McAdam: Future for Francona may be up in air

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McAdam: Future for Francona may be up in air

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam

At the post-mortem press conference held Thursday at Fenway Park, it didn't take long for the topic of Terry Francona's job security to be broached.

"Obviously, it's a question you have to ask," acknowledged general manager Theo Epstein. "Tito and I spent some time talking today, just kind of catching up about the season and talking about what the next few days will look like. We're going to get together -- ownership, Larry (Lucchino CEO), I and Tito -- over the next few days and talk about the season and talk about the future.

"We're less than 24 hours removed from the end of the season, so we need some time to calm down, get objective and look at ourselves, look at 2011 and look ahead and make best decisions for everybody."

That wasn't exactly the most strongly worded backing for a manager believed to be on the hot seat. There was no declaration that Francona will indeed return for 2012, for which the Red Sox hold a 4.25 million option.

Instead, there was this:

"I can't answer that question without saying that we've already talked about it -- John (Henry), Tom (Werner), Larry and I -- and nobody blames what happened in September on Tito. That would be totally irresponsible, totally shortsighted and wouldn't recognize everything that he means to the organization and to all our successes, including, at times, during 2011."

More than once Epstein reiterated a similar show of support for Francona, but each time, parsed his words carefully. Each time, the point was made that Francona wouldn't be blamed for the spectacular face-plant the Sox performed in September.

"No one blames Tito for what happened in September," said Epstein.

Again, the qualifier: "In September."

But missing the playoffs for the second straight year? There was no absolution coming for that, as if that matter was still open for debate.

And perhaps it is, among Red Sox management and ownership. Perhaps the disastrous 7-20 mark in September that sent the Red Sox home for the offseason following a cruel 4-3 loss Wednesday at Camden Yards is being removed from the debate.

There were more tea leaves to read, too. There was Francona's body language, which was more than a little off-putting -- arms folded, brow furrowed, eyes frequently downcast.

If there was a place Francona would less like to be, it's hard to imagine one.

Answering questions about a failed playoff race and a premature start on winter can't be fun. But Francona looked like a man awaiting a double root canal.

Speculation about Francona's future with the organization actually began two weeks ago when Peter Gammons went on The Dan Patrick Show and talked about a growing "disconnect" between Epstein and Francona.

Epstein did his best to dismiss the rift when he spoke with reporters at Yankee Stadium last Friday. He insisted that the Red Sox were not dysfunctional and added that he and Francona had a good laugh over all the attention given to Gammons' comments.

There were no smiles Thursday, however, as Epstein and Francona performed the public autopsy of the late, not-so-great 2011 Red Sox season.

Meanwhile, the silence from ownership has been defeaning. More than once in the last three weeks, as the Red Sox' wild card lead seemed to shrivel almost daily, Francona was asked by beat writers if he had heard anything from ownership -- a text message, perhaps, offering support, or a phone call for morale-buidling.

Each time, Francona had the same simple answer: No.

Perhaps Francona himself had read the tea leaves. How else to explain his unwillingness to answer in the affirmative when asked if he wants to return for a ninth season in the Red Sox dugout?

"Theo and I talked today and will continue to talk tomorrow," said Francona. "Maybe it's best, today, to stay with where we're at . . . Fair question. I would rather focus on the other stuff today, if that's OK. It's a fair question."

More than fair, it may be the most relevant question as the offseason gets underway much sooner than expected.

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

Three things we learned from the Red Sox’ 10-9 loss to the Blue Jays

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Three things we learned from the Red Sox’ 10-9 loss to the Blue Jays

Three things we learned from the Boston Red Sox’ 10-9 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays…

1) Toronto’s offense can never be taken lightly.

Coming into the series, the Blue Jays had scored 197 runs, putting them in the middle of the pack among all Major League teams and averaging four runs per game. In the two games against Boston, they’ve scored 17 runs.

So an offense that had appeared to be dormant has been woken up thanks to some subpar Red Sox pitching.

It seems like these two teams are very similar and could be in opposite positions just as easily. The Blue Jays are only three behind in the win column (five in the loss), so Boston needs to win David Price’s Sunday start to widen the gap and cut their three-game skid.

2) Craig Kimbrel is only effective for so long.

Boston’s closer wasn’t giving excuses following Saturday’s game -- and this isn’t one either.

Saturday’s 39-pitch performance wasn’t just his season-high, but his career high in pitches.

This not only resulted in a drop in Kimbrel’s velocity, but it exposed flaws in the Red Sox’ pen. Kimbrel is truly a one-inning guy, so if Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara can’t get him the ball, he’s useless.

And it seems like Uehara won’t be used on back-to-back days frequently in the near future, so Boston won’t be able to use Tazawa in a seventh inning role with much consistency.

Somewhere along the way Dave Dombrowski will need to find another reliever for the back-end of the bullpen.

3) Offense can only take a team so far.

Both teams had big offensive days, in large part because pitchers from both sides made a lot of mistakes -- but they still took advantage of them.

Had the Red Sox been the home team in this contest, there’s no reason to believe they wouldn’t have won -- just based on the progression of the game and ignoring any statistical splits.

