Boston Red Sox

Cy Young winners Porcello, Keuchel face similar challenges

Cy Young winners Porcello, Keuchel face similar challenges

An American League sinker baller won the Cy Young in a surprise season and had trouble the following year.

In a way, Dallas Keuchel, the 2015 Cy Young winner, was Rick Porcello before Porcello. Keuchel, the Astros’ ace, went 20-8 that year with a 2.48 ERA and a league-best 232 innings.

Keuchel's follow-up season — during Porcello’s amazing 2016 — was a different story. The lefty Keuchel had a 4.55 ERA and threw 168 innings because of a shoulder injury. 

Astros manager A.J. Hinch sees at least a somewhat shared thread between the last two Cy Young winners in the AL.

“My own theory is that it depends on the style of pitcher, and I think you’re on to something when you talk about sinker ball pitchers or different style pitchers,” Hinch said on the CSNNE Baseball Show Podcast. “When you have a plus-stuff guy, someone who has power with all the strikeouts, or the nasty breaking ball and the Cy Young, you think Clayton Kershaw. You think Max Scherzer. You have this guy that can really out-stuff the opponent. I think that guy has a better chance of repeating. Because he can just outstuff you. He doesn’t have to be perfect in his execution.

“When you have sinker ball guys that rely on execution, command, control — maybe the hitter chasing outside the strike zone — I think it’s interesting to look at Dallas’ year last year and maybe Porcello’s year this year as someone who’s trying to repeat behavior. And they’re trying to be perfect. And they might change their approach a little bit. Maybe even subconsciously to be a little more fine with their command, or be a little bit more careful trying to avoid contact. 

“That can alter, you know, your competitive state in a lot of different ways. And I think Dallas went through that last season, where he tried to repeat being Dallas Keuchel as opposed to relying on his stuff inside the strike zone with movement to get the outs. For Dallas, it turned into walks. For Porcello, it’s been a little bit more balance getting right-handed hitters or left-handed hitters out. I think that’s changed a little bit.”

Lefties had a .600 OPS vs. Porcello in 2016, while righties had a .672 OPS. This year, both have an .841 OPS vs. Porcello.

The Red Sox have been working with Porcello to regain the depth on his sinker, which has taken on more side-to-side movement at times. That can be effective in itself, if employed in such a way that it starts on the plate and moves off the plate to righty hitters. But righty hitters can’t be too comfortable in the box for that to be the case.

Sinker ballers in general have a hard time these days, because batters focus more on lifting the ball and launch angle and upper cuts.

“We were glad that the the strike zone didn’t get altered, I can tell you that,” Hinch said. “We didn’t want it to be raised. That would be very difficult for sinker baller pitchers. It’s hard to go north and south as a sinker baller. A lot of times, you’re talking about east and west in the strike zone. You’re talking about balls running down and in. But the part about being a sinker baller I don’t think gets talked enough about: you have to locate east and west as well as getting the ball below the zone. 

“The style of swings nowadays, with everybody upper cutting and the launch angle of getting the ball in the air, has created a small disadvantage. … You’re going to start with the premise that you’re going to get underneath the ball, and if those balls are elevated at all, we know hard a low fastball can get hit when it’s a little bit up in the bottom part of the strike zone. 

"I think the east-west part is going to be how sinker ball pitchers end up combatting the hit-, launch-angle era.”

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Red Sox extend division lead to five games with 5-1 win over Yankees

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Red Sox extend division lead to five games with 5-1 win over Yankees

BOSTON - Jackie Bradley Jr. tripled in two runs and singled in another, and Rick Porcello pitched six innings of a combined three-hitter to help the AL East-leading Red Sox beat New York 5-1 on Sunday and extend their lead over the Yankees to five games.

The Red Sox won for the 14th time in 17 games, taking two out of three from New York for the second weekend in a row. The archrivals meet again in the first week of September for a four-game series at Yankee Stadium.

Porcello (8-14) allowed all three New York hits, striking out four and walking three to win his fourth straight start. Three relievers provided a perfect inning apiece.

Porcello has allowed two runs or fewer in all six career starts against the Yankees in Fenway Park. That's the longest such stretch for a Red Sox pitcher since at least 1913, the ballclub said.

Sonny Gray (7-8) allowed two runs on seven hits and two walks in five innings.

Brett Gardner homered near the Pesky Pole for the Yankees, who had won five of their last six.

Devers, Sale making mark on history as Red Sox battle for division

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Devers, Sale making mark on history as Red Sox battle for division

BOSTON — The Red Sox on Saturday lost a game in which Chris Sale pitched and Rafael Devers homered. Let the Yankees’ 4-3 victory be a reminder: the American League East race isn’t going to close any time soon. At least, it shouldn’t. 

But even in close losses, there’s a parallel track to the pursuit of the division that should be a compelling sideshow for Red Sox fans: history.

The importance of Chris Sale breaking Pedro Martinez’s club single-season strikeout record is minimal compared to KO’ing the Yankees. Yet, with every passing start, tracking each K becomes a tad more intriguing. 

The southpaw on Saturday surpassed 250 strikeouts for the season, becoming just the third pitcher to do so in his first 25 games. Randy Johnson did that in 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2001, and Pedro Martinez did it in 2000 as well.

But now, unexpectedly, it’s not just Sale’s work that’s worth watching. He has a partner in the pursuit of bookkeepers. 

Devers, in just 20 games, has become the hitting foil for the ace. He ripped his eighth home run in Saturday’s 4-3 loss, a seventh-inning shot just to the right of the yellow line reaching out of the triangle in center field. The homer was also a record breaker, because no one else under the age of 21 has hit eight home runs in their first 20 games, per Elias. That’s in major league history, to be clear. 

The record for a player of any age is nine home runs, matched most recently by Trevor Story last year, and once upon a time by George Scott, in 1966.

A chubby left-handed hitter swatting home runs everywhere, defying everyone’s expectations? It’s almost too stunning to properly contextualize or explain. 

“I try not to look too much at videos because I would go out there with the mentality of what this guy has,” Devers said. “I just try to do my batting practice and do my fielding practice every day and just keep things the same.”

“If it's in the strike zone I try to be aggressive with it, and try to lay off the ones outside the strike zone. But I don't look for any location or any type of pitches.”

He’s that good: he steps in and rips and the results have been stunning. Almost Ruthian. Or, in fact, Ruthian.

Devers on Saturday became the first player under the age of 21 to homer in three consecutive games against the Yankees since Ruth did it in 1915, per Elias. Ruth, of course, was still with the Sox then. Those home runs happened to be the first three of his career.

Devers’ 28 hits through his first 20 games are the most by a Red Sox hitter since Johnny Pesky had the same amount in 1942.

Four Sox hitters have hit safely against the Yankees in their first five games against them since the age of 21: Jack Rothrock (1925), Ruth (1914-15), and Ted Williams (1939).

Sale needs 63 strikeouts to tie Martinez’s 1999 mark of 313. He shouldn't have a hard time meeting that figure if he makes another, say, seven starts.