Musings on the Boston Red Sox and MLB as April moves on
By Rick McNair
The beginnings of the MLB season have seen new rules implemented and the Boston Red Sox staggering along at a .500 pace. Here are a few of my observations on MLB and the Red Sox as April grinds into May.
Significant rule changes in baseball have been designed to speed up the game. Going back many decades, I could go to a Twi-Night twin bill, and both games would be finished in five hours. The hitters hit, and the pitchers pitched. They kept it moving.
The pitch clock is working, although a version had been on the books. The great baseball iconoclast Charles O. Finley used to have a pitch clock at the old Municipal Stadium in Kansas City to do just what the rule stated. Charlie was an arse and an innovator well ahead of his time, but baseball has had a long history with pitch clocks before Finley.
Hitters and pitchers both adjust for their specific trade. If they fail, the MLB shelf life is relatively short, so expect adjustments to the clock and other rule changes. The pace of the game is quicker, and I applaud that. Players will figure it out and devise ways to cut corners.
The bases have been enlarged, and I am sure somewhere in the Statcast bunker, there are metrics and imperial measurements to show just how many steals, and even extra base close plays will go positive with the base enlargement. Baseball is a game of inches and the runners have been given a few extra inches, and the early results show that steals are up.
Again I will harken back to the late 1950s and into the 1960s. The Go-Go White Sox emphasized the stolen base and, with it, a small ball approach. Then came a fleet of fleet-footed runners that emphasized the steal as an integral part of baseball. Thank you, Lou Brock, Rickey Henderson, and Maury Wills. That is back, and the Red Sox's absence of speed is notable.
MLB is embracing rule changes, but will the Red Sox take full advantage?
The Red Sox have a burner in the minor leagues in David Hamilton, who is on a tear with the WooSox. Hamilton swiped 70 bases in 2022, and with MLB experimenting with the designated runner, Mr. Hamilton could earn a trip to Boston as a DR or if he continues to swat as an infield regular. Returning to Charlie O., he had a DR in track star Herb Washington.
The exotic shifts are unnecessary but only to the skilled batsman. Tony Gwynn, Rod Carew, and even Wade Boggs would feast, but it is a lifeline for the Joey Gallos of baseball as lefties seem to benefit more from the rule change on shifts., especially those with a consistent pull pattern. This is opening up the game similar to the three-point line in basketball.
Gambling almost ruined baseball and was a plague in the early days of the leagues. Thank Ban Johnson, the first president of the American League, for making inroads that Commissioner Judge Landis further magnified. Now gambling is back, and with the support of MLB.
Five football players were recently suspended, and it won't be the last, and that applies to all professional sports. Every time I turn on a game, there are advertisements for online gaming. Sports may eventually have the legitimacy of the WWE if outcomes are being questioned.
I will age myself and state I have seen the Athletics play in Philadelphia, Kansas City, and Oakland. The next stop is now Las Vegas and a spiffy new stadium. Meanwhile, the A's will deteriorate.
The Red Sox are drifting along at a comfortable .500 pace, and my early season prediction of an AL East title is losing traction. The early revelations are no surprise, with weak pitching, poor defense, injuries, and a notable lack of speed. Management knew the rule change dynamics that emphasized defense - especially the outfield - and speed. As an old saying goes: "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose "– the more things change, the more they stay the same…
Continuing on the Debbie Downer pathway, I will link to Ms. Downer and Saturday Night Live. For their first three seasons, SNL referred to themselves as the "Not ready for prime time players," the Red Sox now have just that.
Booby Dalbec is 28 years old and has done little to show the projected promise of a few seasons back. Remember when Jarren Duran was often compared to Jacoby Ellsbury? I do because I certainly did and wrote about it. Now we have Triston Casas, whose most positive adulation is his mastery of the strike zone.
Duran has returned, and maybe he "Got it" with his latest stay in Worcester. Casas is another story, and the once-projected slugger has shown a rubber, not a wooden bat. A visit to Wormtown may be in the future for Casas.
Corey Kluber is borderline "bust" material in the early starts—a pattern of a veteran pitcher being brought on board by Chaim Bloom. Most seem to bottom out, and Kluber is heading in that direction. Management is reluctant to extend if a glimmer of success surfaces, such as with Michael Wacha.
The big free-agent kiss was Japanese star Masataka Yoshida, producing mixed results. I still expect Yoshida to top the team in batting average if he can beat out a resurging Alex Verdugo. Yoshi has some nice pop in that lefty swing.
After the Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts fiasco, the signing of Rafael Devers was a public relations imperative. With Devers, you are paying for his bat and not his glove, which is improving, but Devers keeps you in your seat when his turn at the plate nears.
I want to give up on catcher Connor Wong but when I think that he tosses out a runner or chips in with a hit. The Red Sox do have some options at catcher in Worcester.
The Red Sox still has over $15 million in payroll available, but that may expand based on another of my frivolous predictions. The Red Sox will trade Chris Sale as Sale continues to make strides towards the Sale of five seasons ago.
A few more predictions as the season advances. Brayan Bello will be the staff's ace, and Kenley Jansen will save 40+ games. Trevor Story will return with a vengeance. Tanner Houck will pitch his way into a rotation regular, and Nick Pivetta will pitch his way out of the rotation. The defense will show steady improvement, and manager Alex Cora will give the green light on steals more frequently.