General Sports: April 8

-So remember how I wrote yesterday that Phillies manager Gabe Kapler was on the hot seat after only 6 games? Well…

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It seems that Kapler survives another day. The Marlins got out to a quick 1-0 lead thanks to a wild pitch by Vince Velasquez, then things imploded for Miami. Maikel Franco hit a grand slam in the first inning, Altherr hit another grand slam in the third, then an 8-run 4th inning. A few factoids from reading the box score:

  1. Everybody who had a plate appearance for the Phillies got a hit (with the exception of relief pitcher Jake Thompson). Even starting pitcher Velasquez recorded 2 knocks and scored a run.
  2. 4 players in the Phillies lineup drove in at least 3 runs. This was spearheaded by Franco driving in 6. Altherr drove in 4, Rhys Hoskins drove in 3, and Carlos Santana drove in 3.
  3. Jake Thompson actually managed to record a save despite the fact the Phillies won by 19. A little known fact about the save statistic, you are eligible to record a save if you relieved the starter and went at least the final 3 innings, even if the deficit is greater than 3 runs. Thompson went the final 3 innings and only allowed 1 hit.
  4. 7 of the 8 Phillies position players that started this game recorded an extra base hit. Leadoff second baseman Cesar Hernandez was the lone exception.
  5. 2 separate Marlins pitchers allowed at least 8 runs in this game. Starting pitcher Dillon Peters allowed 9 runs on 9 hits in 2.2 innings. His replacement, Jacob Turner, allowed 8 runs on 6 hits in his lone inning

As if we didn’t already know it was going to be a long year for the Marlins, they get hit with this shit storm of a game. These things can be miserable. I would know. I attended a Red Sox game in 2016 when the Angels came into Fenway and beat their asses 21-2. CJ Cron went 6-for-6 in that game. The Angels managed to score 11 runs in the 7th inning. That 7th inning got so bad that when Red Sox fans finally lost hope, we started trying to see how many runs the Angels could put up. That game ended up turning around the slumping Red Sox’ season, as they got hot shortly after that game and it propelled them to the division title. But these Marlins don’t have the talent the 2016 Red Sox did so 2018 is going to suck for them.

-Speaking of the Red Sox. I mentioned a couple days ago that there would come a time when the starting pitching would need to get picked up by the bats. Little did I know that it would come the very next game. I’m not going to sit here and say Rick Porcello struggled on the mound. It’s hard to call 7.1 innings allowing 3 runs and at one point retiring 17 batters in a row “struggling.” But he got off to a shaky start, allowing 2 runs in the top of the 1st, which for a while to start this season meant a long day for the Red Sox, who have struggled to score runs. Well they shook that REAL fast, as they answered with a 4 spot in both the first and second innings, which included a grand slam by Xander Bogaerts, who had 6 RBI through 2 innings. JD Martinez recorded his first homer as a member of the Red Sox and Rafael Devers also got in on the longball action and the Sox took home their 7th straight win by a score of 10-3.

-I know wrestling is scripted and it’s more a show than a sport, but it’s Wrestlemania tonight and I’m very excited for it and I think it’s the one time where you can put wrestling in your sports blog. I’m just going to go ahead and give my predictions. Samoa Joe returns from injury to win Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, Bayley wins Women’s Battle Royal, Cedric Alexander wins Cruiserweight Championship, Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle beat Stephanie McMahon and Triple H, Braun Strowman and mystery tag partner (I’m predicting Big Show) win RAW Tag Team Championship, Bludgeon Brothers win Smackdown Tag Team Championship, Finn Balor wins Intercontinental Championship, Randy Orton retains United States Championship, Nia Jax wins RAW Women’s Championship (Carmella tries to cash in her Money in the Bank contract but fails), Asuka wins Smackdown Women’s Championship, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn beat Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon to keep their jobs through some shenanigans, Undertaker beats John Cena (not officially a match yet, but come on), Shinsuke Nakamura wins WWE Championship, and Roman Reigns wins Universal Championship. *Pant, pant.* There. Let’s see how I do.

-Not to blow up Conor McGregor’s spot, but…

 

His bail was $50K, which I’m sure he easily could’ve paid out of pocket, so I’m not surprised to see he’s not in jail anymore, but that’s pretty ballsy to sneak into a UFC event after the stunt he pulled. This just adds fuel to the “it was a work” fire that people have been speculating as I doubt McGregor could’ve have just snuck in, being the most recognizable man in UFC right now.

