McAdam: Problems right at the start

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McAdam: Problems right at the start

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

BOSTON -- Remember when everyone thought the Red Sox' primary problem was producing with runners in scoring position?

Seems almost quaint now.

Actually, as was painfully obvious Monday night, the real issue is starting pitching.

Daisuke Matsuzaka's stinker Monday night against the Tampa Bay Rays would seem to validate that. Matsuzaka labored through the first two innings, couldn't retire a hitter in the third, and was gone after allowing seven runs on eight hits. The same Rays who had scored just 11 runs in eight previous losses topped that figure last night by the sixth.

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Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon stacked his lineup with left-hander hitters -- between nautral lefties and switch-hitters, he had just one right-hander, B.J. Upton, in his batting order -- in the hopes of gaining an edge on Matsuzaka.

But left, right . . . it didn't seem to matter.

"We love when guys throw strikes," rued Terry Francona. "But there were balls that were middle-middle for seven straight hitters."

The evening constituted Matsuzaka's shortest start since April 14, 2009 in Oakland, after which, it's worth mentioning, he was placed on the disabled list because of shoulder weakness.

(For the record, Francona insisted that Matsuzaka is healthy and there are no physical issues.)

The beating eliminated any hint of momentum the Red Sox had gained the night before with Josh Beckett's brilliant effort against the Yankees. Suddenly, the Sox' first series win of the season seemed very long ago.

And that's the issue with the team's poor starting pitching. Without solid outings from the rotation, a winning streak -- or a stretch in which the Sox make forward progress -- seems almost unimaginable.

Momentum is the next day's starting pitcher, goes one of baseball's oldest bromides. But for now, momentum for the Red Sox is non-existent.

After two full turns through the starting rotation, they have exactly two quality starts. Their collective starters' ERA sits at 7.24; take away Beckett's effort Sunday against New York and Lester's all-for-naught effort in the road trip finale in Cleveland, and the starters' ERA soars to 10.25.

The offense still hasn't righted itself completely, either. On Monday night the team stranded 11 more baserunners, bringing their total in the last two games to a staggering 27. The Sox continue to hit below .200 with runners in scoring position.

But in 10 games so far, the Sox have scored five runs three times and still lost. In precisely half the games, they've managed four or more runs -- and lost, anyway.

On Monday night, the frustration was evident in the clubhouse after the eighth loss in 10 tries. Matsuzaka sat, still in uniform, staring into his locker for nearly 25 minutes after the loss, seemingly shell-shocked, invoking memories of a similar postgame meltdown following a poor outing in the 2007 ALCS against Cleveland in his first season with the Sox.

Per usual, he offered precious little insight about his failings, speaking only in the most obvious platitudes.

The inability of the team's starters to get into the middle innings on a consisent basis seemed to be wearing on others, too. Dustin Pedroia, normally one of the club's most upbeat members, looked over his shoulder as a crowd of reporters approached and said: "I've got nothing to say, guys."

And indeed, the Sox look lost.

There seems little doubt that the lineup, projected as one of the game's most fearsome, is coming around. Two slumping regulars provided clues that they're about to break out: Kevin Youkilis doubled in his final at-bat, one plate apperance after he had hit hit a vicious line drive which resulted in a double play, and Carl Crawford, matched against his former team, had a two-hit game.

But no such signs are visible for the rotation. Both Matsuzaka and John Lackey have been pasted in their two starts, and newly-extended Clay Buchholz,while not quite as bad, has also been hit hard both times.

Two quality starts in 10 tries is not going to lift the Sox from the division's basement.

For now, expect no drastic shakeups in the rotation. The Sox must hope that Matsuzaka can correct his issues on the side and keep his team in the game more times than not -- a modest enough goal, to be sure, but reasonable for a No. 5 starter, regardless of international pedigree and salary.

There are options beyond Matsuzaka, including Alfredo Aceves, who turned in 2 23 innings of hitless relief, and more intriguingly, Felix Doubront, whose spring was interruped with elbow tightness.

But once the Sox yank Matsuzaka from the rotation, he becomes dead weight. It's hard to envision him being productive out of the bullpen.

And yet, surely, the Sox can't let this continue for much longer. While the Yankees' lineup has bailed out some below-average starts from their equally uncertain rotation, the Red Sox haven't had that luxury.

Even if the hitters begin producing as expected, the season is too long to fully rely on one component to continually compensate for the failings of another.

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

Red Sox secure playoff with 6-4 win over Rays

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Red Sox secure playoff with 6-4 win over Rays

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Dustin Pedroia hit his fourth career grand slam to help Rick Porcello get his major league-leading 22nd win, and the Boston Red Sox clinched a playoff berth by beating the Tampa Bay Rays 6-4 Saturday night for their 10th consecutive win.

Boston maintained a 5 1/2-game lead over Toronto for the division title and ensured no worse than the AL's second wild card. While the Red Sox technically have a magic number of one, the Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles play each other three times in the season's final week - meaning only one of them can win match Boston's 91 wins.

Among the other wild-card contenders, only Detroit can reach 91 victories.

Pedroia stopped an 0-for-17 skid with a single in the sixth and gave Boston a 6-3 lead with a seventh-inning drive off Danny Farquhar.

Porcello (22-4) gave up three runs, eight hits and struck out nine over 6 1/3 innings. He just missed getting his 12th consecutive start of seven or more innings and three runs or fewer, which would have moved him past Cy Young (1904) and Pedro Martinez (2000) for the longest stretch during the same season in franchise history.

Craig Kimbrel, the fifth Boston reliever, reached 30 saves for the sixth straight season despite allowing Logan Forsythe's solo homer in the ninth.

Brad Miller hit a two-run double in a three-run second that put Tampa Bay up 3-1 and gave him 80 RBIs.

Tampa Bay threatened in the second but failed to score due to two nice defensive plays. Pedroia made a throw from just in front of the outfield grass at second base on Mikie Mahtook's grounder to get Corey Dickerson at the plate. Third baseman Brock Holt made a solid play along the line on Alexei Ramirez's grounder and threw him out at first to end the inning.

Farrell: Sandoval could possibly return to Red Sox for postseason

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Farrell: Sandoval could possibly return to Red Sox for postseason

Thought to be lost for the season after shoulder surgery this past spring, Pablo Sandoval could possibly return to the Red Sox for the postseason, Red Sox manager John Farrell told reporters Saturday.

Sandoval joined the team in St. Petersburg, where the Red Sox are playing the Tampa Bay Rays. Farrell said Sandoval had played in instructional league games in Florida and was "well ahead of schedule."

He could be an option to be activated if another player is injured. 

“One of the things I put in my mind that I have to work,” Sandoval told Boston Herald. “I learned a lot of things about this surgery so I had to work hard to be on the field as soon as possible.

“There are a lot of things I’ve been doing, working out, doing things so I can get better and better everyday.”

Sandoval, 30, is in the second year of a five-year, $95 contract. He lost his starting third base job to Travis Shaw in spring training and in April an MRI revealed he needed surgery on his left (non-throwing) shoulder, which was to have ended his season.

He appeared in only three games this season and hit .245 with 10 homers and 47 RBI in 126 games in 2015.