Boston Red Sox

Drellich: Like 2016 Indians, Red Sox will be favorites for early exit

Drellich: Like 2016 Indians, Red Sox will be favorites for early exit

BOSTON — A year ago, the team that lost the World Series in seven games was the team everyone wanted to play. The team everyone thought would make for a quick KO.

Certainly, the Red Sox wanted the Indians. The Sox got ‘em in the Division Series, and subsequently got their clocks cleaned.

But that was the sentiment within the organization at the time: we hope we get the Indians.

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The Indians were hurting. Michael Brantley was out. Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar were both down too. Longtime Indians beat writer Paul Haynes famously wrote the Indians off before the playoffs even began.

It’s no mystery why the Indians were viewed that way, or why they ended up excelling. Any team that makes it has a chance.

But the Red Sox are wearing Cleveland's shoes now, or will be, barring a Yankees takeover of the division title. The Red Sox will be the team everyone wants to play as October begins.

If you’re the Astros, if you’re the Indians, you’re scared straight by Chris Sale. (Well, maybe not the Indians, who have knocked Sale around.) But that’s about it.

The Sox offense simply is outmanned. Baseball Prospectus’ playoff odds entering Sunday had the Red Sox with the lowest chance to win the World Series, 5.2 percent, of any current division leader — and with even lesser odds than two second-place teams, the Yankees (7.8 percent) and Diamondbacks (5.8) percent.

Maybe the Sox would do well to realize how people look at them.

You’ve probably noticed Sox pointing at their wrists after some hits. Christian Vazquez has done it. Jackie Bradley Jr. too. The reference, to the Apple Watch sign-stealing scandal, is obvious. (And it might not be the best idea, to mock rule-breaking before a punishment is handed down.)

But this is a Sox team that does seem keen to play with a chip on its shoulder. David Price has embodied that all year long. Dustin Pedroia has some bite too.

“Nothing bothers me, man,” Pedroia said when asked if the sign-stealing allegations bother him. “Like you know, playing in this environment you kind of have to have thick skin and turn the page on whatever is being said because a lot of it is just talk and that's it. I mean, you just go play."

Thick skin is great, but the Sox can also channel some negative energy. Pedroia's not in a bubble. None of them are. Pedroia was also well aware of what photos were circulating of him and teammates — like Doug Fister with his mouthguard around his ear — in relation to that sign-stealing scandal. 

There’s been a lot of negativity surrounding the Sox this year, externally and at times internally as well. The Sox are still in first place. They’re still the American League East leader. 

But the facts do work against them. 

Their on-base percentage entering Sunday, .333, was a point lower than the Twins, who are fighting to hold on to the second Wild Card in the American League. Their slugging percentage, .408, was the fifth worst in baseball, and the worst in the AL.

The pitching is great, with the fourth best ERA in the majors, at 3.70. The Indians are better, at 3.44. The Astros, with the best offense in the majors in terms of runs scored per game (5.54), still have above league average pitching, with a 4.24 ERA — and some healthy starters who just returned. The Indians offense produces more runs per game (5.06) than the Sox' (4.79).

David Price might come back. Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts might bust out. They can turn heads quickly. But the Red Sox are poised to enter the playoffs as the team no one believes in. Or at least, as the team the fewest believe in.

The Indians proved that's not necessarily the worst position to be in.

"I think we have enough players where we can win," Terry Francona said on Oct. 13, 2016, before the Championship Series began. "We're going to have to play very good baseball. Your margin for error is a little bit less when guys get hurt. So you hope you don't make errors."

CSNNE SCHEDULE

Drellich: After season, Red Sox should extend John Farrell long-term or fire him

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Drellich: After season, Red Sox should extend John Farrell long-term or fire him

 John Farrell’s contract runs through next season. Once this season is over, the Sox need to extend him for multiple years or fire him.

No in-between, Dave Dombrowski. Not if you want to avoid unnecessary drama for your club.

The last manager the Red Sox president of baseball operations personally installed, Brad Ausmus, is a free agent. Ausmus is finishing the last year of his deal in Detroit and the Tigers won’t bring him back.

