Red Sox

A conflicted conversation about the Red Sox

A conflicted conversation about the Red Sox

Evan: Something is keeping me from buying into these Red Sox. All the way, I mean. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Yankees win the division. The Sox offense feels too tenuous, too reliant on inconsistent hitters getting hot. The Eduardo Nunez gravy train has already lasted longer than it should. With Hanley Ramirez, really anything out of him at this point feels like a bonus. If the starting pitching isn’t there, they don’t have the long ball at their disposal like others do. You talk about a playoff setting — if they’re scorching hot, they’ll be fine. That’s true of any team. But am I really supposed to be sold on Christian Vazquez as a hitter at this point? If not, then what about this lineup tells you it can compete with the others? By others, I mean the Yankees’, Astros’ and Indians’.

Other Evan: Well, the fact that the offense has been getting it done — however that has happened — should not be ignored. You can’t ignore the bottom line. And the standings, man. Particularly with Dustin Pedroia coming back. Jackie Bradley Jr. hasn’t been away long but there’s pop there too. The trouble you’re having is that the names getting it done lately aren’t the ones you expected the Sox would rely on going into the year.

Evan: Maybe. That’s why I called them underdogs a few weeks back. That didn’t sit well with everyone because the Sox had high expectations coming into the year. I was honing in on this point, though: the people powering the team were not names you’d expect. At the same time, I never thought it was anywhere close to a given a guy like Mookie Betts would repeat or improve. The assumption all the young kids would immediately improve was a faulty assumption for many. Just because you’re both good and young doesn’t mean you inherently maintain or get better from year to year.

Other Evan: Fine. You’re a genius. Your prediction that Andrew Benintendi would finish with a higher wRC+ than Betts looks like it might pan out. But you can’t sit there and say, 'The guys who have contributed, like Nunez, shouldn’t be this good, and the guys who have not contributed, you knew would step back.' If Mookie Betts is what he is at this point in the year, then isn’t the same true of Mitch Moreland?

Evan: One guy, Moreland, has a longer track record. Same with Nunez. The other guy, Betts, had one amazing year. So it’s not exactly the same, but your point is taken. Maybe you could say that Betts is due to just scorch the ball in September? That wouldn’t be surprising, at all.

Other Evan: How about you let the offense go. The standard last year’s offense set, even if you’re ignoring it on an individual level with guys like Betts, is poisoning your conception of how the team should win. You can win in other ways than mashing. This team is built around pitching. Chris Sale is rather literally half way to a Hall of Fame career, with 1,500 strikeouts now. You’ve heard of him? 

Evan: Yeah I’ve heard of him. And Dave Dombrowski’s probably got too many resources at his disposal to enter an executive of the year conversation. But the guy’s moves keeps paying off. No one — NO ONE — saw Nunez’s power coming. People made fun of me when I called the trade underwhelming, but for what Nunez had done do to date, for what the Sox offense needed, it was. The scouting staff deserves a ton of credit too.

Other Evan: Are you not overwhelmed now, moron? What should actually worry you is how the bullpen usage goes come playoff time. If Craig Kimbrel can’t pitch in the eighth inning — and only the eighth inning, if his pitch count relegates him to it — he needs to look himself in the mirror and this team needs a manager who can put a pitcher in front of that mirror.

Evan: John Farrell showed us earlier this year he actually wants to use Kimbrel in the eighth. If this is about amassing saves, they don’t count saves in the postseason toward all-time records. Not the records most people care about, anyway. They’ll do the right thing in the playoffs. But the fact the Red Sox could win the division without using Kimbrel in some huge eighth inning moments, the fact they could do it without close to a full year from David Price and with Dustin Pedroia missing significant time — you know, come to think of it, this team seems pretty stacked.

Other Evan: They’re winning in spite of many things, if you think about it. The clubhouse questions were probably overhyped after “It’s not me, it’s them,” and with David Ortiz out the door. But considering Price’s approach to air travel, maybe it wasn’t. That goes back to the Dombrowski point: he put together a damn good team to be able to stomach all that’s gone on. Remember Tyler Thornburg? You won’t until spring training. Addison Reed has helped ensure that lately.

Evan: Carson Smith’s on his way back too. If Price, Pedroia and Smith all return, or even two of the three, maybe the Sox are easier for me to believe in. But it just feels like if the starter isn’t awesome, this team is behind the 8-ball. Strengthen the bullpen with another shutdown reliever, get the infield defense shored up with Pedroia back, add another great starter — it's less worrisome.

Other Evan: Yeah, worrying about a team projected to have a win total in the low- to mid-90s when the playoff structure is more or less a crapshoot. That really makes sense. Keep doing you, buddy.

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How Martinez rose from ashes of Astros release to Red Sox stardom

How Martinez rose from ashes of Astros release to Red Sox stardom

Good things come to those who wait. And while it’s hard to knock the results of the Houston Astros’ “process,” a new piece from Sports Illustrated details how J.D. Martinez has them wishing they waited a little longer.

Coming off an age-25 season that saw him hit just .250 with a .650 OPS, Martinez was desperate to change in 2013. After all, with limited speed and a below-average glove, Martinez’s bat was his livelihood.

“J.D., you’re not even a career .700 OPS hitter,” said then-Astros hitting coach John Mallee. “You don’t steal bags. You’re not a Gold Glover. You have to hit… You can make enough money to live off of, at least until you become too expensive to keep around. But that’s it. Unless you change something.”

After studying perennial All-Stars like Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, and Ryan Braun, Martinez realized his entire swing needed an overhaul, and turned to Astros teammate Jason Castro for advice. Martinez’s journey with Castro is a long one, taking him from Houston to California to Venezuela and, finally, to Kissimmee, Florida, home of the Astros’ Spring Training complex.  

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With a new swing in his toolbox, a revamped enthusiasm and energy, and a desperation to prove himself, all Martinez needed was an opportunity. But the Astros didn't oblige. Houston -- coming off a 111-loss season -- released Martinez after just 18 exhibition at-bats, not even seeking anything in return. Martinez couldn't make the worst team in the league.

Instead of sulking, however, Martinez was motivated -- driven to make the Astros' lack of confidence in his adjustments haunt them.

"You guys are going to see me," Martinez told Houston teammates José Altuve and Dallas Keuchel after being released. "Don't worry about it. I'll be good. I promise you."

Martinez caught on with the Detroit Tigers and the rest, as they say, is history. He used his new swing to slug his way to the top of a myriad of offensive categories and now, four years after being released, there is perhaps no more feared slugger in baseball than Martinez, who has two more home runs (37) than his team has losses (35).

Martinez’s road to the top has been long, but serves as a reminder that in a sport increasingly driven by data, the game is played by humans, and not even the most thorough algorithms can compute a human’s drive to succeed.

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