After up-and-down first year, Lackey eager for seconds

191542.jpg

After up-and-down first year, Lackey eager for seconds

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- John Lackey is sure of this: His second season in Boston will be easier than his first.

"It's definitely a lot nicer this year," Lackey said on Monday. "It's kind of nice to be welcomed back instead of trying to learn everything."

Lackey is more comfortable and familiar in his second spring in a Red Sox uniform, more aware of what's expected from him and more sure how to approach the meat grinder that is the American League East.

But when the subject is last season, Lackey's first after signing a five-year, 82.5 million contract with the Red Sox, there is less certainty. There were positives -- Lackey led the staff in innings pitched and quality starts thrown -- but in recounting 2010, even Lackey was unsure how to characterize it, except to note with some bemusement, that it sure was -- and remains -- a popular topic.

Even with the benefit of hindsight, Lackey found it difficult to put last season into perspective, bouncing back and forth between satisfaction and disappointment.

"There's definitely room for improvement," he acknowledged. "But there were definitely some numbers I can look at that were pretty good. My innings were good and there were a lot of quality starts, but some were barely quality starts."

Fairly or not, some seemed to judge Lackey against his salary -- always a dangerous proposition. But at the end of the season there was a general feeling that Lackey hadn't been as good as advertised.

"Honestly, I think all the evaluation was overblown a little bit," said Lackey. "I'd only won more than 14 games once in my life. I led the team in quality starts and innings. But whatever, it kind of what comes with it. I've been asked about 400 times since I've been here.

"I don't know. I'm not worried about last year, honestly. I feel good about this year and I'm kind of moving forward."

If Lackey is unclear on his 2010 season, it's easy to understand why. For every positive (33 starts, his most since 2007), there was a corresponding negative -- such as the staggering 314 baserunners allowed, most of any pitcher in the American League. His 14 wins were respectable enough, but his ERA (4.34) was his highest since 2004, his second full season in the big leagues.

"I'm not saying I pitched great," said Lackey. "I'm not saying that at all. I definitely could have performed better. Absolutely, I agree with that. I definitely could have pitched better. But it was disappointing more for team goals. I'm more concerned with team things -- making the playoffs and winning rings."

Lackey's mixed emotions on Monday were a carryover from last season, when his postgame press conferences often offered a mix of accountability and bemoaning his bad fortune with bloop hits or plays not made behind him.

There's little doubt that Lackey pitched better in the second half than in the first. After the All-Star break, Lackey's ERA dropped by about three-quarters of a run per game and his strikeout-to-walk ratio improved dramatic.

"I thought he limited mistakes better in the second half," said Terry Francona. "He made a lot fewer mistakes as the season progressed. He threw fewer strikes at the start of the season and that made things a little harder. For whatever reason, it wasn't as easy those first couple of months as everybody had hoped. That's the human element.

"In the second half, my arm strength was a little better," he said. "I was kind of building still during the first half of the season. And knowing the hitters, the ballparks -- that sort of thing was helpful. And knowing catchers was helpful, working with those guys a couple of times.

It also may have helped that Lackey learned more about pitching in the American League East. Having been in the AL West, where ballparks are typically bigger and lineups are less fearsome, there were adjustments to made pitching in baseball's most demanding division.

Over time, Lackey learned them.

"Mentally, you've got to be focused more going through lineups," he said. "There are certain situations to pitch around a guy with a base open. There's a lot more game-planning, I would say, because the lineups are deeper."

This winter, he committed himself to a more intensive running program, resulting in the loss of about a dozen pounds. But as he begins his second season with the Red Sox, there was the feeling that the biggest weight -- that of the expectations that come with playing in Boston -- had yet to be shed.

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

Red Sox-Indians ALDS matchup becoming increasingly likely

Red Sox-Indians ALDS matchup becoming increasingly likely

BOSTON - The Red Sox knew they'd be in the playoffs last weekend when they clinched a postseason berth for the first time since 2013.

On Wednesday, they became division champs and knew they'd avoided the dreaded wild-card game.

They still don't know their first-round opponent, though it's becoming increasingly likely that it will be the Cleveland Indians.

Here's why: the Red Sox' loss to the Yankees on Thursday night leaves them with a 92-67 record with three games remaining, the second-best mark -- for now -- among the three A.L. division winners.

The Texas Rangers, at 94-65, retain the best record, with the Indians, at 91-67, a half-game behind the Sox.

The team with the best record of the three will enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed, and will be matched against the winner of Tuesday's A.L. wild-card matchup.

To finish with the A.L.'s best record and host the wild-card winner, the Red Sox essentially need to sweep the Toronto Blue Jays on the final weekend and hope that the Rangers get swept by Tampa Bay.

That's because a tie between the Red Sox and Rangers in the standings would make the Rangers the top seed by virtue of the second tie-breaker: intra-division play.

(The first tie-breaker is head-to-head play; the Sox and Rangers split the season series, sending them to the second tie-breaker).

In other words, the Rangers have a magic number of one to clinch the best record in the A.L. and gain home-field advantage throughout the postseason. One more Red Sox loss or one more Rangers win would get the Rangers locked into the top spot.

Again, barring a sweep by the Sox and the Rangers getting swept, a matchup in the Division Series with Cleveland seems almost inevitable.

What's not known is where that series will begin, and here's where it gets tricky.

Because the Indians and Detroit Tigers were rained out Thursday, the Tribe will have played only 161 games by the time the regular season ends early Sunday evening.

That could force the Indians and Tigers to play a makeup game on Monday, since the game could have playoff seeding implications for the Indians and Tigers. Detroit is still in the running for the A.L. wild card spot, currently a game-and-a-half behind the Orioles and Jays.

Since the Red Sox won the season series against the Indians 4-2, the Sox can clinch home field by winning two-of-three games from Toronto this weekend.

Should the Sox win two from the Jays, it would wipe out the need for Monday's makeup -- at least as far as the Indians are concerned. It's possible that it would still need to be played to determine the one of the wild card spots.

No matter who wins home field in a likely Red Sox-Indians matchup, the Division Series between the two will start with games next Thursday and Friday. After a travel day, the series would resume Sunday and Monday, Oct. 9-10.

Should the Sox win home field and host the first two games, Game 3 would be played Sunday Oct. 9 in Cleveland -- on the same day and in the same city where Tom Brady will make his return to the Patriots.

      

 

Extended podcast with David Ortiz on his career, PED's, the Marathon bombing and more

ortiz_nyy092716_1920x1080_774285379875.jpg

Extended podcast with David Ortiz on his career, PED's, the Marathon bombing and more

David Ortiz offers thoughtful answers and insight in this interview with Sean McAdam touching on his beginning with the Red Sox, the Boston Marathon bombings, showing up on a PED list, his impact in the dugout, and more.

You can also see pieces of the interview on CSN Friday at 6:30pm on a special Arbella Early Edition with Gary Tanguay and Lou Merloni.

RELATED Special Video Series - "Big Papi - An Oral History" from CSN