Jonathan Papelbon on the Red Sox, Phillies and Bryce Harper
In an exclusive interview with Betway Insider, the former Red Sox and Phillies closer discusses his old teams, former teammates, and his thoughts on the 2022 season.
Find MLB odds throughout the season on the Betway sportsbook. You'll find all the latest spreads, totals, money lines and MLB futures. Or call it how you see it with our live betting in-play. All your MLB betting needs are covered at our online sportsbook.
Visit Betway’s MLB picks page for best bets and predictions throughout the season.
What are your thoughts on the season so far?
It’s been pretty different in the fact that you have teams that are going to compete, and there's very few of them, and then you have the bottom dwellers. There's no real consistency. The AL East is always going to be tough, and now the West is getting tough. You've also got the Dodgers, the Braves and the Brewers up there. After the All-Star game, you have a quick decision as a front office to decide whether you want to be buyers or sellers. It's coming up quick, and I'm excited man.
Are there any teams that have really impressed you?
I will say this, the Houston Astros have really, really impressed me. On the flip side, though, the Toronto Blue Jays have really hit a skid and not really done what I expected them to do this year.
Why do you think that is?
I think they're just struggling with their bullpen, and when you don't have a bullpen in the major leagues, it is very, very hard to win games. It seems to me like they're always right there in the end, and then the bullpen ends up blowing it. They have a good closer, but they don't have anybody before that, which makes it very tough.
On an individual level, are there any players that you've particularly enjoyed watching this season?
For me, I like watching pitching, and Cortes for the Yankees - even though he's a Yankee and I played for the Red Sox - this guy has been lights out this year. I think he's a big reason why they are where they are. He's got the moustache to go with it, and you know, he reminds me almost of Andy Pettitte.
Pettitte really had a low ERA because he was left-handed, he could pick guys off at first and you couldn't steal on him, so a single couldn't turn into a double because you had to go station to station. I think he's a modern-day version of Pettitte for the Yankees and I've been really impressed with what he's done this year.
What have you made of the Red Sox season so far? And what are your hopes for the rest of the season?
I think they're having very similar problems to Toronto. Their bullpen has struggled this year. They've struggled a little bit with starting pitching, and their hitting hasn't been as consistent as I'd like. Their hitting has been great at times, but it's just not consistent.
In the long run, though, the Red Sox are going to have to figure out real quick whether or not they're going to make a run at this wildcard. The Yankees have run off with the division, so they're gonna have to decide whether they want to be buyers or sellers. I think personally, they're going to be sellers. I don't think that they're going to be able to continue and make a run for the wildcard.
To me, the Red Sox aren't built like a playoff team. Certain teams are built to win, and they win a lot of games during the season, and certain teams are built to win in the postseason, and they may not win a bunch of games during the season. They have Alex Cora, who's a great manager, who can play chess better than any other manager that I've seen, but it's making his job very tough.
And the Phillies?
Their pitching is okay, their bullpen is okay. But in order to be a good team and have a good postseason run, you have to have leadership. I don't think the Phillies have any of that.
It's always been kind of chaotic in Philadelphia, with the fans, with the players, with the front office. It's like a shitshow there. And, for me, I see the shitshow continuing. I mean, they fired their manager, what, two months into the season? As long as that stuff happens, Philadelphia will never win again. Philadelphia will never get back to the playoffs.
When they brought in me, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, everybody started getting hurt, and the shitshow began after that, I believe. It's been nothing but downhill for the Phillies since then, and there hasn't been anything even close to resembling a postseason team, nor do I think they have that this year, nor do I think they tried to do that with Gabe Kapler. That's Philly for you.
How much are they going to miss Bryce Harper?
I'm not sure what's going on with Bryce Harper right now. Thumbs, fingers, wrists, all those are very, very hard to come back from when you're a hitter.
I don't necessarily see him being a huge leader of the team, because he was never really a leader when I played with him. He kind of went about his own business and more was a me-guy or an I-guy, and wasn't really into what was happening in the clubhouse, and didn't have that pull for the team.
