Haggerty: Red Sox offense historically good

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Haggerty: Red Sox offense historically good

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins InsiderFollow @hackswithhaggs
BOSTON So many around the Red Sox are accustomed to hulkingoffensive numbers and punishingly professional at bats over the last decade.

Some have probably become a bit spoiled at this point in the golden era of baseball in Boston, and simply expect offensive prowess and hitting greatness as an automatic right.

But relative newcomers like John Lackey and Jarrod Saltalamacchia have witnessed offenses outside of the Friendly Fenway confines firsthand, and know just how good they have it playing pepper with theGreenMonsteron Yawkey Way.

Weve got a lot of good players, man," Lackey said. "We got some guys that can swing it. Its fun to watch, for sure. "Youre okay sitting over there on the benchfor some extra home half innings to watch ralliesand get a lot of offensive run support. I was hoping for things like that. Thats one of the reasons I came here. I spent so many years in Anaheim and it wasnt exactly like that. So its fun to watch.

The Sox have always scored a ton of runs and fared exceedingly well at Fenway Park this season, but theyve taken it to ridiculous levels over the last month. Not only are the Sox 18-4 during the month of July, but theyve also mercilessly beaten down mediocre pitching staffs during the dog days of the season. They've averaged 5.56 runs per game during the season and lead all of baseball with 567 runs scored, but they're averaging a shade under seven runs per game in July.

It happened again on Wednesday night as Bruce Chen was reminded just how fringe a journeymen he really is by an efficient Red Sox attack that cranked out double-digit hits for the 11th straight game at Fenway. The Sox have posted double-digit hits 52 times this year to tie them with the Texas Rangers for the lead in Major League baseball, and theyve posted double-digit runs 16 times this season with the latest coming inthe 12-5 drubbing of Kansas City.Much of the effectiveness comes from their unrelenting lineup depth.

Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia have wreaked havoc on opposing teams pitchers and defense at the top of the lineup. The trio of Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz have formed the pitchers version of a meat grinder in the heart of the order and Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Marco Scutaro have given the Sox opportunistic offensive playersat the bottom third of the lineup.

Ortiz has his ideas about the special sauce thats making the Sox perform so well when they walk up to the dish.

I think it's Ellsbury and Pedroia," he said. "Theyre making it tough on everyone else. What theyre doing at the top of the lineup is ridiculous. You dont get that on daily basis from your first and second-hole hitter. It puts so much pressure on the pitcher that Im pretty sure it will get the pitcher out of control a little bit.

There is no weakness, no safe haven and no escape for all but the best of big league hurlers toeing the rubber against Boston, and the Red Sox know it each time they dig in to hit. David Ortiz has taken part in some historic offensive lineups in Boston during his time playing tag team partners with Manny Ramirez, but even the designated hitter admitted this one might just be the best.Not the 2003 team that ranks among the best Sox hitting lineups of all time, or the 2004 and 2007 teams dangerous enough to capture the World Series. But the very Sox team that's taken up residence during the summer of 2011.

Its fun. It is fun especially the way we started out the season, said Ortiz. Everybody around here gets ready to play and win ballgames. I dont know, don't want to talk about it too early because weve got two months left, but everything Ive seen from head to toe is what you really want to be a part of.

The numbers back it up as well. The Sox are first in nearly every important offensive category, and their robust month of July has seen them post an .886 OPS during the prolific month a mark that is the teams highest since putting up a .945 OPS during June of 2003 and ranks up with their best months of the 1996 (.904 in June) and 1950 (.914 in May) Sox seasons.

Thats exactly the kind of total base and run-scoring machine GM Theo Epstein envisioned when he coaxedall the pieces together this winter, and the players are recognizing just how unique things are right in the middle of their batting binge.

Weve got a good ball club from top to bottom," Saltalamacchia said. "The one thing we have is confidence and were going to go out there and play our game. "Getting guys comfortable and getting guys at bats, thats when youre going to start seeing things like this. We just needed to get healthy.

Youve got guys here that are established. We had a couple of guys in Texas that were established like Mike Young, but here youve got guys that have been around the game for a long time. They bring a lot to the game and help each other out.

The only thing not getting helped out right now: the ERA of opposing pitching staffs unlucky enough to come across the Red Sox hitters during one heck of a hitting spree.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs.

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

As if there weren’t enough storylines with the 2017 Red Sox, there figures to be the lingering possibility that, at any point, one of the franchise’s greatest hitters will return to make a push for his fourth World Series title.

As Pedro Martinez keeps saying, he won’t believe David Ortiz is retired until season’s end.

And with that possibility comes a good ol’ fashioned sports debate: You’re maybe the biggest lunatic in the whole wide world if you’re hoping for the latter.

There are exactly two potential downsides to Ortiz coming back. One is that the team would be worse defensively if it puts Hanley Ramirez in the field, a tradeoff that seemingly anyone would take if it meant adding Ortiz’ offense to the middle of the order. The other is that we would probably have to see Kenan Thompson’s Ortiz impression again . . . which, come to think of it, would be the worst. Actually, I might kill myself if that happens.  

All the other drawbacks are varying degrees of noise. It basically boils down to the “what if he isn’t good?” fear. Which may be valid, but it shouldn’t be reason enough to not want him to attempt a comeback.

Ortiz is coming off a 38-homer, 127-RBI 2016 in which he hit .315 with a league-best 1.021 OPS. It's probably the best final season of any hitter over the last 50 years.

