Behind Enemy Lines: Chatting with Chris Sale and AL East Rivals Over the Monster

A new season means the return of a traditional series here at Bless You Boys. If this is your first season with us, let me introduce you Behind enemy lines, the Q&A which aims to provide expert information on the upcoming contest. We take the time to chat with the people running our sister sites and think about under-the-radar stars, who might be our biggest threat and what’s going on with their clubs.

To launch the first BEL of the new year, we spoke with Matt Collins, editor of the Red Sox site above the monsterto see what Sox fans think of their AL East competition and how hard it was to lose Chris Sale just before things got going.

BYB: Sale’s move to IL is obviously not what everyone wanted to see. How do you think the Red Sox will get around that this season, and how did the acquisition of Sale feel in retrospect?

OTM: Very carefully. Seriously, they’re basically going around the problem by crossing their fingers and hoping for the best. They added to their rotation (after losing your new friend Eduardo Rodriguez) by bringing in questionable veterans in Rich Hill and Michael Wacha, neither of whom are expected to take over from Sale. Instead, they’re hoping Tanner Houck can develop a third pitch and stay in the rotation, and/or James Paxton will be back from Tommy John sooner than expected (i.e. before the break) and can contribute significantly, and/or Garrett Whitlock finally makes it to the rotation and is as good there as he was in the bullpen. Their best bet of these three, at least in my opinion, is probably Whitlock. They also have Nick Pivetta, who is better than his days in Philadelphia and has his moments, but overall this rotation is Nathan Eovaldi and lots of prayer emojis.

As for acquiring Sale, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a Red Sox fan against that game. Even the biggest potential huggers can agree that he totally changed that rotation and was one of the main reasons they had their best season in franchise history in 2018, with his strikeout to win. the title. The part that remains in the air from a perception point of view is the extension of the contract. He’s barely pitched at all since signing that new contract, and when he pitched it, it largely didn’t look pretty. I think at the time it was a deal that you had to do because, well, it’s Chris Sale, but there’s really no positive spin you can put on how that has worked so far.

BYB: The AL East is looking to be the toughest division in baseball this year, where do you think the Sox stand and what is their biggest competition?

OTM: I think on paper the Red Sox are probably fourth in this division, which sounds worse than what you’re saying about the strength of the division. Boston’s offense is good enough to hang out with most of these teams, I think, but their throwing has more questions and less upside. The gap between them and first place isn’t so big that it would be a complete shock if they won, but I think if you look at these teams objectively, it’s hard to say that the Red Sox are clearly better than any of the others. As for the biggest competition, it has to be Toronto. I think I like throwing them more than most, and their offense speaks for itself. Add to that the inherent advantage of being in Canada and all the vaccination rules that surround it, and they should be the favorites to win, even if it’s by no means a given.

BYB: Coming out of spring training, which players are you most excited for this season?

OTM: It’s a bit like cheating, but I’m going with Rafael Devers. He was already arguably the team’s best player before this season, but he looks set to take another leap. And in the first two games (I’m writing this ahead of Sunday’s series finale in New York), it looks like he should be mentioned at least near some of the best young hitters in the game. He’s not a Soto or a Vlad, but I think he’s on the lower level and could be near the top of that level. His defense remains a question, but even there I think he can grow and really become an MVP candidate.

BYB: Obviously a small sample, but who surprised you the most, for better or for worse, in those opening matches?

OTM: Like I said, I’m writing this before I saw the final game, but I’m surprised by Alex Verdugo’s good left field. His defensive stock has taken a hit since arriving in Boston, and he’s now essentially a left-field-only player. He’s made some huge plays early this season, though, and alongside Enrique Hernández and Jackie Bradley Jr. should be a pretty good defensive back. And that’s a good thing for the Red Sox too because their home defense is, uh, a little worse.

BYB: Bold prediction: Which Red Sox players will represent the team at the 2022 All-Star Game?

OTM: I don’t know how daring it is, but I’m going to go Devers, Xander Bogaerts, Trevor Story and Nathan Eovaldi. If I have to be daring, I’ll go with Garrett Whitlock as fifth.

BYB: Which player on the Tigers roster are you most worried about this upcoming series?

OTM: I have to say I’m really intrigued by this roster from Detroit and I think they’ll be dashing Wild Card contenders at the very least throughout. Part of me means Rodriguez, although I’m more excited than worried, not because I don’t think he’ll be good, but more because I just love watching him pitch. I already miss this change. Guess I’ll go with Austin Meadows, partly out of familiarity. Someone like Torkelson does it too, but it’s mostly by reading about him rather than seeing him. I’ve seen what Meadows can do for a few years now, and with the Red Sox set to start two right-handers with Whitlock, a right-hander, set to piggyback after Hill, it’s almost three in the series. Like I said, I know what Meadows can do against right-handers when he’s playing.

Many thanks to Matt for taking the time to talk to us. If you want to know more about his work, check out above the monster.