Red Sox

Drellich: Red Sox morph from disappointing favorites to scrappy underdogs

Drellich: Red Sox morph from disappointing favorites to scrappy underdogs

BOSTON -- The Red Sox are underdogs. They’re more lovable that way, if the fans notice what's happened to a team everyone thought would dominate. And the players might actually benefit from the realization that last year’s performance doesn’t matter four months into 2017. From the humility that can be found in their own shortcomings.

MORE RED SOX

Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel are typically dynamite, despite forgettable nights on Tuesday. But the supporting cast -- the Killer B’s, Hanley Ramirez, Rick Porcello -- has dropped off from a year ago.

Sure, Mookie Betts is excellent. But he's not all that and a bag of chips as he was last year.

Enter the role players, the run-of-the-mill names, now more central to success.

Christian Vazquez, the No. 9 hitter, went deep and was barely around third base when he flipped his helmet in the air Tuesday night, preparing for teammates to slap him as he reached home plate in the ninth inning of a 12-10 walk-off win.

When the helmet went airborne, Eduardo Nunez broke away from the pack to catch it.

Where the heck did this guy come from?

Nunez, billed as a utility player in the press release that announced his arrival from San Francisco Giants, is hitting like Nomar. His 4 RBIs on Tuesday matched a career-high. He’s done it three times in eight seasons and 636 games, and he’s just five games into his time in Boston.

Rafael Devers, who is not old enough to legally have a postgame beer, has a .500 on-base percentage through his first 32 career plate appearances. His single started the ninth-inning rally against closer Cody Allen on Tuesday.

There’s a new energy at play here, and it’s not about established star power.

“There’s certainly a newness that surrounds guys in your team, in your dugout, certainly your lineup, and the start that [Nunez and Devers] have gotten off to, there’s confidence each time they’ve stepped into the box,” Sox manager John Farrell said. “For a guy 20 years of age, there’s a lot of confidence that rings through everyone that’s watching him. Both of those guys, hard contact, a lot of it, and much needed, I will say that.”

Four months into the regular season, it’s clear who has fallen short of expectations, and what teams have caught up to or even leapfrogged the Sox.

The Yankees are division favorites now. The Dodgers are a super team. The Astros lineup overshadows anyone’s.

Enter Vazquez and Nunez. Enter Mitch Moreland, who’s re-emerging from a long slump caused by a fractured right toe that screwed up his lower-half mechanics. Tuesday’s home run was his first since June 26.

The 2017 Red Sox were simply anointed kings too quickly after they stormed to a division title last year. Now, in a year where identity has been a strange concept in the Red Sox clubhouse, being an underdog is one they should embrace -- mainly because it’s just reality.

Dustin Pedroia and David Price are both on the disabled list and are dealing with persistent injuries. The Yankees got a gaggle of strong players via trade, while the Sox landed righty Addison Reed in addition to Nunez at the deadline. (Reed’s eighth-inning debut wasn’t inspiring, with a home run allowed, but he has time to make other impressions.)

Yu Darvish didn't walk through any door on Yawkey Way yesterday.

The pendulum is swinging, and it's taken the sense of superiority away from the Red Sox. At least, it should have.

Andrew Benintendi is to return to the lineup Wednesday, said Farrell. The rookie is just one of many young players on the Red Sox who is managing expectations: if not necessarily the outside world’s, than his own. Most likely, both.

“The game is the greatest teacher we have,” Farrell said. “If you’re talking about Benny, who is in his first full season here, he’s gone through some periods where he’s come up dry. He’s been forced to make adjustments at the plate. He talked openly about it [Monday] when we had a little bit of a sitdown that game-plan, information travels quick.

“So as he’s adjusting to one, the opponent is at times one step ahead of him, but part of playing in a major market, part of playing here is going to be what goes on and what is said outside. The best that they can do and I think to a good extent, they’re keeping that in perspective and blocking it out as best as possible.”

The outside expectations are that the Red Sox aren't the best anymore.

They're talented, but hardly driving a runaway train.

It's OK to be an underdog, relatively speaking. It might even be a good thing. Embrace it.

Red Sox can be thankful for a successful past and a bright future

Red Sox can be thankful for a successful past and a bright future

For the glass-is-half-full folks, there are those back-to-back Eastern Division titles. For the glass-is-half-empty folks, well, there are those two first-round playoff ousters (though both their conquerers made it to the World Series, and one of them won it). But, here on Thanksgiving night, there's plenty for Red Sox Nation to be thankful for, starting with . . . 


YOUR GOOD HEALTH

We know you don’t need the Red Sox to know you how important the most basic elements of life are. But sometimes, the typical fantasy land of baseball can grab our attention. The death of 17-year-old Sox prospect Daniel Flores (above) this month from complications because of cancer didn’t take away only a potentially great baseball career. It took away a beloved, hard-working young person from the people who loved him. He had just made millions of dollars in July for his talent on the field, but what does such a windfall matter compared to one’s health? His cancer was both rare and fast-moving, per the Boston Globe.

