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

First impressions: Ortiz moves past pregame ceremonies, hits game winner for Sox

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First impressions: Ortiz moves past pregame ceremonies, hits game winner for Sox

BOSTON -- First impressions from the Red Sox' 5-3 win over Toronto:

* What's left to say about David Ortiz?

Ortiz acknowledged before Friday's game that the pre-game ceremonies and the attendant fuss over his pending retirement have created a challenge for him. Sometimes, it's hard to go from being feted to trying to win a game.

Not that you would know it by Friday night.

In his first at-bat, he singled home the first run of the game. Two at-bats later, he lined a bullet that was right at Jose Bautista.

But he saved his best for the seventh when, after the Red Sox tied the game at 3-3, Ortiz promptly untied it with a laser down the line, landing in the right field seats.

One more clutch hit from Ortiz in a career full of them.

* Brock Holt's defense at third has stood out.

John Farrell is looking for someone to step up with the third base job, given that Travis Shaw is hitting under .200 since the All-Star break and Aaron Hill has had difficulty hitting righties.

Holt, meanwhile, has seized the job somewhat by default, with a .319 average in the last 24 games.

But since starting the last four games at third, Holt has also contributed with his glove.

On Friday night, Holt made a fine stop with his backhand, on the third base line, and fired to nail Devon Travis on a close play at first.

Later, he came on a slow roller to gun down Josh Donaldson out at first.

* The Red Sox have done a better job of late capitalizing on opponents' mistakes.

Last week in Baltimore, the Red Sox were handed a gift by the Orioles when a throwing error by Chris Davis resulted in five runs being scored -- all of them unearned. It took exactly two pitches for the Red Sox to pounce on the opportunity.

On Friday night, it happened again.

Trailing 3-1, the Red Sox used a throwing error by Russell Martin to score one run and put another runner in scoring position. A groundout and single by Mookie Betts tied things, and Ortiz's homer broke the tie and gave the Red Sox a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

Good teams take advantage of mistakes. Two of the last six Red Sox wins are prime examples of that maxim.

Sox may have finally found their everyday third baseman for the postseason

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Sox may have finally found their everyday third baseman for the postseason

BOSTON — As has been well-documented, the Red Sox have tried any number of solutions at third base this season, with eight different players getting starts at the position.

Travis Shaw has the most starts of anyone, with 99. But with three games left in the season, it's become apparent that Brock Holt is being viewed as the likely starter in the post-season.

Holt started all three games in the recent series in New York and was the starter Friday night against Toronto, too.

"You look at the consistent quality to the at-bats," said John Farrell, "and they've been there for him. That's not to say the other guys aren't important to us. But this is the time of year where you're looking to put the best, current lineup on the field and his versatility has shown up a number of ways. He's a confident defender at third base and his skill set is a little bit different from the other guys.

"So against righthanded pitching, that could be the guy we're going with."

Holt came into Friday hitting .319 (22-for-69) in the last 24 games.

Shaw, meanwhile, has been streaky to a fault. In the second half of the season, Shaw has posted a slash line of .195/.260/.362.

"We've seen (the streakiness both ways) in short spurts," Farrell said. "He does have the ability to carry us. But we're trying to get there and we're at a point in the year where every game is meaningful. That's not to say you turn your back on what he did earlier in the season. But we're looking for sparks somewhere."

What's more, Farrell had Holt hitting second in the lineup, in an effort to produce more offense. The Sox were limited to just eight runs in the three-game series at Yankee Stadium, and over the last 11 games, scored more than five runs just once.

Holt hit second, with Xander Bogaerts dropped to sixth.

"This is to create a little bit of a spark for us offensively," explained Farrell. "We've been grinding a little bit. And also, (we want) to create a little more (left-right) balance up and down the lineup."

TIME TO PLAY

As the final few regular season games of his career wind down, David Ortiz acknowledged that it's becoming increasing difficult to focus on the games with all the tributes and ceremonies going on.

In the final 11 days of the season, Ortiz will have had five pre-game ceremonies held in his honor -- and it would have been six had not Ortiz asked the Tampa Bay Rays to cancel the ceremony they had planned in the aftermath of the death that morning of pitcher Jose Fernandez.

On Thursday night, Ortiz has his family on the field for a pre-game celebration hosted by the New York Yankees.

Minutes later, he had to step in to the batter's box against CC Sabathia. Sometimes, it's hard to flip that switch and be emotionally ready to compete.

"I'm not going to lie to you -- it has (gotten harder)," said Ortiz. "We're already in the playoffs, so for the next three days, I don't really have to worry about it. But the best thing about it is that once we get into the playoffs, there's not going to be all these distractions.

"I like to mentally focus when we play, especially when I'm playing for a reason. We work extremely hard during the regular season to get into the playoffs and once we get there, I don't want to blow that off. It's not easy to (do all the ceremonies) and play baseball at the same time. It can be a distraction."