After rocky start, Sox rebound in first half

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After rocky start, Sox rebound in first half

By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com Follow @maureenamullen
It was not the way the season was supposed to start.

After an offseason that was heralded unlike any in recent years, with the acquisitions of high-profile players includingfirst basemanAdrian Gonzalez in a trade with the Padres and left fielder Carl Crawford as a free agent, along with relievers Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler, many preseason prognosticators were fitting the Red Sox for World Series rings.

They were not supposed to go a shocking 0-fer in their first six games.

But thats exactly what happened when they opened the season in Texas and then went on to Cleveland. It was their worst open to a season since the 1945 team went 0-8. The Sox returned to Fenway Park to face the Yankees for the home opener with a zero in the win column. Manager Terry Francona later joked that he wasnt sure what to expect when the team was introduced to the home crowd. Applause or boos for the manager. It could have gone either way.

The Sox won that game, but later fell to 2-10.

The palpable angst among Red Sox fans elicited an appeasement from Chili Davis, the first-year hitting coach for Triple-A Pawtucket.

Tell Red Sox Nation in 1991 the Twins started off 2-9, Davis said back in April. We did all right that year.''

The Twins did more than all right that year. They won the World Series, beating the Braves in seven games.

Just how prophetic Davis words may be remains to be seen. But, at least for the first half of this season, the Sox have done all right.

They entered the All-Star break in first place in the American League East, a game in front of the Yankees, with the best record in the A.L. at 55-35. Their .611 winning percentage is behind only Philadelphias .626 (57-34) in the majors.

When they took over sole possession of first place on May 27, the Sox became only the fifth team in history to do so after losing 10 of their first 12 games, and the first since the 1982 Orioles. None of the other four teams turned things around as quickly by games or days as the Sox did.

For the Sox, though, it was a matter of when, not if. Even if there was no specific date in sight.

It seemed a long way off, Francona said. I think I believed it. It was a very difficult start. Theres no getting around that. I think we needed to regroup, and pay attention to detail, be patient to believe in ourselves because its not easy.

We were taking some pretty good shots. We probably deserved them, but there were some things being written or said that I dont think I believed. And I think we went out and proved that we can be a good team. Were not done yet, not even close, but were playing better baseball.

If the teams turnaround was a surprise, it wasnt to anyone in the clubhouse.

Im not surprised, said David Ortiz. I knew we had a good ballclub. What surprised me was how people were panicking and going crazy when we only had played a small amount of games. Like I always say, its not how you start but how you finish.

Guys in the clubhouse and players in the clubhouse speak for themselves the way they go out and grind out at-bats and grind out innings, Jonathan Papelbon said. Its the way it is. Its the way our ballclub is put together.

I like that we grind. You grind, you shine.

The Sox, shining, head into the second half -- starting Friday with a three-game series against the Rays in Tampa Bay -- in an enviable position. They are a major-league best 55-29 (.655) since getting their first win on April 8. They have won six games in a row, including a four-game sweep of the Orioles just before the break, and 10 of 11, heading into the break.

Nice to be where we are given where we started, said general manager Theo Epstein. A testament to all the hard work of the players and coaching staff. So, were definitely happy with where we are considering where we started. But it doesnt mean anything. Weve got to come back and play good baseball. Were in a competitive division and we havent really proven anything yet, although, hopefully, weve answered some questions about how weve bounced back from adversity.

You never answer all the questions that need to be answered in the first half. Proud of the guys, but it wont mean anything if we dont come out in the second half and play good baseball.

I think we are where we deserve to be, Francona said. Whatever our record is. Weve been a little bit up and down-ish, more down than wed like. But the ups have been better than the downs. Wed like to keep the losing streaks a little more to a minimum but weve done a good job rallying and keeping some of these streaks together. I think we have room for improvement, which I think is good. I think we lead baseball in runs they do, with 482 which is something were thrilled about.

"Wed like to get our bullpen a little bit more in order so we dont have to rely on Daniel Bard and things like that, with Alfredo Aceves and Matt Albers. We need to get Bobby Jenks going, try to get Franklin Morales on a roll here. Theres things we need to take care of,but theres room for optimism.

There is room for optimism, but there are some concerns, too.

