June 18. 2018 11:29PM

Mike Shalin's Working Press: Questions remain but pitching has been great


Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora looks on from the dugout during the fifth inning of a May 31 game against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

The Red Sox are in Minneapolis and will seek to become the major leagues’ first 50-win team in the opener of a three-game series tonight.

But through this 49-24 record, there are questions, one of them their ability to play against good teams.

Through Sunday, when the Sox forged their split of a four-game series in Seattle, there were six teams the Red Sox have faced who are currently at .500 or above. They are 14-12 against those teams — 35-12 against the Baltimores and Tampa Bays of the world.

The Red Sox are 3-0 against the Angels, 2-1 vs the Braves, 3-3 against the Yankees, 2-2 against both Houston and Seattle (all four games vs. each on the road) and 2-4 against the A’s.

They have a homestand coming against the Mariners and Angels, who have both played a bit better than people thought they would — as have the Braves. They are 5-5 against the Yankees and Astros, two teams expected to join them in the postseason.

Do these numbers matter? Probably not. There are so many bad teams and there are still all kinds of games left against lousy teams, so there are plenty of wins remaining out there.

And this team is now 14-2 on getaway dates.

“It’s a lot better to win when you’re leaving,” manager Alex Cora said. “They finish series, that’s great. Regardless of where we were, Houston, down two games and we came back. Here, after the last two games, we bounced back. We’re a good team. We know how to play the game and we turn the page very quick and we focus on the next one.”

Especially when you realize that the Red Sox’ starting rotation is as deep as it gets. Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright have been great, which means there are no soft spots among the starters. David Price is over his troubles, Chris Sale is Chris Sale and Rick Porcello is on pace to be a 20-game winner for the second time in three years.

Is Rodriguez headed for the All-Star Game? He’s 9-1 with a 3.59 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings. He even got over that five-inning hump Sunday in Seattle.

“We were all celebrating because he finally hit that six-inning mark for us,” Mitch Moreland said after Sunday’s game. “He threw the ball great, just like he has been pretty much all season. He led the way for us. It was a big win for us.”

With the rotation set and rolling, that’s one thing Dave Dombrowski doesn’t have to worry about as the trade deadline approaches. That leaves the bullpen — and perhaps a righty bat to … and yes this is true, replace Hanley Ramirez. The Sox have proven they miss Ramirez’s bat against lefties — and count this voice among those who is shocked Ramirez is still out of work.

Dombrowski indicates the team isn’t likely to match up with the Orioles on a Manny Machado deal, but what about Adam Jones for the rest of the year? Or Zach Britton? Dealing within your division is tough, and dealing without a loaded minor league system is tougher. Stay tuned.

Wright? This from @redsoxstats Saturday: “Steven Wright threw 24.2 consecutive scoreless innings before allowing a run in the third inning of tonight’s game. It is the second-longest scoreless streak by any MLB pitcher this season, and the longest by a Red Sox pitcher since Koji Uehara in 2013 (30.1).”

Young brashness

A couple of things we’ve been meaning to catch up on that are still bugging me.

First, there’s Red Sox top draft pick, third baseman Triston Casas, who shot his mouth off by ripping Pablo Sandoval about his weight. Get a professional hit first before you criticize a guy who has been a World Series hero and had a fine career? By the way, Sandoval has done a more-than-decent job for the Giants this year. He has played first, second and third base and there’s even been talk about a start at shortstop with Brandon Crawford on paternity leave. Through Sunday, Panda was hitting .272 with five homers, 23 RBIs and a .783 OPS in 125 at-bats this season — and was hitting .289 this month. His bat is important, especially with Evan Longoria gone for two months.

The other thing we look back on is J.D. Martinez saying the players, not the fans, should be responsible for the All-Star voting. To that we say … stick to hitting and being an MVP candidate, J.D.

“It’s not the frustrating part about not making it, it’s more the frustrating part of not being noticed by certain people,” Martinez told WEEI’s Rob Bradford. “Because the players know who I am. People who watch baseball know who I am but people outside baseball don’t. That’s where all of that plays into this. It’s more of a popularity contest than it is about performance.”

Many, many years ago, I was doing some stringing work for USAToday and every June we would receive All-Star ballots to be distributed to the players for their anonymous votes. Asking their teammates, the questions would range from, “Hey, who’s playing shortstop for Oakland?” to “Hey, who’s the shortstop for the Angels?”

