First Pitch: Magadan says Red Sox hitters need better approach


First Pitch: Magadan says Red Sox hitters need better approach

BOSTON -- No, it's not just your imagination -- the Red Sox have been wildly inconsistent, scoring runs in bunches and, then, not at all.

Case in point: Thursday at Fenway, where the Sox were shut out for the fifth time this season, this time by a 29-year journeyman who was making just the fifth major-league start of his career.

It's been like that a lot of late. In the last month, the Red Sox have scored seven or more runs eight times. Unfortunately for them, there have also been 10 games in which they've scored two or fewer.

That's too much of a fluctuation to suit Dave Magadan, the team's hitting coach, and he's tired of it.

"There's no argument there,'' said Magadan after the 5-0 loss to Minnesota Thursday. "There's a lot of inconsistency. A lot of it -- and I know I've harped on this a lot this year -- is the approach at the plate. You're not going to bang out 15 hits every night. You've got to find ways to get on base, work a count, get a guy's pitch count up. Two-and-half months ago, we were fourth in the league in bases on balls; we're at the bottom now.

"And it has nothing to do with going up there looking for a walk. It has to do with having an approach, having an idea of what you want to do at the plate and if the pitcher doesn't give you the pitch you're looking for, you take the walk. When you don't do that, you have what we have: we score 10, we score 7, we score 1, we score 0, we score 10. It's back and forth and it puts a lot of pressure on the pitching staff. And it's been worse on the road.''

Magadan's remarks echoed that of Dustin Pedroia, who fumed that the team had wasted a good outing from Jon Lester (three runs allowed over eight innings).

"Jon pitched great,'' said Pedroia. "We didn't swing the bats at all. That's basically it. We'll come out and play tomorrow, but today we weren't very good. That's basically it - Jon pitched great and the offense stunk. That's it. There's no more expletive questions or anything like that. You don't have to ask anybody else. Jon pitched great; we stunk.''

That was the second time in the last week that Pedroia felt the need to take the offense to task. Last Friday, he charged that the lineup had "given away at-bats'' in the late innings of 10-3 loss to the Yankees.

Magadan didn't see the same deficiencies Thursday night. The Sox did, after all, make rookie Sam Deduno throw 101 pitches in six innings and worked him for four walks.

But it was the Sox did -- or more specifically didn't do -- with Deduno that made Magadan angry.

"I think we got ourselves in good counts,'' he said, "and didn't do much with the pitches we had. We got into plus counts and either fouled pitches off or were late or didn't take good swings. It's the same old story.''

The dropoff in walks for the Sox has been precipitous. Having David Ortiz out of the lineup for the last two weeks hasn't helped and the decline in run scoring reflects that.

But the problems run deeper than missing Ortiz, since they were evident even when Ortiz was the lineup's biggest producer. Adrian Gonzalez, though he's come around over the last month, has become a far less selective hitter this season. After leading all of major-league baseball in walks as recently as 2009, he's twice had stretches this season in which he went weeks between walks -- from May 16 to June 10, and again, from June 25 to July 31.

Once known for grinding out at-bats and driving up pitch counts, this Red Sox lineup has been almost impatient at times.

But as Magadan emphasized, it isn't just the walk totals that are off; it's the team's approach.

"Sometimes it can be as easy as taking a 1-and-0 pitch when you see the guy struggling to throw the ball over the plate,'' he said. "I think Deduno went 2-and-0 to the first four or five hitters of the game. Sometimes it can be as simple as that -- taking a 1-and-0 pitch to build to 2-and-0, instead of swinging at a 1-and-0 pitch out the zone and making an out. You never force him to continue making pitches.''

Magadan's data suggests that the Sox are seeing a lot of pitches, but in a different way.

"We foul pitches off,'' he said. "We chase pitches out of the strike zone to foul pitches off. It's one thing when you're seeing a lot of pitches and you're getting yourself in hitter's counts; but we're 0-and-1, fouling off a ball, then taking a strike, and foul off another ball. You're not really forcing pitchers to make quality pitches. You're chasing balls out of the zone and it makes his job a lot easier. Instead of having to make three quality pitches to get you out, he's only got to make one.''

The season is at the two-thirds marker and Magadan's frustration level is well past that.

"It's not for lack of work or lackof preaching it or talking about it,'' said Magadan. "Thursday night was pretty frustrating. You've got Jon Lester throwing against a rookie. We felt like we should have put up a better fight. We were facing a guy we've never faced before and we're hacking at balls out of the zone.

