First pitch: Bats make Red Sox shortcomings a total team effort

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First pitch: Bats make Red Sox shortcomings a total team effort

TORONTO -- From the very first week of the season, the Red Sox' starting pitching failed them.

Josh Beckett had five different starts in which he allowed six runs or more. Clay Buchholz, perhaps mindful of the lower back stress fracture he suffered last season, seemed tentative until late May. Daisuke Matsuzaka has more trips to the DL than he has wins. And Jon Lester, who began the season with one of the best winning percentages in franchise history, is now three games under .500.

Had Beckett -- when he was here -- Buchholz and Lester pitched better, perhaps the Red Sox would still be on the fringe of the wild card race, rather than playing out the string and facing an uphill battle to match last September's total of seven wins in the final full month of the season.

But in a 5-0 loss to the Blue Jays Sunday, there were reminders that pitching is not the only sore spot for the Sox going forward. Sunday represented the seventh time this season that the Sox were blanked.

That's only half of it, however. Eighteen other times, the Sox have been limited to just a single run. So, in 25 of their 145 games -- or, on average more than once every five games, the Sox have scored zero or one runs.

That's once per week over the course of a six-month season. And, of course, it's way too often.

For the last month or so, the Red Sox have admittedly been playing with something far less than their regular lineup. Will Middlebrooks broke his hand in the first week of August and won't play again. David Ortiz, except for a brief one-game return, has been out since the end
of July.

Those injuries have robbed the Sox' offense of two of their three biggest run producers. Thought a rookie, Middlebrooks has the second-highest slugging percentage on the team. The only player with a higher percentage? Ortiz.

Throw in the trade that sent away Adrian Gonzalez, who seemed to be re-discovering his power stroke in the weeks before the blockbuster deal that sent him to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Sox are missing three players, who were they here and available, would literally represent the middle third of the Boston batting order.

Those absences can't be absorbed without some cracks showing in the offense.

But the fact is that the offensive shortcomings didn't just materialize in the last few weeks; they've merely been highlighted. And it's painfully obvious that in addition to bolstering their rotation, the Sox must also pay attention to their offense this winter.

Middlebrooks will return, presumably healthy, and will get better in his second year in the big leagues. But both Ortiz and Cody Ross -- the next-most productive offensive force on the roster -- are free agents and while both have said it's their wish to returned, they can't be
counted until new deals are signed.

Further, the team may have to investigate trading Jacoby Ellsbury for pitching. One major league executive, asked recently about the chances of the Sox getting Ellsbury to agree to a contract extension before he reaches free agency, replied without hesitation: "Zero.''

Even if Ellsbury fetches a quality starter in return, his departure will only create another opening in the batting order, throwing, for now, all three outfield spots open -- to say nothing of DH, first base and shortstop.

Should Ross and Ortiz rejoin Middlebrooks, the Sox need more punch.

There may be no more misleading stat than the Sox ranking fourth in runs scored among the 14 American League teams. Anyone watching the club this year understands that their total is skewed by the Sox scoring double-figures in runs in one-sided games, though, tellingly, also in two games in which they still lost.

So while the rotation remains the chief focal point to get the Sox back to contender status -- or merely respectable again -- it's not as if the offense is trouble-free. If upgrades aren't made alongside pitching improvements, next year could see the team losing again, in low-scoring games.

Posey stays out of the fray during Strickland-Harper brawl

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Posey stays out of the fray during Strickland-Harper brawl

SAN FRANCISCO  — As an irate Bryce Harper charged toward the mound, Buster Posey just stood and watched from behind home plate.

And when the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants cleared their benches Monday and punches flew both ways, the All-Star catcher did his best to remain just outside the fray.

Not where some expected to find the Giants team leader with his pitcher, Hunter Strickland, exchanging head shots with Harper.

“Posey did NOTHING to stop Harper from getting to his pitcher,” former major league pitcher Dontrelle Willis wrote on Twitter. “I’ve never seen that before in my life.”

