McAdam: MVP candidates leave Sox wanting more

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McAdam: MVP candidates leave Sox wanting more

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
BOSTON -- Before their September nosedive, the Red Sox boasted two legitimate MVP candidates -- outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.

Together with Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano and Justin Verlander, Ellsbury and Gonzalez had viable candidacies -- Gonzalez for his year-long consistency and Ellsbury for his emergence as a budding superstar.

For a while, Gonzalez looked capable of leading the league in two of three Triple Crown categories (batting average and RBI), while Ellsbury's offensive contributions were lauded for a leadoff hitter.

But as the Red Sox' lead in the wild card has diminished, dropping from seven games prior to their arrival at Tropicana Field on Sept. 9 to the present two games, Ellsbury and Gonzalez have simialrly disappeared.

The Rays capped another big series win over the Red Sox with an 8-5 victory Sunday at Fenway, giving them three of four over the weekend and six of seven over last two weekends. They were able to do so in large part because the Sox' offense stalled.

Boston's best offensive player in this series was Mike Aviles, who homered in two of the three games in which he started and whose three-run belt into the Monster Seats in the seventh inning Sunday briefly gave the Sox some comeback hopes.

Other than that, the Sox didn't generate much at the plate. Part of the problem, of course, has been the team's poor starting pitching, which put the team behind in all four of the games.

"We've been playing from behind a lot in this stretch,'' said Terry Francona.

And indeed, that's no way to play, or win. Being down 2-0, 3-0 and 4-0, as the Sox were in the series with the Rays, creates a level of desperation in a lineup.

Pitches out of the strike zone are chased. Usual approaches are quickly discarded. Players start trying to hit the proverbial five-run homer to erase early-inning deficits.

Still, the production -- or lack thereof -- from Ellsbury and Gonzalez was alarming against Tampa Bay.

Gonzalez went the entire series without a single base hit in 12 at-bats and knocked in exactly one run in the four games. In his final two at-bats Sunday, he fanned both times.

He acknowledged that he was off his game in the series, got himself out too often and should have exhibited more patience at the plate.

Ellsbury was only slightly better. Though he had a single in the seventh and a double in the ninth on Sunday, he finished the series 4-for-16. Two of the hits were doubles and he had two RBI in the four games with two runs scored.

Combined, the Red Sox' MVP candidates were 4-for-28 (.143) with two RBI, two runs scored and two extra base hits.

To a certain extent, the four-game set was a microcosm of the month, when the Red Sox first began their free-fall. Gonzalez is hitting just .250 since September 1 with eight RBI in 16 games. Those aren't horrendous numbers, but neither are they the kind of numbers which carry a team.

(It should be noted that Gonzalez told Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports Saturday that his surgically-repaired right shoulder has felt weak of late, no doubt contributing to his dropoff. Still, as Gonzalez has chosen to remain in the lineup, he must be judged on what he does -- or doesn't -- deliver.)

Ellsbury's poor series, by contrast, is all the more mystifying since his September has been the opposite of Gonzalez's -- stellar.

For the month, Ellsbury is hitting .361 (26-for-72) with a slugging percentage of .629 to go with 12 RBI in 17 games.

This weekend, however, Ellsbury's impact was minimal.

Contrast both players with the production turned in by the Rays' franchise player, Evan Longoria, who seemed to be in the middle of every Rays' rally.

It's unreasonable to think that any player is going to have the kind of series that, say, Carl Yastrzemski had on the final weekend of 1967, when the Red Sox beat the Minnesota Twins to capture the American League pennant.

But the larger point is this: MVPs are expected to lift a team and contribute in big games when their teams need them most. On that scale, both Ellsbury and Gonzalez came up short and their candidacies suffered accordingly.

Then again, individual awards are the last thing the Red Sox should be concerned with at the moment. If things don't get better soon, Ellsbury and Gonzalez will be disqualified for another reason: MVPs seldom come from non-playoff teams.

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

Drellich: Pomeranz lessens heat on Dombrowski's trade history

Drellich: Pomeranz lessens heat on Dombrowski's trade history

BOSTON — Drew Pomeranz is helping out Dave Dombrowski’s balance sheet in Boston.

The Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel trades have been awesome — beyond awesome, even. The Tyler Thornburg deal looks like a disaster that, maybe someday, Dombrowski will acknowledge rather than sidestep. The Carson Smith deal has produced, if nothing else, no gain. The Fernando Abad deal has not hurt the Sox, and he’s had some decent moments.