The rotation has been hit hard by injuries. Francona has used nine starting pitchers this season, while four-fifths of the planned rotation has been shelved by injuries. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz begin the second half on the disabled list. Daisuke Matsuzaka is done for the season after Tommy John surgery. John Lackey missed 21 games earlier this season on the DL and has been inconsistent at best when available. Josh Beckett has looked like his former self but left his last start, on Friday, after the fifth inning with a mildly hyperextended left knee and opted to not pitch in the All-Star Game Tuesday night because of that.

Were a long way from 2-10, but we got to shore up, said Jason Varitek. We got to get our pitching staff healthy. Its another huge key. Same as when we pitch well consistently we have a chance to win.

Production from right field has been lacking in the first half. J.D. Drew, in the final year of a five-year, 70 million contract, is hitting just .229, with 4 home runs and 21 RBI in 72 games. Altogether, Red Sox right fielders Drew, Mike Cameron (24 games), Darnell McDonald (nine), Josh Reddick (three), and Adrian Gonzalez (two) hit just .220 with 9 home runs and 39 RBI in the first half.

The Sox, who are always active at the trading deadline, could be in the market for a right-handed bat or possibly a pitcher. But, with several high-profile trades in the last few years, including the one for Gonzalez in December and another for Victor Martinez at the 2009 trading deadline, the Sox have depleted the number of prospects available to trade.

The Sox have still not seen what Crawford can do for them. He has been out since June 18 because of a left hamstring strain and offered limited production before that --- batting .243 with 6 home runs, 31 RBI, 8 stolen bases in 12 attempts (a 67 percent success rate, below the accepted 75 percent), a .275 on-base percentage and .384 slugging percentage.

No question, health in general, Papelbon said. Get the guys back that have had the ailments that have been bugging them. Hopefully, come back with a full squad.

It was an incredible first half, Ortiz said. But the most important part is the second half. Thats the one that determines if were going to the playoffs or not. Hopefully, we come back on the same page and hopefully the guys on the DL will come back healthy.

Yes, the Sox are a long way from 2-10. But, they know October is still a long way away.

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen

Drellich: Red Sox play the waiting game as deadline approaches

Drellich: Red Sox play the waiting game as deadline approaches

BOSTON -- Doug Fister’s start on Thursday was the clearest reason an 8-6 Red Sox loss to the Blue Jays felt like a bridge day. He was there to give some rest to the other starters, which was a worthy idea. But Fister’s command was poor enough to make that decision questionable.

Presumably, Fister’s time as starter for the Sox is now over, although manager John Farrell was noncommittal afterward.

MORE RED SOX

Add it to the list of reasons the Red Sox look like a team in limbo at the moment. They’re in first place, while simultaneously playing a waiting game.

Whom the Sox acquire before the non-waiver trade deadline at the end of the month, and how long they wait to pull off a deal, looms large. Because even though the offense has looked better the last two days, it was still the primary drawback during a 4-4 homestand within the division.

Chris Sale and David Price will be on the mound to start a three-game weekend series against the Angels in Anaheim, so at least a feeling of normalcy should return.

“Back to the top of the rotation,” Farrell said. “We’ve got a chance to hopefully catch up with some recovery days down that bullpen. Anytime Chris and David are walking to the mound, we feel like we're extremely confident.”

But now, someone new needs to walk through the clubhouse door. Someone will, too -- it’s just a matter of when, lest Dave Dombrowski’s m.o. all of a sudden changes 40-plus years into his career.

There’s no confusion about what should be done.

As nice as it is that Christian Vazquez is capable of playing third base, the Red Sox need to find a situation where they have a third baseman who can start the game and finish it -- where they have someone whose bat is good enough to do so.

Vazquez manning third at the end of Thursday’s game is symbolic of the position on a whole: it’s been left to the warmest body at the moment, rather than someone who truly has a handle on the job.

Top prospect Rafael Devers has been hitting very well in his brief stint at Triple-A Pawtucket, going 8-for-22 (.364) in six games, with a .440 on-base percentage and a pair of home runs. He has four strikeouts compared to three walks.

But considering the way Dombrowski has spoken all season, the Sox seem intent on doing what’s best for Devers’ development rather than rushing the 20-year-old to aid the major league team. And what was right for Devers’ development thus far this season, as the Sox saw it, was three months at Double-A.

Spending only a week in Triple-A, or really anything less than a month, then, would seem hasty. Even a late August or September call-up would be a quick move, relatively speaking.

