McAdam at the ALCS: Continuing the battle

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McAdam at the ALCS: Continuing the battle

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- You hear it all the time: The playoffs are a whole new season, a break from the long, six-month, 162-game grind, a fresh start after the long journey.

But someone, apparently, forgot to tell Robinson Cano and Josh Hamilton.

At the end of the September, with Cano's New York Yankees and Hamilton's Texas Rangers each headed for the playoffs, they were widely seen as the top two candidates for the American League Most Valuable Player award.

Ballots were due the day after the regular season ended, with Hamilton considered the slight favorite despite missing most of the final month of the season because of two broken ribs.

But even before the award- winner is announced in November, Cano and Hamilton are extending the debate right through the course of the American League Championship Series. Their one-on-one battle forms a fascinating subtext to the ALCS.

The Rangers hold a 3-to-2 lead in the best-of-seven series, and the personal competition between Hamilton and Cano is even more closely fought. Both players have hit four homers in the five games to date; Hamilton boasts an 1.458 OPS while Cano is at a blistering 1.555.

The votes have been counted, but neither Cano nor Hamilton will quit.

"Two dangerous guys on both sides, said Cano's teammate, Curtis Granderson said. Both teams would be happy to have either one. Both teams are happy with the guy they have. You hear the constant chants (of 'MVP . . . MVP') here and in Texas and it's going to be interesting to see who gets it when it's all said and done.

"Both of those guys have lived up to what they have done during the course of the 2010 season and also this postseason. Seems like there's no stopping any of those guys.''

Added Texas manager Ron Washington: "Two pretty good players. Cano hits the ball as hard as anyone, and Hamilton just drives line drives out of the ballpark. You know, you have two quality teams playing here, you never know what's going to happen each day and these are two guys that are difference-makers. And they'll probably be difference-makers as long as we're playing.

Still recovering from the rib injury, Hamilton had a slow start to the postseason, collecting just one RBI in the Rangers' five-game ALDS win over the Tampa Bay Rays. But as the series progressed, Hamilton began seeing the ball better and rediscovered his swing.

That was evident in his very first plate appearance of the ALCS when he smoked a three-run homer, helping the Rangers spring to an early lead they ultimately forfeited thanks to an eighth-inning bullpen malfunction.

Cano, meanwhile, virtually carried what little there was of the Yankees' offense in the first four games. New York got next to nothing from the likes of Alex Rodriguez (no extra-base hits) and Mark Teixeira (no hits, period).

Teixeira is sidelined the rest of the way because of a strained hamstring, forcing Joe Girardi to move Cano from his customary fifth spot in the Yankee lineup to third, Teixeira's normal role.

Where he hits in the batting order, of course, is of little consequence. The Rangers have to contain him somehow, and to date, they've not been very successful.

"He's hitting everything,'' bemoaned Washington at Thursday's workout. "He's hitting breaking balls, balls down and away, hitting balls up. He's just a tremendous hitter.''

If the Yankees can win the next two games here, Cano seems the obvious choice for ALCS MVP. If the Rangers win in Game Seven and Cliff Lee pitches anywhere near as well as he did in Game Three, he's the likely winner; if the Rangers wrap up the series Friday night, Hamilton could well be selected as the ALCS MVP.

Given that the ALCS MVP will almost certain come from the winning team, Cano and Hamilton would undoubtedly prefer that honor to the one from the regular season. This weekend, one of the two will see his season brought to an abrupt halt, while the other moves on to the World Series, the ultimate goal.

But either way, their extended competition continues. What began across the regular season extends now deep into the postseason, a battle waged even after the voting has stopped.

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

Red Sox welcome Betts’ surprising power surge

Red Sox welcome Betts’ surprising power surge

BOSTON - With one quick flick of his wrists Monday night, Mookie Betts drove a pitch into the Monster Seats, marking his 30th homer of the season.

The homer put Betts into exclusive company in team history. Only two others before him -- Ted Williams and Tony Conigliaro -- had ever reached the 30-homer milestone before turning 24. 

It's a reasonable assumption that, with five weeks still to play in the regular season, Betts will more than double his home run total (17) from last year, a remarkable jump.    

More to the point, Betts wasn't projected as a power hitter. In 2011 and 2012, Betts played the first 72 games of his pro career career without hitting a single homer. 

The power began to manifest itself somewhat the following year when he belted 15 homers between Low-A Greenville and High-A Salem, but still, few envisioned that Betts would show this kind of power at the major league level.

He was athletic, with extra-base capability, and speed. But a 30-home run hitter? That wasn't in the cards.

"That's pretty cool, hitting 30,” allowed Betts after the Red Sox' 9-4 win over Tampa Bay. "But that's not the reason we play.''

