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Monday Morning Brushback: What A Short, Strange Trip It’s Been

Chris Sale, Alex Verdugo, and more make the cut for the Monday Morning Brushback

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Nick Grace/Getty Images

Opening weekends in baseball don’t get much weirder than the one we just saw the Boston Red Sox play through.

The 2023 campaign opened on Thursday with the typical fanfare we’ve come to expect at America’s Most Beloved Ballpark—player introductions, the big ol’ USA flag being unrolled over the Green Monster, and all that jazz. What followed on the field was far from business as usual, as runs galore and whacky plays were the story of the series against the Baltimore Orioles.

But at the end of the day, it was a positive slate for our beloved home nine—the Red Sox took two games out of three, leading the combined score line...

*double checks to make sure I’m not going crazy or need to get my eyes checked*

...27-24. Hope you took the over in all three games.

It was a week packed with the highs and lows you’d usually feel over the course of a whole month. Hell, Saturday’s game alone had everything: slugfests against staff aces, easy cans of corn dropped, a walkoff dinger, Dan Cortese...

I think it’s tough to have some massive takeaways after just 27 innings of a 162 game season have been played, but I’ll be damned if I don’t try to find out what they are. Let’s look back at the week that was within Red Sox Nation; it’s Monday Morning Brushback time, y’all.

I Don’t Know Why Yu Say “Goodbye,” He Says “Hello”

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

The week opened with the final roster decisions solidified prior to the first pitch. Utility man and MVP of the World Baseball Classic’s Pool A Yu Chang made the cut for the 26-man roster, along with catcher Connor Wong and outfielder Raimel Tapia. Newton’s Third Law of Transactions dictates that for every roster move in baseball, there is an equal and opposite reaction—Bobby Dalbec, Jarren Duran, and Jorge Alfaro began the year in AAA Worcester.

Good for Chang, getting his shot with the big club. After a great WBC performance, he earned a chance to act as Boston’s right-handed jack of all trades. Tapia’s solid spring was also encouraging. As for the twin D’s in Bobby and Jarren, I’d imagine that they’ll at least make a few cameo appearances with the Red Sox in 2023. At this juncture, though, it’s tough to see them as long-term pieces of Boston’s outlook.

The guy I’m curious to watch going forward is Jorge Alfaro. Baltimore baserunners went a perfect 10/10 in steal attempts against Reese McGuire during the opening set. I wasn’t a math major in college, but I know that’s not good. For reference: 20 guys in total swiped a bag against McGuire in 2021 over the course of 523 innings. McGuire is probably the best framer between himself, Alfaro, and Wong (six total catcher framing runs since 2021 per Statcast, compared to 0 and -1 for the other two respectively), but Alfaro does have one thing on the other two: pop time to second base. In 2022, Alfaro’s typical 1.89 seconds to get the ball from behind the dish to second was behind only Philly’s J.T. Realmuto—y’know, the best catcher in all of baseball?

Following McGuire’s recent struggles with runners in motion and given Alfaro’s track record of having a cannon of an arm, along with the league’s new rules that seem to incentivize steal attempts, perhaps we see Aquaman in Boston in due time.

Side note: I didn’t anticipate writing 200 words on a AAA catcher today. I can’t imagine you anticipated reading that, either.

Aces Low

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Nick Grace/Getty Images

The Chris Sale Revenge Tour of 2023 has not started on the right foot.

The Conductor’s season debut on Saturday against the Balmer Oryulz saw the lefty log six punchouts over his first three innings. If you didn’t watch the game and only read that sentence, I’m sure you’d be giddy. That, of course, omits the fact that those were the only three innings he tossed. It also leaves out that he coughed up seven hits and seven earned runs. Yikes.

Sale’s showing came after Corey Kluber’s tough outing, where he gave up six hits and walked four over 3.1 IP. That led to five earned runs charged to the two-time Cy Young Award winner as the Red Sox dropped their Opening Day tilt. Double yikes.

Thankfully, Boston was able to salvage a miracle win on Saturday after the $145 million man’s stinker—and they almost bailed Kluber out on Thursday, too (more on that later).

