Pitching fails Red Sox on recent road trip


Pitching fails Red Sox on recent road trip

OAKLAND -- The Red Sox run of futility isn't very hard to explain.

In losing six straight on this road trip with three games to play, the Red Sox have been outscored 33-5. In nearly every game, the starting pitching has been the culprit.

Such was the case Sunday as the Sox established their longest losing streak of the season with a lifeless 6-2 loss to the Oakland A's.

Daisuke Matsuzaka, who had attacked the strike zone with an aggressiveness he's seldom shown in his last outing, was back to his old tricks Sunday, picking at the corners of the strike zone.

He missed the strike zone too often, but sadly for the Red Sox, the same can't be said for the Oakland bats.

Two batters in, Seth Smith's home run to right with Coco Crisp aboard gave the A's a quick 2--0 lead. A solo homer by Stephen Drew in the second pushed the lead to 3-0 and two walks helped contribute to another two runs in the third.

It was 5-0 before you knew it.

This caused two problems. It once again put the onus on the offense to dig out from an early hole. In five of the six games on the road trip, the opponents have scored in the first inning. And in four of those five -- including Sunday -- they've scored multiple runs.

"We just don't have the firepower to come back," lamented Bobby Valentine.

Indeed, they don't. With two run-producing bats -- righthanded Will Middlebrooks and lefthanded David Ortiz -- likely gone for the rest of the season and Adrian Gonzalez, who led the team in RBI now in a Dodger uniform, the Sox lack muscle in the middle to make up any deficits.

The lineup Sunday featured just three players the Sox identified as regulars at the start of the season: second baseman Dustin Pedroia; outfielder Cody Ross; and Mike Aviles, who began the year as the starting shortstop but Sunday, served as the DH du jour in Ortiz's absence.

The rest are a collection of minor league journeyman -- Pedro Ciriaco, Mauro Gomez -- and young players who've yet to become established in the big leagues such as Ryan Lavarnway and Jose Iglesias.

Is it any wonder that the Sox have averaged just over two runs per contest in the six games to date?

"Obviously it's not easy," said Ross. "But we're professionals. We have to come back from being down. That's the name of the game. At the end of the day, we've got to score more than they do. We just have to keep fighting. It's unacceptable."

Beyond the stress being placed on the lineup, there's a negative impact on the bullpen, too, which, even with expanded rosters, is being asked to shoulder too much of the innings load day after day.

In the Oakland series alone, Red Sox relievers had to eat up 14 23 innings. The fact that four Red Sox pitchers from the bullpen combined for 4 13 shutout innings in relief of Matsuzaka is almost irrelevalant: there's a toll that shows up the following day when the bullpen is overworked.

"I'm really disappointed as a starter than I wasn't able to my job today," said Matsuzaka, who dropped to 1-4 with the defeat, "especially since I knew that I needed to pitch deeper into the games, knowing how much the bullpen has been used in recent games. I knew they needed a break and all I wanted to do today was pitch as long as I could."

That plan resulted in failure -- just like almost everything associated with the Red Sox these days.

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.