Red Sox

Just when you think it can't get worse, Red Sox plumb the depths of despair

Just when you think it can't get worse, Red Sox plumb the depths of despair

NEW YORK - We have reached a new low.

Forget that Opening Day clunker in Seattle, the 15-run embarrassment in Arizona, or the Patriots' Day matinee mutilation at the hands of the Orioles.

On Tuesday night in Yankee Stadium, the Red Sox found a new way to defile the memory of their 2018 World Series.

They didn't just lose 8-0 to the Yankees (or more accurately, half of New York's Triple-A roster). They surrendered. How bad was it?

Not even Sandy Leon could save them.

The Red Sox attempted to shake things up before the game by summoning Leon from Pawtucket and designating Blake Swihart for assignment, but Swihart probably could've caught an 8-0 loss just fine.

Eighteen games into the season, the Red Sox are entering the panic zone. They're 6-12, good for last in the American League East, with a minus-40 run differential that's topped only by Miami's minus-43. In case you haven't noticed, the Marlins aren't trying. The Red Sox, meanwhile, are defending World Series champs.

With three games looming against the division-leading Rays this weekend, the Red Sox could trail by double-digits by the beginning of next week.

To quote the great Dennis Eckersley: "Yuck."

"I mean, nobody wants to lose," said defending MVP Mookie Betts, whom we'll get to in a second, "but it's just one of those things that's part of it. Got to live with the good and the bad."

The good? It's nowhere to be found.

Ace Chris Sale rediscovered his velocity, routinely hitting 97 mph, but about the only good it did was to amplify the speed with which the ball screamed off the New York bats. The Yankees crushed seven balls with exit velocities of better than 100 mph, and five went for hits, including a homer by Clint Frazier. Sale despaired postgame about sucking and embarrassing his family and then offered this gem when asked if he shared manager Alex Cora's confidence that his next start would be of the vintage variety:

"We'd better [expletive] hope so."

Sale could've allowed a single run and still lost, because the scuffling offense produced just three hits and no runs, even managing not to dirty the scoreboard in the fourth when a wind-aided Xander Bogaerts double put runners at second and third with no outs and J.D. Martinez, Steve Pearce, and Mitch Moreland due up.

Two shallow flies to right and one strikeout later, the Red Sox remained scoreless. In the process, they turned Yankees starter James Paxton into the second coming of Ron Guidry. The Canadian left-hander who goes by the nickname of Big Maple had pitched more like skunk cabbage through three starts, going 1-2 with a 6.00 ERA. On Tuesday, he dominated for eight innings with upper-90s velocity and a hammer curve, striking out 12 and walking just one.

The Red Sox seem to have that effect on pitchers.

"Obviously there's a lot of guys searching for stuff," Cora said. "You can see it, they get here early and all that, but I think at the end when it's 7:05 or 6:35, you go out there and compete. That's the only thing you can do right now."

The Red Sox shook it up before the game, swapping Swihart for Leon, Sale's favorite catcher. The result: more of the same. 

The Red Sox saw their starting ERA climb to 7.18. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, that's the worst mark they've ever posted through 18 games, topping the 1931 club's 6.96.

In fairness, Sale looked better with Leon than anyone else, though the latter's presence didn't much help Sale's results. The lefty at least stuck out a season-high six in five innings

"It sucks," Sale 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."

One of Sale's pitches even jeopardized the health of Betts, who slammed into the wall chasing a Clint Frazier home run and ended up rubbing and stretching his right wrist for the next couple of innings, including after a groundout to third. Betts said he was fine after the game, but his 0 for 3 dropped his average to .215. On this date last year, Betts slammed three homers against the Angels, bringing his season numbers to .389 with five homers and 13 RBI.

That feels like a long time ago.

"Obviously I haven't played very well," he said. "I'm just trying to make adjustments pitch by pitch and make something happen."

The 2019 season, unfortunately, has brought a whole lot of nothing. We'd like to say it won't get lower than this, but then again, Wednesday is a new day.

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Jeter Downs comes out on top in latest Red Sox prospect rankings

Jeter Downs comes out on top in latest Red Sox prospect rankings

When it comes to Red Sox prospects, there's a new No. 1 in town, and considering how he was acquired, that's probably a good thing.

Middle infielder Jeter Downs is now Boston's No. 1 prospect, according to rankings released by MLB.com on Tuesday. He displaces former No. 1 pick Triston Casas, a power-hitting first baseman who dropped to second.

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Downs and Casas are the only two Red Sox prospects who cracked MLB Pipeline's overall top 100, checking in at 48th and 83rd, respectively.

