The 2016 Red Sox are the champions of the American League East. Celebrating a division title after your opponent smacks a walkoff grand slam was weird, sure, but they’ll take it.
As the season winds down, Sox fans and both the Boston and national media have spent a lot of time both looking ahead to October and remembering the past. Of course, we’re fondly remembering and reminiscing about the career of a certain designated hitter. Meanwhile, Sox fans contentedly peer practically to the future issue of playoff team management, like which players make the 25-man roster and the order of the starting rotation.
Much of the roster that will play in the ALDS is obvious, but some spots are up in the air. How many people would have projected Sandy Leon to be a starting catcher on this year’s division-champion Red Sox? The 27-year-old has exceeded all expectations, and while his spot is clearly secure, his backup is slightly uncertain. Christian Vazquez seems to have lost all traction in earning playing time, so the decision will come down to Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan. Neither offers much sexiness at the plate and both would dwell at the bottom of the lineup.
As Pete Abraham points out in the Globe, the Red Sox are 21-8 in games started by Hanigan (48-32 since last season, according to Michael Silverman) and, given his longer tenure and experience with the pitching staff, he seems to be the safer bet. Hanigan has a little potential to play to David Ross 2013-like role in October. That may just be a comparison made for the sake of comparison, but ‘wily veteran backup catcher’ seems like a prerequisite for playoff success.
The roster gets a little more complicated in the bullpen. All of a sudden, after months of blown leads and late-inning implosions and overreactions to bullpen mismanagement (of which I am assuredly guilty), the Red Sox … have too many relievers. That can’t be right.
Along with Drew Pomeranz moving to the bullpen with some shoulder soreness and fatigue, the team has five relievers who seem like locks to make the playoff roster: Craig Kimbrel, Koji Uehara, Brad Ziegler, Matt Barnes and Robbie Ross Jr. That leaves probably two spots (assuming 13 position players and 12 pitchers) for a group of pitchers who, frankly, have all pitched well enough in the past month of merit a roster spot: Heath Hembree, Fernando Abad, Robby Scott, Junichi Tazawa and Joe Kelly.
Pete Abe’s roster breakdown from above has Abad and Hembree making it as the final two. Maybe it’s the ease with which his name lends itself to unfortunate puns, but I have little confidence in Abad in high-leverage October situations. The lefty has a 6.39 ERA during his time in Boston and has allowed 13 hits and eight walks in 12.2 innings. Lefties, however, are just 3-for-23 against Abad since he arrived in Boston. On the year, he’s held opposing left-handers to a .459 OPS. That is, um, really good.
If the Sox are wary about Abad being bad (get it? It’s like his name), they would probably still want a lefty out of the pen other than Ross, who figures more as a long-relief out-getter. Maybe Pomeranz is healthy enough to pitch and pitch in tough spots in relief by the time the playoffs roll around. Regardless, Farrell may consider bringing Robby Scott into the fold. Scott, of course, has a comically short baseball-reference page, having made just six major league appearances in his career. But they’ve been good ones! The left-hander has thrown 5.1 scoreless innings, striking out five and allowing six runners to reach base. Lefty batters are 2-for-10 against him, so maybe Robby Scott is our LOOGY after all.
More importantly, can you imagine how much pleasure Joe Buck would get out of telling Scott’s undrafted-free-agent story to a national audience in the seventh inning of a playoff game? Give America the chance to hear it, John Farrell.
Much as I will always love him for his 2013 postseason performance (and you too, Brandon Workman, wherever you are currently rehabbing), Tazawa has looked worn out coming out of the bullpen and probably doesn’t end up on the roster. While his performances have been better of late, Farrell’s unwillingness to pitch Tazawa in high-leverage situations indicates that he’ll probably not be appearing in October.
So that leaves Hembree and Kelly. Prior to the nonsense grand slam Wednesday night, Kelly had yet to allow a run since returning to the bullpen in September. In 11.1 innings, he had allowed eight hits (all singles) and struck out 15. And, of course, Great Stuff. Kelly has it. Hembree, on the other hand, has worked to a 2.25 ERA in nine appearances since rejoining the roster in mid-August.
Given Hembree’s longer track record as a full-time reliever and the potential instability of other parts of the bullpen given Pomeranz’s injury and Scott’s inexperience, I wouldn’t be surprised if Farrell opts to put Hembree on the roster in favor of Kelly.
The bullpen’s isn’t alone in helping the Red Sox to a division-clinching month of September. The rotation has been good and, with Pomeranz down, the postseason rotation is set to include David Price, Rick Porcello, Clay Buchholz and Eduardo Rodriguez. As Silverman writes in the Herald, the Sox have lined Price up to pitch game 162 Sunday and then Game 2 of the ALDS, with Porcello going Game 1. Buchholz’s Long and Winding Road of a season continued with an impressive six-inning, one-hit performance at Yankee stadium Wednesday. At Over the Monster, Matt Collins asks if we should be worried about Playoff Clay. Eddie Rodriguez’s season looks ugly on the surface, 3-7 with a 4.68 ERA, a 118 cFIP and 5.53 DRA. But those numbers don’t tell the whole story of his 2016, as Ben Buchanan points out at Over the Monster. Rodriguez owns a more than respectable 3.10 ERA while limiting hitters to a .213 average since coming back from AAA on July 16.
This week, the nostalgia incurred by the impending retirement of David Ortiz has come out in full force. This, still, to me, is not actually happening. I have not reached a point of acceptance with the end of Papi’s career. Watching this team well over 100 times has numbed my senses to the ongoing commemorations and commercialization of David Ortiz’s baseball farewell. Every final game in *insert miscellaneous American League ballpark* has spawned gifts and celebrations and fairly emotionless goodbyes. They have all blended together.
Now, it’s real. Thursday’s game will mark the last time David Ortiz plays in Yankee Stadium. One more regular season series at home. That’s it. Now we’re talking about whether he’ll make the Hall of Fame, as Dan Shaughnessy wrote in the Globe.
I guess this is really happening. After spending literally more than half my life with David Ortiz in it, his career is coming to an end. How about a championship sendoff?
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