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Boston Red Sox v Arizona Diamondbacks

Monday Morning Brushback: The Memorial Day Checkpoint

The Red Sox week in review dives into offensive woes, Tanner Houck, and the Boston Celtics—wrong sport, we know.

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The inner machinations of this baseball team’s collective mind are an enigma.

One day, the 2023 Red Sox look like world-beaters, showing their ability to hang tough with the best talent in the bigs. The next, they look like they’ve never even so much as seen the equipment used to play the sport. If only there were a chocolate-related quote from an Academy Award-winning film to explain this phenomenon. Oh well.

Boston’s volatile résumé has been good enough for a 2-4 mark (“good enough” is not the right term there, is it?) since we last spoke and an overall record of 28-25 as we sit here on Memorial Day—the unofficial beginning of the summer season and the general milestone used by many baseball fans to check who’s in the playoff conversation and who’s not. With both the ups and the downs in mind, the Red Sox do appear to be on the fringes of that conversation—who knows how long they will be, though. I can’t read the future.

Even with the hiccups of this past week, there are reasons to be optimistic. The pitching staff has notably gotten healthier and deeper when you take a step back and look at the big picture. I spoke about it in depth last Monday, but it’s surely better to have too many pitching options than not enough; the Red Sox, for now, fall into the former.

As for the offense...well, we’ll get into the offense.

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

Putting the “Off” in “Offense”

MLB: MAY 23 Red Sox at Angels Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It was a quiet week at the dish for the Red Sox, as they were able to push more than two guys across in just two games. Pretty gross behavior!

That was especially the case right down the road from Disneyland, as the Angels held Boston to just four runs on 14 hits—only four of which were for extra bases—across three games en route to a sweep in Anaheim. The bats also left much to be desired Saturday night and Sunday afternoon in the desert; thankfully, Garrett Whitlock is Him and the Red Sox’s pair of runs were enough to secure a series win on Saturday. Fifteen strikeouts for the offense against the Diamondbacks on Sunday was disgusting to witness, though.

The offense has been generally cold ever since getting shutout last Sunday against San Diego. It’s easy to chalk up a bad night or two tough luck or say “hey, shit happens.” But when it’s the primary contribution to dropping tilts in a row to a team that also figures to be right in the thick of the wild card race, it’s worth mentioning.

Yet I’m not worried about the offense. I’m not concerned at all, as a matter of fact. Not even a single instance of me fretting!

Bad days at the office do happen. The season is long. If you want to get into sample sizes, this stretch of below-par hitting doesn’t wash away what was accomplished in the nearly two month period that preceded it. Despite the muted output at the plate recently, Boston still entered play on Sunday in the top 5 across MLB in total runs, doubles, batting average, on-base percentage, and OPS. Per Savant (who does not sponsor me or these posts, I swear...although my DMs are open in case they want to make that happen), rolling xwOBA metrics for guys like Triston Casas, Rafael Devers, Justin Turner, and Alex Verdugo are either pointing in the right direction or maintaining a level well north of mediocrity.

What are you going to put more stonk into on Memorial Day: the Red Sox offense you saw prior to May 21, or the Red Sox offense you saw after May 21? I know my answer.

Plus, Trevor Story and Adam Duvall both seem to be making progress towards their respective returns from injury. Story’s presence in the lineup will figure to help, while Duvall has already shown what upside he can offer to deepen an already solid lineup.

Don’t worry about the offense, my friends.

Et Tu, Tanner?

Boston Red Sox v Los Angeles Angels Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Oh, Tanner Houck. Tanner, Tanner, Tanner. What to do with you, my friend?

There’s no question that Tanner Houck has some nasty stuff to offer on the hill; I think we can all agree on that. When a fastball-slider (more like a sinker in Houck’s case) combination is working, it’s tough to beat. And to his credit, we’ve seen flashes of his effectiveness whenever he’s handed the ball.

Houck was given the starting nod last Monday in Anaheim, entering the game with a 5.48 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP—far for what you’d consider, I dunno, “good,” but more indicative to his ability to get into sticky situations. His starts had been defined by its highlights and lowlights together; plenty of innings where things went swimmingly, and more than his fair share of blow-up frames.

It was a whole heap of quality against the Halos, though, as he cruised through six stanzas while allowing just one run on three hits and two walks. The eight strikeouts didn’t hurt, either! It was a shame that such a great outing didn’t result in the win, but the concept of Tanner Houck as a starter was on full display.

So what does the man do to follow that up? Try four earned runs in as many innings on for size. Arizona logged six hits against Houck on Sunday, including two that left the yard. The quartet of punch outs were fine, I guess, but the damage was already done.

In a way, that start against the Diamondbacks was the essential snapshot of the Tanner Houck experience when he opens games. Two tough innings, two one-two-three innings, mix it all together and you know that it’s the best of both worlds a bleh game. This has been the story of Houck as a starter: a few good innings damaged by a few bad apples.

It’s for that reason why I think Houck would be best serve as a reliver who gives you two to three innings a game. We’ve all seen the effectiveness when he’s cookin’! The blowup inning came early in Arizona, but typically it’s happened after the first time through the order.

Betting on Houck to shut down the opposition when they’ve already seen a different starter a time or two is not a bad wager. I believe using him in relief for a couple of innings at a time here and there could be a great way to shorten games, to bridge the gap to late inning options like Chris Martin or Kenley Jansen (hey’s, that’s almost exactly what I said in last week’s post!).

We’ve seen how well Josh Winckowski has been in 2023 when utilized in a similar role, and I already laid out why I think Kutter Crawford could work as the fifth starter last week—why can’t Houck be used like that as well?

Three—Potentially Four—Days in May

Boston Celtics v Miami Heat - Game Six Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

I want to wrap up the blog this week with a tip of the cap to the Boston Celtics, who have the potential to become another Boston-based team to come back and win a playoff semifinal series after falling down three games to none. I don’t need to remind you, dear reader, of what other team in the city did just that............

..........

..................but I’m gonna remind ya anyways!!!!

“At center, from the College of the Holy Cross, Dan Shaughnessy.”

Flashback to the game three loss in Miami, a pathetic drubbing to pin the Celtics’ backs against the wall that resembled the 19-8 massacre the Yankees carried out at Fenway back in 2004. The “don’t let us win today” comparisons came pouring in on Twitter.

Admittedly, I was not feeling that vibe.

The 2004 Red Sox charged back in Yankee Stadium to make the first two tilts of that ALCS close—that especially was the case for game one. The Celtics, meanwhile, choked away the opening pair of matchups on their own home floor—that was especially true for the second game.

But that’s in the past and the script has been flipped. The Celtics, win or lose Monday night, have shown a commendable fighting spirit with their season on the line. They’ve fought up until the literal last millisecond, giving an effort that would make fellas like Bill Mueller, Dave Roberts, and (of course) David Ortiz smile. It’s a complete night and day difference and it’s a performance that, if successful in the end, would be worthy of a 2004 comparison after all.

It’s so goddamn hard to even get to the ALCS or the Eastern Conference Finals, never mind to dig yourself out of your own grave. Not that you need me telling you this, but don’t ever forget how special those four days in October was—and how special these four days in May could become.

I’m really hoping I end up eating crow after my takeaways when the Heat jumped in front 3-0. Go C’s baby, love da C’s.

Song Of The Week: “Dance The Night” by Dua Lipa

Call off the search, everyone. Save your time. The calendar hasn’t even turned over to June and we’ve already found the song of the year. Queen Dua did it again.

Until next Monday, my friends! Go Sox.

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