Posey declined to enter the fracas, instead remaining around its edges and watching as the players scuffled in “a pretty good pile,” as Giants manager Bruce Bochy called it.

Posey dealt with a concussion in April after being struck in the head by a pitch, but did not say he held back because of concerns related to that. He did say he was wary about the risk of injury.

“There were some big guys tumbling around out there,” Posey said. “You see Mike Morse and Jeff Samardzija are about as big as they come and he was getting knocked around like a pinball. So it was a little dangerous to get in there.”

Still, social media was abuzz at the sight of Posey not sticking up for his teammate.

“Strickland must have told @BusterPosey he was hitting him and let him come cause he didn’t even give a soft jog,” Willis wrote.

“Says all you need to know that Buster Posey didn’t bother to hold back Harper,” tweeted Fox broadcaster Kevin Burkhardt . “Let him go get his pitcher.”

Also absent from the fight: hard-nosed Giants ace Madison Bumgarner. As his teammates flew over the dugout railing, Bumgarner stayed put, perhaps because the left-hander is still recovering after injuring his pitching shoulder and ribs in a dirt biking accident in April.

 

Drellich: After golden 2016, Red Sox remember what it's like to have things go wrong

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Drellich: After golden 2016, Red Sox remember what it's like to have things go wrong

CHICAGO — More than anything else, Monday’s 5-4 Red Sox loss was a reminder of how much the Red Sox had go right for them a year ago, and just how unrealistic it was to expect so much of it to carry over into 2017.

The Red Sox remain a very good team. But the success of last year’s 93-win team, of any 93-win team is, truly, difficult to replicate. Unlikely, even.

Baseball’s age of parity, the randomness of freak injuries, good old regression — the Sox were due for some elements to catch up to them after a season that was more or less golden in 2016.

Dustin Pedroia, who headed back to Boston on Monday for an MRI on his left wrist, was healthy enough to hit 15 home runs a year ago, his highest total since 2012. The way this year is going for him health-wise, just having him on the field and hitting close to .300 sounds like a worthwhile goal the rest of the way.

(Slides are Pedroia’s enemy, be it from an oncoming base runner, like Manny Machado, or an oncoming first baseman, like Jose Abreu.)

David Price wasn’t living David Price’s best baseball life a year ago. But you know what you can, and probably do, take for granted? He was healthy and devouring innings. He cleared more frames than anyone else in the regular season. Even when he wasn’t pitching well, he could pitch and pitch and pitch. 

Jackie Bradley Jr. had a 1.001 OPS at the end of play on May 29, 2016. His OPS after play May 29, 2017, was .670.

We know how special David Ortiz was. Let’s not go there, because it seems like no one can talk about Ortiz’s absence rationally. His exit did not suck every home run out of the Sox lineup, as many like to say is the case, but he is — of course — a big missing piece.

Not everything was perfect in 2016, lest we remember our ex-girlfriends too fondly. Carson Smith went for Tommy John surgery, for example. 

But look now: Smith still isn’t back, Tyler Thornburg is a mystery if not quiet yet an afterthought and Robbie Ross Jr. not only struggled to the point he was demoted, he’s going through elbow trouble.

Rick Porcello won the American League Cy Young, much to Kate Upton’s chagrin. Porcello will not win the Cy Young this year, if you hadn’t been paying attention, although Chris Sale might.

There’s something going well for the Sox right now: that Sale guy. The bullpen coughed up the game Monday, Matt Barnes in particular. Yet Sox relievers had the fifth best ERA of any team to start the day. 

Hey, Eduardo Rodriguez looks pretty good, doesn't he?

With some downward trends have come some positives. Craig Kimbrel's on another planet.

The Sox may still be a 90-win team. Again, they remain a very good club.

But the wins, the breaks aren’t coming as easily as they did a year ago. You should never have expected they would.