Still waiting on A-Gon


Still waiting on A-Gon

Last night, Adrian Gonzalez had another chance to give the Red Sox a much-needed lift. In fact, he had two chances. But, as we've seen all too often this year, Gonzalez came up small in a big situation.

One one hand, it's obviously early, and Gonzalez is no stranger to slow starts.

He only hit one home run last April, before exploding for nine homers in May and morphing into the most precise and dominant Sox slugger since Manny. Still, even with the impressive numbers Gonzalez ultimately posted in 2011, there were a few concerning caveats.

That he hit .183 (13-84) against the Yankees and .131 (8 for 61) against the Rays. That he hit .391 when the Sox were winning, and only .274 when they were behind. That, basically, he didn't have a feel or the fortitude to step up when the Sox needed him most.

Maybe that was unfair, but we could only go on what we saw, and Gonzalez certainly didn't help himself with some of the things he said off the field.

"I'm a firm believer that God has a plan and it wasn't in his plan for us to move forward," he said, in the moments after the Sox lost to the Orioles in Game 162, completing one of the worst collapses in more than 100 years of Major League baseball. And believe it or not, that didn't go over very well. It made everyone wonder if Gonzalez might have been better off playing out the rest of his days in a place like San Diego, where baseball plays second fiddle to things like surfing, golf and brunch.

So far in 2012, Gonzalez has done little to alter that perception.

This year, he's a .323 hitter when the Sox are winning, but comes in at a cool .216 when they're behind. He's hitting .273 with two outs and runners in scoring position. He's hitting .182 in "Late & Close" situations (defined by Baseball Reference as plate appearances in the 7th or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck). He went 2-9 in the Yankees series, and even though he did hit .353 in four games against the Rays, five of his six hits were singles and only one resulted in an RBI.

And that brings us back to last night.

First, the bottom of seventh inning: The Sox are trailing 4-1, but have loaded the bases and finally knocked starter Brandon McCarthy out of the game. In other words, they've got all the momentum in the world, and Gonzalez their should-be best hitter in the box. There are two outs.

Now, in Gonzalez's defense, A's reliever Ryan Cook has been lights out this season (he's now given up only two hits and zero runs over 12.1 innings), but he's also Ryan Cook. And we're talking about Adrian Gonzalez here.

Gonzalez looked awful, striking out on sixth pitches, extinguishing all the momentum and slamming his bat to the ground in disgust.

Next, it's the bottom of the ninth inning, and the Sox have Oakland closer Brian Fuentes on the ropes (where he pretty much lives these days). From the on-deck circle, Gonzalez watches Dustin Pedroia (who, by comparison, is hitting .316 when the Sox are ahead, but .333 when they're behind; .400 with two outs and runners in scoring position; .444 in late and close situations) hit a two-out RBI double to cut Oakland's lead to 4-2. Gonzalez then stepped in to the box representing the tying run and grounded out to third base.

He's now hitting .250 on the season with a .697 OPS. He's hitless in his last 17 at-bats.

However, there are still a few reasons to be optimistic after last night's ugly show.

First, I loved Gonzalez reaction after striking out in the seventh. Just the raw emotion of slamming the bat and appearing visibly angry in himself and the situation. Maybe that means he's pressing, but at least it shows that he's alive. That he's a competitive human being capable of that kind of display.

Second, after the game, he didn't blame the loss on God's plan, but instead his own failures.

"This game is all on me,'' he said. "I had two great opportunities and I didn't come through. It's one of those things that I'll make a definite point to not let happen again."

The accountability was refreshing.

And lastly, he's Adrian Gonzalez. He's averaged 33 homers and 107 RBI over the last five years. He had 213 hits last season the fourth most in Red Sox history! you have to assume that it's only a matter of time before he gets back on track and commences blowing our minds on a nightly basis.

But for now, it sure is frustrating.

Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Haggerty: Bruins sinking fast with nothing to hang on to

Haggerty: Bruins sinking fast with nothing to hang on to

So, what do the Bruins do now amidst a three-game tailspin that could easily devolve into a six- or seven-game losing stretch if they’re not too careful?

The goaltending has been predictably porous with Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin out of commission with injuries. The Black and Gold allowed 11 goals in the past two games despite Zane McIntyre battling in tough conditions at Madison Square Garden. The bottom line is McIntyre and Malcolm Subban don’t look ready for NHL prime time and there are legitimate questions as to whether Subban ever will become an NHL goalie.