Barring a change of heart, then, help still needs to come from the outside. Even if the Sox believe in Devers for this year, he would still be an unknown commodity in the big leagues, and the Sox at this point need something more than that.

There’s a piece missing, at least one. Everyone’s waiting to see what comes next, including the clubhouse.

Flubbed popup opens floodgates, helps Blue Jays beat Red Sox, 8-6

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Flubbed popup opens floodgates, helps Blue Jays beat Red Sox, 8-6

BOSTON -- Steve Pearce blooped the ball to the edge of the outfield grass, and Red Sox second baseman Brock Holt was there.

He planted his feet. He raised his arm to catch it.

But something wasn't quite right.

Holt lost the ball in the sun, allowing it to glance off his glove for a two-run single that tied the game as the Toronto Blue Jays rallied from an early deficit to take the lead for good and hold on to beat the Boston Red Sox 8-6 on Thursday.

"As weakly as I hit it, I didn't" expect it to fall, said Pearce, who had three hits. "When you put the ball in the air, sometimes (the fielder) just can't do it. Day game, clear sky. It was a great time for it."

Ryan Goins followed with a two-run single to give the Blue Jays the lead. Justin Smoak homered twice, but it was a 140-foot duck snort that turned things around and allowed Toronto to leave Boston with a split in the four-game series.

"I don't care how hard it's hit, it's a two-RBI knock. Then Goins comes right behind me, keeps things rolling," said Pearce, whose team lost nine of the first 10 games of the season and haven't been above fourth place since. "We've had a lot of things going against us, so it's nice to finally have something go for us."

Dustin Pedroia had three hits, including a three-run homer, while serving as designated hitter on a 90-degree day at the end of a grinding homestand. Including the 15-inning game on Tuesday with Toronto, the AL East-leading Red Sox played 76 innings in about 144 hours - the equivalent of 8 1/2 games in six days.

But it was the sun more than the heat that was the problem, especially for the right fielders and anyone else who tried to field a popup.

"During day games it's always pretty bad for the right side of the field - second basemen, right field," Holt said. "It was one of those balls that wasn't really high enough where I could do anything to move myself and maneuver myself to get that out of the sun. ... I tried to stay with it as long as I could and unfortunately couldn't make the play. So that one's on me."

Dominic Leone (2-0) earned the win. Toronto starter Francisco Liriano got just five outs, allowing three runs in the second, but the Blue Jays came back with four in the third to take a 5-3 lead against Doug Fister (0-4).

Roberto Osuna pitched the ninth for his 24th save.

Smoak has 26 homers and 62 RBIs this season. His previous career highs were 20 and 59.

"We still have 2 1/2 more months left in the season so I just try to keep my head down and keep going," he said.

Smoak's RBI single in the sixth gave Toronto a 7-3 lead, then Pedroia's homer in the seventh made it a one-run game. Smoak added his second homer in the ninth.

Mookie Betts had two hits and two RBIs for Boston.

FOR STARTERS

Liriano gave up three runs - two earned - five hits and a walk, striking out one. He gave up back-to-back doubles to Xander Bogaerts and Sandy Leon, and Betts scored two with a single to give Boston a 3-1 lead in the second.

But the Blue Jays came back with four in the third, when Fister walked four batters and also gave up run-scoring singles to Pearce and Goins. Fister allowed six runs, seven hits and four walks, striking out three in 4 1/3 innings.

SELF DEFENSE

Goins ended the fifth inning when he raised his bat to protect himself from an inside pitch and wound up grounding it back to reliever Fernando Abad. Home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman signaled a fair ball, Abad made the casual throw to first, and Hanley Ramirez, seemingly confused, paused before stepping on the base. Goins remained on his knees in the batter's box, smiling, long after the rest of the players cleared the field.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Blue Jays: RHP Aaron Sanchez left Wednesday night's game with a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand.

Red Sox: Leon was hit in the left foot by Russell Martin's foul tip in the fourth inning. The training staff came out to look at it, and the Boston catcher remained in the game.

UP NEXT

Blue Jays: Marco Estrada (4-6) faces Trevor Bauer (7-8) in the opener of a three-game series against Cleveland.

Red Sox: Chris Sale (11-4) will start the opener of a three game series against the Angels, facing Ricky Nolasco (4-10).