By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
Three questions to ponder as the Red Sox open a three-game series against the New York Yankees on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium:
How important are these head-to-head games with the Yankees?
Obvious, right? But try to think of it in these terms. This morning, the Red Sox are 25-9. The Yankees are 24-10. Take away the three-game series the teams played against one another last month in Boston – the Red Sox took 2-of-3 – and both clubs possess identical records of 23-8.
The point? Whoever wins the head-to-head affairs might very well win the division.
To date, the Red Sox and Yankees are exactly what we thought they were – two of the three or four best teams in the American League. (The Red Sox might actually be a little better than we anticipated.) As such, Boston and New York will likely beat up on the opposition with great regularity – especially with much of baseball in tank mode – and so the head-to-head games might very well decide the American League East.
Don’t write off these games. Neither Boston nor New York wants anything to do with that Wild Card play-in game. One of these clubs could win close to (or more than) 100 games and finish second. That’s hardly ideal.
Why is Jackie Bradley Jr. still playing so much?
A: Good question, but a change seems imminent.
More than 20 percent of the season is now gone and these are Bradley’s numbers: a .178 average, 28 strikeouts vs. 19 hits, a .535 OPS. That last number ranks 84th among the 87 qualifying American League players for the batting title and last among all qualifying center fielders.
The Red Sox are obviously winning, so what’s the big deal, right? But over the weekend, manager Alex Cora was asked about the play of Mitch Moreland (.347 average, 1.060 OPS) and offered an interesting answer.
“He’s putting pressure on the manager to play more,” Cora said Sunday. “I like that.”
The ripple effect is simple. Moreland plays first, Hanley Ramirez becomes the designated hitter and J.D. Martinez goes to left field. That moves Andrew Benintendi to center and bumps Bradley to the bench. Whether Cora does that in New York remains to be seen because playing Martinez in the more spacious left field at Yankee Stadium is a disaster waiting to happen. (Martinez could play right, but that would mean moving Mookie Betts to center field or to left.)
Regardless, it feels like Bradley is in trouble – and he should be. The only question is whether Moreland is the best alternative, which brings us to …
Q: What is the Red Sox’ plan with Blake Swihart?
A: At this stage, he feels like nothing more than trade bait.
Maybe it’s just me, but why do I feel like the Red Sox have destroyed this kid’s career? Swihart played pretty well as a rookie in 2015 (.274 average, .711 OPS.) Then the Sox moved him to left field, where he hurt his ankle. Then they moved him back to catcher and he got hurt again. Now he’s out of minor-league options – which means the Red Sox can’t demote him without exposing him to waivers – and they don’t want to just give him away. So he’s on the roster. Rotting.
Worse yet? Cora has said he has no intention to play Swihart at catcher, even though the Red Sox have had the worst offensive production at the position in all of baseball.
Here’s an idea: left field. Again, maybe New York isn’t the best place to do it at the outset. But Swihart is a better outfielder than Martinez and he has more long-term value than Moreland. Trading him in July certainly makes some sense because it allows the Sox to assess their needs and the marketplace, but would you rather have Swihart or Moreland on this team next year and beyond?
The bottom line: Swihart should be getting at least some of the playing time that Bradley loses. Plain and simple.