We also know Ortiz is 41 and dealt with ankle and heel injuries so vast in recent years that he was “playing on stumps,” according to Red Sox coordinator of sports medicine services Dan Dyrek. There is the possibility that he was almost literally on his last legs in 2016 and that he doesn’t have another great season in him.

Unless Ortiz is medically incapable and/or not interested in returning, what would the harm be in rolling the dice? Is it a money thing? It really depends on just how intent the Sox are on staying under the luxury-tax threshold, but it’s hard to imagine that holding them up given that they’ve bobbed over and under the line throughout the years.

The one unacceptable argument is the legacy stuff, which expresses concern that Ortiz would tarnish his overall body of work if he came back for one last season and was relatively ineffective.  

If you think that five years after Ortiz is done playing, a single person will say, “Yeah, he’s a Hall of Famer; it’s just a shame he came back that for one last season,” you’re absolutely crazy. The fact that one could dwell that much on a legacy shows how much they romanticize the player, meaning that in however many years it's the 40-homer seasons, and not the potentially underwhelming few months in 2017, that will stand the test of time.

But he’ll have thrown away having one of the best final seasons ever for a hitter.

Oh man. That’s a life-ruiner right there. A 10-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion totally becomes just another guy if you take that away.

Plus, the fact that he’s a DH limits how bad it could really be. You won’t get the sight of an over-the-hill Willie Mays misplaying fly balls in the 1973 World Series after hitting .211 in the regular season. Ortiz will either be able to hit or he won’t, and if it’s the latter they’ll chalk it up to age and injuries and sit him down. Any potential decision to put him on the field in a World Series would likely mean his bat was worth it enough to get them to that point.

The Red Sox, on paper at least, have a real shot at another title. Teams in such a position should always go for broke. Ortiz has absolutely nothing left to prove, but if he thinks he has anything left to give, nobody but the fans who dropped 30-something bucks on T-shirts commemorating his retirement should have a problem with that.

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

PHOENIX - Major League Baseball intends to push forward with the process that could lead to possible rule changes involving the strike zone, installation of pitch clocks and limits on trips to the pitcher's mound. While baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope the ongoing process would lead to an agreement, he said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Union head Tony Clark said last weekend he did not foresee players agreeing to proposed changes for 2017. Under baseball's collective bargaining agreement, management can alter playing rules only with agreement from the union - unless it gives one year notice. With the one year of notice, management can make changes on its own.

"Unfortunately it now appears that there really won't be any meaningful change for the 2017 season due to a lack of cooperation from the MLBPA," Manfred said Tuesday during a news conference. "I've tried to be clear that our game is fundamentally sound, that it does not need to be fixed as some people have suggested, and I think last season was the kind of demonstration of the potential of our league to captivate the nation and of the game's unique place in American culture."

Yet, he also added: "I believe it's a mistake to stick our head in the sand and ignore the fact that our game has changed and continues to change."

Manfred said while he prefers an agreement, "I'm also not willing to walk away." He said he will send a letter to the union in the coming days and plans to continue dialogue with Clark and others in hopes of reaching agreement.

Clark met with Cactus League teams last week, five at a time over Thursday, Friday and Saturday, before departing Monday for Florida to visit each Grapefruit League club - and proposed rules changes were a topic.

"I have great respect for the labor relations process, and I have a pretty good track record for getting things done with the MLBPA," Manfred said. "I have to admit, however, that I am disappointed that we could not even get the MLBPA to agree to modest rule changes like limits on trips to the mound that have little effect on the competitive character of the game."

Clark saw talks differently.

"Unless your definition of `cooperation' is blanket approval, I don't agree that we've failed to cooperate with the commissioner's office on these issues," he wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "Two years ago we negotiated pace of play protocols that had an immediate and positive impact. Last year we took a step backward in some ways, and this offseason we've been in regular contact with MLB and with our members to get a better handle on why that happened. I would be surprised if those discussions with MLB don't continue, notwithstanding today's comments about implementation. As I've said, fundamental changes to the game are going to be an uphill battle, but the lines of communication should remain open."

Clark added "my understanding is that MLB wants to continue with the replay changes (2-minute limit) and the no-pitch intentional walks and the pace of game warning/fine adjustments."

Manfred said he didn't want to share specifics of his priorities for alterations.

"There's a variety of changes that can be undertaken," Manfred said. "I'm committed to the idea that we have a set of proposals out there and we continue to discuss those proposals in private."

MLB has studied whether to restore the lower edge of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level - at the top of the kneecap. Management would like to install 20-second pitch clocks in an attempt to speed the pace of play - they have been used at Triple-A and Double-A for the past two seasons.

Players also have been against limiting mound meetings. The least controversial change appears to be allowing a team to call for an intentional walk without the pitcher having to throw pitches. In addition, MLB likely can alter some video review rules without the union's agreement- such as shortening the time a manager has to call for a review.

"Most of this stuff that they were talking about I don't think it would have been a major adjustment for us," Royals manager Ned Yost said.

Manfred said starting runners on second base in extra innings sounds unlikely to be implemented in the majors. The change will be experimented with during the World Baseball Classic and perhaps at some short-season Class A leagues. Manfred said it was a special-purpose rule "beneficial in developmental leagues."

Manfred also said Tuesday that a renovated Wrigley Field would be a great choice to host an All-Star Game and Las Vegas could be a "viable market for us."

"I don't think that the presence of legalized gambling in Las Vegas should necessarily disqualify that market as a potential major league city," Manfred said.