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

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

BOSTON -- Every year it seems like there are major issues or question marks to start spring training where the answers are up in the air.

In 2015, the Red Sox lacked an ace, had Hanley Ramirez moving to left field and Pablo Sandoval coming to town.

In 2016, Ramirez was moving back to the infield, but at a new position, and his bat was in question. Sandoval was coming off a year where he couldn’t hit his weight (he hit .245 and he last weighed in at 255 pounds). How would the starting rotation look after David Price?

This year, there seem to be three questions, but in a way, they’ve already been answered.

How will the Red Sox make up for David Ortiz’s absence?

Well, for one, the Red Sox have three Cy Young-caliber starting pitchers (Price, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello) in their rotation.

And two, Hanley Ramirez is coming off a career year with his highest career output in RBI (111) and second-highest home run total (30). And while Mitch Moreland isn’t the greatest hitter, he’s good for 20 or more home runs. Plus, it seems he’s holding a spot for a certain Red Sox prospect who’s bouncing back well from an injury.

 

Will Sandoval earn the starting third base job back?

The weight loss is a good sign, not only for the physical reasons, but it shows he’s mentally committed to being better.

However, that doesn’t guarantee he gets his job back.

“I’m not going to say [third base] resolved itself,” John Farrell told CSNNE.com, “but you know Panda’s done a very good job of committing to get himself in better shape and we’re looking forward to seeing that play to in spring training.”

Even if Panda can’t put it all together, Farrell told reporters before Thursday’s BBWAA dinner, both Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge would be competing for the job as well.

Holt as plan B -- in the infield? Who wouldn’t take that?

Who’s going to start at catcher?

Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart each have their pros an cons.

Leon did it all last year, but went from hitting .383 in his first 39 games to .242 in his last 39.

Vazquez has Ivan Rodriguez-esque abilities behind the plate, but couldn’t keep the staff under control last year and cannot hit.

Swihart, who turns 25 April 3, is the youngest of the three, has the most potential at the plate, but is far and away the worst of the three defensively at the most important defensive position -- excluding pitcher -- on the field.

They all have their drawbacks, but they’ve all shown at some point why they can be the Red Sox starting catcher in the present and future.

Everywhere else, the Red Sox seem to be in a comfortable position as pitchers and catchers reporting to camp draws ever nearer.

“I think the fact that we’ve got veteran players that have done a great job in staying healthy [and] young players that are getting more establishing in their return, we’re in a pretty good place in terms of the overall status of our position player group,” Farrell told CSNNE.com.

And it seems some players are confident in the team’s options as they ready for camp.

“We’re looking good in a lot of areas,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts told CSNNE.com. “Especially the pitching staff, [since] we just got Chris Sale one of the best in the game.”

“Pablo’s definitely going to bounce back, especially with the weight he’s lost."

Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

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Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

BOSTON -- “I didn’t feel that love after I made a pitching change in the sixth inning,” Terry Francona said after a 45-second standing ovation from Boston fans upon receiving the MLB Manager of the Year award from the BBWAA Thursday.

It’s without question the love for Francona runs deep in the city. Why wouldn’t it? He was the leader in breaking the 86-year old curse, and wound up winning another World Series title for Boston three years later.

Actually, he was more of a co-leader, working alongside the same person who won the MLB Executive of the Year honors from the BBWAA for 2016.

Theo Epstein -- who received an ovation 17 seconds shorter than Francona, but who’s counting -- reminisced about the Red Sox ownership group that took a chance on a young kid who wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate to take over as GM of a team, but now that’s helped him build the Chicago Cubs into a winning franchise and establish a great working environment.

This October marks 13 years since the ’04 championship, 10 years since ’07 and six years since the pair left Boston. Without question they’ve left their mark on the city and forever changed Red Sox baseball.

And while the fans showed their undying gratitude for Francona with an ovation almost as long as his acceptance speech, the Indians manager recognized the favor the current Red Sox brass has done for him.

“I’d like to thank Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox for getting Chris Sale the hell out of the Central Division,” Francona said.