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Monday Morning Brushback: The Last Stand

The Red Sox week in review dives into James Paxton, Trevor Story, and Ceddanne Rafaela.

Boston Red Sox v Kansas City Royals Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

The rubber is just about to get itself acquainted with the road, folks.

The start of this past week of Red Sox action was just about as bad as one could possibly imagine: a rout at home to the hands of a direct wild card rival. Poor Kyle Barraclough, man. That drubbing by the Houston Astros ushered in four more straight losses, as Boston saw its chances of playing meaningful baseball late in the campaign dwindle. It appeared that, unlike Earth, Wind, and Fire, the Red Sox would not be dancing in September.

A pair of wins on Saturday and Sunday in Kansas City against the Royals (who, of course, don’t provide the toughest test in baseball; can’t pick who ya play) leaves the Sox at 5.5 games out of a playoff spot. Qualifying for the postseason is certainly not an impossible task, but that’s quite a bit of ground to make up. The writing looks to be on the wall: this is mission critical time, and Boston better heat up.

As I mentioned last week, it feels like I’ve been saying something along the lines of “Boston better heat up” since the trade deadline. Makes me sound like a bit of a basket case, doesn’t it?

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

Big Maple Syrup

Los Angeles Dodgers v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Hindsight is 20/20. Sometimes we all wish we could turn back time (shout out to Cher). That might include Chaim Bloom and the Red Sox front office, because the post-deadline James Paxton experience is a ride that I would like to get off.

In 26 innings of work across six outings since the start of August, the lefty has been whacked with a 7.62 ERA and a 1.96 WHIP—that’s 38 hits and 13 free passes, for those of you scoring at home. His last trio of starts have netted only 9.2 innings. During that stretch, his season-long ERA has skyrocketed from 3.34 to 4.50. Yeesh.

Paxton’s struggles really came to a head Friday night in KC, as the Royals lit him up like a Christmas tree. 10 batters faced, a six pack of runs on five hits and two walks. Thanks for comin’ out, James.

The thing is, things under the hood for Paxton weren’t a disaster prior to the Royals start. His average fastball velocity on the year has sat right around 95 MPH, which is what was to be expected earlier in his career before his injury issues crept in.

Therein lies a massive problem for Big Maple, though: sure, the fastball is still zippy...but it’s especially zippy when guys are making contact with it. The exit velocity numbers on the heater during Friday night’s slugfest alone paint the picture: a homer from Salvador Perez that left the bat at 104.5 MPH, a Nelson Velazquez double that jumped off at 108.7 MPH, and a 104 MPH Maikel Garcia single to end Paxton’s night were the headliners.

It seems pretty simple to me: get hit hard, give up more runs.

After it became clear that Paxton was going to stick around for Boston’s second half run, I assumed he’d be given the qualifying offer by the Red Sox brass for 2024. It would cover their butts if he eventually walks in free agency, and it would be short money for a starter who was very solid earlier in the year if he accepted the deal.

Now, I cannot fathom Chaim Bloom giving him that offer.

The Story So Far

Houston Astros v Boston Red Sox Photo by Brian Fluharty/Getty Images

The offensive funk for Trevor Story continued this past week, and it might run through the end of the season at this rate.

Over his last 16 games, the infielder is hitting just .121 with a homer and five rib eyes. That’s just not what you want to see from him, especially given his contract. The OPS on his abridged season is just below .500 at the time of publication, he’s striking out at around a 35% clip (compared to a career rate of 28.1%), and he’s shaved his walk rate down to around half of what you’d typical expect from him. This all comes with the caveat that his sample size is still small, but those are concerning developments nevertheless.

Well...maybe not overly concerning given some extra context, no? It wouldn’t be unfair of you, dear reader, to hold Story up to a higher standard considering the money on the books dedicated to him. In fact, I think I’d agree with you to an extent.

But I’m willing to chalk a lot of his struggles at the plate recently to the fact that he’s been working his way back from injury and isn’t fully up to speed just yet. Hitting at this level ain’t something you can just flip on and off. With this being an essentially lost season at the plate for Story, I think he can bounce back in 2024 following a normal off-season of prep and a regular spring training. Hey—at least his hard hit rate is still solid thus far. That’s something to build off!

And besides, don’t you remember the defensive nightmares that plagued the Red Sox earlier this season? Yeah, I’m sure you do. Trevor’s been steady up the middle with the leather, and I don’t expect that to change.

As our own Phil Neuffer pointed out, Story already leads the club in defensive runs saved. Now is that the most impressive bar to clear? No, especially considering that this Red Sox team might be—without exaggeration—the worst I’ve seen when it comes to defense. I’d have to think on that one to be certain, but they’re surely in that conversation. But again: we’re talkin’ about a small sample size for Story.

Remember: it could always be worse. Consider me hopeful for Story’s 2024 bounce back bid.

Hey Rookie, Welcome to MLB

Houston Astros v Boston Red Sox Photo by Paul Rutherford/Getty Images

We finally got to see Ceddanne Rafaela make his MLB debut! That was cool!

The native of Curacao singled in his first plate appearance in the bigs, an accomplishment he’s worked years for and one he’ll surely remember fondly for the rest of his life. I’m a sucker for those moments in baseball.

He then immediately proceeded to register his first TOOTBLAN in a Red Sox uniform. That’s “thrown out on the basepaths like a nincompoop” for those unaware. Yeah, he’s already getting used to how we do things in Boston.

Our fearless leader Dan Secatore did a good job reviewing Rafaela’s profile, but the TLDR is this: the glove could legitimately be one of the best in baseball already and he profiles to be a defensive anchor in center going forward, but the bat is still a massive mystery. The pits and the peaks have both been on display at the dish: his swing rate in AAA this year was north of 50%—the dude would rather die than take a pitch—but his OPS was nearly 1,000 over 48 games for the WooSox, thanks in part to 14 round trippers. Thanks for pulling those stats up, Dan!

The answer to the Rafaela upside question will come in time. For now, I think Alex Cora should try to get him into the lineup or sub him in as much as he can. If the Red Sox are gonna fall out of the playoff race anyways, they might as well let the kid get his feet wet before they determine what role he can play next year and beyond.

Welcome to the show, Ceddanne.

Song of the Week: “Come Monday” by Jimmy Buffett

With the passing of Jimmy Buffett on this Labor Day weekend, the choice for SOTW was easy. This is my favorite track of his. Rest in peace to the king—have a margarita if you so please on this holiday in his honor.

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