Hovering around .500


Hovering around .500

On May 29, the Red Sox beat the Tigers 6-3 at Fenway. In the process, they improved their record to 25-24 and climbed over .500 for the first time all season.

This the .500 mark isnt something we typically celebrate around here, and this year was no exception. But while the champagne (of beers) wasnt popping, there was an undeniable sense of relief: "OK, they did it. Theyre going to be all right." Even if .500 isnt the mark of a champion (well, it depends on who you ask), its the sign of a team thats headed in the right direction, that has some fight left in their seven-figure bones, that might even stick around long enough to make run later this summer. Or so we thought. Why not? Its not like the Orioles and Blue Jays are ready to win the division. The Yankees are old and without their anchor. The Rays have the arms but lack the serious bats. In a perfect world, with everyone healthy and every aspect of the team playing up to its potential, no ones better than the Sox. AL East champs: Why not them?

That faith was rewarded, as the Sox won three of their next four games against the Tigers and Blue Jays and moved to 28-25, within only two games of first place. At that point, we just assumed the depths of sub.-500 ball were a thing of the past. Like last year, just something they needed to get out of their system before realizing their potential (but hopefully not falling off a cliff down the stretch).

That was 10 days ago.

It might as well be 10 years.

The Sox have now lost seven of their last eight and are back below .500, back in last place, six and a half games behind the division-leading Rays and Yankees. But while the struggles are all too familiar, the source is unexpected its the bats.

Scoring was the one thing we never worried about with these guys. For most of the season, even without Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford and, basically, Adrian Gonzalez in the mix, the Sox were and still are the second-highest scoring team in baseball. And even if that stat is slightly misleading (they have a knack for blowouts, so a lot of their runs are scored in games that are already decided), theres never been a question of the true strength of this Sox team: The bats. The bats!

Lately, not so much. The Sox have only scored 10 total runs on this current four game losing streak. Over the course of this recent 1-7 stretch, theyve been held to only one run on three occasions and scored more than five runs only twice. Meanwhile, the pitchers have been far from dominant but have certainly performed well enough to win. Some wonder if its time for the starters to put on their Papi hats and call a team meeting (Note to reporters: If theyre anything like Papi, DO NOT bring up this meeting), but Im not sure what that will do. Call me crazy, but I dont think the line-up, as futile as its been, deserves anything near the treatment that the staff received earlier in the year.

Back then, the starting rotation was at full strength and getting knocked around by Oakland, Baltimore, Kansas City and Cleveland this after sucking it up in September and forming the nucleus of the collapse. Meanwhile, this lineup has been in shambles since day one and has been more resilient than we could have ever imagined. Whether it was losing Ellsbury, Crawford and every other outfielder, or Youks injury, Pedroias injury and Adrian Gonzalezs struggles, the offense has had plenty of chances to go belly up, but theyve kept on fighting. They havent always won, but theyve stayed afloat. And yeah, theyve been pretty awful as of late, but they were also up against the hottest pitching staff in baseball, and then Josh Johnson, a very good pitcher whos only a year and change removed from the NL ERA crown.

Good pitching beats good hitting, and lately the Sox have been up against some pretty damn good pitching. We're really going to over react? Aren't they entitled to a slump? Considering the competition and the mounting injuries, shouldn't we have almost expected the slump?

Eh, with the money the Sox are paying these guys even in the face of all these injuries you never expect a slump, but all I'm saying is at the very least we should tolerate it, and save our judgment for once Ellsbury and Crawford are back, and Gonzalez presumably (he HAS to, right?) snaps out of this ridiculous funk. And hope that when it happens, the pitching is still holding strong, still keeping up their end of the bargain. Because we all know the potential that lies within that Sox clubhouse. That as horrendous as they've been as a whole this season, they're still only six and a half games back, and they're up against teams with plenty of problems of their own. First place? Why not them?

But first, let's get back to .500.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

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.