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St. Louis Cardinals v Boston Red Sox

Monday Morning Brushback: Tricks and Treats

The Red Sox week in review dives into Kenley Jansen, Kiké Hernández, and Chris Sale.

Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

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Believe it or not, but the Boston Red Sox were not able to maintain a long-term winning percentage of .800.

A week that saw its fair share of positive developments alongside far more than its fair share of its frustrations that make you want to pull your hair out of your skull resulted in a 1-4 mark on the log, a pedestrian-at-best outcome.

Baseball is a sport rooted in failure, a game where getting a hit 30% of the time wins you praise and accolades. You’d get fired from just about any other job with a success rate like that, but you can earn yourself a spot in Cooperstown with that track record over an extended period of time.

All of that is to say: hey, losses happen in baseball—quite often, actually. That’s a reality that’s understood by everyone who follows it.

What can’t be tolerated, though, are the back-breaking losses Boston took on Friday and Saturday at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals. To quote Mikel Arteta (soccer manager for Arsenal FC in England, to all you red-blooded and meat-loving Americans who wouldn’t be caught DEAD watching that sickening sport): “I don’t accept these fucking standards.”

“WHEN I BLOW A SAVE, I AM UPSET!!!! WHEN I MAKE AN ERROR, I AM UPSET!!!!”

Wrapping back-to-back home games up with a bow on top and gifting them to the Cardinals is the type of behavior that makes me want to bash my head into a brick wall. Those are mistakes that can’t be made when you’re in a divisional race with four other teams that range in quality from “pretty good” to “setting the entire league ablaze similar to one of Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons.” The Red Sox have already had quite a few weird games that could’ve gone one way or the other—the first two games of the St. Louis series did not have to join that list, though.

And even with that disappointing home sweep in mind, the team deserves some credit for splitting a pair of games with Atlanta, one of the most talented—if not the most talented—team in all of baseball. Wednesday night’s win was a gutsy one, a victory that reminds you that this group of Sox has some fight to ‘em.

It’s that ability to grind out victories against tough opponents that makes sloppy defeats to teams that seem to be more inferior (the Cards aren’t in the same neighborhood as the Braves at this point, I don’t think I’m telling any tales out of school) even more frustrating.

So essentially: you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of life the week that was in Boston baseball. Let’s get into some specifics.

It’s Monday Morning Brushback time, y’all.

The Kenley Konundrum

St. Louis Cardinals v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Just a week ago, I was singing the praises of one Kenley Jansen. What a difference seven days can make, huh?

The week started off on a historic note for the Boston closer, as he notched his 400th career save against those Bravos Wednesday night. A two-run insurance dinger from Triston Casas helped the case in the 5-2 dubya, but Jansen was able to shut the door in a clean final frame.

Then, the St. Louis Cardinals happened. Two blown saves in as many games on Friday and Saturday. Real unserious behavior on display at America’s Most Beloved Ballpark, folks.

Call it fatigue (his velocity was down a bit on Friday night, an outing that saw him throw over 20 pitches), call it confusion with the pitch clock rules (which Chad Jennings of The Athletic explained was basically due to hitters not being fully in the box as Kenley began his motion), call it good ol’ Cardinal Devil Magic, call it what you want. However you explain it, it was certainly a weekend to forget for the newest member of the 400 Save Club.

I do think a few nights off would do Jansen some good. He’s otherwise been a stud out of the bullpen (other than that, Mrs. Lincoln...) but after two rough outings he might need a breather, especially considering that aforementioned drop in velo. Give him some time to get back on track while the rest of the ‘pen carries the load until the middle of this upcoming week; Chris Martin has looked great—he sounds even better, believe it or not—while I still trust Josh Winckowski with my livelihood even after his rough night at the office on Friday.

As for Kenley: I don’t want to give him a complete pass for the weekend, because he doesn’t deserve it, but he’s historically been fine after rough outings. Look at even just last year during his time with Atlanta: after surrendering three runs in his Braves debut, he coughed up just one in his next 14. He gave up as many earned runs in 15.1 innings from September 1 through October 4 games as he did in 1.1 innings in two games to wrap up August: four. When it was all said and done, Jansen had 41 saves and a 122 ERA+ in 2022. That’s nothing anyone in their right mind would complain about, warts and all.

Kenley, unfortunately, has this streak to him. Yet the track record of rebounding well does come with the bumps in the road. It’s infuriating to see two wins turn into two losses, of course, but I’m not yet worried about the closer.

Something I am worried about, though...

The Kiké Konundrum (Are You Sensing A Koncept Here?)