Players have too much to worry about than voting for the All-Star team. Is the fan thing perfect? No. But you have to think playing in a high-profile market will get Martinez the respect he deserves as one of the best hitters in the game.

Talking to Oprah

As usual, Tom Brady didn’t say much in an interview. He told Oprah Winfrey he “loves” Bill Belichick, he can see the end but didn’t even hint the end is near.

Classic TB12.

The most-revealing part of the chat was how he dealt with his Deflategate suspension.

“I think it taught me a lot of things,” he said. “It taught me about the people I could really count on, the people that really supported me, and it taught me a lot about life.

“Sometimes you do the best you can do, and it doesn’t work out. There were a lot of frustrations, and I tried to fight as hard as I could for what I believed in.”

And why did he accept the punishment? “I realized I couldn’t win,” he said. “I just said, ‘You know what? I’m going to use this as an opportunity to have the month of September off for the first time in 21 years. I’m going to take advantage of this.’”

Irving future

Reports have surfaced that while Kyrie Irving doesn’t want to sign a contract extension this summer, he does want to remain in Boston because he loves it here. Meanwhile, as we detailed here Sunday, reports are flying about the futures of LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard, perhaps the two best players in the game.

The one thing I didn’t offer you Sunday was a repetition of my belief the Celtics are fine if nothing changes — and that may be the way to go. Adding Leonard, depending on who would go the other way, would make them a true contender to beat even the Warriors. But there’s a feeling in San Antonio that Leonard should have surgery and miss next season. So, the possibility exists that the Celtics would deal Jaylen Brown and that Sacramento 2019 draft pick for a guy who sits the entire season and then walks.

It’s complicated, but know this: Danny Ainge will keep it interesting.

A guy to keep an eye on? DeMarcus Cousins.

The Cavaliers, who appear likely to lose James, say they won’t blow it all up if they lose him for a second time. They’ve already made calls on Leonard.

Rich Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer did a mock first round and had the Celtics taking Duke’s Grayson Allen at No. 27. He had Boston College’s Jerome Robinson going 25th to the Lakers.

Trotting away

The victory parade is barely over, and the champion Capitals are now without a coach after Barry Trotz walked away from negotiations. This didn’t come as a shock, but someone will step into a great job.

According to STATS, Trotz will be the 13th Stanley Cup-winning coach, the first since Scotty Bowman in 2002, not to return for the following season. Bowman actually did it twice and also didn’t start the 1998-99 season behind the bench because of knee surgery.

In a statement, the club said, “Barry Trotz informed the organization today of his decision to resign as head coach of the Washington Capitals. We are obviously disappointed by Barry’s decision, but would like to thank Barry for all his efforts the past four years and for helping bring the Stanley Cup to Washington. Barry is a man of high character and integrity and we are grateful for his leadership and for all that he has done for our franchise.”

Trotz won’t be out of work long.

Young old-timer, etc.

Nick Swisher was the story of the Yankees’ 72nd Old-timers’ Day, hitting a home run into the second deck, with a 100.3 velocity and saying “You only dream about stuff like this.” At 37, he is a year younger than CC Sabathia, who started for the Yankees in the actual game.

Touching note: the Yankees had the late Gene Michael’s No. 17 jersey hanging in the home dugout.

The Astros completed a 10-0 road trip with their 11th straight victory Sunday.

“The winning streak is great, man,” said Carlos Correa. “We’re on a long road trip and away from our families for 10 days; winning every single game makes it a lot better. Hopefully we can go home and keep grinding and keep playing the way we’ve been playing.”

The defending champs became the seventh team since 1953 to go undefeated on a trip of at least 10 games. They are 29-11 on the road.

The Yankees, loaded with prospects to deal, and Mariners are said to be in the hunt for J.A. Happ, with Cole Hamels also a possibility for both.

Padres manager Andy Green was ejected by Joe West the other day and a TV monitor captured Green saying, “Don’t worry, Joe, I’m leaving so you can go and get another call wrong!” as he departed.

Finally, according to the Elias Sports Bureau: Yadier Molina started behind the plate for the Cardinals in Philly Monday night, his 1,757th start with the club. That breaks a tie with Gabby Hartnett for most starts by a catcher for the same team.

Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is shalinmike@yahoo.com.