McAdam: MVP candidates leave Sox wanting more


McAdam: MVP candidates leave Sox wanting more

By Sean McAdam Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
BOSTON -- Before their September nosedive, the Red Sox boasted two legitimate MVP candidates -- outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.

Together with Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano and Justin Verlander, Ellsbury and Gonzalez had viable candidacies -- Gonzalez for his year-long consistency and Ellsbury for his emergence as a budding superstar.

For a while, Gonzalez looked capable of leading the league in two of three Triple Crown categories (batting average and RBI), while Ellsbury's offensive contributions were lauded for a leadoff hitter.

But as the Red Sox' lead in the wild card has diminished, dropping from seven games prior to their arrival at Tropicana Field on Sept. 9 to the present two games, Ellsbury and Gonzalez have simialrly disappeared.

The Rays capped another big series win over the Red Sox with an 8-5 victory Sunday at Fenway, giving them three of four over the weekend and six of seven over last two weekends. They were able to do so in large part because the Sox' offense stalled.

Boston's best offensive player in this series was Mike Aviles, who homered in two of the three games in which he started and whose three-run belt into the Monster Seats in the seventh inning Sunday briefly gave the Sox some comeback hopes.

Other than that, the Sox didn't generate much at the plate. Part of the problem, of course, has been the team's poor starting pitching, which put the team behind in all four of the games.

"We've been playing from behind a lot in this stretch,'' said Terry Francona.

And indeed, that's no way to play, or win. Being down 2-0, 3-0 and 4-0, as the Sox were in the series with the Rays, creates a level of desperation in a lineup.

Pitches out of the strike zone are chased. Usual approaches are quickly discarded. Players start trying to hit the proverbial five-run homer to erase early-inning deficits.

Still, the production -- or lack thereof -- from Ellsbury and Gonzalez was alarming against Tampa Bay.

Gonzalez went the entire series without a single base hit in 12 at-bats and knocked in exactly one run in the four games. In his final two at-bats Sunday, he fanned both times.

He acknowledged that he was off his game in the series, got himself out too often and should have exhibited more patience at the plate.

Ellsbury was only slightly better. Though he had a single in the seventh and a double in the ninth on Sunday, he finished the series 4-for-16. Two of the hits were doubles and he had two RBI in the four games with two runs scored.

Combined, the Red Sox' MVP candidates were 4-for-28 (.143) with two RBI, two runs scored and two extra base hits.

To a certain extent, the four-game set was a microcosm of the month, when the Red Sox first began their free-fall. Gonzalez is hitting just .250 since September 1 with eight RBI in 16 games. Those aren't horrendous numbers, but neither are they the kind of numbers which carry a team.

(It should be noted that Gonzalez told Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports Saturday that his surgically-repaired right shoulder has felt weak of late, no doubt contributing to his dropoff. Still, as Gonzalez has chosen to remain in the lineup, he must be judged on what he does -- or doesn't -- deliver.)

Ellsbury's poor series, by contrast, is all the more mystifying since his September has been the opposite of Gonzalez's -- stellar.

For the month, Ellsbury is hitting .361 (26-for-72) with a slugging percentage of .629 to go with 12 RBI in 17 games.

This weekend, however, Ellsbury's impact was minimal.

Contrast both players with the production turned in by the Rays' franchise player, Evan Longoria, who seemed to be in the middle of every Rays' rally.

It's unreasonable to think that any player is going to have the kind of series that, say, Carl Yastrzemski had on the final weekend of 1967, when the Red Sox beat the Minnesota Twins to capture the American League pennant.

But the larger point is this: MVPs are expected to lift a team and contribute in big games when their teams need them most. On that scale, both Ellsbury and Gonzalez came up short and their candidacies suffered accordingly.

Then again, individual awards are the last thing the Red Sox should be concerned with at the moment. If things don't get better soon, Ellsbury and Gonzalez will be disqualified for another reason: MVPs seldom come from non-playoff teams.

Sean McAdam can be reached at Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945


NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945

CHICAGO -- Cursed by a Billy Goat, bedeviled by Bartman and crushed by decades of disappointment, the Chicago Cubs are at long last headed back to the World Series.

