Francona satisfied with Red Sox bullpen


Francona satisfied with Red Sox bullpen

By Joe Haggerty Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
BOSTON Sox manager Terry Francona isnt fond at all of ranking the best of justabout anything. The best bullpen hes ever had and if the current squad ranksanywhere at the top of that list is something he doesnt want to touch with aPesky Pole-sized object midway through a season.

I dont know. Were in August. Ill tell you when the season is over.Thats hard to do. I dont have any interest in going back to 2004, saidFrancona. Were just trying to win games. Weve had some good bullpens here,and when we havent thats when weve lost.

The Sox skipper will do his assessing, judging and ranking once theseason has ended and the baseball team has learned its ultimate fate, but onething he is pretty happy with is the two left-handers working out of hisbullpen. The Sox have had Javy Lopez, Billy Wagner and Alan Embree in theiremploy over the years among other southpaws, but Franklin Morales and RandyWilliams have given Francona all kinds of flexibility to utilize a relief corpsthats deep, talented and leads the American League with a .232 batting averageagainst this season.

FranklinMorales comes in and blows through two innings. Anytime somebody stays out forthe second inning theres a pretty good chance that hes throwing the ballreally well. First of all his pitch count didnt go up and he didnt give upany runs, so we wanted to send him out.

With Randy Williams the times that hes given up runs have been whenweve lengthened him out and hes had to face left-handers. Its probably nothis main role. So if his ERA is higher than it should be that doesnt mean hecant get left-handers out.

The Sox relievers have given up one hit in their last 4 13 innings ofwork in two wins against the Cleveland Indians, and theyve struck out sevenTribe batters while simply dominating both contests.

There have been plenty of contributors to the Sox bullpen ERA thatranks fifth in the AL with a 3.49 mark, but its pretty clear that things end up with the seeminglyinvincible 1-2 punch of Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon. Matt Albers has slidinto the role tailored for Bobby Jenks as a bit of a bullpen wild card, and theSox bullpen is winning ballgames while a tattered starting rotation regains itsfooting.

Youre going to lose the occasional game, but you wake up the next dayand you have a semblance of order. You just need to get to Bard and Papelbonand thats helpful, said Francona. I think Papelbon has been terrific. Waycloser to the Pap that we saw his first year here. Way more command on hisfastball and finish on it when throwing the split. Hes been terrific.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs.

NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945


NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945

CHICAGO -- Cursed by a Billy Goat, bedeviled by Bartman and crushed by decades of disappointment, the Chicago Cubs are at long last headed back to the World Series.

Kyle Hendricks outpitched Clayton KershawAnthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered early and the Cubs won their first pennant since 1945, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 Saturday night in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

The drought ended when closer Aroldis Chapman got Yasiel Puig to ground into a double play, setting off a wild celebration inside Wrigley Field, outside the ballpark and all over the city.

Seeking their first crown since 1908, manager Joe Maddon's team opens the World Series at Cleveland on Tuesday night. The Indians haven't won it all since 1948 - Cleveland and Cubs have the two longest title waits in the majors.

"This city deserves it so much," Rizzo said. "We got four more big ones to go, but we're going to enjoy this. We're going to the World Series. I can't even believe that."

All-everything Javier Baez and pitcher Jon Lester shared the NLCS MVP. Baez hit .318, drove in five runs and made several sharp plays at second base. Lester, a former World Series champion in Boston, was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers.

Deemed World Series favorites since opening day, the Cubs topped the majors with 103 wins to win the NL Central, then beat the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs.

The Cubs overcame a 2-1 deficit against the Dodgers and won their 17th pennant. They had not earned a World Series trip since winning a doubleheader opener 4-3 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, 1945, to clinch the pennant on the next-to-last day of the season.

The eternal "wait till next year" is over. No more dwelling on a history of failure - the future is now.

"We're too young. We don't care about it," star slugger Kris Bryant said. "We don't look into it. This is a new team, this is a completely different time of our lives. We're enjoying it and our work's just getting started."

Hendricks pitched two-hit ball for 7 1/3 innings. Chapman took over and closed with hitless relief, then threw both arms in the air as he was mobbed by teammates and coaches.

The crowd joined in, chanting and serenading their team.

"Chicago!" shouted popular backup catcher David Ross.

The Cubs shook off back-to-back shutout losses earlier in this series by pounding the Dodgers for 23 runs to win the final three games.

And they were in no way overwhelmed by the moment on Saturday, putting aside previous frustration.

In 1945, the Billy Goat Curse supposedly began when a tavern owner wasn't allowed to bring his goat to Wrigley. In 2003, the Cubs lost the final three games of the NLCS to Florida, punctuated with a Game 6 defeat when fan Steve Bartman deflected a foul ball.

Even as recently as 2012, the Cubs lost 101 times.

This time, no such ill luck.

Bryant had an RBI single and scored in a two-run first. Dexter Fowler added two hits, drove in a run and scored one.

Contreras led off the fourth with a homer. Rizzo continued his resurgence with a solo drive in the fifth.

That was plenty for Hendricks, the major league ERA leader.

Hendricks left to a standing ovation after Josh Reddick singled with one out in the eighth. The only other hit Hendricks allowed was a single by Andrew Toles on the game's first pitch.

Kershaw, dominant in Game 2 shutout, gave up five runs and seven hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth. He fell to 4-7 in the postseason.

The Dodgers haven't been to the World Series since winning in 1988.

Pitching on five days' rest, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner threw 30 pitches in the first. Fowler led off with a double, and Bryant's single had the crowd shaking the 102-year-old ballpark.

They had more to cheer when left fielder Andrew Toles dropped Rizzo's fly, putting runners on second and third, and Ben Zobrist made it 2-0 a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs added a run in the second when Addison Russell doubled to deep left and scored on a two-out single by Fowler.


Maddon benched slumping right fielder Jason Heyward in favor of Albert Almora Jr.

"Kershaw's pitching, so I wanted to get one more right-handed bat in the lineup, and also with Albert I don't feel like we're losing anything on defense," Maddon said. "I know Jason's a Gold Glover, but I think Albert, given an opportunity to play often enough would be considered a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, too."

Heyward was 2 for 28 in the playoffs - 1 for 16 in the NLCS.


Kerry Wood, wearing a Ron Santo jersey, threw out the first pitch and actor Jim Belushi delivered the "Play Ball!" call before the game. Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder and actor John Cusack were also in attendance. And Bulls great Scottie Pippen led the seventh-inning stretch.