This isn’t going where you think. 

Oh, speculation the Sox could pursue Ausmus will crop up, whether founded or not. That’s what happens when there’s a connection between a lead executive and an available skipper.

But Ausmus stands as a strong example of what happens when a manager is left in the wind. 

In 2015, when there were false reports Ausmus was fired with one year remaining on his deal, he was on the hot seat and the chatter never disappeared.

"Don't care at all,” Ausmus said two years ago, via ESPN. “Said it before, I'll say it right now. Players will respect you regardless of your contract status. They're gonna respect you because of who you are, not how much money you're making or how long your tenure is.”

In 2016, Ausmus played the year out with no certainty about his future. His 2017 option wasn't picked up until after the season.

“I understand I’m in the crosshairs,” Ausmus said last May, via the Detroit News. “That’s not gonna change the way I do anything . . . I’m not gonna make decisions based on whether I’m gonna get fired or not.”

And then, lo and behold, Ausmus was back in the same position again.

“I don’t worry about it,” Ausmus said in July, via the Free Press. “I don’t really ever worry about it. I guess I worry about it less now. My contract’s over at the end of the year anyway. I guess you think about it even less.”

The Sox don’t need this. 

The Tigers were losing and are now headed for a rebuild. Farrell’s closing in on his second straight American League East title. 

Let’s assume he gets it. That's an impressive feat. Enough to be rewarded. At the same time, if all the side dramas — the Baltimore incident, David Price’s lack of self-control, even the embarrassment of the sign-stealing saga — are enough that Dombrowski still feels unsure, he should act.

Dombrowski, great talent evaluator that he is, should have a fully formed opinion on Farrell by now. 

Remember how silly everything looked last October when it came to Farrell's status?

Farrell spoke to the media at a Fenway Park press conference after the Sox were eliminated. Farrell was under contract through 2017 at that point, but had no answers about his job security, about whether he was coming back. 

Farrell’s press conference wrapped, and in walked Dombrowski for his segment with the media. Dombrowski announced that he had just told Farrell he was coming back for 2017 — in a conversation with Farrell in between press conferences.

Uh, OK? The scene was bizarre, to say the least. 

Then, it wasn’t until December that the Sox announced they picked up Farrell’s option through 2018.

The players and Farrell deserve a fuller answer this offseason. If Farrell is the guy, treat him like it and let the players know he’s the guy. Let a clubhouse that didn’t seem to have one band, one sound the whole year know who’s actually in charge. 

And if Farrell is not the guy, move on.

What the Red Sox should not do is stand pat and leave Farrell’s contract, which runs through next season, as is. They shouldn’t leave him and the team (and the media that will ask questions of both) in a constant state of wonder, with a lurking sense that Farrell could be out the door. They shouldn't leave themselves open to speculation Farrell's moves could be influenced by his job security.

The Sox could add just one more year to Farrell's deal again, but that'd be far from a vote of confidence. Is it Dombrowski’s intention to have Farrell sit on the hot seat annually?

Maybe in Dombrowski’s mind, there’s a particular playoff round Farrell and the Sox need to advance to for Farrell to stick around. Maybe two straight divisiont titles is all he needed to see. We don't know. Whatever the criteria proves to be, it will be scrutinized. But the firmness of the decision is significant as well.

There’s so much the Sox have to deal with every year. Legitimacy of the manager is one area where the Sox have some control over the volume. Uncertainty is a dangerous theme song.

Red Sox rally for 5-4 win over Reds, extend AL East lead

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Red Sox rally for 5-4 win over Reds, extend AL East lead

CINCINNATI -- Staggered by Scooter Gennett's grand slam in the first inning, the Boston Red Sox regrouped and finally put some distance between themselves and the Yankees.

Rafael Devers hit a three-run homer Friday night, and the Red Sox extended their A.L. East lead to four games with a 5-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds. Boston added to its lead with the help of the Yankees' 8-1 loss at Toronto.