MOOKIE, JACKIE, XANDER, BENINTENDI, DEVERS

The kids deserve some love. They probably won’t be together on the Red Sox forever. Heck, the group could get broken up this winter. But while any of the Killer B’s (plus a D) remain on the Sox, there should be a sense of optimism. Two straight 93-win seasons may have resulted in a first-round exit, and 2017 didn’t meet expectations for some individual performances. But you know what? The youths are still damn good, and there’s time for them to show us they can be even better.

INSANELY GOOD PITCHERS IN CHRIS SALE AND CRAIG KIMBREL

Neither hogs the spotlight once the game ends or says too much. Sale doesn’t even have Twitter. But the righty closer and lefty starter both do two things exceedingly well: make batters swing and miss, and prevent runs. When both pitch, your seat at the park may well be worth the price of admission. (But we won’t ask what you paid for those seats.) Sale didn’t take down Pedro Martinez’s Sox single-season strikeout record this year, finishing with five fewer than Martinez’s 313 in 1999. But he could have done it. And with a little more rest next year, one can envision him plowing his way through playoff opponents too.

ALEX CORA'S NEW DIRECTION

A first-time manager’s not a sure thing, but as Sox owner John Henry noted, there was a feeling it was time for a change. It’s a little early to be thinking ahead to a New Year’s resolution, but a manager who better connects with his players and brings a different vibe to the day-to-day scene is reason to feel the Sox are following the right road map. Plus, if nothing else, Cora took that awesome picture walking toward Fenway.

A CHRISTMAS SHOPPING SPREE MAY BE AROUND THE CORNER

We don’t want to be too materialistic. But Uncle Dave Dombrowski couldn’t let you buy everything you wanted last year. The credit card companies needed him to step back for a year. Now he’s ready to spend. He might not close down Bloomingdale’s for the day for you to do your private shopping, but if you need a couple great jackets to complete your look, it sounds like he’s ready to get you some designer threads. He probably feels there won’t be too many chances to have a moment like this with you, at this stage of your life, and he wants to make the most of it.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

 

Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

pat-neshek-mike-minor-112217.jpg

Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

BOSTON — There is a world outside of Giancarlo Stanton. 

Stanton, at this point, simply doesn’t appear likely to end up in Boston. That should feel obvious to those following along, and so should this: it can change. 

But there are other pursuits. Besides their search for a bat or two, the Red Sox have been actively pursuing left-handed relief options. Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is a fast mover, but this year’s market has not been.

MORE RED SOX:

Robbie Ross Jr. and Fernando Abad are both free agents, leaving Robby Scott as the lone incumbent southpaw from last season's primary group. Brian Johnson is bound for the pen, with Roenis Elias as a depth option too.  Still, even if Johnson’s transition pans out, the Sox still have an opening for a late-inning reliever with the departure of free agent Addison Reed. 

Reed is a righty, but between Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, Heath Hembree, Carson Smith, and Craig Kimbrel, the Sox have more right-handed choices than left. Coming back from surgery, Tyler Thornburg, should be in the mix eventually too, but it's difficult to expect too much from him.

What the Red Sox should do: sign one of each for the bullpen, one righty, and one lefty. And then trade a righty or two. Turn some of that mishmash into an addition elsewhere. Be creative. 

Because inevitably, come midseason, the Sox will want to add another bullpen arm if they sign just one now. Why wait until you have to give up prospect capital when you can just add the piece you want now?

Go get a near-sure thing such as Pat Neshek, a veteran who walks no one and still strikeouts a bunch. At 37 with an outgoing personality, Neshek also brings leadership to a team that is looking for some. He walked just six guys in 62 innings last season. Entering his 12th season in the majors, he’s looking for his first ring.

All these top of the market relievers may be handsomely paid. But relievers are still something of a bargain compared to position players and starting pitchers. One of the key words for this winter should be creativity. If there’s value to be had in the reliever market, capitalize on it. 

Comeback kid Mike Minor, Jake McGee and Tony Watson headline the crop of free agent lefties available. Brad Hand of the Padres could also be had by trade but his market isn’t moving too quickly (and he won’t come cheaply).

Minor, 29, who posted a 2.55 ERA in 2017 after health issues kept him out of the majors in 2015-16, is expected to be paid handsomely. He is also open to the idea of potentially starting if a team is interested in him doing so. The Royals reportedly could give him that shot.

McGee’s American League East experience could be appealing.

He's 31 and had a 3.61 ERA with the Rockies in 2017 and has a 3.15 ERA lifetime. He’s not quite the strikeout pitcher he was earlier in his career — he had an 11.6 K/9 in 2015 — but a 9.1 K/9 is still very strong, particularly when coupled with just 0.6 homers allowed per nine.

For what it’s worth: McGee has also dominated the Red Sox, who have a .125 average, .190 on-base percentage and .192 slugging against him in 117 regular-season plate appearances. 

McGee throws a mid-90s fastball with a low-80s slider. He can operate up in the zone, and he actually has been even more effective against righties than lefties in his career, including in 2017. McGee’s been a closer, too, with 44 career saves.

The Sox had the second-best bullpen in the majors by ERA in 2017, at 3.07. Yet, come the postseason, there wasn’t a sense of great confidence or even a clear shape to the pecking order behind one of the absolute best relievers in the game, Kimbrel.