We start a 4 game weekend series against the Red Sox tonight. Boston has been a surprise this season, they are 47-33, 3.5 games ahead of the Yankees and Orioles in the AL East and 6.5 games ahead of us.
I send off some questions to Ben Buchanan from Over the Monster, SB Nations Red Sox blog, to try to get some sort of explanation for what's going on. Personally, I think it's some sort of pact with Satan.
What do you think of our old friend John Farrell?
It's hard to really separate Farrell's quality from the reality that, one year ago, Bobby Valentine was doing his damnedest to turn an already deeply flawed team into an unmitigated disaster. Given that frame of reference, anyone who didn't repeat his worst mistakes would be a step up.
That being said, Farrell is certainly not perfect. Last year when you guys asked how we felt about the trade rumors, we expressed concern with giving up much for an unproven manager. And while it certainly didn't hurt to lose Mike Aviles, some of the concerns we had about Farrell himself (largely informed at the time by you Blue Jays fans) have proven legitimate. Primarily his bullpen management.
Sunday's loss to the Tigers illustrates his worst side perfectly, really. Having just had to remove Andrew Bailey as the team's closer due to his inability to perform, John Farrell tossed one of our best relievers, Junichi Tazawa, against the weakest portion of Detroit's lineup in the sixth, then turned to Bailey in a one-run game to take on the top-3, including Miguel Cabrera. Then, rather than go to the team's best relief arm (Koji Uehara) when Bailey got in a jam, he chose Andrew Miller. While Miller is surprisingly good these days, he's also wild, and not the guy you want when perfection is required.
Unsurprisingly, we lost that game.
That being said, the number of managers in baseball who seem to know what to do with their bullpen is surprisingly low. Terry Francona made that sort of mistake often enough, and I spent plenty of time complaining about him before Bobby Valentine came along and put it all in perspective. With that in mind, it's hard to be too upset with Farrell. He's kept the clubhouse quiet, and the Sox are sitting 3.5 games
Nobody picked the Sox to be so good this year, what's going right?
Just about everything we didn't expect to.
While I honestly picked the Sox to finish last before the season started, it was with the caveat that it was simply because they were the least likely to win 90 games in a division where any team could. The front office had taken a smart approach to the off-season, making low-risk (financially), high-upside moves that could add marginal value to a team that was deceptively talented, having gone from a .500 team to a disaster only after significant injuries and a complete fire sale had gutted the roster.
The weird thing is that the Sox have won despite the plan going somewhat awry. Shane Victorino has been fine, but has also been hurt quite a bit. Mike Napoli seems to strike out three times a game. Ryan Dempster has been solid, but when you consider that Jon Lester hasn't exactly bounced back, a decent #3-#4 doesn't really seem like what the team needed.
And yet...Here we stand. Because everyone else seems to have stepped up. Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz are having fantastic seasons. Daniel Nava practically carried the outfield on his own for April and May, giving Jacoby Ellsbury time to finally heat up. Jose Iglesias is basically pretending to be Ichiro Suzuki despite not being able to hit Triple-A pitching. And I'm still not sure who Mike Carp is but apparently he's hit eight homers in 109 ABs?
There's a lot of slack to be picked up, but so far, the role players have picked it up.
Last year the Red Sox traded Youkilis to make room for Will Middlebrooks, now Middlebrooks is in the minors. What happened? Who is playing third?
So there's two trains of thought here.
The first: his wrist injury has lingered as wrist injuries tend to, giving him trouble early on and sending him into the sort of spiral that sophomores are prone to.
The second: he's an overly-aggressive hitter whose holes have been found out, and unless he makes serious changes he's not going to stick as a major leaguer.
The second certainly has elements of truth to it. He's aggressive as all get out. But he's been effectively aggressive in the past, and learned how to deal with pitchers relentlessly attacking his weak spots in the past, which makes me think the first has a lot to do with it.
I expect he'll be back at some point, but barring a massive slump, Jose Iglesias has locked up a starting spot for the immediate future. And the thing is, even though Iglesias will certainly shift to his natural shortstop position in 2014, the Sox have one of baseball's best prospects in Xander Bogaerts waiting to take over third. They've been waiting on Xander for years, since before fans were really even paying much attention to Middlebrooks. Unless Iglesias wilts considerably, Bogaerts will have to play third, leaving no spot for Will. He might have trouble finding a place, as surprising as that is given how excited we were last year.
Who is closer? How much confidence do you have in the back of the bullpen?
Koji Uehara is the closer, though that's probably not a good thing since it's a waste to leave him locked into the ninth. But between him, Junichi Tazawa, and Craig Breslow, the pen is not the disaster it's been made out to be by some even after the various closer meltdowns.
Who has been the biggest surprise?
John Lackey struck out 12 batters yesterday in an outing that brought his ERA down below 3.00. So...
Anything else we should know about the Red Sox?
That would be relevant to you guys?
For all that we've had a magical year, we're vulnerable, more so than most of us would like to admit. There's lots of depth in the starting rotation, but every option has flaws, and if Clay Buchholz can't get healthy, that's a huge hit. Daniel Nava might be hurting, David Ross is out for the foreseeable future and Jarrod Saltalamacchia has a tendency to trail off in the latter part of the year. Jose Iglesias is not this good, and if the bullpen is still solid, if anyone else falls off a cliff that could be in trouble too.
It's incredibly difficult to win games in this division, and if the Yankees maybe appear to be paper tigers, you all in Toronto have been the sleeping giant, so to speak. We hear you coming, along with the Orioles and, to some extent, the Rays. And if we're not heralding the end, it feels like there's one eye on the sky at all times.
Long story short, this series is huge for us, and I expect it might be the same for you guys given where you sit--one game over .500 on the back of an incredible hot streak. No offense, but I hope we're the ones who come away with our thunder intact.