I don't view him as a true leader but when he's out it obviously takes a bat out of the lineup. Somebody's going to have to step up for them. I don't know who it may be. Schwarber is hitting some bombs this year, but it's gonna take more than that.
As a former Red Sox player, how does it make you feel to see the current dominance in New York, particularly when it comes to the Yankees?
As a former player, I don't really give a shit. Great for them. When I was playing, it would bug me. That's your rival and you have to prove you can beat your rival, and I would hate it. But right now, I'm not gonna lie, I love it, man.
A few weeks ago, I said that the Yankees are gonna play the Mets in the World Series this year. We're gonna get a Subway Series.
How much more intense were those games against New York? And how would you describe that extra pressure?
Yeah, those games were way more intense. Some of these players these days want to act like it's not, well that's bullshit. It is. As a player, you try to think of it just as another game, but you know deep down it's not.
Man, I loved it. I loved going into old Yankee Stadium, and new Yankee Stadium, too, and just hearing the fans yell at me, and cussing me all the time. I'd cuss back at them, and we'd have a good time. I think the Yankee fans really liked me, to be totally honest with you. It was a love-hate relationship. Kind of like Mariano [Rivera] was to the Red Sox fans. They hated him, but they had to respect him.
I loved the environment. I think the Red Sox were a perfect fit for me to come up to the major leagues and figure out how to play Major League Baseball. It always made me play better, it always made me step up my game.
I remember my first lineup I faced against the Yankees, I think Gary Sheffield was batting seventh or eighth. I mean, that ought to tell you. But I love it, I love New York.
Do you have any memories that stand out from those games?
I think my biggest memory of old Yankee Stadium was the simple fact that I thought, when I was going into New York, that all these multimillionaires were going to be at the games, big high-class games, and I show up and it's the exact opposite.
This was back when they didn't have camera phones, so people were taking batteries out of their actual phones and throwing them at me, cussing the daylights out of me. But of course, I'd cuss back at them and let them know what I thought about their mom. I probably egged them on a little bit, but I enjoyed it.
The transformation from old Yankee Stadium to new Yankee Stadium kind of changed it a little bit. It wasn't that Bronx Zoo type of atmosphere that you know, people would say, and it changed a little bit, but I still think that the Yankee fan deep down is going to hate the Red Sox no matter what, just like the Red Sox hate the Yankees.
For me, I played on it, and I loved it. I loved going into hostile environments as a player.
Where do you see Garrett Whitlock ending up when he comes back off the IL?
I think he's going to be a big piece of their puzzle in order to try to make a run and say, let's be buyers and not sellers. It's gonna be tough, but I definitely see him in a bullpen role when he comes back. His workload is not going to be heavy at first, but if they start making a run, his workload will increase.
He's gonna have to come back and pitch well, there's no question about that. And if he doesn't, I don't believe they'll make a run. I think he's a good pitcher that can help the bullpen out.
The timing is tight right now. We've got the All-Star game then after that it is balls to the wall.
What do you think of the closer committee approach? Do you see it continuing in Boston?
I don't think it's the best approach. I think guys want a defined role. This is my role, I'm going to prepare for this every day and I'm going to be ready. The committee makes it a lot more difficult for the player to do that.
Do I think Alex Cora has the ability to manage that way? Yes, I do. I think Cora is a great chess player when it comes to managing, but it just makes it so much tougher on the player to be successful when you're popping them in and out of roles. It becomes an everyday chess match which is hard to keep up.
How would you have reacted if you were part of a closer committee during your career?
It nearly happened. The Dodgers wanted me to come and be in a closer committee with Jansen. And I said: “Fuck no, that's not happening, I’ll go anywhere else that wants me,” because I wanted to get the hell out of Philadelphia.
The shit hit the wall in Philadelphia. I was tired of it. Nobody was playing anymore. Nobody gave a shit anymore, I think the clubbies even quit on us too. I mean, it was brutal.