McAdam: Off-day thoughts on the Red Sox

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McAdam: Off-day thoughts on the Red Sox

By SeanMcAdam
CSNNE.com

BALTIMORE -- Three off-day thoughts as the Red Sox take a break, two-thirds of the way through their three city, nine-game road trip:

1) Months from now, the Red Sox could have Mother Nature to thank for turning their season around.

An otherwise innocuous early-season rainout on April 13 allowed the Sox to do two things: Step back from their hideous 2-9 start, and reconfigure their starting rotation, which was, to put it charitably, underperforming.

The rainout gave the Sox two days off, since a built-in off-day in the schedule followed. For 48 hours, the Sox didn't have to answer questions about the stumbling way they had begun the season or confront arcane statistical forecasts of doom. ("No team which started its season 2-9 has ever . . . ")

More tangibly, the team reshuffled its pitching rotation. After a mediocre start by Clay Buchholz when the schedule resumed - on a bitterly cold night not suitable for anyone - the rotation magically clicked.

Since Buchholz's start, Red Sox starters are 7-1 with an astounding 0.88 ERA, enabling the Sox to go from eight games under .500 to a game below.

Moreover, the reshuffling seemed to prompt radical turnarounds from Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey.

Matsuzaka has followed what may have been a career low-point in which he was bashed for seven runs in two-plus innings against Tampa on April 11 to, arguably, his best two starts since joining the Red Sox.

Lackey, who had been scored upon in eight of his first nine innings across his first two outings, has since allowed one run over 14 innings.

Curiously, Lackey seems unwilling to let go of the perceived slight over having his turn skipped. Rather than dissipating over time, his annoyance seems to be intensifying.

Putting aside the wisdom of that sentiment - should a nine-year veteran making 17 million annually really have to be embarrassed into pitching better? -- there's no arguing with the results. If Lackey has to pitch angry for the rest of the season to be effective, so be it.

2) The team's turnaround has bought the Sox some time with their catching situation.

On the last homestand, Jarrod Saltalamacchia was described by a person in the organization as being "scared to death."

The team's poor start, coupled with being entrusted with the No. 1 catcher's job, seemed to overwhelm Saltalamacchia.

He discarded his usual patient approach at the plate and, desperate to make an offensive contribution, was overly aggressive, resulting in quick, unproductive at-bats.

Behind the plate, it was worse. The poor work by the started relected - unfairly - on Saltalamacchia, who must have heard suggestions from fans and some in the media that he was the cause of the staff-wide meltdown.

It didn't help that many of the early quality starts turned in by Boston pitchers came with the more seasoned Jason Varitek behind the plate.

Saltalamacchia's slow start forced the Red Sox to make some preliminary calls to inquire about other catching options. The Sox were hopeful he would settle down in time, but in the event that he didn't, the Sox insisted on doing their due diligence.

There remain holes in Saltalamacchia's game. He was charged with a passed ball Friday in Anaheim in which a baserunner scored all the way from second, and two wild pitches in the same game might otherwise have been ruled passed balls.

His throwing, meanwhile, remains spotty as opponents continue to run on the Sox nearly at will.

But having won eight of the last nine games, the Red Sox have, if nothing else, achieved a kind of stability, allowing Saltalamacchia some time to grow into his role without the kind of pressure and scrutiny that can be suffocating for a player not yet established.

3) Now that the pitching has righted itself, there are signs that the offense is starting to come around, too.

Though four regulars - Saltalamacchia, Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis - are hitting .222 or lower, each is on the upswing.

Crawford has at least one hit in five of his last six games and had two multi-hit games in the last six (including his first homer) and no longer seems lost at the plate.

Ellsbury, returned to the leadoff spot, consistently got on base during the Angels series.

It may well be that the hitters felt the need to carry the load while the starters found themselves, resulting in a deviation from their usual approaches.

Now that the rotation has realized an equilibrium, the lineup could soon follow suit. Gone is the need to dig out from early-inning holes created by poor starting pitching. The Sox scored 20 runs in their sweep of the Angels, but thanks to the dominance of their starters, could have won all four with just eight.

Relieved of the need to make up for their own pitchers' mistakes, the lineup just might be ready to enjoy a streak similar to one currently being enjoyed by their starters.

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

Felger: Crazy can be good, but Sale needs to harness it

Felger: Crazy can be good, but Sale needs to harness it

Chris Sale brings with him to Boston some attitude. He also brings a measure of defiance and, perhaps, a little bit of crazy.

All of which the Red Sox starting staff just may need. And if Sale pitches as he has for much of the past five years, he'll probably be celebrated for it.

I still wonder how it will all play here, especially if he underachieves.

What would we do to him locally if he refused to pitch because he didn't like a certain kind of uniform variation the team was going with? What would we say if he not only refused to pitch, but took a knife to his teammates' uniforms and the team had to scrap the promotion? Sale did exactly that in Chicago last year, after which he threw his manager under the bus for not standing by his players and attacked the team for putting business ahead of winning.