-Well this is one way to get a walkoff win.

I’ve overrun the ball before in my lifetime, but I really have no idea what Eric Hosmer was doing there. It’s not like it was windy, the Astros play in a stadium with a retractable roof and even when that thing is open, the stadium is structured in a way that wind has a tough time getting in and out. You can probably just chalk that up to early season rust, which I guess is an excuse even though spring training began in February. But this must have been the worst game ever to watch. 0-0 in the 10th inning and the only run that scores comes across on a botched popup. Astros fans are probably just happy with the win whereas Padres fans could be just happy they competed with the world champs. But damn that’s a tough box score.

That’s going to do it for this edition of General Sports. Let me know what you think of the topics discussed in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

30 Clubs in 30 Days: Boston Red Sox

Some huge news in the college basketball world as some initial reports have been released regarding current and former players and improper benefits from either schools or agents. The biggest names listed are Michigan State’s Miles Bridges (as if Michigan State needed any more scandals), Alabama’s Colin Sexton, Duke’s Wendell Carter, Markelle Fultz of the 76ers (attended Washington), Kyle Kuzma of the Lakers (attended Utah), and Dennis Smith Jr of the Mavericks (attended NC State). The investigation is still ongoing so I’ll provide more details when more information is released. Also, a big trade was agreed upon between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams, as the Chiefs are sending star cornerback Marcus Peters to LA for a package of draft picks. This just made an already good Rams defense absolutely terrifying. But today is 30 Clubs in 30 Days and I’m featuring the Boston Red Sox. As I’m sure readers of my blog are well aware, I’m a Red Sox fan, so I apologize if I go a little more in depth with them than other teams. I’m only human. So let’s get a look at the Red Sox’ chances in 2018.

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2017 Results:

Record: 93-69, Won AL East over New York Yankees by 2 games, lost to Houston Astros in ALDS

Notable Offseason Additions: OF JD Martinez

Notable Offseason Subtractions: RP Addison Reed, OF Chris Young, RP Fernando Abad, RP Blaine Boyer, 2B Josh Rutledge, CF Rajai Davis, SP Henry Owens, SP Doug Fister

Best Offensive Player: RF Mookie Betts

Best Pitcher: Chris Sale

Depth Chart:

C-Christian Vazquez, Sandy Leon

1B-Hanley Ramirez, Mitch Moreland

2B-Dustin Pedroia, Eduardo Nunez

3B-Rafael Devers, Deven Marrero

SS-Xander Bogaerts

LF-Andrew Benintendi, Brock Holt

CF-Jackie Bradley Jr

RF-Mookie Betts, JD Martinez (DH)

SP-Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Drew Pomeranz, Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Wright

Bullpen-Craig Kimbrel (CP), Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree, Carson Smith, Tyler Thornburg, Austin Maddox, Brandon Workman, Robby Scott

Coaching Staff:

Manager-Alex Cora (1st season with Red Sox)

Hitting Coach-Tim Hyers

Pitching Coach-Dana LeVangie

1st Base Coach-Tom Goodwin

3rd Base Coach-Carlos Febles

Bench Coach-Ron Roenicke

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The Red Sox regressed in a big way offensively in 2017. After scoring the most runs in the American League in 2016, they dropped off significantly and finished dead last in the American League in home runs. For a while, it didn’t look like they were going to do a whole lot to change things other than bring back guys from last year’s team (Mitch Moreland and Eduardo Nunez). That was until they signed JD Martinez to a 5-year $110M deal. I won’t expand too much about his potential role in Boston, as I did so in the blog I just linked. Now they look to get back on track under rookie manager Alex Cora. Here’s a look at how the Red Sox are projected to line up in 2018.

