Red Sox

Chris Sale appears poised to make his real 2019 debut, and Alex Cora called it

Chris Sale appears poised to make his real 2019 debut, and Alex Cora called it

When it comes to Tuesday afternoon's start against the Tigers, you're either with Chris Sale or Alex Cora.

Sign me up for Team Cora.

Let's explain: Last week in New York, Sale lost his fourth straight outing to open the season. This one differed from its predecessors in that Sale routinely hit 97 mph and featured better action on his slider. Command remained an issue, however, and the Yankees teed off for seven mostly loud hits and four runs in five innings, including a homer by Clint Frazier, in an 8-0 victory over the Red Sox.

Afterwards, you could choose from two options. Cora took the long view. Sale threw hard and rediscovered most of his arsenal. We'd be seeing the perennial Cy Young candidate real soon.

"I'm not going to be surprised if his next outing he's right where we need him to be," Cora said after the whitewashing. "Stuff-wise, compare it to the first three -- the velocity was there, the slider was a lot better, he's very close to the quote-unquote real Chris Sale."

Then there was the Sale approach of self-flagellation.

"It sucks!" he said. "I'm not going to sugarcoat it. I just flat-out stink right now. I don't know what it is. When you're going good, it's good. When you're going bad, it's pretty bad. You know, show up tomorrow, put on the shoes and get back after it."

Did he share his manager's confidence in a quick turnaround?

"We better (expletive) hope so," he declared.

So which is it? Cora's optimism or Sale's fatalism?

There was simply more to feel good about than bad last Tuesday, no matter the final numbers. The Sale who struggled to throw 89 mph fastballs in Oakland -- thanks to illness, we now know -- had us worried about the health of his shoulder. He finished last year injured and then started this one throwing like Frank Tanana. Not good, especially in light of a five-year, $145 million extension. His transformation from machine-gunner to tactician was at least supposed to wait until the new deal actually kicked in next year.

Sale didn't exhibit those same underlying physical issues on Tuesday, though. He threw 23 fastballs of at least 95 mph and six times topped 97. Per Baseball Savant, he hadn't thrown a single 95-mph fastball all season.

The problem was location and the Yankees unloaded, ripping seven balls with exit velocities of at least 100 mph. Five of them went for hits, including Frazier's homer, which came on a hanging changeup. Sale also hung a slider to Mike Tauchman, who bounced a double into the right field corner.

New York's other five hits came on fastballs. As a means of comparison, Sale allowed an average exit velocity of only 84.7 mph last year, which ranked fifth among starters.

"Need to get results," Sale said on Tuesday. "Doesn't matter how hard you throw or how fancy, you need to throw up zeroes."

While that's true, we need to see Sale's starts in context. Last week's was the first that featured something approximating his healthy arsenal. Given his track record -- six straight top-five finishes in the Cy Young voting, three straight All-Star Game starts -- it's fair to assume that if he continues throwing that hard with that much movement on his slider, he'll look like Chris Sale again sooner than later.

Let's also not underestimate the value of his other attributes, like competitiveness, mental toughness, and tenacity. A  1-0 loss to Oakland showed that he can still record outs while barely breaking 90 mph, because he knows how to pitch.

Cora is betting on it all coming together in his next start. A snarling Sale refuses to make any assumptions, because that's not how he's wired.

The manager is paid to see the big picture, though, and in this case I'm with him -- it may have taken a month, but don't be surprised if the real Chris Sale finally makes his 2019 debut this week.

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Xander Bogaerts honors Koji Uehara on Instagram after retirement

Xander Bogaerts honors Koji Uehara on Instagram after retirement

Former Boston Red Sox closer Koji Uehara has called it a career. Uehara last pitched in the MLB for the Chicago Cubs in 2017, and he announced his retirement from baseball in Japan.

Uehara, 44, had most recently played for the Yomiuri Giants, the franchise he began his career with back in 1999.

After Uehara's retirement, Xander Bogaerts took a moment to honor Uehara with a touching Instagram post.

Bogaerts had been effusive in his praise of his former teammate over the years. Recently, Bogaerts said that the Red Sox wouldn't have won the 2013 World Series without Uehara's performance.

"The ’13 team was a big success because of him," said Bogaerts, per Pete Abraham of The Boston Globe.

In his four-year career with the Red Sox, Uehara posted a 14-13 record with a 2.16 ERA, 291 strikeouts, and 79 saves. During the 2013 postseason, he recorded 7 saves and struck out 17 batters en route to winning the ALCS MVP award.

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Benching Jackie Bradley was never an option, but first homer of season reminds us what he can be

Benching Jackie Bradley was never an option, but first homer of season reminds us what he can be

It took nearly two months, but on Monday Jackie Bradley's drought finally ended.

The Gold Glove center fielder, mired in a historically brutal slump even by his standards, launched his first home run of the year in a 12-2 pounding of the Blue Jays. His opposite-field shot in the sixth played no role in the outcome -- the Red Sox were already cruising to victory -- but the badly needed blast came with more of us questioning his place in the everyday lineup.

Bradley entered the game hitting .144 with no homers and only four extra-base hits. For someone coming off a strong second half and excellent postseason that included the American League Championship Series MVP award, Bradley's season-long funk felt particularly demoralizing.

While we've always accepted streakiness as part of the package, it really did feel like he had turned a corner last year. He began consulting with J.D. Martinez's personal hitting coach around the All-Star break and in the second half delivered some of the most consistent offense of his career, batting .269 with an .827 OPS. He followed by posting a .943 OPS between the ALCS and World Series, driving in 10 runs in 10 games with three homers and a double.

He arrived at spring training confident in a new swing that would end his streakiness once and for all, and in a sense he was right, because there have been no streaks to speak of, just struggle upon struggle.

But Bradley's path forward is actually deceptively simple. It's easy to forget that he only hit .200 last postseason, because virtually all of his production was pivotal, but it showed the way he could validate his existence from an offensive standpoint: hit for power and his place in the lineup would be secure.

When he opened this season by failing to homer in his first 38 games, however, concerns over his viability began gaining urgency. How long could the Red Sox carry an everyday player who wasn't even hitting .150, let alone .200, no matter how game-changing his glove?

Replacing him isn't as easy as it sounds, though, which is why he's not going anywhere. One option would be to make Martinez a more frequent outfielder and move Andrew Benintendi to center, but the DH has battled back issues and is an average defender at best. The Red Sox need his bat in the lineup, not his glove.

The other would require toppling dominoes that would leave the Red Sox worse than where they started: bench Bradley, move Benintendi to center, try power-hitting youngster Michael Chavis in left, and then fill second base with Eduardo Nunez, Tzu-Wei Lin, Dustin Pedroia, or Brock Holt, depending on who's healthy.

Their averages range from .063 (Holt) to .200 (Lin), so you'd be leaving yourself in the same position offensively, but weakened defensively at two positions. The same logic applies to putting Steve Pearce (.131) in left.

In that context, there's little incentive to bench Bradley, which is why he has appeared in all but eight games. It helps that every regular except Benintendi now owns an OPS of greater than .800, so there's enough offense to go around. The emergence of Chavis and Christian Vazquez lower in the order has saved Bradley from answering some seriously tough questions.

So forget about benching him. A far more palatable option is that Bradley rediscovers his power stroke, maintains a solid eye (16 walks), and keeps making web gems.

Maybe Monday represented a tentative first step in that direction.

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