Beyond that, the Bruins defense has been downright atrocious just as the goaltending situation has deteriorated. Adam McQuaid and Torey Krug have struggled individually and as a pairing that the B’s coaching staff had hoped would complement Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo in Boston’s top-four. McQuaid is a minus-3 in his first two games back from an upper body injury and Krug is a minus-4 with a surprising zero points in his first seven games this season.

In fact, every Bruins defenseman not named Chara or Carlo is a combined minus-16 on the season and, of that group, only currently-in-the-AHL rookie Rob O’Gara has a positive plus/minus for the season. Both the defensive zone coverage and the compromised ability to break the puck out of their own end have been problematic and Boston’s opponents have enjoyed way too easy of a time getting into the slot area for juicy scoring chances.

In other words, the defense looks very much like last season for the Bruins with – surprise, surprise – nearly the same cast of characters returning from that subpar crew.

Then there’s the forward group, which has enjoyed great production from David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand in the early going and from David Backes before his elbow injury that was at least partially caused by the hard miles the 32-year-old brawny center has logged over the years. 

Patrice Bergeron has just one point in four games since returning from a lower body injury and opposing defenses in recent games have been able to key on that top line of Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak while mostly neutralizing them. 

That’s because the other Bruins forward lines are doing nothing offensively from a production or puck possession standpoint. Sure, Austin Czarnik had his first NHL goal Wednesday night against the Rangers and Dominic Moore has a couple of goals for a fourth line that’s been decent for Boston this season.

But David Krejci has no goals and three points in seven games with a minus-4 rating while looking slow and tentative coming back from hip surgery, Ryan Spooner is off to a slow start bouncing between wing and center and the third line winger combo of Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes have zero points and a ghastly combined minus-14 rating on the season.

So, basically the Black and Gold have nothing to hang their hat on with the goaltending, the defensemen and the forwards all working at far less than full capacity right now, and that’s making them hockey road kill for opponents. To make matters worse, the Bruins find themselves in the middle of a six-game stretch where they’re playing quality teams that made the playoffs last season, and can expose all of their weak spots.

A prolonged losing streak could knock the Bruins far out of the playoff picture over the next few weeks and leave them more than a handful of points out of the postseason cut by Thanksgiving. Once that happens, the odds would be against the Bruins turning things around and there would zero margin of error for a team that needs leeway based on the glaring roster weaknesses.

So, what are the Bruins to do right now?

There’s not much they can do aside from simply play better, hope that Backes and Rask can return rather quickly and avoid buckling and quitting in games like they did against the Wild and Rangers over the past few days. The Bruins will try to ramp Rask up potentially for this weekend against the Red Wings in Detroit and perhaps that will be enough time for his reported hamstring and groin issues to have healed up.

But if not, the Bruins will need to look on the goaltending market for possible answers rather than asking rookie goalies to thrive behind a struggling, substandard defensive group. Ondrej Pavelec out in Winnipeg would be too expensive in terms of cap hit and there may not be a chance to snag Mike Condon on waivers from Pittsburgh as the Penguins look like they want to hold onto the Massachusetts native with Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury also in the fold.

That leaves the Bruins with a number of retread goalie options like Kari Ramo, Kevin Poulin, Ray Emery, Dan Ellis and Yann Danis, who might have to become a reality if Rask suffers a dreaded setback in the coming days. Bringing in a veteran goalie with NHL experience certainly makes some sense on paper if things are left to Subban and McIntyre, but the bottom line is that Boston will continue to resemble an imploding hockey club until some of their other deep-seated issues are fully addressed.

Gerry Cheevers isn’t walking through that door anytime soon, and if he did, he’d smartly walk back out rather than get hung out to dry by a Bruins team that’s playing embarrassingly poorly in front of a couple of young goalies that need their best.  

THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Titans roll to 36-22 victory over Jaguars


THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Titans roll to 36-22 victory over Jaguars

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - There's nothing like a visit from the Jacksonville Jaguars to make the Tennessee Titans remember how to protect their home field.

Marcus Mariota threw for 270 yards and two touchdowns to end his home struggles and the Titans had their highest point total of the season in a 36-22 victory over the Jaguars on Thursday night.

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