"It's frustrating because I know we're better than this. We're going to have to get better. We're down to 56 games left and we've got a lot of teams we have to jump over. Getting shut out isn't going to get us to where we want to be.''

NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945


NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945

CHICAGO -- Cursed by a Billy Goat, bedeviled by Bartman and crushed by decades of disappointment, the Chicago Cubs are at long last headed back to the World Series.

Kyle Hendricks outpitched Clayton KershawAnthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered early and the Cubs won their first pennant since 1945, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 Saturday night in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

The drought ended when closer Aroldis Chapman got Yasiel Puig to ground into a double play, setting off a wild celebration inside Wrigley Field, outside the ballpark and all over the city.

Seeking their first crown since 1908, manager Joe Maddon's team opens the World Series at Cleveland on Tuesday night. The Indians haven't won it all since 1948 - Cleveland and Cubs have the two longest title waits in the majors.

"This city deserves it so much," Rizzo said. "We got four more big ones to go, but we're going to enjoy this. We're going to the World Series. I can't even believe that."

All-everything Javier Baez and pitcher Jon Lester shared the NLCS MVP. Baez hit .318, drove in five runs and made several sharp plays at second base. Lester, a former World Series champion in Boston, was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers.

Deemed World Series favorites since opening day, the Cubs topped the majors with 103 wins to win the NL Central, then beat the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs.

The Cubs overcame a 2-1 deficit against the Dodgers and won their 17th pennant. They had not earned a World Series trip since winning a doubleheader opener 4-3 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, 1945, to clinch the pennant on the next-to-last day of the season.

The eternal "wait till next year" is over. No more dwelling on a history of failure - the future is now.

"We're too young. We don't care about it," star slugger Kris Bryant said. "We don't look into it. This is a new team, this is a completely different time of our lives. We're enjoying it and our work's just getting started."

Hendricks pitched two-hit ball for 7 1/3 innings. Chapman took over and closed with hitless relief, then threw both arms in the air as he was mobbed by teammates and coaches.

The crowd joined in, chanting and serenading their team.

"Chicago!" shouted popular backup catcher David Ross.

The Cubs shook off back-to-back shutout losses earlier in this series by pounding the Dodgers for 23 runs to win the final three games.

And they were in no way overwhelmed by the moment on Saturday, putting aside previous frustration.

In 1945, the Billy Goat Curse supposedly began when a tavern owner wasn't allowed to bring his goat to Wrigley. In 2003, the Cubs lost the final three games of the NLCS to Florida, punctuated with a Game 6 defeat when fan Steve Bartman deflected a foul ball.

Even as recently as 2012, the Cubs lost 101 times.

This time, no such ill luck.

Bryant had an RBI single and scored in a two-run first. Dexter Fowler added two hits, drove in a run and scored one.

Contreras led off the fourth with a homer. Rizzo continued his resurgence with a solo drive in the fifth.

That was plenty for Hendricks, the major league ERA leader.

Hendricks left to a standing ovation after Josh Reddick singled with one out in the eighth. The only other hit Hendricks allowed was a single by Andrew Toles on the game's first pitch.

Kershaw, dominant in Game 2 shutout, gave up five runs and seven hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth. He fell to 4-7 in the postseason.

The Dodgers haven't been to the World Series since winning in 1988.

Pitching on five days' rest, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner threw 30 pitches in the first. Fowler led off with a double, and Bryant's single had the crowd shaking the 102-year-old ballpark.

They had more to cheer when left fielder Andrew Toles dropped Rizzo's fly, putting runners on second and third, and Ben Zobrist made it 2-0 a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs added a run in the second when Addison Russell doubled to deep left and scored on a two-out single by Fowler.


Maddon benched slumping right fielder Jason Heyward in favor of Albert Almora Jr.

"Kershaw's pitching, so I wanted to get one more right-handed bat in the lineup, and also with Albert I don't feel like we're losing anything on defense," Maddon said. "I know Jason's a Gold Glover, but I think Albert, given an opportunity to play often enough would be considered a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, too."

Heyward was 2 for 28 in the playoffs - 1 for 16 in the NLCS.


Kerry Wood, wearing a Ron Santo jersey, threw out the first pitch and actor Jim Belushi delivered the "Play Ball!" call before the game. Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder and actor John Cusack were also in attendance. And Bulls great Scottie Pippen led the seventh-inning stretch.