All because he didn't want to wear an untucked jersey?

"(The White Sox throwback uniforms) are uncomfortable and unorthodox,'' said Sale at the time. "I didn't want to go out there and not be at the top of my game in every aspect that I need to be in. Not only that, but I didn't want anything to alter my mechanics. ... There's a lot of different things that went into it.''

Wearing a throwback jersey would alter his mechanics? Was that a joke? It's hard to imagine he would get away with that in Boston.

Ditto for his support of Adam LaRoche and his involvement of that goofy story last March.
 
LaRoche, you'll remember, retired when the White Sox had the nerve to tell him that his 14-year-old son could not spend as much time around the team as he had grown accustomed to. Sale responded by pitching a fit.

“We got bald-face lied to by someone we’re supposed to be able to trust,'' said Sale of team president Kenny Williams. ``You can’t come tell the players it was the coaches and then tell the coaches it was the players, and then come in and say something completely different. If we’re all here to win a championship, this kind of stuff doesn’t happen.”

On what planet does allowing a 14-year-old kid in a clubhouse have anything to do with winning a title? In what universe does a throwback jersey have anything to do with mechanics? If David Price had said things that stupid last year, he'd still be hearing about it. And it won't be any different for Sale.

Thankfully, Sale's defiance and feistiness extends to the mound. Sale isn't afraid to pitch inside and protect his teammates, leading the American League in hit batsmen each of the last two years. He doesn't back down and loves a fight. And while that makes him sound a little goofy off the field, it should play well on it.

In the meantime, the Sox better hope he likes those red alternate jerseys they wear on Fridays.

E-mail Felger at mfelger@comcastsportsnet.com. Listen to Felger and Mazz weekdays, 2-6 p.m. on 98.5 FM. The simulcast appears daily on CSN.

With trade rumors finally over, Sale shifts attention to dominating in Boston

With trade rumors finally over, Sale shifts attention to dominating in Boston

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Chris Sale had been the subject of so many trade rumors for the past year that he admitted feeling somewhat like "the monkey in the middle.”

On Tuesday, the rumors became reality when Sale learned he was being shipped to the Red Sox in exchange for a package of four prospects.
    
It meant leaving the Chicago White Sox, the only organization he'd known after being drafted 13th overall by Chicago in 2010. Leaving, he said, is "bittersweet.''
     
Now, he can finally move forward.
     
"Just to have the whole process out of the way and get back to some kind of normalcy will be nice,” said Sale Wednesday morning in a conference call with reporters.

Sale had been linked in trade talks to many clubs, most notably the Washington Nationals, who seemed poised to obtain him as recently as Monday night.

Instead, Sale has changed his Sox from White to Red.

"I'm excited,” he said. "You're talking about one of the greatest franchises ever. I'm excited as anybody. I don't know how you couldn't be. I've always loved going to Boston, pitching in Boston. (My wife and I) both really like the city and (Fenway Park) is a very special place.”
     
It helps that Sale lives in Naples, Fla., just 20 or so miles from Fort Myers, the Red Sox' spring training base. Sale played his college ball at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers.
     
"Being able to stay in our house a couple of (more) months,” gushed Sale, “it couldn't have worked out better personally or professionally for us.”
     
Sale joins a rotation with two Cy Young Award winners (David Price and reigning winner Rick Porcello), a talented core of mostly younger position players and an improved bullpen.

"There's no reason not to be excited right now,” said Sale. "You look at the talent on this team as a whole... you can't ask for much more.”

Sale was in contact with Price Tuesday, who was the first Red Sox player to reach out. He also spoke with some mutual friends of Porcello.

That three-headed monster will carry the rotation, and the internal competition could lift them all to new heights.
     
"The good thing in all of this,'' Sale said, "is that I can definitely see a competition (with) all of us pushing each others, trying to be better. No matter who's pitching on a (given) night, we have as good or better chance the next night. That relieves some of the pressure that might build on some guys (who feel the need to carry the team every start).”

But Sale isn't the least bit interested in being known as the ace of the talented trio.

"I don’t think that matters,” he said. "When you have a group of guys who come together and fight for the same purpose, nothing else really matters. We play for a trophy, not a tag.”

Sale predicted he would be able to transition from Chicago to Boston without much effort, and didn't seem overwhelmed by moving to a market where media coverage and fan interest will result in more scrutiny.

"It's fine, it's a part of it, it's reality,” he said. "I'm not a big media guy. I'm not on Twitter. I'm really focused on the in-between-the-lines stuff. That's what I love, playing the game of baseball. Everything else will shake out.”

After playing before small crowds and in the shadow of the  Cubs in Chicago, Sale is ready to pitch before sellout crowds at Fenway.

"I'm a firm believer that energy can be created in ballparks,” he said. "I don't think there’s any question about it. When you have a packed house and everyone's on their feet in the eighth inning, that gives every player a jolt.”