1. Eduardo Nunez/Dustin Pedroia-2B

2. Andrew Benintendi-LF

3. Mookie Betts-RF

4. JD Martinez-DH

5. Xander Bogaerts-SS

6. Hanley Ramirez/Mitch Moreland-1B

7. Rafael Devers-3B

8. Christian Vazquez/Sandy Leon-C

9. Jackie Bradley Jr-CF

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Now on paper that’s a pretty imposing lineup as long as they can return to their 2016 forms because only Christian Vazquez took a step forward at the dish in 2017. It’s an entirely new coaching staff with a different philosophy so it’ll be interesting to see how they do things. Alex Cora stated recently that he doesn’t really get the whole “lefty/lefty righty/righty” conundrum, stating something along the lines of “you’ve been hitting lefties all your life and now all of a sudden you can’t hit lefties when you reach the Majors? Doesn’t make sense to me.” He hasn’t even managed a meaningful game yet and I already love his style. But there is a ton of ability in this lineup if Cora and company can get the most out of it. The young stars have been nicknamed the Killer B’s, consisting of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr, and Andrew Benintendi, all of whom can take over games when teams aren’t careful. Betts is the most dangerous of the bunch, as he was AL MVP runner-up in 2016 and despite taking a step back in 2017, was still their best hitter, batting .264 with 24 home runs, 102 RBI, 26 stolen bases, 32 DRS, and was worth 5.1 WAR. Bogaerts is another talented hitter but he’s also extremely streaky. When he’s hot, he’s impossible to get out. You’ll see 3-4 game after 3-4 game and his batting average will skyrocket up into the .350’s. But when he’s cold, you have to work your ass off to let up a hit to him. In fact, there was a long stretch in the middle of the season where Bogaerts was the worst statistical hitter in baseball. Jackie Bradley is another guy who can be streaky, like Bogaerts, but unlike Bogaerts, Bradley is an excellent defender at a premium position so when he’s not hitting well, he can still make excellent contributions in the field. I listed Bradley as the 9th hitter mainly because he’s had so much success in that position. In fact, it’s been a while since I updated this stat, but last I checked, Bradley was a career .346 hitter when batting 9th. Benintendi was the runner-up for AL Rookie of the Year last season and probably would have won it, too if Aaron Judge didn’t set the rookie record with 52 home runs and finished runner-up for AL MVP. Benintendi hit .271 with 20 home runs, 90 RBI, and 20 stolen bases while playing a solid left field. Another guy the Red Sox have to be excited about is third baseman Rafael Devers. Devers is a bad defender at the hot corner and I think that he’s going to have to eventually switch to either first base or start DH’ing before long. But he shows bat discipline well beyond his years (he turns 22 in October). Watching Devers’ at bats as a youngster, I noticed that he doesn’t try and do his own thing at the plate. He takes what the pitcher gives him and goes with the pitch. For example, he’s not going to try and pull everything. If he’s thrown a curveball low and away, he’ll wait patiently for it to get to him and will send it the other way. He’s a guy I’m really excited for in his first full season in a Red Sox uniform.

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The Red Sox pitching was fantastic in 2017, as they finished 4th in the Majors with a 3.73 team ERA. That was thanks in large part to their trade acquisition of Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox in the 2017 offseason. Sale was an absolute monster in his first season in a Red Sox uniform, going 17-8 with a 2.90 ERA and 308 strikeouts. He was 5 strikeouts away from tying Pedro Martinez’s franchise record, a record he likely would’ve broken had he been allowed to pitch his last start. However that start came at a time that would’ve affected his ability to start Game 1 of the ALDS so I think then-manager John Farrell made the right move there. David Price was battling injuries throughout the year but he was pretty solid when he was on the mound and even better when he was placed in the bullpen. He finished the year at 6-3 with a 3.38 ERA, which included an ERA of 0.00 in 5 relief appearances. A fully healthy season for Price would be huge for the Red Sox. Rick Porcello had a rough follow-up to his Cy Young-winning 2016 season, as he went 11-17 (most losses in baseball) with a 4.65 ERA. However he is still one of the more talented pitchers on the Red Sox roster and if he can return to form in 2018, that’s three aces at the top of the Red Sox rotation. And that’s without even mentioning Drew Pomeranz, who after a brutal first 2 months of the season, was absolutely terrific for the Sox. In the second half of the season, his ERA was 3.01, bringing his overall line to 17-6 with a 3.32 ERA. Not bad for your fourth starter.

