Boston Red Sox

McAdam at the ALCS: Rangers the A.L.'s new power

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McAdam at the ALCS: Rangers the A.L.'s new power

ARLINGTON, Texas -- While the Red Sox sort through their institutional dysfunction and the Yankees lick their wounds and weigh their options after a first-round exit, an interesting development has taken root in the American League.

The Texas Rangers have become the AL's third super power.

The Rangers dusted the pesky Detroit Tigers, 15-5, in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series and advance to the World Series for the second straight year.

That doesn't exactly put them in the dynasty category, but consider this: the Rangers are the first team in a decade to win back-to back American League pennants.

And if that hasn't caught the attention of the Yankees and Red Sox, it should.

"I think it's hard to repeat,'' said club president Nolan Ryan, "and when you look at our ballclub, with the young talent we have and the balance that we have . . . Are we elite? I don't know. But I'll say this: I think we're as good a ballclub as there is.''

Over the last few seasons, the Rangers have become an effective and efficient organization. General manager Jon Daniels has emerged as one of the game's top executives and a stabilized ownership group has provided him with the necessary resources.

The Rangers aren't about to spend dollar-for-dollar with the Red Sox and Yankees, with a 2011 payroll of 92 million, good for 13th among the 30 MLB clubs. But remember: They were willing to hand out more than 100 million to retain Cliff Lee last winter.

There's room to grow with that payroll, too. The Rangers' new local TV deal, worth nearly 3 billion, doesn't even kick in until 2015. That might not rival the revenues generated by the Yankees' YES Network or the Red Sox' NESN, but it will do.

(It's worth noting that the among all 30 teams, the Rangers play in the second-biggest unshared TV market.)

It might not even be enough for the Rangers to be players for the super-elite free agents such as Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, but as the Red Sox and Yankees know all too well, that can be a dangerous neighborhood in which to work. The Rangers learned that first-hand with their 252 million contract for Alex Rodriguez.

Besides, these Rangers weren't built on big-dollar free agents. They've won consecutive divisions and pennants thanks to homegrown talent (Ian Kinsler, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando, C.J. Wilson, Michael Young), shrewd trades (Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Nelson Cruz, David Murphy) and smart free agent signings (Adrian Beltre, Colby Lewis).

But the real foundation of the team came in a huge deal by Daniels in 2007 in which the Rangers traded Mark Teixeira to the Atlanta Braves and got shortstop Elvis Andrus, starter Matt Harrison, closer Neftali Feliz and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia in exchange.

The Texas farm system is well-regarded and was in the top half of all organizations last May by Baseball American, an achievement considering how many players the system has graduated in recent seasons, plus the four players they had to sacrifice to get Lee from Seattle in the middle of 2010.

The Rangers are in it for the long haul. And they've won as many pennants as the Yankees and Red Sox combined in the last six seasons.

The Super Two now have company.

Not that the Rangers feel their work is done. Reminded that his team had just become the first team to back-to-back A.L. pennants since the Yankees of 1998-2001, Daniels kept his perspective.

"I think the other teams that did it won the World Series,'' he said, ''so I think we've still got a pretty big step ahead of us before we can put ourselves in that group.''

It's even more incredible when you consider that, until the Rangers beat Tampa Bay in the Division Series a year ago October, they had won exactly one (1) postseason game in their history and had never won a playoff series. Now, they've won four of their last five.

Throw in the fact that the Rangers were literally auctioned to the highest bidder in the summer of 2010 and their journey is all the more remarkable.

Now, the Rangers are headed for the World Series again. And just in case the Red Sox and Yankees have been preoccupied surveying their own damage, they're not going anyway anytime soon.

Eduardo Rodriguez's delivery wasn't the same after knee injury, until recently

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Eduardo Rodriguez's delivery wasn't the same after knee injury, until recently

BALTIMORE — If you suspected Eduardo Rodriguez’s knee created a residual effect with his mechanics as he struggled in the second half, you were correct. 

It was here in Baltimore on June 1 that Eduardo Rodriguez hurt his right knee, suffering another subluxation, which he’s prone to. Once he came back — a month and a half later, after the All-Star Break — his performances didn’t match the competency he’d shown pre-injury.

Through the first nine starts back, Rodriguez had a 5.47 ERA. He appeared clearly outside of the playoff rotation picture.

The last three outings have left a different impression, and are a product of improved mechanics. The Red Sox feel Rodriguez is lifting  right leg, his lead leg, higher now.