The Red Sox have won 12 of 15, keeping the Yankees at bay while moving a season-high 25 games over .500 at 89-64. The Red Sox already have clinched a playoff berth and home-field advantage for the wild-card game, if it would come to that. Boston has never played a wild-card game, and doesn't want to settle for one now.

"The ball's in our court," David Price (6-3) said. "We win, we're fine. We don't care what the Yankees do. We just go play our game."

Their A.L. Cy Young Award winner is still struggling heading into playoff time, though.

Rick Porcello gave up Gennett's fourth grand slam -- a Reds' season record -- in the first inning. He lasted a season-low four innings, turning a 5-4 lead over to the bullpen. Porcello has lost 17 games - most in the majors - after winning 22 last year along with the Cy Young.

With the left-handed Price fresh, manager John Farrell decided Porcello was finished after 57 pitches.

"I just felt with the left-hander in David going against the heat of the order was the move to make," Farrell said. "I know Rick did not want to come out of that game, and I fully respect that."

Part of Porcello's problem has been a lack of run support. Boston has been blanked while he's on the mound in 10 of his losses. This time, the Red Sox got him off the hook, overcoming Gennett's career-high 27th homer with the help of Devers' three-run shot off Sal Romano (5-7).

The Red Sox are last in the AL with 159 homers.

Price pitched 2 2/3 innings and contributed a single, bringing the Red Sox to the front of the dugout for a celebration. Craig Kimbrel pitched the ninth for his 34th save in 38 chances. He hasn't allowed a run in his last 10 appearances.

SCOOOTER'S LORE

Gennett was claimed off waivers from Milwaukee late in spring training. He has provided some of the Reds' best moments in an 88-loss season, including a four-homer game on June 6. His homer off Porcello ended the Red Sox' streak of 26 straight scoreless innings. He and Lou Gehrig are the only players with a four-homer game and four grand slams in any season.

"That sounds crazy," Gennett said of his connection with Gehrig.

INTERLEAGUE

The Red Sox are 10-1 against the Reds all-time in their interleague series. The Reds beat the Red Sox in seven games for the 1975 World Series championship. Overall, Boston is 14-4 in interleague play this season. The Reds are 5-13.

FATHER-SON

Farrell had lunch with his son Luke, a Reds reliever. Luke wears the same No. 52 as his father. The last time a manager faced his son as an opposing player was 2004, when the Giants' Felipe Alou went against his son Moises of the Cubs. Luke Farrell didn't get into the game Friday.

"It's definitely unique," John Farrell said. "Hopefully it's just a side story to a successful series for us."

HOMECOMING

Boston left fielder Andrew Benintendi had several hundred relatives and friends cheering him from the upper deck in left. Benintendi attended Madeira High School in suburban Cincinnati and regularly attended games at Great American Ball Park. His favorite player was Ken Griffey Jr.

"I just remember watching the guys play and picturing myself out there," Benintendi said . "It's crazy that I'm here now."

BARNHART'S DEAL

Reds C Tucker Barnhart agreed to a $16 million, four-year contract that covers his salary arbitration years and the first season after he would have been eligible for free agency. He receives a $1.75 million signing bonus and salaries of $4 million next year, $2.5 million in 2019, $3.5 million in 2020 and $3.75 million in 2021. As part of the deal announced Friday, Cincinnati has a $7.5 million option for 2022 with a $500,000 buyout.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Red Sox: INF Eduardo Nunez is increasing his daily workouts as he recovers from a sprained knee, but isn't close to a full return. "We have to see some marked improvement," Farrell said. "First thing would be a potential pinch-hit situation. We're not going to risk anything until we get him on the base paths and get a better feel for what he's capable of doing."

Reds: CF Billy Hamilton was back in the lineup for the first time since he broke his left thumb on Sept. 6 while bunting. He had two singles and was caught stealing when he over-slid second base.

UP NEXT

Red Sox: LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (5-6) is 1-1 with a 2.55 ERA in his last three starts. He's 2-2 in eight career interleague starts.

Reds: Rookie Robert Stephenson (5-5) is 5-1 with a 2.84 ERA in his last six starts.