McAdam: Monday's win doesn't hide Sox warts

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McAdam: Monday's win doesn't hide Sox warts

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
The recent freefall by the Red Sox has, understandably, consumed fans for the last few weeks.

What was once a safe and secure lead for the American League wild card spot is now very much in play and the team's poor performance over the weekend against Tampa Bay only inflamed tensions.

The team's doubleheader split with Baltimore took a day off the calendar, kept the lead at two games and knocked a game off the Magic Number -- it now stands at eight.

The Sox are in clear survival mode. They don't care how they win or how they get there. The object is to hold off the Rays and win one more game than their closest pursuers.

Style points aren't of much consequence now. Moreover, the Red Sox can convince themselves that shouldonce they reach the playoffs, they can hit the re-set button and start fresh.

But the Monday night win, needed as it might have been, obscured two salient facts as the Red Sox stumble toward the finish line.

1) The Sox have won three games on their current homestand and two of those have taken place when they've scored 18 runs.

Again, a team desperate for wins isn't about to refuse any because they don't fit the mold. This isn't about aesthetics; it's survival, pure and simple.

But it should be more than a little troubling that the Sox are being forced to out-hit their pitchers' mistakes.

John Lackey spotted the Orioles a 3-0 lead Monday night and even after the Red Sox rallied to provide him with nine runs in the first three innings, Lackey couldn't pitch long enough (five full innings) to qualify for the win.

Should the Red Sox reach the post-season, they won't have the luxury of facing Brian Matusz, who's allowed at least five or more runs in seven straight starts.

Instead, they'll be matched against one of the three best teams in the American League, against starters with ERAs which begin with the number three or four, rather than, say, 10, as is the case with Matusz.

For the Sox, it was nice to see Jed Lowrie contribute a three-run homer and for Conor Jackson to get some playing time and chip in with a late-inning grand slam.

But if the Red Sox think they can win in October the way they've won twice in the last week, they're fooling themselves.

Which leads, indirectly, to another ongong issue...

2) The Sox still have no one capable of taking the ball for a Game 3 start in the Division Series.

Despite the Red Sox' win, Lackey's ERA actually increased to an unsightly 6.49.

He fooled nobody in the Baltimore lineup and allowed 13 baserunners in just 4 13 innings. After, in his post-game press conference, Lackey seemed nearly as lost as he did on that night in May in Toronto when he confessed: "Basically, everything in my life sucks right now.''

Lackey looked just as long on the podium as he did on the mound -- without the requisite eye-rolling and hand-raising that accompanies him in games. He confessed to be without answers for his poor performance, though, in true Lackey form, he managed to indignantly point out that he had pitched "pretty well'' in his previous start and that, at least once during the debacle against the Orioles, he had been the victim of a ball "dropping in.''

He still has the worst ERA of any qualifying starter in the American League. He still has a bloated WHIP of .163. And he still has a batting average allowed of .310.

Perhaps help will come Tuesday night in the form of Erik Bedard, who hasn't pitched in 13 days and who, because of the layoff, will be somewhat restricted in terms of pitches thrown.

Before he was sidelined by knee and lat issues, Bedard was at least keeping his team in games, a minimum requirement for a post-season starter, so perhaps Bedard could still claim that No. 3 spot with a good showing Tuesday followed by another on the team's final road trip.

The uncertainty that surround the rotation, however, is a reminder that the team's problems are far from solved and that things have to improve -- and fast -- for their post-season qualification to mean anything.

Just because the math is slightly better this Tuesday morning that it was 24 hours earlier doesn't mean the Red Sox' problems have gone away.

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.