Red Sox

5 Takeaways from a weekend that might've finally turned around the Red Sox season

5 Takeaways from a weekend that might've finally turned around the Red Sox season

There's an old proverb I made up when it looked like the Red Sox might lose Sunday's finale vs. the Rays: A starving man shouldn't demand dessert if he's just been fed shrimp cocktail and a porterhouse steak.

Thankfully, the Red Sox were feeling gluttonous.

A weekend series that already qualified as an unquestioned success became a smashing one following Sunday's 4-3 victory in 11 innings at the deflated birthday cake of a ballpark known as Tropicana Field.

After taking two hard-fought games to open the series, the Red Sox continued playing championship-caliber baseball in the finale, overcoming a 2-0 deficit and then maintaining their composure despite blowing an eighth-inning lead for the second straight day.

It's hard to overstate the significance of sweeping the first place Rays. Not only did the Red Sox draw within five games of Tampa, they finally looked like the team that won it all last year.

There's so much to feel good about after the most entertaining weekend of the season, let's just dive right into the decadence as the Red Sox rediscovered their mojo.

1. They beat a good team that played well

The Red Sox did not catch Tampa in a valley. The Rays had won eight of 10 and they played like it. All three games were tied in the eighth inning, and the Red Sox managed to prevail against Tampa's imposing bullpen, twice denting overpowering closer Jose Alvarado. They won the three games by a total of four runs.

Sunday's contest provided a perfect example of the Red Sox executing in the clutch, from a diving stop by third baseman Rafael Devers to end the ninth, to a well-executed sacrifice bunt by Jackie Bradley Jr. and sacrifice fly by Christian Vazquez to lift them in the 11th.

Coming on the heels of Vazquez's gutsy pickoff to clinch Saturday's 6-5 nail-biter, and back-to-back homers in the eighth by Mookie Betts and Mitch Moreland to take the opener, the Red Sox played the kind of baseball that characterized their march to last year's championship.

It's about time.

2. Chavis brings energy

In a perfect world, Michael Chavis would be nowhere near the big leagues. The in-between power prospect -- what is his position, exactly? -- was summoned after injuries shelved Dustin Pedroia, Eduardo Nunez, and Brock Holt, but we were told he wouldn't necessarily play second base.

That lasted all of one day, after Chavis delivered a booming double off of a 99 mph Alvarado fastball on Saturday. He started at second on Sunday and worked Alvarado for the walk that put the winning run in scoring position.

With the Red Sox looking listless and lifeless, they needed a spark, and the exuberant Chavis has provided it. Who knows how much more he'll give or how much longer he'll be here, but he has supplied a badly needed infusion of energy.

3. Mookie is turning a corner

When Betts grounded out in the fourth on Friday, he saw his average drop to .197. That's inexcusable production for the defending MVP, but particularly one who hasn't even reached his prime. It felt like only a matter of time before he mattered again.

Two and a half games later, Betts has lifted his average to .244 and his OPS nearly to .800. He recorded multiple hits in all three games, a feat he had only managed twice all season.

He also struck the biggest blow of his 2019 by smashing a 97 mph fastball to dead center for the go-ahead homer in the opener. As we noted after the game, it was amazing to see him smile again. Maybe he can finally exhale and put this rough start behind him.

4. It looks like we have a closer

While it will probably still fluctuate depending on the matchups, a pecking order is emerging in the bullpen: Matt Barnes in the eighth, Ryan Brasier in the ninth.

The former struggled this weekend, allowing game-tying homers in back-to-back games. But the latter was outstanding, saving all three games and bouncing back perfectly from the go-ahead grand slam he allowed in Yankee Stadium on Wednesday.

Relievers have spent the last 25 years telling us they prefer defined roles, and the Red Sox seem to be finding them.

5. A series win!

It's impossible to defend a championship without winning any series, and the Red Sox finally accomplished that elusive goal by handing the hosts their first series defeat of the year. Losing can snowball in Boston, and taking care of business this weekend will keep the wolves at bay while reminding the roster what it's capable of doing.

With Tampa and New York out of the way, the Red Sox can turn their attention to the Tigers for four games before the Rays visit next weekend. Perhaps they're finally about to start rolling, where they can gorge on as many confections as they'd like.

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Lou Merloni destroys MLB, players for bickering over 2020 return plan

Lou Merloni destroys MLB, players for bickering over 2020 return plan

As the NBA, NHL, NFL and MLS prepare to resume play in the near future, Major League Baseball still can't get out of its own way.

MLB reportedly rejected the Players Association's proposal Wednesday for a 114-game season in 2020 and apparently doesn't plan to make a counter-offer.

The league and the players have refused to budge on the issues dividing them: Players don't want to take an additional pay cut after agreeing to prorated salaries in March, while the owners are wary of extending the season too long due to the coronavirus pandemic and want players to agree to further reduced salaries to mitigate lost revenue.

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That stalemate has cost MLB valuable time, however, as the league doesn't appear close to beginning its 2020 regular season as the calendar turns to June.

So, who's to blame here? Lou Merloni believes it's everyone involved.

The former Boston Red Sox infielder ripped into both the league and the union Wednesday night during an appearance on NBC Sports Boston.

"Both sides suck, OK? That's the bottom line," Merloni said. "The Players Association comes back and says, 'Not 82 (games), we want 114' when they know that's the non-starter. The owners don't want to sit there and play until November. They're worried about the pandemic; they've got to get the playoffs in. And then the owners come back and say we're not even going to counter?

"Jesus, we're like a month into this thing. Can you string this thing out (any longer)? How about go in one room together and try to figure this out in a day or two?"

Compounding MLB's issue is that the NBA is expected to announce a return-to-play plan Thursday that would resume the 2019-20 season in late July. The MLS and NHL also have made headwinds toward resuming their seasons this summer -- which means baseball is wasting a much-needed opportunity to showcase itself as the only active pro sports league.

"I mean, you're running out of time and you're only screwing yourself. Even if baseball does come back, people have already said, 'I've had enough of you.' It's been like a month, a year, and you guys talk and bitch about this thing publicly. I don't give a crap anymore. I've got hockey, basketball, football is around the corner, hell, soccer is around the corner. I'm good.

"They don't even realize it! It's like they're in this bubble and they don't even realize what's going on around them right now. Figure this thing out: 70 games, 65, prorated (salaries), start playing some baseball, because your ass better be first coming back. If not, people are going to be done."

There's reportedly some optimism that the players and the union will resolve their differences and put a return plan in place. But with nearly one-third of the season already lost, the clock is ticking.

Check out Merloni's full comments in the video player above.

Who are the best designated hitters in Red Sox history? Ranking the Top 5

Who are the best designated hitters in Red Sox history? Ranking the Top 5

There's only one choice for best designated hitter in Red Sox history, but just in case there's any doubt, we'll quote broadcaster Dave O'Brien with the signature call from his WEEI days: "DAVID ORTIZ! DAVID ORTIZ! DAVID ORTIZ!"

No sense in even pretending there's any suspense on this one.

What's fascinating about ranking the Red Sox DHs, however, is just how few of them have actually held down the position for any length of time over the years.

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Only nine players have made at least 200 appearances there with the Red Sox since the DH was introduced in 1973, and four of them — Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, and Manny Ramirez — have already appeared elsewhere in our outfield rankings.

That leaves five men to fill out the list, and about the only difficult omission is slugger Jose Canseco, who made 184 appearances between 1995 and 1996.

Click here for the Top 5 DHs in Red Sox history.