But the Pomeranz trade with the Padres, for just top pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza, stood as the most controversial of Dealer Dave’s moves until the past couple months. Now, the Cult of Travis Shaw has slowly made folks forget about Espinoza and the complicated set of circumstances that surrounded that trade.

“Rescind” is something you’re hearing less and less. 

It’s remarkable what a 2.70 ERA in a 40-inning, seven-start stretch can do. Pomeranz is looking like a lot shinier these days, particularly after Tuesday night, when he came back out despite a rain delay of more than an hour in a 9-2 win over the Twins.

From the day that 40-inning stretch began, May 25, through Tuesday, only four qualified starters posted a better ERA in the American League: Corey Kluber (1.29), Jason Vargas (2.27), Jordan Montgomery (2.52) and Mike Pelfrey (2.64).

For comparison: Chris Sale is 10th in that stretch, at 3.54. Rick Porcello has 6.08 ERA in the same time.

Realistically, where the Sox stood last season, they needed Pomeranz. He was healthy enough to throw. That’s the reality everyone who wanted the deal undone always undersold: the back of the rotation was crumbling. 

But that was just one layer of the deal.

The Padres did not provide as much medical information as they should have, and the Sox stuck with Pomeranz despite the opportunity to look elsewhere.

Espinoza hasn’t pitched for a Padres minor league affiliate yet this season. He’s playing catch from flat ground as he comes back from a forearm injury, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported recently. 

Trades, to this observer, are typically best evaluated by reviewing the process behind them — which is to say, by looking back at the information was available at the time the deal was made. And at the time, it was known that the Sox were paying for Pomeranz beyond just last season's second half. They were paying for a controllable arm who could help out the rotation this year too.

Dombrowski may well have acquired Pomeranz at his peak value, which is unsurprising. But what mattered most was whether the team believed Pomeranz could contribute effectively beyond 2016. That, once they had all the health information, whether they properly evaluated what it would mean for his future.

It looked bad when Pomeranz started the season on the disabled list. He had a stem-cell injection in his forearm in the winter, too. There wasn’t much to hang your hat on at the start of April. 

Realistically, Pomeranz probably isn’t 100 percent right now. Even within the relative world of pro baseball — where no one is ever 100 percent — Pomeranz is probably further from it than most. 

But he's powered through. Pomeranz’s attitude might actually fit Boston better than most realize. He also is, whether people want to acknowledge it or not, a pitcher with a high ceiling in terms of ability (if not innings).

He also is, whether people want to acknowledge it or not, a pitcher with a high ceiling in terms of ability (if not innings).

How Pomeranz holds up is to be seen. But the team’s judgment that he would have value beyond last season, a value worth surrendering Espinoza for, is looking better and better.

Francona misses second game this month because of health issues

Francona misses second game this month because of health issues

CLEVELAND -- Indians manager Terry Francona missed Tuesday night's game against Texas after his second trip to the hospital this month.

The Indians said doctors for now have ruled out major health issues and Francona will be monitored the next several weeks.

Francona, 58, left Monday night's game because he wasn't feeling well. He spent several hours at Cleveland Clinic and underwent a series of tests.

Francona was released from the hospital on Tuesday and spent the rest of the day at home. He was expected to return to the dugout Wednesday when the Indians host the Rangers. Cleveland lost to Texas 2-1 on Tuesday.

Bench coach Brad Mills ran the team in Francona's absence. Cleveland began the day in first place in the AL Central after rallying for a 15-9 win Monday.

"Tito actually wanted to come back to the ballpark today," team president Chris Antonetti said Tuesday. "I told him he can't come back to the ballpark today. He only got a couple hours of sleep last night, so despite his desire to want to be here, I thought it was best that he gets some rest tonight and just come back tomorrow. His plan when he was getting released from the hospital was to come over here."

"I don't think he was exceedingly happy with me," Antonetti said with a laugh. "That's OK."

Francona was hospitalized June 13 following a game at Progressive Field. He underwent tests and was released a few hours later, returning to work the following night. Last August, he missed a game after experiencing chest pains but was back the next day.

"Thankfully, we've got some great doctors that are coordinating his care," Antonetti said. "They've done every test they can possibly imagine. They've all come back clean. They're now working to try to figure out what are some of those things that are causing him to not feel so well."

Francona, a close friend of Mills for several years, has retained his sense of humor through his health issues.

A statement released by the team Tuesday read, "Mr. Francona also wanted to express that medical personnel have not yet ruled out an allergy to Bench Coach Brad Mills."