First Pitch: Phils show Sox just how bad things could be

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First Pitch: Phils show Sox just how bad things could be

SEATTLE - They have been without two lineup regulars, side-by-side in the field, since the start of the year, and then lost their most established starter to the disabled list.

They had hoped they could hold on, hold out, until the injured players returned. By midseason, they thought, the return of the injured regulars would serve as a second-half booster shot, the equivalent of adding two All-Stars around the trade deadline.

They sputtered for a while, but all along, the suspicion was they would hang around, figure it out somehow and remain on the periphery of a crowded division race, close enough so when they got healthy, they could make their move.

Now, it's time to acknowledge that this will not happen. So much for Plan B. So much for waiting for the calvary to arrive.

It's too late. They can't make progress in the standings and if help arrives, it will be too late for 2012.

The Red Sox?

Nope.

Try the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Phillies lost again Sunday, dropping nine games under .500 and 11 12 games out of first place. They're lodged in last place in the National League East.

Ryan Howard and Chase Utley could return next week and play like it was 2008 all over again -- Howard recovered from his torn Achilles, Utley having overcome his now-chronic knee issues -- and it wouldn't matter.

The Phillies seem to be slowly acknowledging this basic fact. On Friday, they traded Jim Thome to Baltimore. Sunday, they shipped reliever Chad Qualls to the Yankees. And, in the surest sign yet that the Phils are readying the white flag, they are said to be open to offers on free-agent-to-be Cole Hamels.

All of which serves as a reminder that all is not lost for the Red Sox.

True, they are still without Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury -- for these purposes, Boston's equivalent of Howard and Utley -- but both are getting closer to returning.

Crawford is due in Boston Monday for a checkup, and is then scheduled to go somewhere other that Fort Myers to continue his rehab assignment. It's possible he could rejoin the lineup in Tampa Bay when the Sox open the second half of the season. Ellsbury should also be back later this month.

There are issues, still, to be sure. Over the weekend, the Red Sox needed extra innings to get a split against the lowly Mariners.

The pitching was superb for Boston, even if it did come against a lineup that has battled to hit .200 at Safeco Field this season. In the four games, the Red Sox allowed a grand total of five runs. The scores in the series looked like a Stanley Cup playoff series in which both teams were using the trap: 1-0; 5-0, 3-2; and 2-1.

But Boston's own offense wasn't much better, raising questions about the lineup's consistency. The Sox were a pitiful 3-for-27 with runners in scoring position in the four games. Of the nine runs the Sox scored, six were the result of homers, including all five runs in Friday's shutout victory.

The same offense that had arrived in Seattle averaging 5.29 runs per game this season was averaging just 1.75 runs through the first 36 innings.

Help is on the way, however, in the persons of Crawford, Ellsbury and, soon after, Andrew Bailey. At a time when Felix Doubront seems to be faltering, Franklin Morales and Aaron Cook have peaked, providing rotation depth.

As the fourth month of play gets underway and the exact halfway point in the schedule arrives Tuesday night, the Red Sox are a half-game out of both second place in their division and the second wild-card spot.

And unlike in Philadelphia, it is not too late.

According to Fortune, Theo's the greatest . . . in the world, not just baseball

According to Fortune, Theo's the greatest . . . in the world, not just baseball

Apparently, the Red Sox couldn’t hold onto the best leader in the world. And the best leader in the world has no idea how to housebreak his puppy.

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein was given the top spot on a list of “The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders," published by Fortune on Thursday morning.

The potential for silly takeaways from Epstein’s placement on the list -- and his response to it in a text to ESPN’s Buster Olney -- are amusing, if not astounding.

Wait, Epstein doesn’t think baseball is the most important thing in the world?

"Um, I can't even get my dog to stop peeing in the house," Epstein told Olney. "That is ridiculous. The whole thing is patently ridiculous. It's baseball -- a pastime involving a lot of chance. If [Ben] Zobrist’s ball is three inches farther off the line, I'm on the hot seat for a failed five-year plan. And I'm not even the best leader in our organization; our players are."

