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Stealing Signs Doesn't Pay For Red Sox

September 6, 2017
For months we've been trying to figure out the Boston Red Sox and now finally there might be a clue. The Red Sox haven't learned how to cheat properly, if in fact that's possible. At least that's what the results tell us.

Evidently the Red Sox are very good at stealing signs -- but apparently not very good at taking advantage of the situation. It turns out, as The New York Times reported and MLB confirmed, the Yankees caught on and blew the whistle -- though given the circumstances, you'd have to wonder why they'd bother.  And the same could also be said about the Orioles, who undoubtedly could also be considered "victims" of the Red Sox scheme

Given the fact the Yankees won the season series against the Red Sox, 11-8, and the Orioles have clinched their season series with Boston -- they lead, 10-6, with three games left -- it seems obvious that whatever it is the Red Sox have been doing hasn't worked, especially against their division rivals. After splitting two games with the Toronto Blue Jays the past two nights, the Red Sox are 32-31 against the American League East -- easily the worst divisional record of any of the six division leaders.

The Red Sox perhaps have been the toughest team in the majors to figure out. In the eyes of most observers, they appeared to be a cinch to win the division when the season started. Then they quickly gave way to the euphoria surrounding the Yankees, who were riding the coattails of slugger Aaron Judge and took over as the "team to beat."

But even though the Yankees "loaded up" at the July 31 trading deadline, the Red Sox had rebounded and re-established themselves as the best team in the division. The Yankees were trying to make a run at first place, but in reality they were closer to losing their advantage for the AL's top wild-card spot until the Red Sox started to stumble -- again.

Boston has lost six of its past seven games to the Orioles and Yankees and suddenly has become vulnerable, so the natural question is whether the mini-slump came before, during or after the sign-stealing charges emerged. It's not like this is something new to baseball -- stealing signs has long been considered a special art among uniformed personnel. But the electronic age has taken it to a new level. 

One thing we know for sure -- no team is wasting time trying to crack the code for "take" (a pitch), bunt or steal signs.

***

The sign-stealing revelation has added another element to the debate about the AL East, the toughest of the six to figure out. Could it be, contrary to what the five teams would have us believe, that it's just not as strong as it used to be? For sure, the power of the AL appears to be at  the top of the West and Central divisions.

The difference between the Orioles and the teams ahead of them in the division is their respective interleague records -- and that difference is so startling it most likely will account for the difference between the top three teams in the division. The Yankees, aided by a four-game sweep of the New York Mets, are 15-5 against National League teams; the Red Sox, who won three of four from NL "rival" Philadelphia, are 13-4, with three games against the Cincinnati Reds remaining. Meanwhile the Orioles, who split their four games against the Washington Nationals, are 8-10 in interleague play, with two games left against the Pittsburgh Pirates the last week of the season.

***

It may come back to haunt them, but when the Orioles brought up outfielder Austin Hays, it was another indication executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette is still "all-in" on this year, and a gamble he was more than willing to take.

Some will question the organizational decision to promote a player who didn't have to be protected on the 40-man roster this year. If the O's lose a player of significance in next winter's Rule 5 draft, it could be attributed to this move -- but Duquette indicated the other day that he wouldn't rule out adding Hays, even though many were hoping it wouldn't come until after Bowie's playoff run for the Eastern League championship.

When it was suggested the prudent thing would be to not add Hays this year, Duquette didn't flinch. 

"This is not a pinch-runner," he said. "This is a player, somebody who would play."

At the time, Duquette was looking at a set of statistics comparing the year Hays had while splitting time between Frederick in the Class-A Carolina League and Bowie in the Double-A Eastern League to those of Red Sox phenom outfielder Andrew Benintendi, who played in those leagues a year ago before being promoted to the big leagues.

Hays' numbers are superior to those of Benintendi, who had an immediate impact in the big leagues last year and has been one of Boston's most dependable performers this year. It remains to be seen how often Orioles manager Buck Showalter uses Hays the rest of the year, but this is definitely not a "learning experience," as is the case with highly regarded catcher Chance Sisco.

Both Benintendi and Hays made it to the major leagues during their first full year in professional baseball. Like Benintendi,  Hays may have to make a return trip to the minors, but make no mistake about it, his ETA for permanent residence in MLB is now. He had already been penciled in as a potential starter in right field on Opening Day 2018, so this move is just a jump-start.

Reportedly, Hays is one of five finalists for Baseball America's "Minor League Player of the Year," lending credence to the belief he is ready to follow in the footsteps of Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop as an impact position player for the Orioles.

***

Despite a two-game funk in Tampa Bay, don't rule out the possibility of the Minnesota Twins claiming the top wild-card spot in the American League. The Twins have a three-game set against the Yankees in New York next week, and have the bonus of seven games against the struggling Detroit Tigers still to be played. Of course they need more help from the Orioles, who realistically need to win at least three and probably four of their remaining five games against the Yankees to stay in the wild-card race.

Meanwhile, out on the left coast, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are geared for a strong wild-card run, but only if they can withstand six more games against the Houston Astros. With the Angels and Twins both in the race, there is at least an outside possibility the AL East could get shut out of the wild-card picture. That tells you about the odds the O's are facing as they prepare for a three-game series in Cleveland this weekend.

The Indians, who came so close to dismantling the Chicago Cubs' "dynasty" before it even started in last year's World Series, are playing very much like a team with a chip on its collective shoulder. That should make for a delicious AL Championship Series  matchup with the Astros, who are young, brash and very talented.

It's hard to imagine a wild-card team beating the Astros in a five-game series, and the Indians look to be the most balanced team in the AL right now. They're threatening to surpass Houston for the AL's best record, which will determine home-field advantage in the ALCS.

***

Watching reliever Chad Green make short work of the Orioles Sept. 4 makes me think the Yankees are well positioned -- again -- to trade from the back end of their bullpen during the offseason. Along with David Robertson, Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman, Green gives manager Joe Girardi as good a foursome as you'll find. Being the only lefty -- and having the biggest contract -- probably keeps Chapman off the trading block.

And if Betances keeps insisting on using a breaking ball that has a tendency to hang instead of a fastball that touches 100 mph ... well, you get the idea. It was that hanger to Machado, along with an inability to throw strikes to Tim Beckham, that led to what has to be the Orioles' most unlikely win of the season Sept. 5. It undoubtedly will also lead to Chapman reclaiming the closer role he had surrendered to Betances.

***

Because of his full body of work over the entire season, I don't think there's much question Schoop is the Orioles' Most Valuable Player, and Machado certainly swung his way into the picture. But how do you fit Trey Mancini, Adam Jones, Welington Castillo and Dylan Bundy onto a ballot with only three places?

Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com 

Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer/PressBox