McAdam: Monday's win doesn't hide Sox warts

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McAdam: Monday's win doesn't hide Sox warts

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
The recent freefall by the Red Sox has, understandably, consumed fans for the last few weeks.

What was once a safe and secure lead for the American League wild card spot is now very much in play and the team's poor performance over the weekend against Tampa Bay only inflamed tensions.

The team's doubleheader split with Baltimore took a day off the calendar, kept the lead at two games and knocked a game off the Magic Number -- it now stands at eight.

The Sox are in clear survival mode. They don't care how they win or how they get there. The object is to hold off the Rays and win one more game than their closest pursuers.

Style points aren't of much consequence now. Moreover, the Red Sox can convince themselves that shouldonce they reach the playoffs, they can hit the re-set button and start fresh.

But the Monday night win, needed as it might have been, obscured two salient facts as the Red Sox stumble toward the finish line.

1) The Sox have won three games on their current homestand and two of those have taken place when they've scored 18 runs.

Again, a team desperate for wins isn't about to refuse any because they don't fit the mold. This isn't about aesthetics; it's survival, pure and simple.

But it should be more than a little troubling that the Sox are being forced to out-hit their pitchers' mistakes.

John Lackey spotted the Orioles a 3-0 lead Monday night and even after the Red Sox rallied to provide him with nine runs in the first three innings, Lackey couldn't pitch long enough (five full innings) to qualify for the win.

Should the Red Sox reach the post-season, they won't have the luxury of facing Brian Matusz, who's allowed at least five or more runs in seven straight starts.

Instead, they'll be matched against one of the three best teams in the American League, against starters with ERAs which begin with the number three or four, rather than, say, 10, as is the case with Matusz.

For the Sox, it was nice to see Jed Lowrie contribute a three-run homer and for Conor Jackson to get some playing time and chip in with a late-inning grand slam.

But if the Red Sox think they can win in October the way they've won twice in the last week, they're fooling themselves.

Which leads, indirectly, to another ongong issue...

2) The Sox still have no one capable of taking the ball for a Game 3 start in the Division Series.

Despite the Red Sox' win, Lackey's ERA actually increased to an unsightly 6.49.

He fooled nobody in the Baltimore lineup and allowed 13 baserunners in just 4 13 innings. After, in his post-game press conference, Lackey seemed nearly as lost as he did on that night in May in Toronto when he confessed: "Basically, everything in my life sucks right now.''

Lackey looked just as long on the podium as he did on the mound -- without the requisite eye-rolling and hand-raising that accompanies him in games. He confessed to be without answers for his poor performance, though, in true Lackey form, he managed to indignantly point out that he had pitched "pretty well'' in his previous start and that, at least once during the debacle against the Orioles, he had been the victim of a ball "dropping in.''

He still has the worst ERA of any qualifying starter in the American League. He still has a bloated WHIP of .163. And he still has a batting average allowed of .310.

Perhaps help will come Tuesday night in the form of Erik Bedard, who hasn't pitched in 13 days and who, because of the layoff, will be somewhat restricted in terms of pitches thrown.

Before he was sidelined by knee and lat issues, Bedard was at least keeping his team in games, a minimum requirement for a post-season starter, so perhaps Bedard could still claim that No. 3 spot with a good showing Tuesday followed by another on the team's final road trip.

The uncertainty that surround the rotation, however, is a reminder that the team's problems are far from solved and that things have to improve -- and fast -- for their post-season qualification to mean anything.

Just because the math is slightly better this Tuesday morning that it was 24 hours earlier doesn't mean the Red Sox' problems have gone away.

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

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.