Going into the 2019 season, the team to beat in the American League on most experts’ was the Boston Red Sox. And then the season started, and... they didn’t do so great. And they kept not doing great.
Right up until the past weekend, the Red Sox had not won a single series in the regular season. With a sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays, however, the Sox are looking to keep the momentum going as they climb their way back up the AL East standings.
We took a moment to talk to Matt Collins, the managing editor of Over the Monster, SB Nation’s excellent Red Sox community, about what has been holding the Red Sox back this season, and where they might look to gain steam going forward.
BYB: How badly do you think the Red Sox needed that sweep in Tampa Bay this weekend, especially given the red hot start the Rays were off to?
MC: I think it can be very easy to overplay the importance of an April series, but that really felt huge for the Red Sox. Mostly I think it was big mentally. During and after the two-game sweep at the hands of the Yankees you could see the body language of the players that they were down on themselves and the slump was starting to get to them. Mookie Betts in particular was looking more and more stressed with every plate appearance. Even just winning the series would have been big to get spirits in the right direction, but this result was huge. It’s also worth mentioning that they were down eight games in the division heading into this weekend. Being swept felt like a real possibility heading into the weekend, and if that had happened it would have been an 11-game deficit. It’s too early to look at the standings, of course, but at the same time....eleven is a lot of games.
Speaking of starts, the Red Sox are off to a much slower start than anyone anticipated, what do you think the key factors have been for them? Where do you see them finishing the season?
It’s hard not to point to their approach in spring training where they really eased everyone into action. At the time, you couldn’t really blame Alex Cora for this, as he has always proven to be someone who favors rest for everyone. After the long run the previous fall, it made sense for him to take it easy on the regulars in spring. It showed much more than anyone anticipated in the regular season, though. The starters were terrible to start the year, the hitters struggled with timing and they were making dumb and frustrating mistakes on the bases and in the field. Turns out spring training is pretty important.
What do you make of the decision to DFA Blake Swihart? Was there just no room for him?
This was a weird decision, not because Swihart is so good that it’s shocking they wouldn’t want him but because they had a chance to do this before the season. They had three catchers and had to choose which one to cut loose, and Swihart won the battle over Sandy León. The latter was a favorite of the pitching staff, though, and with the rotation struggling so badly I think the Red Sox were desperate to find something to turn things around and León was a Hail Mary attempt waiting in the wings. Swihart was extremely not the issue with the pitching staff, but he was caught in a tough situation and he was sort of scapegoated as a result.
How big of a difference will it make to get Brock Holt back? Are you at all worried about the recent delay in his rehab assignment?
It’s hard to know what to think of this injury since it’s such a weird one. Holt was playing with his son when he got poked in the eye and scratched his cornea. I honestly have no idea how long that takes to fully heal. Holt is a big piece of this roster if he is playing well, but at the same time they have other backup infielders that can fill this role. Right now that is Tzu-Wei Lin and Michael Chavis, both of whom were just called up before this past weekend’s series in Tampa.
Is Brock Holt is real name?
His full name is Brock Holt \o/
How much do you feel like the team is missing Kimbrel right now? With rumors abuzz that he might sign a one-year deal somewhere, do you think the Sox might try to make a deal?
It was extremely frustrating that the Red Sox went all winter without adding to their bullpen aside from trading for Colten Brewer. Kimbrel was the most obvious player to add and that he’s still on the table is even more frustrating. Boston is solid in the late innings with Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier, but their depth behind them is lacking and they could really use at least one more arm to put in high leverage situations with those two. I don’t think they’re going to make a run at Kimbrel, though. They have shown zero interest in the relief market in general since the end of last season, and I don’t think that will change now.
Who would you consider to be an under-the-radar player with the club right now that most people outside of Boston sports might not be aware of?
This is kind of a hard questions because the Red Sox have a lot of stars, and a lot of their non-stars just aren’t playing that well. I’ll go with Matt Barnes, though. A lot of people are probably familiar with him, but I’m not sure he’s fully appreciated. I know he’s not fully appreciated in Boston. Last year he struck out 14 batters per nine innings with an elite 2.21 DRA and so far this year he has 17 strikeouts in 8.1 innings, which is just absurd.
Which Tigers player do you think will pose the biggest problems for the Sox this series?
Matt Boyd is exactly the kind of guy who has given the Red Sox problems over the years. Obviously he’s been fantastic early this year, and Boston has had some weird problems in lefties. It seems strange since they have Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts from the right side, but a lot of their secondary pieces hit from the left side and really struggle with southpaws. He’s also not a big velocity guy but seems to rely more on craft and command. That’s a perfect storm for the Red Sox lineup a lot of the time.
We want to thank Matt for taking the time to chat with us ahead of this series and offer some insight on what’s going on with the other Dombrowski club. You can read more of his work at Over the Monster, or follow him on Twitter @MattRyCollins.