St. Louis Cardinals v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

I truly love Kiké Hernández. I appreciate what he’s brought to the clubhouse and watching him have fun with this team brings a smile to my face. My admiration for him was the topic of multiple posts on this very website during the cold off-season (I’m still upset that he wasn’t the cover star for MLB The Show this year, damnit!!!!!).

But part of loving someone is being brutally honest with them at times.

Kiké, my friend, you are not a shortstop.

Errors can be a misleading stat, sure, and shortstops are always up there with third basemen on the defensive gaffe leaderboard (is “leaderboard” the right term?) due to how demanding the left side of the infield is.

Yet there’s something to be said when the solution to Xander Bogaerts’ departure is leading MLB in errors. Javier Baez of the Tigers led the league in errors in 2022 with 26; Kiké has already made nine. There’s also something to be said when that same guy is tied with Washington’s CJ Abrams with -7 defensive runs saved, according to Savant, good for the lowest in the bigs—quite literally the bottom 1% of fielders. He’s also tied with Seattle’s J.P. Crawford with a league-worst -2.6 Ultimate Zone Rating, per FanGraphs. The scariest part of those last two statistics: Abrams has made 11 more starts at short than Kiké, while Hernández has played about 100 fewer innings at short than Crawford.

I can throw whatever traditional or advanced metrics I want at you until I’m blue in the face fingertips. The fact of the matter is that if you just watch Hernández at short and apply the tried and true eye test, you know that there’s something left to be desired. The play’s been sloppy, the decision making has not been up to par (that throw to first at the end of Saturday’s game should have never been made in the first place), it’s just been all stinky. It’s also not like his performances at the plate have been making up for the defensive shortcomings, either.

It’s hard to totally blame Kiké here, right? It’s not like he made the choice to make himself the regular shortstop. He didn’t let Xander walk. He didn’t sign Adalberto Mondesi while he was recovering from an injury and decide to leave it at that. Chaim Bloom and the front office’s work in the offseason has had its pros—the shortstop situation is not one of them, and that’s not Kiké’s fault.

The tricky thing is: I’m not sure what the solution is until Trevor Story is healthy. I don’t want the Bobby Dalbec shortstop experiment to continue if he comes back up from Worcester. Pablo Reyes had himself a fine Red Sox debut this weekend, but he’s never proven himself to be much of a difference maker offensively and has only played about 50 innings at short in the majors even after getting the starting nod Sunday night. Adalberto Mondesi has shown brilliance up the middle in the past when he’s been healthy (I know that is a MASSIVE qualifier when it comes to him), but it doesn’t sound like he’ll be reinforcing the infield at any point in the near future. I guess we’re just gonna be letting it ride with Hernández.

If that’s the case, buckle up.

No Konundrum for Khris (I’m Kinda Forcing It Now, Aren’t I?)

St. Louis Cardinals v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Amid the headaches of the past week were the triumphs of Chris Sale, who’s officially re-applying for the role of certified ace after a rocky start to the season.

The Condor followed up a quality start the weekend prior in Philadelphia with an eight inning gem against Saint Louayyy. Sale allowed just a sole Red Bird score on three hits and a walk while striking out nine. It was a vintage Sale outing—too bad it didn’t result in a win.

Naturally, one has to ask if Sale’s found his groove for good. We thought he had turned the corner for the better after his six strong innings last month at home against Minnesota—Baltimore then tagged him for five runs in as many innings in his next start afterwards.

Call me foolish, but I think we might be back here, folks!

Just about everything under the hood for Sale has looked good. He’s flirted with hitting triple digits recently, there’s lively movement in his arsenal, the strikeout upside is still there (19 outs by way of the K in his last 14 innings while his strikeout rate and chase rate are both around the 80th percentile), and his 3.77 FIP is a far cry from his 5.40 ERA—implying that he’s due for some positive regression going forward.

Sale was snake-bitten by hard hit balls earlier in the season, but he’s allowed just a 25% hard hit rate in his last pair of starts—only 15 pitchers across all of baseball can boast a better rate all year, for reference—bringing that stat on the year down to 35%. That’s good for the 71st percentile league-wide; it’s moving in the right direction. The less hard hit balls, the better!

Chris Sale doesn’t have to keep up this fantastic pace, but the ingredients are there for a successful run for the rest of the season. The Red Sox are going to need that recipe if they want to make 2023 a special year.

Song Of The Week: “Mansard Roof” by Vampire Weekend

First song off one of the best debut albums in recent memory to kick off your week. The weather’s been great as of late, making this a perfect time to break out the non-Modern Vampires of the City music from Ezra and the fellas (love that album—it’s actually my favorite VW album—but it’s more of a winter album in my book). Chris Tomson did not have to go this hard on the percussion, but I’m happy that he did.

Enjoy your week, amigos. Same time same place next Monday. Go Sox.

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