Zobrist, of course, had the go-ahead hit in the 10th inning of Game 7 of the World Series against the Indians.

As Fortune described it, the list of leaders is meant to include those “transforming the world and inspiring others to do the same” across business, government, philanthropy and the arts.

Epstein certainly did help transform the baseball world.

“In the fall of 2016, as partisan distrust and division reached abysmal depths, fascination with the Chicago Cubs became that all-too-rare phenomenon that united America,” his blurb on the list begins.

That’s fair. But, if you scroll down the list: Pope Francis is No. 3. Angela Merkel is No. 10 and LeBron James is No. 11.

Drellich: Don't let Sam Travis' lack of batting gloves fool you

Drellich: Don't let Sam Travis' lack of batting gloves fool you

Three players are tied for the Red Sox' lead in home runs in Florida. Only two of them will be with the team come Opening Day.

The other may be the starting first baseman a year from now.

Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval and Sam Travis have all gone deep three times this Grapefruit League season.

Coming back from surgery on his left ACL, Travis has yet to play in the majors. But he easily could later this year.

In a perfect world, though, the 23-year-old spends 2017 at Triple-A Pawtucket. He needs to prove he can consistently hit off-speed pitches.

A right-handed hitting first baseman who played college ball with Kyle Schwarber of the Cubs, Travis already crushes fastballs.

He carries himself like a stereotypical masher, too.

Travis rocks an unbuttoned jersey with no undershirt. No batting gloves. A grip-it-and-rip-it approach and Mike Napoli vibe.

But, don't get too caught up in the image.

"I mean, are you essentially asking like, do I still like have a plan?" Travis said when approached about his reputation.

No, because everyone has a plan. It's a question of how his is formulated, what matters to him. Because it can't always be as simple as see ball, hit ball. And it isn't.

"I definitely watch video. Everyone watches video," Travis said. "You kind of need to watch video when you get to this stage . . . You're in the box, you don't really want to think at all. That's what practice is for. But yeah, I'm definitely working on stuff.

"Just because I don't wear batting gloves doesn't mean I'm just going out there -- I definitely still got an idea what I'm trying to do."

Travis said he tried batting gloves once in high school and they just didn't feel right. So he takes hacks with a 34-inch bat with no frills..

But even when hitters say they don't think at the plate, they do.

If you're up 2-and-0, the thought has to cross your mind: fastball?

"I mean, yeah, you definitely are talking to yourself," Travis said. "But you don't want to get too far into your own thoughts because then that's when you get in trouble."

Slugging involves calculating.

Travis will look at scouting reports, but they're not his end-all be-all. The written ones, anyway. He keeps others in his head.

"I like to know what pitches [an opponent] has, which way pitches are going to move," Travis said. "But you know, you find that out from other players, and of course scouting reports and video. But the best experience is when you're actually in there, when you actually see it first hand.

"I remember everybody."

Video can be used to break down one's own swing, too. But that's not Travis. Tinkering's not his bag.

In part, that's because he's always had a simple approach mechanically.

"I don't really take much of a stride or anything. I kind of just pick it up and put it down," Travis said. "I've always been the guy that can make an adjustment pitch to pitch and at-bat to at-bat depending on what the pitcher is, it just goes with like timing and stuff."

Usually, somewhere along the way -- in the professional or amateur chain -- a coach will try to change a player's swing. Travis said that wasn't the case for him, though.

"No. Not really," Travis said. "Everyone's still gonna have minor adjustments, it's just how the game works. You know, you're going to put a bad swing on the ball. But as long as you recognize it and get right back to where you are . . .

"I've always been a guy who believes less movement, the better it is. That's my own personal opinion. Whatever works for people, that's what they're going to do."

Sometimes, that means loosening a few buttons and just letting it rip.

After watching a little video before the game.