 For several minutes, Betts did his best to deflect questions about his milestone, consistently emphasizing team goals "first and foremost” over his own personal achievements.

"Trying to affect the game in some form or fashion,” he shrugged. "We're in a race right now and that's way more important[than individual stats].”

Still, Betts himself acknowledged that his homer total has come as something of a revelation.

"I definitely wasn't expecting [this kind of] power,'' he said. "But I'll take it while it's here.''

Maybe the power explosion shouldn't come as a shock, however. Betts has always demonstrated exceptional strength and fast reflexes, exhibiting the sort of "quick-twitch'' athleticism that make scouts drool.

He's improved his pitch selection and recognition, and it surely hasn't hurt to be part of a powerful Red Sox lineup that currently has him hitting behind David Ortiz and in front of Hanley Ramirez.

"Experience...knowing when and when not to turn on balls,” Betts explained further. "There's a whole bunch of things that kind of go into it.”

As he's gained confidence, Betts now picks certain counts where he allows himself to take bigger swings, though he's careful to  point out that he's not ever trying to hit homers.

"Not necessarily trying to hit a home run,'' he offered, "but trying to drive [the ball]. Those things come with experience and knowing when and when not to. I'm not trying to hit a home run. They just kind of come.''

In this, just his second full season in the big leagues, they're coming more and more frequently -- whether anyone expected it or not.

     

Bogaerts continues to battle through struggles with bat

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Bogaerts continues to battle through struggles with bat

BOSTON -- Early in 2016 praises, were sung around the league that Xander Bogaerts was the best hitter in baseball.

Rightfully so. For a good portion of the season he led the league in both batting average and hits. But between Mookie Betts’ ascension and Bogaerts’ drop in average from .331 on 7/29 to .306 after Monday night’s game, he’s taken a back seat.

But the Red Sox shortstop’s month-long dry spell hasn’t been a straight decline. Although he was held hitless Monday, Bogaerts went 6-for-13 (.462) against Kansas City.

In fact, the 23-year-old doesn’t even consider the recent month of struggles the worst stretch of his career.

“2014 probably,” Bogaerts said, “yeah I had a terrible, terrible few months -- probably three months.”

That was of course the season a lot came into question surrounding the now All-Star shortstop, so he was pretty spot on. In 2014 Bogaerts went from hitting .304 through 5/31, to .248 by the end of June, .244 after his last game in July, all the way down to .224 by the last day of August.

Bogaerts would hit .313 that September and finish with a .240 average -- but more importantly, an appreciation of what he’d experienced.

“That definitely helped me become a better person, a better player -- and understanding from that and learning,” Bogaerts said.

From that experience, he gained a better understanding of the importance of maintaining a consistent day-to-day routine.

“That has to stay the same,” Bogaerts said without question in his voice. “The league adjusted, they adjusted to me. It kind of took a longer time to adjust to them. They’ve just been pitching me so differently compared to other years.”

Bogaerts has had the point reinforced to him throughout, with Red Sox assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez serving as one voice of reinforcement.

“When you have a routine from the mental side, physical side, when you struggle that’s when you really need that,” Rodriguez said. “He’s been so good with his daily preparation, it doesn’t matter the result of the game. He can always go to something that feels comfortable.”

“He’s been so comfortable and confident with his daily routine and preparation that it allows him -- when he doesn’t get the results he wants in the game -- to have some peace knowing that the next day, we’re going to go back to doing that again.”

It’s clear Bogaerts needs to maintain his daily routine to help work through slumps -- and maintain hot streaks -- but Rodriguez made it clear, consistent preparation from a hitter doesn’t magically cure every problem.

“That doesn’t mean that because you stick with the routine you’re going to have results,” Rodriguez said. “What it means is, [because] you know and believe in that routine that you know you’re going to get out of it.”

Which means in addition to sticking to his normal routine, Bogaerts also had to identify flaws elsewhere in order work through his problems. He came to realize the problem was more mechanically based than mental -- given he’d done everything to address that.

“They pitched me differently, and some stuff I wanted to do with the ball I couldn’t do,” Bogaerts said. “I just continued doing it until I had to make the adjustment back.”

Bogaerts isn’t fully out of the dark, but he’s taken steps in the right direction of late -- and is nowhere near the skid he experienced in 2014. He and Rodriguez fully believe the All-Star’s ability to maintain a clear mind will carry him through whatever troubles he’s presented with the rest of the way.

“The more stuff you have in you’re head is probably not going to help your chances,” Bogaerts explained, “so have a clear mind -- but also have the trust in your swing that you’re going to put a good swing on [the pitch] regardless of whatever the count is.”

Nick Friar can be followed on Twitter @ngfriar.