Kyle Hendricks outpitched Clayton KershawAnthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered early and the Cubs won their first pennant since 1945, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 Saturday night in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

The drought ended when closer Aroldis Chapman got Yasiel Puig to ground into a double play, setting off a wild celebration inside Wrigley Field, outside the ballpark and all over the city.

Seeking their first crown since 1908, manager Joe Maddon's team opens the World Series at Cleveland on Tuesday night. The Indians haven't won it all since 1948 - Cleveland and Cubs have the two longest title waits in the majors.

"This city deserves it so much," Rizzo said. "We got four more big ones to go, but we're going to enjoy this. We're going to the World Series. I can't even believe that."

All-everything Javier Baez and pitcher Jon Lester shared the NLCS MVP. Baez hit .318, drove in five runs and made several sharp plays at second base. Lester, a former World Series champion in Boston, was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers.

Deemed World Series favorites since opening day, the Cubs topped the majors with 103 wins to win the NL Central, then beat the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs.

The Cubs overcame a 2-1 deficit against the Dodgers and won their 17th pennant. They had not earned a World Series trip since winning a doubleheader opener 4-3 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, 1945, to clinch the pennant on the next-to-last day of the season.

The eternal "wait till next year" is over. No more dwelling on a history of failure - the future is now.

"We're too young. We don't care about it," star slugger Kris Bryant said. "We don't look into it. This is a new team, this is a completely different time of our lives. We're enjoying it and our work's just getting started."

Hendricks pitched two-hit ball for 7 1/3 innings. Chapman took over and closed with hitless relief, then threw both arms in the air as he was mobbed by teammates and coaches.

The crowd joined in, chanting and serenading their team.

"Chicago!" shouted popular backup catcher David Ross.

The Cubs shook off back-to-back shutout losses earlier in this series by pounding the Dodgers for 23 runs to win the final three games.

And they were in no way overwhelmed by the moment on Saturday, putting aside previous frustration.

In 1945, the Billy Goat Curse supposedly began when a tavern owner wasn't allowed to bring his goat to Wrigley. In 2003, the Cubs lost the final three games of the NLCS to Florida, punctuated with a Game 6 defeat when fan Steve Bartman deflected a foul ball.

Even as recently as 2012, the Cubs lost 101 times.

This time, no such ill luck.

Bryant had an RBI single and scored in a two-run first. Dexter Fowler added two hits, drove in a run and scored one.

Contreras led off the fourth with a homer. Rizzo continued his resurgence with a solo drive in the fifth.

That was plenty for Hendricks, the major league ERA leader.

Hendricks left to a standing ovation after Josh Reddick singled with one out in the eighth. The only other hit Hendricks allowed was a single by Andrew Toles on the game's first pitch.

Kershaw, dominant in Game 2 shutout, gave up five runs and seven hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth. He fell to 4-7 in the postseason.

The Dodgers haven't been to the World Series since winning in 1988.

Pitching on five days' rest, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner threw 30 pitches in the first. Fowler led off with a double, and Bryant's single had the crowd shaking the 102-year-old ballpark.

They had more to cheer when left fielder Andrew Toles dropped Rizzo's fly, putting runners on second and third, and Ben Zobrist made it 2-0 a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs added a run in the second when Addison Russell doubled to deep left and scored on a two-out single by Fowler.


Maddon benched slumping right fielder Jason Heyward in favor of Albert Almora Jr.

"Kershaw's pitching, so I wanted to get one more right-handed bat in the lineup, and also with Albert I don't feel like we're losing anything on defense," Maddon said. "I know Jason's a Gold Glover, but I think Albert, given an opportunity to play often enough would be considered a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, too."

Heyward was 2 for 28 in the playoffs - 1 for 16 in the NLCS.


Kerry Wood, wearing a Ron Santo jersey, threw out the first pitch and actor Jim Belushi delivered the "Play Ball!" call before the game. Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder and actor John Cusack were also in attendance. And Bulls great Scottie Pippen led the seventh-inning stretch.