If the Red Sox are serious about making the postseason, they need pitching to pick up the slack once in a while. Because when they hit the road late in the year, games like will slip away when quality pitching is lacking.

Quotes, notes and stars: 'Unfortunate situation at a key moment'

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Quotes, notes and stars: 'Unfortunate situation at a key moment'

Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox’ 10-9 loss to the Blue Jays:
 
QUOTES
*“We’ve seen Hanley [Ramirez] catch that ball multiple times...An unfortunate situation at a key moment.” John Farrell said of the final play of the game.
 
*As soon as I let it go I thought he was out...I feel like that game kind of slipped away from us.” -Travis Shaw said of his throw in the final play of the game.
 
*“Everybody was so excited on the bench. We’d lost the lead and to have him come through in that situation . . . It was huge.” -Hanley Ramirez on David Ortiz’s go-ahead homerun in the ninth inning.
 
*“We’re a strike away on a number of occasions . . . you watch the attack plan all day long right-handers with curveballs were having success against [Justin] Smoak.” -Farrell said of the bullpen’s performance and Smoak’s ninth inning hit off Craig Kimbrel.
 
*“If he makes an accurate throw he’s out.” -Farrell on Christian Vazquez’s errant throw in the ninth inning.
 
*“In some key spots we gave an extra 90 feet when otherwise we have not of late.” -Farrell said about Boston’s inability to execute late in the game.

NOTES
*Xander Bogaerts has hit safely in his last 21 games, extending his streak with a home run to lead off the fourth inning. He’s hitting .402 with five home runs during the streak. Bogaerts logged his ninth three-hit game of 2016.
 
* Dustin Pedroia extended his hitting streak to five games with his first-inning double. Pedroia has also hit safely in his past 22 games against Toronto. He’s hitting .444 during the short streak.
 
*David Ortiz extended his own hitting streak to six games with a double in the fourth. He's hitting .520 over that span.
 
* Russell Martin logged his fifth multi-hit game of the season -- and first three-hit game -- smacking a double and a home run. Martin entered the game batting .179 with three extra-base hits.
 
 
STARS
1) Russell Martin

Not only did he score the winning run, but he also tied the score in the ninth and launched a home run earlier in the game.
 
2) Xander Bogaerts
Another threre-hit performance, extending his hitting streak to 21 games, Bogaerts keeps creating headaches for opposing pitchers.
 
3) Rick Porcello
On a day where pitchers from both side scuffled, Porcello’s 6 2/3-inning effort gave Boston more than enough of a chance to win. 

First impressions: Big trouble for Red Sox bullpen

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First impressions: Big trouble for Red Sox bullpen

First impressions of the Red Sox' 10-9 loss in Toronto:
 
Rick Porcello was back in top form.

Despite the matchup at the Rogers Center being less than favorable for Porcello, and the righty not at his best of late, he held a streaking, dangerous offense at bay for 6 2/3 innings (four runs, seven hits) before the bullpen coughed up two leads. 

While Porcello hasn’t performed poorly of late, there’s no question he hasn’t been at his best -- so it’s good to see him have a consistent feel for his pitches.

The bullpen might be in trouble Sunday.

With Junichi Tazawa struggling, Craig Kimbrel throwing a season high 39 pitches and Matt Barnes pitching in both games this series, the bullpen won’t be at it’s best for the final game in Toronto. So, if there were ever a time for David Price to throw like a true ace, Sunday would be it.

Tommy Layne proves again that he’s not trustworthy.

With a four-run lead, and only needing to get two batters out, Layne couldn't get an out in the eighth, allowing two runs on two hits and starting something not even Kimbrel (who gave up leads in the eighth and ninth after being called on for a five-out save) could stop. The lefty specialist may have entered the game with an ERA below 3.00, but his results are inconsistent.
 
Umpire Mike DiMuro’s injury changed the tone of the game.

The home plate umpire took a hard foul ball off the center of the mask, delaying the game for several minutes and forcing Brian Gorman to call the game behind the plate.

And with that came an inconsistent strike zone. Both sides were frustrated by his inconsistency with his zone. Porcello had two pitches stopped due to late timeout calls. Marcus Stroman was almost allowed to quick pitch Hanley Ramirez twice in the same at-bat.

The crew got it right removing DiMuro from the game, but Gorman was bad in relief.
 
David Ortiz getting doubled up in the fourth inning can’t happen.

Darwin Barney showed some range, getting to Jackie Bradley, Jr.’s soft line drive up the middle, flipping the ball to second quickly after to get Ortiz. This comes a night after Hanley Ramirez got double up off a screaming line drive.

There’s a difference between the two though. Ramirez had no time to react. Ortiz had all the time in the world. Even though Papi’s speed hasn’t become enhanced in his old age -- unlike his power -- that was a rally-killing play he could’ve prevented.
 
Don’t sleep on Dustin Pedroia.

Between Ortiz’s farewell tour and the youth rising, Dustin Pedroia continues to perform well under the radar.

He went 2-for-4, lacing two doubles off Toronto’s ace, Marcus Stroman. Pedroia is hitting .309. He’s not the only player being overlooked, but he’s definitely received the least amount of attention in Boston’s power-packed lineup.