McAdam: Sox slump from both sides of the coin

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McAdam: Sox slump from both sides of the coin

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
A's recently as 10 days ago, the biggest question surrounding the Red Sox revolved around who should start Game 3 of the Division Series.

Now, in the aftermath of their disastrous 1-6 road trip, the focus has shifted: Will the Red Sox reach the Division Series?

In the last week, they've morphed from playoff locks to post-season suspects, their Wild Card lead trimmed to just three games in the loss column.

"Now we've put the pressure on them," said Tampa starter James Shields Sunday after limiting the Sox to a single run over 8 13 innings. "Now they have to win games. That's it. They could have swept us here and cruised on to the end and now they're not."

So, can the Red Sox hold on? Two opposing views:

YES, THEY CAN
1) True, the Sox have put themselves in this predicament. But it's the result of a bad 10 days, not a longer statistical sample.

Losing streaks are inevitable over a 162-game season. No one knows this better than the Sox, who stumbled out of the gate at 2-10 only to right themselves and play .700 ball for the next two months.

There's plenty of time left for the Red Sox to pull out of their nosedive, get healthy and get their pitching lined up for the playoffs.

2) The schedule is in their favor. Of the 16 games remaining, almost half (seven) are against Baltimore, owners of the worst record in the American League.

Beating the Orioles five times in seven tries -- surely not much of a feat -- would get the Sox to 90 wins and force the Rays to go 10-7 in their final 17 games to finish ahead -- and that's assuming the Sox lose every other game remaining.

Remember, too, that the Rays have 11 games remaining with both the Sox (four) and Yankees (seven). That's a tall order for a pitching staff and a team looking to play catch-up.

3) Reinforcements are on the way.

Having been stung by injuries the last month, the Sox are getting healthier.

Kevin Youkilis could return to the lineup Tuesday night. Josh Beckett could start as soon as Thursday, just in time for the first game of the four-game set with the Rays. Erik Bedard could pitch by the weekend.

When a team gets its cleanup hitter and 40 percent of its rotation back, that has to be a positive.

NO, THEY CAN'T
1) The biggest issue during the recent losing streak has been starting pitching. Only twice in the last 11 games have the Red Sox had a starting pitcher go longer than five innings. Not coincidentally, they are 2-9 in those 11 games.

And even with Monday's off-day, the next two scheduled starters for the Sox are Tim Wakefield, who hasn't won since the last week of July, and John Lackey, who has the worst ERA of any qualifying starter in either league.

2) Momentum is a hard thing to break late in the season.

The Sox haven't played well for nearly two weeks. There's been sloppy play -- Carl Crawford threw to the wrong base twice over the weekend -- and a general lethargy to their play.

While the bullpen has given away games late -- blowing a two-run lead with six outs to go last Wednesday; allowing a walk-off win in extra innings Saturday night -- the lineup hasn't been able to overcome early deficits.

3) This isn't an isolated slump -- almost everybody has been impacted.

In addition to the poor work by the starters, the offense has sputtered. In their six losses, the Red Sox scored 22 runs, or an average of about 3.7 per game. Take away an 11-10 slugfest loss to Toronto, however, and the average dips to just over two runs scored per loss.

Toss on some bullpen issues -- the continuing search for a trustworthy option for the seventh inning; two straight losses from Daniel Bard -- and the problems are many and unlikely to all be rectified at once.

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

Hitting coach Chili Davis is the perfect shoulder for Hanley Ramirez to lean on

Hitting coach Chili Davis is the perfect shoulder for Hanley Ramirez to lean on

Shoulder injuries don’t have to be damning for hitters. Look at the 469-foot home run Hanley Ramirez decimated Saturday in a 7-4 loss to the Cubs.

Yes, he’s gotten off to a slow start. Through 19 games played, he has two long balls.

But he had just one homer through the same number of games in 2016. He’s hitting .250 now. A year ago at this point, he was hitting .266.

“Last year, Hanley started slow,” hitting coach Chili Davis said prior to the Cubs series. “I watched him, work, and work, and work, and work, and you know, he didn’t abandon what he was working on. He didn’t abandon it, he stuck with it and he perfect ed it. And when he perfected it, he went off. He’s still working.

“Timing, consistency with timing, and it could be partially the shoulder bothering him.”

At least eight times in his career, Ramirez has been considered day-to-day or gone to the disabled list because of a shoulder injury. He partially dislocated his left shoulder, his lead shoulder, in 2007.

Hey, did you notice it was 83 degrees at first pitch Saturday?

“When it’s cold, and you’ve got bad joints, it affects you,” Davis said during the week. “When it warms up, it loosens up more.”

Davis knows better than most how to handle shoulder pain, how to be a successful power hitter despite it. The former switch-hitting slugger has a metal screw in his left shoulder after a 1986 surgery.

“For 13 years I played with it,” Davis said. “It was multiple dislocations. I slipped down some stairs in Riverfront Stadium. Grabbed a rail, and dislocated it. It dislocated like five times after this. It was so loose.”

Davis, now 57 years old and last a big leaguer in 1999, still has the screw in that shoulder. Today they make dissolvable ones, but didn't back then.

Believe it or not, Davis believes the surgery helped his righthanded swing. He was a switch-hitter, and batting righty, he liked to hook the ball.

“I’d get out and around,” Davis said. “And then I realized I had to use my top hand more. … It created power the other way for me. It was ridiculous how that happened. I mean, it was ridiculous. 

“Because if you really think about it, [the right] is my strong hand. I do everything with this hand, I eat, I’m a right-handed guy. … Everything right-handed was all over the field.”

Davis said hitters are always aware of their health situations. He remembers coming back from ankle surgery and the bad habits he created. The day he finally let himself act normally, he heard a pop. But it wasn’t trouble: it was merely scar tissue breaking up.

The shoulders are, of course, important. But Davis explained that a swing where the shoulders do most of the work is probably not ideal.

“People talk to connection with the backside, feel that connection. Well, that connection creates synchronicity,” Davis said. “Yeah, it creates some power, but you can try to feel connection and lose your hands, your hands get lost in the process. So they got to work perfect together. 

“But the bigger muscles, to me, were the stop muscles for me. If I was going to swing and I went to stop, that’s when I felt these things holding me back, or the connection holding me back. So just from experience alone, yeah, if the shoulders are involved in your swing, then you’ve got a long swing and your hands aren’t going to work the right way.”

There was a moonshot Saturday that suggested Ramirez’s hands are working properly, and that his shoulder pain won't mean a drop-off from last year necessarily.

“I think at times he may [be compensating],” Davis said. “He’s working on things. If he wasn't working, if he came in the cage during BP and I didn’t think that he was working on something, then I’d have a problem with that. But he’s working, and last year he worked and worked and worked until it clicked. So, I’m hoping the same thing happens this year.”

Rizzo hits one of Cubs' three home runs in 7-4 win over Red Sox

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Rizzo hits one of Cubs' three home runs in 7-4 win over Red Sox

BOSTON - Anthony Rizzo hit a two-run homer, and Miguel Montero and Ben Zobrist had solo shots, helping the Chicago Cubs rebound from a series-opening loss with a 7-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Saturday.

Kris Bryant had two hits and scored twice for Chicago, backing a decent start by former Red Sox righty John Lackey.

Lackey (2-3) gave up four runs in six innings, snapping his string of losses in three straight starts. He was part of Boston's 2013 World Series title team.

Hanley Ramirez and Andrew Benintendi had solo homers for the Red Sox, who have the majors' fewest homers.

Steven Wright (1-3) gave up five runs and seven hits in 6 1/3 innings.

Wade Davis pitched the ninth for his sixth save.