Downs wasn't even a member of the organization until February, when he arrived from the Dodgers in the reworked Mookie Betts trade. While outfielder Alex Verdugo was considered the centerpiece of that deal from a big league readiness perspective, Downs is exactly the kind of player the Red Sox hope to stock their farm system with in the coming years.

He broke out during his age-20 season in 2019, smashing 24 homers, stealing 24 bases, and ending the year in Double A. He just turned 22 and is considered a future big league second baseman, though he has played nearly 200 games in the minors at short.

Casas, meanwhile, possesses impressive power of his own, with 20 homers in the minors as a teenager. Still only 20, the 6-foot-4, 240-pounder may not even be done growing, which makes him a potential power-hitting behemoth.

The rest of the top 10 shows a farm system in transition, and one that MLB ranked 26th in baseball. First baseman Bobby Dalbec is the No. 3 prospect, followed by right-hander Bryan Mata, outfielder Gilberto Jimenez, right-hander and Navy airman Noah Song, returning left-hander Jay Groome, outfielder Jarren Duran, and righthanders Thad Ward and Tanner Houck.

Before he blows it up, Chaim Bloom should give Red Sox a chance

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Before he blows it up, Chaim Bloom should give Red Sox a chance

Here at NBC Sports Boston, we like to run a segment on "Early Edition" and "Boston Sports Tonight" called "Buy or Sell," and from Chaim Bloom's perspective, the answer seems obvious — sell anything that isn't nailed down.

Except it's not that simple. Bloom's last-place Red Sox happen to reside in a flawed American League. If the season ended today, the Baltimore Orioles would claim the eighth and final playoff spot. The Orioles, in case you've forgotten, are terrible.

That's the sign of a garbage playoff system, but this is a garbage season. And before the Red Sox start filling any dumpsters, perhaps they should explore one.

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Huh? Hear me out.

The obvious course of action would be to strip the roster, and by the Aug. 31 deadline, that may be the only path available. But even after Monday night's 8-7 loss to the Rays, the 6-10 Red Sox are belatedly showing signs of life, and here's what I'd like to see before depressing the plunger: just one more stinking starter.

Maybe it's a prospect like Bryan Mata, even though the Red Sox have shown no inclination to promote one of their unproven minor leaguers. Maybe it's fireballing left-hander Darwinzon Hernandez, who's being stretched out to open as he returns from a bout with COVID-19. Maybe it's another organization's castoff, though the Red Sox recently passed on former Braves All-Star Mike Foltynewicz.

With three weeks until the Aug. 31 trade deadline, the Red Sox trail the second-place Rays by 2.5 games. They're not going to pass anybody in the standings if they keep trotting out two openers every five days, three if you count right-hander Ryan Weber. Their bullpen simply can't handle it. They've used at least five pitchers 10 times in 16 games, and they've burned through 24 arms in their last four games alone.

That's how someone like Jeffrey Springs ends up pitching an inning that matters despite an ERA north of 13.00, as was the case on Monday, when he allowed the go-ahead runs in the seventh inning of a game he had no business being near, except manager Ron Roenicke couldn't risk running Heath Hembree and Matt Barnes into the ground.

If Bloom could find just one arm, we'd have a couple of weeks to see if the Red Sox can escape the basement. Thanks to an expanded playoff field, the top two teams in each division will advance, and when you're chasing the Orioles, let's just say you should like your chances.

As it is, it's not like a fire sale would net much in return. While the market for prospective free agent Jackie Bradley Jr. or struggling outfielder Andrew Benintendi is negligible, the Red Sox should be able at least to drum up interest in DH J.D. Martinez and closer Brandon Workman.

Martinez is a legitimate opt-out candidate this fall, provided he builds on Monday's three-hit performance, which included his first home run of 2020. Workman is a pending free agent, and a rebuilding club like the Red Sox has more pressing needs than a 32-year-old closer.

The problem is reading the market. While this season will technically end with someone hoisting a trophy, teams may not be willing to part with pieces of their future when contenders like the Cardinals have only played five games in three weeks because of outbreaks. There also may be hesitation to take on future salary when the economic landscape of 2021 remains so uncertain.

And so if you're Bloom and the return is going to be depressed, why not give this team a chance? Maybe Martinez finds his swing. Maybe Rafael Devers overcomes a foot injury and does the same. Maybe another pitcher eliminates an opener from the weekly probables.

There's value in fighting to make the playoffs, and as long as it doesn't harm the future, why not try?