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The Red Sox bullpen is also expected to be very strong, spearheaded by the American League’s Reliever of the Year in Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel was dynamite in 2017, as he finished with 35 saves, a 1.43 ERA, and a Strikeout per 9 rate of 16.43, which is absolutely ridiculous. Provided Kimbrel can stay healthy, the 9th inning will be a sure thing for the Red Sox. It’s the rest of the bullpen that has some question marks. Joe Kelly had a breakthrough season as a reliever, including throwing the fastest pitch ever by a righty at 103.5 mph and finished with a 2.79 ERA but that was after being in the low 1’s for much of the year. Tyler Thornburg and Carson Smith hope to be big parts of the Red Sox bullpen but both guys are recovering from injuries. Smith was able to appear at the end of the 2017 season and he did pitch pretty well, pitching to a 1.35 ERA in 8 appearances. Thornburg, however, has yet to pitch an inning for the Red Sox after being acquired from the Brewers in the Travis Shaw trade. He was Milwaukee’s closer prior to the trade so he’s another guy the Sox have to be excited for. The Red Sox could potentially have one of the top bullpens in baseball if they can stay healthy.

Overall, I think the Red Sox have a legitimate shot at a World Series. Basically every facet of their team could rank amongst the top 5 in baseball. The problem is going to be getting by the Yankees, who made the biggest move of the offseason when they acquired Giancarlo Stanton in a trade with the Marlins. It’s going to be a fight to the death between those two teams. The return to form of the hitters in this Red Sox lineup will go a long way towards the success of Alex Cora’s first year as manager. If all goes well, this team could win 100 games.

Projected Finish: 95-67, Host AL Wild Card Game against Anaheim Angels

That’s going to do it for Day 5 of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Join me tomorrow when I discuss the Chicago Cubs, who are looking to win the NL Central for the third straight season and will try and win their second World Series in 3 years. Let me know what you think of the Red Sox’ chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

Chris Sale vs Corey Kluber: The enigma that is the 2017 American League Cy Young race

Following the 2016 American League Cy Young Award race was like following the presidential election: nobody deserved to win, but somebody had to, and the controversy surrounding the results was the big story. Rick Porcello of the Boston Red Sox won the award over Justin Verlander, then of the Detroit Tigers, by 5 points. However it was revealed afterwards that two Tampa Bay writers completely left Verlander off of their ballots, omissions that, quite frankly, are inexcusable given the strong showing Verlander put forth. Not that Porcello wasn’t deserving of the award (compared to the rest of the American League, that is), but Verlander simply had a better season by most standard and advanced metrics. This year, however, the AL Cy Young Award race has been made far more intriguing by a teammate of Porcello’s and the guy who finished in third place for this very award last season.

Corey Kluber (left) and Chris Sale (right) are the top 2 contenders for the 2017 AL Cy Young Award (photo credit: Sports Illustrated)

Chris Sale of the Red Sox and Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians have been in a battle the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Jurassic World ending. I gathered together a bunch of statistics to try and get a glimpse at who has truly been the best pitcher in the AL. I kid you not, Sale and Kluber are number 1 and number 2 in the AL in the following categories: ERA, WHIP, strikeouts, K/9, BB/9, K%, Opponent Batting Average, FIP, and WAR (all stats acquired are according to FanGraphs). Both guys are the aces of strong pitching staffs on division leaders (in Cleveland’s case, champs) and have two of the filthiest sliders in the game. Here’s an example of Sale’s and Kluber’s.  To have to face either of these guys at any point in the year makes every Major Leaguer worthy of their 8-figure salaries.

The Case for Sale:

