For once, Lester enjoys April flowers

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For once, Lester enjoys April flowers

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

BALTIMORE - In a season which turns four weeks old Friday, very little has gone as planned for the Red Sox.

Already, they've have made two changes in their starting lineup. Two-thirds of the outfield was demoted in the batting order. And their most trustworthy reliever, Daniel Bard, is tied for the team lead in losses.

For that matter, few players have met expectations. There's been Dustin Pedroia, his recent 1-for-20 skid notwithstanding. And Jon Lester.

Even Lester's opening month has not been without its surprises. After breezing through eight innings and allowing two runs on just four hits on Thursday night in a 6-2 win over Baltimore, he casually shrugged off questions about his career-long dominance of the Orioles (14-0, 2.33 in 17 starts).

It was some time before someone mentioned Lester had just completed his final outing in April and made it through the month relatively unscathed. At the mention of this, Lester, ordinarily proudly stoic in the post-game interviews, allowed himself the slightest of smiles.

Until this year, Lester's career April record of 3-6 with an ERA of 4.76 was the lone blemish on Lester's first four seasons. The same pitcher with the second-best winning percentage (.709) since 1900 could not for the life of him put it together in the first month.

Lester could never articulate what had plagued him in the early weeks of each season. For that matter, neither he nor the club ever seemed particularly concerned. Instead, his chronic poor Aprils were tolerated, accepted - like cold weather and built-in off-days - as part of the early season landscape.

Each season, Terry Francona would predict that Lester would eventually find his rhythm and go on one of his patented, dominant runs, stretches that would invariably find Lester with 17 or so wins at the end of the season. And each season Lester would, in time, do just that.

It's just that, this year, Lester found himself much earlier. Though he got a no-decision for his efforts, he threw seven shutout innings in his second start.

Three more quality starts followed. After a rough outing on Opening Day, Lester has since allowed six runs over his last 34 innings for a 1.58 ERA.

Lester was asked the significance of his better-than-usual April.

"It means I don't have an uphill battle," he said. "But with that being said, if I had started out the same way as years past, I wouldn't have lost any sleep over it just because I know that eventually would turn around.

"I wish I had an answer for why in years past it's been that way and why this year's different. But I don't know. I didn't change anything."

Still, the Red Sox won't argue with his success. The explanations and theories don't, in the end, matter much.

So little has been predictable in the first four weeks, the Sox will gladly take Lester's atypically strong start and not ask any questions.

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

Posey stays out of the fray during Strickland-Harper brawl

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Posey stays out of the fray during Strickland-Harper brawl

SAN FRANCISCO  — As an irate Bryce Harper charged toward the mound, Buster Posey just stood and watched from behind home plate.

And when the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants cleared their benches Monday and punches flew both ways, the All-Star catcher did his best to remain just outside the fray.

Not where some expected to find the Giants team leader with his pitcher, Hunter Strickland, exchanging head shots with Harper.

“Posey did NOTHING to stop Harper from getting to his pitcher,” former major league pitcher Dontrelle Willis wrote on Twitter. “I’ve never seen that before in my life.”

Posey declined to enter the fracas, instead remaining around its edges and watching as the players scuffled in “a pretty good pile,” as Giants manager Bruce Bochy called it.

Posey dealt with a concussion in April after being struck in the head by a pitch, but did not say he held back because of concerns related to that. He did say he was wary about the risk of injury.

“There were some big guys tumbling around out there,” Posey said. “You see Mike Morse and Jeff Samardzija are about as big as they come and he was getting knocked around like a pinball. So it was a little dangerous to get in there.”

Still, social media was abuzz at the sight of Posey not sticking up for his teammate.

“Strickland must have told @BusterPosey he was hitting him and let him come cause he didn’t even give a soft jog,” Willis wrote.

“Says all you need to know that Buster Posey didn’t bother to hold back Harper,” tweeted Fox broadcaster Kevin Burkhardt . “Let him go get his pitcher.”

Also absent from the fight: hard-nosed Giants ace Madison Bumgarner. As his teammates flew over the dugout railing, Bumgarner stayed put, perhaps because the left-hander is still recovering after injuring his pitching shoulder and ribs in a dirt biking accident in April.

 

Drellich: After golden 2016, Red Sox remember what it's like to have things go wrong

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Drellich: After golden 2016, Red Sox remember what it's like to have things go wrong

CHICAGO — More than anything else, Monday’s 5-4 Red Sox loss was a reminder of how much the Red Sox had go right for them a year ago, and just how unrealistic it was to expect so much of it to carry over into 2017.

The Red Sox remain a very good team. But the success of last year’s 93-win team, of any 93-win team is, truly, difficult to replicate. Unlikely, even.

Baseball’s age of parity, the randomness of freak injuries, good old regression — the Sox were due for some elements to catch up to them after a season that was more or less golden in 2016.

Dustin Pedroia, who headed back to Boston on Monday for an MRI on his left wrist, was healthy enough to hit 15 home runs a year ago, his highest total since 2012. The way this year is going for him health-wise, just having him on the field and hitting close to .300 sounds like a worthwhile goal the rest of the way.

(Slides are Pedroia’s enemy, be it from an oncoming base runner, like Manny Machado, or an oncoming first baseman, like Jose Abreu.)

David Price wasn’t living David Price’s best baseball life a year ago. But you know what you can, and probably do, take for granted? He was healthy and devouring innings. He cleared more frames than anyone else in the regular season. Even when he wasn’t pitching well, he could pitch and pitch and pitch. 

Jackie Bradley Jr. had a 1.001 OPS at the end of play on May 29, 2016. His OPS after play May 29, 2017, was .670.

We know how special David Ortiz was. Let’s not go there, because it seems like no one can talk about Ortiz’s absence rationally. His exit did not suck every home run out of the Sox lineup, as many like to say is the case, but he is — of course — a big missing piece.

Not everything was perfect in 2016, lest we remember our ex-girlfriends too fondly. Carson Smith went for Tommy John surgery, for example. 

But look now: Smith still isn’t back, Tyler Thornburg is a mystery if not quiet yet an afterthought and Robbie Ross Jr. not only struggled to the point he was demoted, he’s going through elbow trouble.

Rick Porcello won the American League Cy Young, much to Kate Upton’s chagrin. Porcello will not win the Cy Young this year, if you hadn’t been paying attention, although Chris Sale might.

There’s something going well for the Sox right now: that Sale guy. The bullpen coughed up the game Monday, Matt Barnes in particular. Yet Sox relievers had the fifth best ERA of any team to start the day. 

Hey, Eduardo Rodriguez looks pretty good, doesn't he?

With some downward trends have come some positives. Craig Kimbrel's on another planet.

The Sox may still be a 90-win team. Again, they remain a very good club.

But the wins, the breaks aren’t coming as easily as they did a year ago. You should never have expected they would.