“I think Eddy’s regained more confidence physically over his last three starts,” pitching coach Carl Willis said. “We’ve seen a better delivery. Really since he had come back the injury here, a little bit of abbreviated leg lift. He finally got a little more confidence in picking that knee up and getting a little more drive from his lower half. I think that’s made a huge difference. He’s using his changeup more which is also a huge difference, but I think that lower half has allowed him to do that.”

Rodriguez has a 2.55 September ERA. He has strikeout ability that could be appealing in a postseason setting, but he’s young and inexperienced compared to Rick Porcello and Doug Fister. The fact he’s had confidence issues with his delivery could factor into how the Sox decide their playoff rotation, but his upside and strikeout potential are undeniable.

Rodriguez had a knee subluxation in 2016 that affected his mechanics for a time as well.

How often Carson Smith, David Price can throw could make or break Red Sox

How often Carson Smith, David Price can throw could make or break Red Sox

BOSTON — If we accept that pitching is to carry the Red Sox and that bullpens now dominate postseason pitching, a lot for the Sox could boil down to two pitchers, Carson Smith and David Price, and one word: frequency.

Make no mistake, the Red Sox do want Price to pitch like Andrew Miller. Sox manager John Farrell has been trying to soft peddle that idea, which makes some sense. Because what the team doesn’t know, as Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski noted to the Eagle Tribune, is how often Price can throw.

Price himself has described his physical situation as trial-and-error. The lefty could close on Wednesday night against the Orioles, potentially pitching with two days of rest after a very encouraging outing Sunday. (Addison Reed and Craig Kimbrel were both unavailable Wednesday because of workload.)

When would Price next pitch? Can he get to a point where he can pitch in both Games 1 and 2 of an assumed American League Division Series? The same question looms for Smith, who’s making a late but tantalizing run at a bullpen spot.

(The Sox bullpen has been remarkably strong all year with different people cycling through, but its postseason look and usage are different matters.)

Smith, maybe more than Price, may be the biggest surprise as the postseason roster shapes up. For most of the season, it was easy to say, at some point, Smith will contribute. He was targeted for a June activation on the way back from Tommy John surgery. But after several delays, he had to be looked at as a bonus, if something works out. The trade for Reed underscored that.

But he’s back, and his last two outings have been hitless. 

Smith on Wednesday said he wasn’t thinking about the possibility of a postseason roster spot.

“We got a solid group of bullpen arms down there,” Smith said. “It may be a tough group to crack. … I know what I’m capable of, I know the pitcher I was prior to surgery, I know if I got to where I was, I know I can make a push. Right now, I’m just trying to focus on every day.”

Smith’s velocity on Monday was the best it’s been since his return, and velocity was what he was searching for in August while pitching with Triple-A Pawtucket. He earned a save for the Red Sox in Monday’s 11-inning, 10-8 win over the Orioles, with his sinker sitting at 93 mph, per BrooksBaseball.net.

What finally brought the velocity back?

“I’m sure there’s a little bit of extra adrenaline of being in a save opportunity,” Smith said. “That’s something that really hit home with me being a closer at one point in my career. I think with a day’s rest as well, I was beyond fresh after taking six days off. But I think mechanically, I’m sure there’s things that just clicked in that outing and I’m just going to try to focus on that and continue to do that.

“I knew [the velocity] was going to come back. I’ve pitched with 91, 92 mph … sometimes throughout my career. It’s not like I’m always a 94, 95 guy. So I know how to pitch 91, 92. That’s what I’m trying to do if 93, 94 isn’t there.”

Asked to record two outs on Tuesday, Smith wasn’t throwing quite as hard. But merely going back to back was an accomplishment considering his long road.

“I felt good,” Smith said. “I got a situation that [was] something I’ve been able to handle in my previous seasons. But I mean, it was a pretty comfortable situation with the two right-handed hitters and only two outs to get. It was a nice way to ease into back-to-back [games].”

Pitching coach Carl Willis feels like the Sox were smart not to push Smith too far or hard throughout his rehab process. 

In a way, that’s the approach the Sox are taking with Price: a conservative one, by not asking him to build up as a starter.

How often both pitchers can throw could be the key to October.

“It’s been a long haul and there have been times he’s gotten right up to the door of being ready to be active and we’ve had to take a step back,” Willis said of Smith. “As frustrating as that was for him particularly, I think, we’re seeing the benefits of that now. And just doing right and doing what's right by him and not pushing him.”