Sale told reporters after the game that he was “about as embarrassed that [he’s] ever been on a baseball field” on Saturday. To his credit: he does always seem to say the right things when games don’t go his way. He faces the music, and I don’t think that should be lost in the mix.

Both starts from the rotation’s top guys were bad. There’s simply no denying that. But it’s still early, folks. People can freak out about 12 combined earned runs from the starters in just a pair of games—understandably so—but I’ll only hit the panic button if this becomes a trend. Bad starts happen; if this happened back-to-back in June, we’d probably just let it roll off our collective shoulder. It was the first weekend of the season, though, so the negatives and positives were always going to be magnified.

There were some good flashes from both Sale and Kluber amid the pile of poo! There weren’t a ton of positives, but there were still some! You don’t strike out half a dozen batters in three innings by accident. Chris Sale still has that potential in him. Meanwhile, Kluber had some solid pitch sequencing in between the first and fourth frames. I understand that putting lipstick on a pig doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a pig—I’m just suggesting that we all wait and see how Sale and Kluber bounce back from this week.

Besides: what other rotation options does the team have?

Well—maybe Tanner Houck takes the next step forward as a starter...or maybe he doesn’t. I dunno. Sometimes Houck seems like an enigma wrapped up inside a mystery and blended together with a riddle. Righty Sale looked fantastic early on, but a pair of mistakes in the fifth led to two home runs and briefly let Baltimore back into the game. That doesn’t sour the entire day—he was efficient in his early dominance—but I’d like to see a bit more consistency from Houck when he faces an order for the third time. I hate to sound like a broken record, but let’s wait and see on the Houck front.

99 Problems But A Leadoff Guy Ain’t One

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Nick Grace/Getty Images

Shoutout to Alex Verdugo for his solid weekend! Five hits (including a smooth jimmyjack to right on Saturday) and a walk as he drove in four runs and scored thrice? We’ll take that every series.

The question going forward for Dugie will be whether or not he’s the primary leadoff guy atop the Red Sox’s lineup. Maybe he doesn’t bat first against lefties—he was bumped down to the six hole against southpaw Cole Irvin on Sunday—but I think his approach at the plate could work out well whenever he does get the leadoff nod. He doesn’t strike often (only a 15% career K rate) and he gets on base at a fair-enough of a clip (he has a lifetime OBP of .341).

I don’t think we can expect a ton of slugging from Verdugo this year, but he doesn’t have to be prime George Springer when he’s batting first. Number 99 just might be the steady table-setter for the rest of the offense. We’ll see if he can keep up the good work.

Down, But Never Out

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Waiting until the ninth inning to rally and charge for a late win is not a sustainable long-term strategy, of course. But damn, it’s fun as hell to watch whenever it does happen.

Defensive gaffes and timely hitting led to two wild finishes on Thursday and Saturday as Boston opened the season with a 1-1 record. Just when you think you’ve seen it all in baseball, the game laughs in your face and gets more and more strange.

If there’s one encouraging thing you should take away from the first weekend of the 2023 Red Sox campaign, it’s that there’s clearly some fight in the clubhouse. These guys have that dawg in ‘em, as the kids might say. That’s cliché, of course, but it’s true. Doesn’t it feel like the 2022 Red Sox—especially in the second half of the year—would sorta just go through the motions of those first two games after falling into a deep hole?

And hey, they kept the pedal to the metal on Sunday! Nine runs in each of the first three games? I’d say they should keep doing that, but I’m not the manager.

You can’t expect the Sox to make a late push every time they fall behind by a six-pack of runs, but at least that never-say-die energy is there in some capacity. How much will that actually factor into their final outcome this year? Your guess is as good as mine, but we also just saw them steal a win because of their ability to string together hits and take advantage of mistakes. That’s at least a sign of a mentally tough team.

A quote from Hall of Fame Orioles manager (ironically enough) Earl Weaver encapsulates the importance of that resiliency we’ve seen in this small sample size: “You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance.”

“That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.”

Song of the Week: “Truckin’” by The Grateful Dead

Easy choice, given the headline of this post.

Have a good week everyone—same time and same place next week. Go Sox.