First Pitch: Red Sox start working toward their future


First Pitch: Red Sox start working toward their future

SEATTLE -- After seven straight losses, the Red Sox would have taken any win Tuesday night -- blowout, nail-biter, anything in-between. When you haven't won since two time zones ago, any victory is a good one.

But there was something extra packed into the Red Sox' 4-3 decision over the Seattle Mariners, something that might be more significant than a September win over a losing team.

Ryan Lavarnway hit what proved to be the game-winning homer and Jose Iglesias collected his first hit after starting out 0-for-17 -- and it was a double, his extra-base hit of his major league career.

Whether the Red Sox win 78 or 79 games the season won't be important in 2013. This will go down as the most dispiriting season for the Sox since the inglorious 2001 campaign, and nothing that happens in the final four weeks will change that.

But if the Red Sox are going to be better in '13, if they're going to take more than baby steps back toward contention, then Iglesias and Lavarnway are likely going to be big parts of the reason.

And the truth of the matter is that, amid the losses and the subsequent Bobby Valentine Death Watch, Lavarnway and Iglesias haven't shown much. Couple that with the scant contributions they've received from Ryan Kalish in three separate stints with the major-league team, and there's real reason for concern about the future.

Here's why: If the Red Sox are going to be more "disciplined" in their free-agent spending and refocused on homegrown player development, they've got to have an influx of talented prospects ready to make contributions every year.

If you count the injured Will Middlebrooks as a projected 2013 starter, then Kalish, Igleisas and Lavarnway are the three position prospects closest to the big leagues. The other top hopefuls (Xander Bogaerts, Matt Barnes, Jackie Bradley Jr.) are all at least a year away.

And yet the trio has done nothing to signal a readiness to play in the big leagues.

Kalish has been bothered by recurring shoulder and neck issues, the same injuries that cost him most of 2011 before two surgical procedures were performed last winter.

It's clear he's far from 100 percent healthy. The Sox conceded as much as when they started infielder Pedro Ciriaco in left field for the first time ever Sunday, rather than Kalish.

Some close to Kalish have tried to remind him it often takes almost two years to completely recover from the shoulder surgery he had. That, as much as anything, explains his anemic numbers in Boston: .216 batting average, no homers , .505 OPS.

Until Kalish starts to play as the Sox hope, he'll be thought of -- fairly or unfairly -- as the outfielder the Sox chose to keep over Josh Reddick, who is nearing 30 homers for Oakland.

Lavarnway, perhaps intent on making another good impression after his promising late-season callup in 2011, appeared to be pressing at the plate until his sixth-inning homer. Despite some raw power, he was slugging just .217 and had knocked in only two runs in his first 22 games with Boston this year.

"For me, a lot of the time, it's about pitch selection,'' he said. "Laying off the bad pitches so they often end up having to come to me.''

Worse, his defense has been shaky. Lavarnway was voted the best defensive catcher in the International League by Baseball America, but that improvement hasn't been evident in the big leagues. His actions have been stiff, and his throws have been off.

Finally, there's Iglesias, who, nearly three full seasons into his professional career, still hasn't demonstrated he can hit well enough to play every day in the big leagues.

The Cuban infielder looks overmatched and, despite some streaks of offensive improvement at Pawtucket, still too prone to chase pitches out of the strike zone.

It may be too much to hope that Iglesias grow into a gap hitter who can occasionally drive the ball. But it isn't setting the bar too high to hope he can make regular enough contact to put the ball in play and hit .250.

With a better lineup surrounding him, the Sox would probably accept that, given Iglesias's defensive virtues. His did-that-just-happen? quick flip to Dustin Pedroia to start a double play Monday was jaw-dropping, a snapshot of what he's capable of at shortstop.

But he has to hit at least some to get on the field. He did Tuesday, chopping a ball over third base for a double.

That, combined with Lavarnway's homer, were the real takeaways from Tuesday's skid-snapping win. The real momementum won't come from September wins but, quite literally, player development.

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.