Barnes and B is Craig Kimbrel.
- I’m on the Jackie Bradley Jr. bandwagon and I’m proud to say I never left it. JBJ has been a streaky hitter his entire major league career and admittedly the slump to start this season has been the worst thus far. Bradley Jr. has a hit in all but two game since May 20th and it has been well documented that his ability to drive the ball to the opposite field and avoid strike outs are the best indicators that he has turned the corner.
- Never too early to think about which Sox could make the AL All-Star team. Mookie Betts, JD Martinez, Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel are locks. Joe Kelly has a chance because of the lack of dominant relief pitchers in the American League currently.
Andrew Benintendi now has a chance after his recent hot streak if he can continue to drive the ball over the next 30 games.
Xander Bogaerts has had a very good first half of the season, but unfortunately for him, shortstop is loaded right now with Manny Machado, Francisco Lindor, Didi Gregorious and even guys like Andrelton Simmons and Tim Anderson having career years.
I’m going to put my money on Mitch Moreland to get a nod. First base isn’t particularly deep right now, Joey Gallo leads the position in home runs with 15, but currently sports a .205 average. Mitch Moreland leads all AL first basemen in OPS, average and has hit 8 home runs in just 40 games. If Moreland produces extra base hits at or near the clip that he has since the banishment of Hanley Ramirez, Mitch Moreland will be an all-star. Who would’ve have thought that back on December 18th when the Red Sox resigned him to a 2 year contract?
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 us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook.