McAdam: Off-day thoughts on the Red Sox

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McAdam: Off-day thoughts on the Red Sox

By SeanMcAdam
CSNNE.com

BALTIMORE -- Three off-day thoughts as the Red Sox take a break, two-thirds of the way through their three city, nine-game road trip:

1) Months from now, the Red Sox could have Mother Nature to thank for turning their season around.

An otherwise innocuous early-season rainout on April 13 allowed the Sox to do two things: Step back from their hideous 2-9 start, and reconfigure their starting rotation, which was, to put it charitably, underperforming.

The rainout gave the Sox two days off, since a built-in off-day in the schedule followed. For 48 hours, the Sox didn't have to answer questions about the stumbling way they had begun the season or confront arcane statistical forecasts of doom. ("No team which started its season 2-9 has ever . . . ")

More tangibly, the team reshuffled its pitching rotation. After a mediocre start by Clay Buchholz when the schedule resumed - on a bitterly cold night not suitable for anyone - the rotation magically clicked.

Since Buchholz's start, Red Sox starters are 7-1 with an astounding 0.88 ERA, enabling the Sox to go from eight games under .500 to a game below.

Moreover, the reshuffling seemed to prompt radical turnarounds from Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey.

Matsuzaka has followed what may have been a career low-point in which he was bashed for seven runs in two-plus innings against Tampa on April 11 to, arguably, his best two starts since joining the Red Sox.

Lackey, who had been scored upon in eight of his first nine innings across his first two outings, has since allowed one run over 14 innings.

Curiously, Lackey seems unwilling to let go of the perceived slight over having his turn skipped. Rather than dissipating over time, his annoyance seems to be intensifying.

Putting aside the wisdom of that sentiment - should a nine-year veteran making 17 million annually really have to be embarrassed into pitching better? -- there's no arguing with the results. If Lackey has to pitch angry for the rest of the season to be effective, so be it.

2) The team's turnaround has bought the Sox some time with their catching situation.

On the last homestand, Jarrod Saltalamacchia was described by a person in the organization as being "scared to death."

The team's poor start, coupled with being entrusted with the No. 1 catcher's job, seemed to overwhelm Saltalamacchia.

He discarded his usual patient approach at the plate and, desperate to make an offensive contribution, was overly aggressive, resulting in quick, unproductive at-bats.

Behind the plate, it was worse. The poor work by the started relected - unfairly - on Saltalamacchia, who must have heard suggestions from fans and some in the media that he was the cause of the staff-wide meltdown.

It didn't help that many of the early quality starts turned in by Boston pitchers came with the more seasoned Jason Varitek behind the plate.

Saltalamacchia's slow start forced the Red Sox to make some preliminary calls to inquire about other catching options. The Sox were hopeful he would settle down in time, but in the event that he didn't, the Sox insisted on doing their due diligence.

There remain holes in Saltalamacchia's game. He was charged with a passed ball Friday in Anaheim in which a baserunner scored all the way from second, and two wild pitches in the same game might otherwise have been ruled passed balls.

His throwing, meanwhile, remains spotty as opponents continue to run on the Sox nearly at will.

But having won eight of the last nine games, the Red Sox have, if nothing else, achieved a kind of stability, allowing Saltalamacchia some time to grow into his role without the kind of pressure and scrutiny that can be suffocating for a player not yet established.

3) Now that the pitching has righted itself, there are signs that the offense is starting to come around, too.

Though four regulars - Saltalamacchia, Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis - are hitting .222 or lower, each is on the upswing.

Crawford has at least one hit in five of his last six games and had two multi-hit games in the last six (including his first homer) and no longer seems lost at the plate.

Ellsbury, returned to the leadoff spot, consistently got on base during the Angels series.

It may well be that the hitters felt the need to carry the load while the starters found themselves, resulting in a deviation from their usual approaches.

Now that the rotation has realized an equilibrium, the lineup could soon follow suit. Gone is the need to dig out from early-inning holes created by poor starting pitching. The Sox scored 20 runs in their sweep of the Angels, but thanks to the dominance of their starters, could have won all four with just eight.

Relieved of the need to make up for their own pitchers' mistakes, the lineup just might be ready to enjoy a streak similar to one currently being enjoyed by their starters.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Farrell: Price to make first Red Sox start of year Monday in Chicago

Farrell: Price to make first Red Sox start of year Monday in Chicago

David Price may have allowed six earned runs in 3 2/3 innings Wednesday night during his second rehab start in Triple-A, but the Red Sox apparently liked what they saw.

MORE ON PRICE

Manager John Farrell announced moments ago that Price will rejoin the Red Sox Monday and start that day's game in Chicago against the White Sox. Farrell said the Sox were more concerned with how Price felt physically after his rehab start, not the results, and they're satisfied he's ready to return.

More to come . . . 

Chili Davis: Red Sox hitters' lack of strikeouts not by design

Chili Davis: Red Sox hitters' lack of strikeouts not by design


BOSTON - The Red Sox aren’t hitting for power as much as they’re expected to and they’re striking out less than anyone. Far less.
 
So, maybe they should just swing harder? 
 
It’s not that simple, considering they have the second-best batting average in the majors, .271, and the third-best on-base percentage, .342.
 
Entering Thursday, the Sox had 300 strikeouts, 34 fewer than the 29th team on the list, the Mets. (The Mets have also played 34 games, while the Sox have already played 36.)
 
In April, when this trend was already evident, Red Sox hitting coach Chili Davis was asked if the lack of strikeouts were by design.
 
“I don’t think it’s purposeful,” Davis said. “But that can be a good thing and it could be a bad thing. You know, to me striking out is never good, but it’s how you strike out that matters to me. 
 
“You chase pitches early and you put a guy in a two-strike count and allow him to use his strikeout pitch or his finish pitch, it’s not a good way to strike out. If you’er battling, if you’re taking good swings at pitches, or if the guy’s making pitches, different story. Not striking out because you understand you’re still getting to have a quality at-bat.
 
“To be honest with you, there are guys in certain situations I’d rather see 'em strike out, believe me. And it kind of sounds stupid.”
 
No, it doesn’t. Because in the Moneyball era people started to widely understand that with runners on, a strikeout can be a better outcome than simply putting the ball in play because of the double-play possibility. One out on a swing [or no swing] is a lot better than two.
 
“Exactly,” Davis said. “In a double-play situation, with a big slow guy running and two strikes on him, and he just put the ball in play, he’s done exactly what they wanted him to do.”
 
What a coincidence: the Sox have grounded into more double plays than all but two teams. They’re tied with the Blue Jays with 51, trailing the Astros’ 54.
 
Last year, the Sox had the eighth-most double plays and the fourth-fewest strikeouts. But they also led the majors in slugging percentage, whereas this year they’re in the bottom third. (They’ve perked up in May.)
 
“I don’t think they’re necessarily swinging to not strike out,” Davis said in April. “But, I think the home runs haven’t come because you know, I don’t think we’ve actually gotten on track yet as an offense the way we would like to.”
 
Davis cited the weather, which in Boston has continued to be chilly even into May. Hitters have noted the weather too, but that only goes so far.
 
Sox manager John Farrell on Wednesday noted the team’s draft philosophy.
 
“If you go back to the origin of the players that are here, a lot of them came through our draft and our system,” Farrell said. “So there was a conscious effort to get the more rounded athlete, not a one-dimensional player...Throughout their minor league career, there’s great emphasis on strike-zone discipline, understanding your limits within the zone. That’s not to suggest you’re going to forfeit the power that you have, but to be a more complete hitter, I think that’s going to win you championships rather than being one dimensional.”
 
But much of this year’s lineup is the same as last year’s.
 
In 2017, the Sox are swinging at 44.2 percent of pitches, fewer than all but four teams. Last year, they swung at 44.3 percent of pitches, second-to-last. So, that hasn’t changed.
 
Last year, their contact rate was 81.6 percent, highest in the majors. This year, it’s the second-highest, 80.1. That hasn’t really changed either.
 
Maybe the process hasn’t in fact changed much at all, in fact — but the outcomes are looking different because that’s how it goes sometimes. At the least, it’s something to keep an eye on as the year progresses.