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MLB: Detroit Tigers at Boston Red Sox

Monday Morning Brushback: Welcome Back

The Red Sox week in review dives into Trevor Story, Chris Sale, and Garrett Whitlock.

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes, you just need a good scream.

A simple, strong, and straightforward expression of frustration to get bad vibes out of your system can do wonders. I’m glad the faceless and nameless oligarchy that runs Over The Monster gave me the opportunity to do so last Monday after the prior week’s disastrous slate of Red Sox rounders.

Since letting it all out, things have turned a bit for the better in Boston—still not great, surely, but it would’ve taken a lot for things to have gotten even more poopy. A walk-off grand slam will help those matters, as will two series wins against Kansas City and Detroit. Are those the stiffest of opponents? No, but those are the tests a team of this caliber should be passing. You can’t pick and choose who you go up against, but games like those against middling clubs who are already looking ahead to 2024 and beyond are the games that should be handled with relative ease—and that’s just what Boston did this past week.

That brings us further into the dog days of summer, with the Sox a few games out of a playoff spot as another road trip looms. The team is getting healthier—a theme for this edition of the Brushback, as you’ll soon see—but the days are getting shorter and the margin for error is getting more slim.

Long story short: hold onto your butts, folks. Gotta lock ourselves in like tree roots, because things could get interesting,

It’s Monday Morning Brushback time, y’all

The Story’s Next Chapter

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Boston Red Sox David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Boy, it’s sure nice to see YOU ‘round these parts again, Mr. Trevor Story!

The $140 Million Man returned to the Red Sox lineup this past week, hopefully providing some consistency to a middle infield corps that has been anything but stable since Spring Training. The group’s output during both the top and bottom of any given inning has been subpar: Boston’s shortstops have accumulated a collective -1.4 bWAR this season, while the second basemen have been good for a -1.8 bWAR.

That’s...not good! Inviting a Silver Slugger-caliber infielder who posted 10 outs above average in 2022 up the middle on defense back into the fold ain’t the worse way to fix that issue.

Story wrapped up his first week of the season with seven hits over 19 at-bats, including four doubles, along with three steals. The man had himself a nice lil’ defensive play on Sunday, too.

Utility Lou brought up an intriguing point on Twitter (not calling it what the man-child wants me to call it) the other day regarding numero diez:

I do think the general premise of that tweet (again: not calling it what Apartheid Clyde wants me to) is on the mark. I believe Story can be better in 2024, but I’m not even sure if he’ll be a full-on minus offensively in 2023—at least compared to what we’ve seen.

I get it if people want him to post at a high clip based on the money he’s making. That’s not an unfair sentiment.

But baseball’s fuckin’ hard, man. It’s especially hard if you haven’t consistently seen premier pitchers in about a year. Let the man get back into a groove (which he may have already done this past weekend! I dunno!) while he offers you reliable defense. That’s a godsend given what we’ve seen for the past few months from the middle infield.

Welcome back, Trev.

Fire Sale

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Boston Red Sox Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

Another welcome back (yet again) to Chris Sale!

The lefty tossed 4.2 innings against the Motor City Kitties during his first start in over two months, punching out seven while carrying a perfect line into the fifth frame. He wasn’t able to get that last out to clinch a decision in his favor (which annoyed me and many other fantasy baseball players, I’m sure), but that seems like nitpicking when you consider that Alex Cora was expecting just four innings of work from the 34-year-old.

While the end product was certainly nice, it was especially encouraging to see Sale’s velocity back up to what he was pumping earlier in the year. He wasn’t able to top out over 96.5 MPH on his fastball, but he was averaging around 95 all night—right in line with what we’ve seen from him this year when he’s been healthy. That quality on the heater mixed with his signature slider led to 12 swing-and-misses. I’ll take that!

I should give some pause before I get ahead of myself with Sale, because, y’know, *gestures vaguely towards his recent medical history*, but so far so good from him in his return. If the Red Sox want to make any noise this fall, they’re gonna need the big dogs like him to step it up.

The Boston pitching staff has been able to weather the injury storm without seeing the whole ship sink. Now, they have the chance to vault the team into the dance if (big “if”) they can stay healthy: a pair of serieseseseseseseseseseses against Houston await the Sox, along with dates against all four of their divisional foes. Translation: there’s plenty of chances to make up some ground.

To do that, they’re gonna need an effective Chris Sale.

Whit Fits In

Detroit Tigers v Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Another arm returned to the mix on Sunday, as Garrett Whitlock made his first appearance on the rubber since Independence Day weekend.

It was a good outing for Whit, hurling a pair of innings while allowing no hits or walks as he built the bridge to the Martin-Jansen duo late in their series-clinching win against the Tigers.

Inevitably, we will ask ourselves if Whitlock will be better off in the bullpen or in the rotation—put me in the former camp, at least until the end of this season.

Whit’s already been put on the shelf à la Wheezy in Toy Story 2 twice in 2023. Of course it’s great to see him back with the team, but for this final push he could be quite valuable in a stretch type of role. I had been a believer in his potential future as a starter, but given the nature of his current season I do think that he’d work best as a relief option. His numbers as a starter this season don’t exactly inspire a ton of confidence; he’s coughed up at least four earned runs in five of the nine times he’s pitched four or more innings.

Now, maybe he could be a starter going forward...or maybe not. I think he potentially could, but I dunno for sure. That picture’s still too murky. Ask me in January. Maybe we sign Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Maybe we sign Aaron Nola. Maybe we sign Shohei Ohtani!!!! I know the commenters are gonna love that last one.

Point is: that’s a thing to address in 2024. If the organization’s belief is that Whitlock can still emerge as a consistent starter, fine. Vaya con dios. But for now, I think he’s clearly a better relief option for the team, similar to what he was able to provide in 2021.

Song of the Week: “It Makes No Difference” by The Band

Robbie Robertson’s passing this past week got me on a bit of a Last Waltz kick, so enjoy this gem he wrote to begin the week. Enjoy the entire Last Waltz while you’re at it—they didn’t record “Caravan” for nothin’.

Same time and same place next week, friends! Go Sox.

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