1. A good litmus test of whether a runaway division leader has gone into cruise mode is if they just casually allow themselves to be firebombed for 25 runs over a three-game sweep by a woebegone fourth-place team that averages under four runs per game. Having their ace (Johnny Cueto) shelled and getting beat by a busted prospect restoration project (Erik Johnson) 7-5 on Sunday was the liveliest and closest effort the Royals managed the entire weekend.
This was either a telling example of a division-winner with little to play for taking their foot off the gas, or a telling example of how much of a slump the Royals are in, or goes to show that the Sox bats are not bad enough to stay as awful as they had been all season.
Of course, if they had put their half-season of good play in the first three months of the season, it would have encouraged aggressive addition at the deadline.
2. Erik Johnson's start was, uh...interesting. He went six innings, allowed three runs on five hits, and struck out three while walking none on just 86 pitches. Hey, that sounds ok! It was ok, but there were a lot of disparate events. So much so that even in this numbered list of random thoughts, I feel the urge to break this into bullet points.
--The first thing jumping out at me watching Johnson is that I spent two months clamoring for the opportunity to watch a guy who is, if he works out, probably a No. 4 starter. "Consistently better than John Danks," is a complement we could extend to him unironically. He's going to save the team a lot of money if he can provide that performance consistently, but still.
--Johnson gave up three solo home runs. Those were the only runs he allowed, and he was generally great at preventing baserunners, but most three-homer starts are terrible starts. His control of his fastball was spotty throughout the day, he was consistently zipping his heater off the plate by six inches to a foot, but making up for it by sneaking offspeed stuff for strikes enough to keep things honest.
The Sal Perez home run that opened the scoring was actually rather insane. Johnson went high and outside at 93 mph, and Perez not only went out and got it but drove it out to right, which is just monstrous strength. Mike Moustakas got a fastball more set up on a tee for him, and Jarrod Friggin' Dyson got a hanging curve/high changeup disaster piece and somehow turned on it right out of the park despite being a very small gentleman who generally excels at things that are not hitting home runs
--In aggregate, neither Johnson's stuff or command seemed standout. He can make mistakes over the zone, and when he does, neither his curve or fastball are hard enough that they won't get hammered. He's gonna have to rely on filling up the zone, stealing strikes and staying ahead of the count, because he doesn't want to be challenging hitters in hitter's counts very often.
--The poor fella got hit with a broken bat shard that nearly speared him in the head when he duck and covered. It's always the overly serious and intense guys having comical misfortune happen to them.
--Johnson was pretty much cruising, with just the nutty Sal Perez home run against him, until that nightmarish sixth inning. With the stripped-down and aggressive Royals lineup, his approach seemed on point and I would downplay concern about the lack of whiffs, since pitching backwards is not conducive to huge strikeout numbers. Better yet, the fifth inning saw him grab a pair of strikeouts by revving up his fastball to hit 94 mph, and he sat comfortably between 91-94 mph the whole day. Oddness aside, he looked strong and capable and deserving of more MLB outings.
3. When Johnson's next start will be does not seem to be a breathlessly reported story. After Sept. 10, the Sox don't have a day off until Sept. 28, including a doubleheader on the 21st, so a sixth starter will probably come in handy during that stretch.
UPDATE: Hey now
4. Put a mark on the schedule for the Frankie Montas start. Erik Johnson's style might be as exciting as getting a deal at Costco on a year's supply of kitchen sponges, but Montas starting is like trying find out if it's possible to cook a steak with the heat from firecrackers.
The only question is what Montas is going to do to stay active and stretched-out in the mean time. The Sept. 21 doubleheader seems like the obvious opportunity for him.
5. Getting equal fanfare with Johnson for some reason, was the Sox acquiring third baseman Mike Olt off waivers and starting him Sunday (and Monday). Olt is a third base flier for a team that needs to be open to entertaining fliers, but at this point is twice stepped-on. After careening out of top prospect status via head and eye issues in Texas, Olt was a reclamation project throw-in in a trade with the Cubs for Matt Garza, and made the worst of his shot to hold down third base in the days before Kris Bryant's ascension.
Though he once boasted the potential for 20+ home run power combined with a good glove at third, Olt's contact issues and advanced age had some caution being thrown on his upside even in his Texas system glory days. In actual MLB playing time, he's been the actual embodiment of "only hits home runs" offense that Sox fans usually complain about, showing good raw power but flirting with an unplayable 40% K-rate.
With no-hit types like Tyler Saladino, Gordon Beckham and Leury Garcia floating around, and just no hope in the organization at all for Matt Davidson, the Sox should be giving Olt a shot to see if his bat can come alive, it's just...sad that this is still the state of things. This position is a neverending sinkhole. Credit to Olt for slapping a pair of singles in his debut. Less credit for two more strikeouts alongside them.
6. How in the hell had Jose Quintana never beaten the Royals before in his first 16 starts against them?!!? 16 starts!!! I thought I had suffered through every depressing stat concerning Jose Quintana's lack of run support, but 16 games!!! He was bad against them, but it was only a 4.68 ERA! A single above-average offensive performance at any point in this stretch should have taken care of this, but no.
Quintana's seven shutout innings on Saturday were both an accomplishment for that bit of absurdism, but also because he looked smooth and on rhythm with Soto behind the plate for a welcome change. He now has an outside chance of dragging his now 3.60 ERA toward his career norms.
7. Adam Eaton messed around and went 13-24 this past week, clocked a couple of homers (pulling him into a tie for second on the team with 12), brought his second half batting line to .333/.419/.500 in 218 PA, and has even gone eight of 10 stealing bases in that time. His wRC+ for the year (now 115) is drawing equal to his breakout 2014 total of 118.
He's real, real good. He's like, 'start worrying about wasting his prime the way you worry about Sale' good, since before Eaton, the Sox were as good at filling their center field void as they were at manning third base.
The overrating of April to determine a player's worth is going to victimize Eaton again, but it's worth positing with him, alongside the entire Sox offense, if him stacking his greatest stretches at the beginning of the year would have strongly placed the Sox in buying position at the deadline.
8. Adam LaRoche's right knee tendinitis is unfortunate for him, and for hope that he could right himself with some strong play to end the year. In the mean time, though, it's the opening that allows for more Trayce Thompson playing time down the stretch, as the Sox can rotate Avisail Garcia to DH (his natural position, perhaps).
The bad news is the Jose Abreu probably shouldn't be playing first base 20 days in a row, so LaRoche probably needs to shake it off pretty soon.
9. Labor Day is Chris Sale Day against the Cleveland Indians. The additional entries to the rotation likely hamper his drive for a 300-strikeout season. 61 strikeouts over five starts would be nearly impossible, but 61 over four would just be patently ridiculous, and it's impossible at this point for him to get six. He faces Trevor Bauer, who has had a disappointing campaign marred by 68 walks and 23 home runs allowed in 158 innings.
The Indians were mentioned as possibly climbing back into the Wild Card race during their win streak last week. They are a game ahead of the Sox.
10. Check out Collin's new series on the Sox hunt, or escape, from the bottom-10 for a protected first-round pick. Things are going great for the Sox! Which means things are not going well. Tanking is weird.