One step forward, one step back; that’s what you can expect with the 2023 Red Sox. The club’s win streak they entered this past week with was obviously going to get snapped at some point, yet the team arguably should’ve finished the slate with a 5-2 record—maybe 4-3 at worst.
But I guess we’re gonna have to deal with 3-4. Things like bullpen hiccups and some stinky fundamentals directly led to two of the four recent Boston losses, while the team looked flat during the finales against both the Twinkies and the Pale Hose. A losing record on the road against teams in the worst division in baseball, PU.
Some of those blemishes took some of the shine out of other dazzling performances. There are certainly some positives to take from this past week—and we’ll get into them shortly—but with a tight playoff race set to heat up as we move closer to the All-Star break and the trade deadline, dropping winnable games can make your blood boil. If my fuzzy math is right (it often isn’t; math was never my best subject in school), then I count seven teams in the AL wild card chase all within six games of each other; the margin for error ain’t big in this league.
It’s Monday Morning Brushback time, y’all.
He’s a Brick...Casa
The contingency of Red Sox fans who were bellyachin’ over Triston Casas’ manicures (you know who you are) have gotta be punching at air as they watch the young first baseman’s continued development on offense. I mean, did you see that tater he hit against the Twins?! It made me feel ALIVE.
Triston Casas - Boston Red Sox (8)— MLB HR Videos (@MLBHRVideos) June 20, 2023
Houses started the year off slowly in terms of surface level production; there isn’t a way to deny that. His OPS in 26 games from Opening Day through May 1 was .563. That wasn’t gonna cut it, of course. Yet here we are towards the end of June, as he’s raised that season-long mark up nearly 200 points; an .848 OPS this month certainly helps that cause.
The skill set has been there from the start with Triston. We all know he’s a big beefy baseball boy with raw power. We’ve seen him display a good sense of plate discipline — the man clearly eats his carrots because his eye sight is fantastic. The numbers under the hood will tell you all of that if you don’t believe me: Savant has both his barrel rate and his walk rate among the top 10% of all hitters, while his expected slugging and hard hit metrics are also impressive.
We’ve seen the blueprint for success for Casas; it just wasn’t manifesting in the flesh at the start of his rookie season. But that’s baseball, baby.
Progression isn’t linear. It’s almost like it can take a 23-year-old some time to get his feet wet. It’s almost like he’s always been a gifted hitter and after some additional exposure to top-tier pitching, he’s starting to come around with legit production. It’s almost like his quality of contact suggested he was due for some positive regression (which is the proper term, by the way).
I don’t know if the average fan has been spoiled after watching young stars like Bryce Harper, Adley Rutschman, or Julio Rodriguez come up in recent years and immediately make an impact, but we’ve seen plenty of people have sluggish starts to their career only to develop into key parts of contending clubs—does the name Dustin Pedroia ring a bell?
Triston Casas is proving to us that’s he’s gonna be juuuuuuust fine. He should not be sent down to AAA, he should not be traded, and he should not do anything else besides be himself and cook in the Red Sox lineup for years to come.
The All-Too-Familiar Injury Bug
The Red Sox’s luck with injuries in recent memory has been nonexistent.
The string of maladies that plagued the team in 2022 has returned in 2023. We haven’t seen Trevor Storyyyyyy, we just lost Chris Sale and Tanner Houckkkkkk, our pets’ HEADS ARE FALLIN’ OFF!
This week was no different, as Pablo Reyes was placed on the IL due to an abdominal strain, while James Paxton had to be lifted from his start in Chicago on Saturday with a knee issue. Big Maple himself said that his knee shouldn’t be a major problem going forward, which is a positive development, but his early exit was enough to impact the outcome for the rest of the afternoon as the bullpen did not do him many favors in relief.
I don’t want injuries to be used as an excuse for the club’s eventual final record—the 2022 team was not going to compete for a title even with a clean bill of health, while this iteration of the Red Sox has had their fair share of blunders that have had nothing to do with injuries.
Yet you can’t blame a freelance blogger on a cool SB Nation website from thinking about what the team could be doing if they were able to fire on all cylinders with everyone in the mix—well, maybe you can blame that guy, but I’d prefer if you didn’t. Does the shortstop quagmire get resolved if Story’s ready to go from day one? How would Chris Sale be able to build on the hot streak he built up prior to his latest bump in the road?
Who knows the answer to any of these questions. What we do know, however, is that now the starting rotation is getting more and more thin while the middle infield situation remains in flux, all thanks to that pesky injury bug. Whether or not there are transactions coming down the pipe to resolve those challenges remains to be seen. For now, it’s all hands on deck.
Brayan Bello: Officially Him
I’m ready to call it now: the Red Sox have, at long last, developed a legit starting pitcher.
Even when Brayan Bello hasn’t had his best stuff as of late...it’s still been pretty good. It’s like pizza, y’know? A bad pizza, generally speaking, still tastes fine. That’s Brayan Bello.
Over his last three starts against a pathetic organization and the White Sox, he’s tossed 20.2 innings while logging a 1.74 ERA, a 0.92 WHIP, and 16 strikeouts. That’s the good stuff, baby.
I wanted to take this time to highlight my favorite aspect of the 24-year-old’s arsenal: his changeup. Goodness gracious, is it pretty.
Brayan Bello, Wicked Changeups.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 24, 2023
2Ks in the 1st. pic.twitter.com/b2ylhEwMlx
Bello’s throwing his changeup—which is probably his best offering—roughly a fifth of the time this season. Like any effective pitcher, the change works best playing off of his other primary pitches: his sinker and his four-seamer.
Tell me if you see what I’m seeing, though. I’m seeing some absolutely beautiful developments with the off-speed stuff. TAke a look, y’all:
What makes that changeup so effective is the way Bello mixes it in with the heater and the sinker. He’s consistently able to dot that change in that arm-side corner—low-and-in to righties, low-and-away to lefties. With the four-seamer there to change the eye level, the sinker there to add some movement to that side of the plate, and the slider there to keep hitters honest on the glove-side part of the dish, Bello’s changeup becomes a punishing pitch.
When you look at the way Bello varies his approach on the bump and hurls that changeup, it’s not surprising that hitters have only been able to hit .197 and slug .230 off of it. And it’s not like he’s cheating death with it: the expected batting average and expected slugging percentage against Bello’s changeup are actually lower than the surface level numbers. Long story short: Bello’s change has been fantastic.
The bravado that the young starter has is up to snuff, too. The dude gets hyped, and it’s hard not to get hyped up watching him.
I think it’s official, folks: Brayan Bello is HIM.
Song Of The Week: “Always Where I Need To Be” by The Kooks
I’ve been on a big FIFA soundtrack kick recently — guys will literally listen to late-2000’s and early 2010’s video game soundtracks instead of going to therapy — and this bop came on as I was thinking of which song to pick for this week’s post. So, bada bing bada boom, there ya go. Enjoy this track from a very underrated group.
Same time and same place next week, friends! Go Sox.