Chris Sale came to the Red Sox in a trade with the Chicago White Sox during the 2016-17 offseason for prized prospects Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, among others. To say that the trade has been an early success for the Red Sox is about as big an understatement as saying The Godfather is a good movie. Right out of the gate, Sale tied a Major League record with 8 consecutive starts with double-digit strikeouts and he hasn’t let up since. Because, seriously, how does anyone expect to hit this? During Wednesday night’s start against the Orioles, he became the second pitcher in Red Sox history to reach 300 strikeouts and is 13 away from tying Pedro Martinez’s franchise record set during his historic 1999 season. Sale has the kind of stuff to achieve that in his next start. With one or two starts remaining in the regular season, Sale has a line of 17-7 with a 2.75 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 300 K, 12.90 K/9, and 8.2 WAR. In fact, Sale’s WAR not only tops all pitchers in Major League Baseball, it tops all players. But the stat that really amazes me about Sale is his FIP. For those who aren’t familiar with sabermetrics, FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching is a stat that takes out all plays that are outside of a pitcher’s control, such as singles, doubles, triples, and fielding outs and only takes into account plays that are within the pitcher’s control: strikeouts, walks, and home runs. It is meant to try and predict what a pitcher’s ERA would be if he were given a neutral defense, one that doesn’t really help him, nor hurt him. The difference in ERA and FIP can often be used to measure exactly how much a pitcher is helped or hurt by his defense. Sale’s FIP is 2.22, half a run lower than his 2.75 ERA, meaning that the Red Sox defense behind him is actually hurting his production. And considering how dominant he has been this year, that’s a scary thought for the rest of the AL. And for those who were wondering, Sale’s FIP is the best in the majors (Kluber happens to be number 2 at 2.49, but I’ll get into that later).  Not to mention, the guy is completely psychotic. I don’t have video evidence of this and I don’t even remember who the opponent was, but earlier this season I was watching a Red Sox game when Chris Sale walked the leadoff batter in the 7th inning. Sale never allowed that runner to reach second base, yet when he recorded the final out of the inning, he was screaming at himself into his glove for walking that leadoff batter. I remind you that the baserunner did no damage and he had no issue with the next three batters, yet he was screaming at himself like he just gave up an 0-2 grand slam. And when Sale gives you “that look,” you bend your will to him. Seriously. Look him in the eye and tell me you aren’t freaked out by this dude.

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I do not envy Red Sox Manager John Farrell having to tell this guy his night is done. Lucky for him, he hasn’t had to do that too often: Sale leads the Major Leagues in innings pitched at 209.1.

The Case for Kluber

Corey Kluber’s last start of the 2016 season came in Game 7 of the World Series against the Chicago Cubs. He had dominated all postseason and had continued his run against the Cubbies in each of his first 2 starts in the Fall Classic. However, he didn’t make it out of the 5th inning, surrendering 4 runs and 2 home runs and the Indians lost the World Series to the Cubs, a franchise that hadn’t won in 108 years. It seemed that he hadn’t gotten over that defeat to start 2017, as his ERA after the first month was 5.06. That was when he hit the Disabled List and missed all but one start in the month of May due to a lower back strain. That DL stint seemed to fix him, however, as he has been absolutely lights out ever since. He has gone 17-2 since coming off the DL with a minuscule ERA of 1.69, including 0.87 in the month of September. Despite missing almost an entire month, Kluber still ranks 6th in the AL in innings pitched. He ranks 2nd in WAR at 6.9 (nice), trailing only Sale and he leads the AL in ERA (2.35), WHIP (0.85), BB/9 (1.60), and opponent batting average (.187). The one real knock I can think of against Kluber is his FIP, which is 2.49, which when compared to his 2.35 ERA, suggests that the Indians’ defense has actually aided Kluber’s numbers. Regardless, that FIP still ranks second in the AL and would still lead the league if it were his actual ERA. Kluber’s performance also helped spark the Indians’ 22-game winning streak, the longest in AL history (longest ever if you don’t count the 1916 New York Giants 26-game winning streak, which had a tie mixed in). During that historic run, Kluber won all 4 of his starts and had an ERA of 1.41, striking out 45 batters in the process. Where Kluber goes, the Indians seem to go as well. When Kluber hit the DL, the Indians were 15-12 and appeared to be having a World Series hangover. They went 13-13 in his absence and were struggling to fend off the pesky Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals. Since his return, though, the Tribe have gone 68-32, clinching their division and stealing the top record in the AL from the Houston Astros, who held that honor from the beginning of the season, up until midway through the Indians’ streak a couple weeks ago. It’s hard to argue there’s a pitcher more important to his team than Kluber.

Conclusion: It’s insanely difficult to pick one of these guys to win the Cy Young Award over the other, yet come November, one of these two guys will be taking home the hardware. I’m just thankful that I don’t have a vote, because writing this article and trying to take a side was damn near impossible. Though, if you were to force me into a Ramsay Bolton- Theon Greyjoy Reek-type situation, I’d have to say I would give the Cy Young Award to Chris Sale, but I’d rather have Corey Kluber in a must-win playoff game, as Sale has never appeared in the postseason, having pitched for the White Sox the first 7 years of his career. See? No cop outs here.