McAdam: MVP candidates leave Sox wanting more

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McAdam: MVP candidates leave Sox wanting more

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com 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 smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Pedroia leads Red Sox to 11th win in a row, 3-2 over Rays in 10

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Pedroia leads Red Sox to 11th win in a row, 3-2 over Rays in 10

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Dustin Pedroia used nifty baserunning to score from first base on David Ortiz's double in the 10th inning and the AL East-leading Red Sox beat the Tampa Bay Rays 3-2 on Sunday for their 11th consecutive win.

Pedroia singled off Eddie Gamboa (0-1) to start the inning. The relay throw on Ortiz's hit to right center beat Pedroia to plate but he avoided Luke Maile's first tag. Pedroia's momentum carried him past the plate and when he went back to touch it, Maile was charged with an error when the ball dropped out his glove on another tag try.

Pedroia hit a solo homer and Mookie Betts extended his hitting streak to 11 games with an RBI single for the Red Sox, who secured at least an AL wild-card spot Saturday night. Boston's magic number to clinch the division title dropped to two.

Joe Kelly (4-0) went 2 2/3 scoreless innings for the win.

Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez struck out a career-high 13 in 5 1/3 innings. The left-hander and Heath Hembree combined to strikeout 11 consecutive batters to establish a major league-record. The New York Mets held the previous mark when Tom Seaver struck out 10 in a row against San Diego on Apr. 22, 1970.

Boston also set a club record by striking out 21 through nine. Kelly added two more in the 10th.

There was a moment of silence before the game for Miami pitcher Jose Fernandez, who was killed in a boating accident early Sunday. Fernandez played high school baseball in nearby Tampa, Florida after defecting from Cuba.

The Rays planned to honor Ortiz before his final game at Tropicana Field but canceled the ceremony at Ortiz's request after Fernandez's death. He had three hits in five at-bats and moved past Frank Thomas for 107th place on the career list with 2,469 hits.

Ortiz has 35 homers and 90 RBIs at Tropicana Field, which is the most of any visiting player. Alex Rodriguez is next with 30 homers and 73 RBIs.

HONORING BIG PAPI

Rays 3B Evan Longoria and RHP Chris Archer informally presented Ortiz with an oil painting of his 500th home run, which he hit at Tropicana Field last season. Ortiz was also given 34 special handmade Diamond Crown Maximus cigars and $5,000 donations in his name to the Miracle League of St. Petersburg, Florida and the University of South Florida Latino scholarship program.

UP NEXT

Red Sox: Ortiz will play at Yankee Stadium for the final time during a three-game series against New York that starts Tuesday night. "Playing baseball in New York is something that is very special," Ortiz said. LHP David Price (17-8) will start for the Red Sox Tuesday night.

Rays: LHP Drew Smyly (7-11) will face White Sox RHP James Shields (3-11) Monday night in the first of four games in Chicago.

© 2016 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.