McAdam: Rangers a daunting playoff foe for Sox

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McAdam: Rangers a daunting playoff foe for Sox

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
ARLINGTON, Texas -- With the playoffs on the near horizon and the prospect of a Division Series matchup with the Texas Rangers a distinct -- and sobering -- possibility for the Red Sox, much of the attention has been focused on the team's struggles with the Rangers.

The Sox are 0-4 against Texas this year, have lost 10 of 12 and, since the beginning of 2009, they are 6-17 against the Rangers.

This, surely, looks like a playoff opponent the Red Sox would like to avoid, especially given the fact that the team is even more helpless against C.J. Wilson (4-0, 1.08 in five career starts vs. Boston). Add in the fact that Wilson would pitch the series opener and that the last 16 Division Series winners all won Game 1, and the task is even more daunting for the Sox.

Of course, it should be noted that the lineup Terry Francona used Monday night in the 4-0 loss will not be anything like the one he'll (presumably) have for the playoffs. The Sox are, for the time being, without their leadoff hitter (Jacoby Ellsbury); cleanup hitter (Kevin Youkilis); and No. 5 hitter (David Ortiz). Should the teams meet again in the Division Series, it's a safe bet that Marco Scutaro and Darnell McDonald will not be hitting first and second. Rookie Ryan Lavarnway will not be the team's DH.

But beyond the short-term injury picture and the team's recent struggles with Texas, there are more ominous trends emerging.

The shutout suffered by the Sox Monday night at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington was the ninth this season, an alarmingly high number for a team with the top-ranked offense in the game. Translated, that means about one of every 5.5 losses the team has suffered has been by shutout.

That figure is alarmingly high, even factoring in random slumps and loss of manpower due to injury.

(Taking that figure further, Monday was the 29th time the Red Sox had been held to under three runs, or, an average of once every 4.4 games.)

A second, equally disturbing trend is the team's inability to grind out wins against top starters.

Remember the last two seasons when the Red Sox seemed capable of beating any starter in either league? On one interleague swing in 2010, the Sox beat Ubaldo Jimenez -- at the time, the hottest pitcher in the game -- and Tim Lincecum in the span of only a few days.

Apart from their well-documented success against CC Sabathia this season, the Red Sox haven't been nearly so successful against top starting pitchers.

It's possible to count on one hand the number of times the Red Sox have beaten a front-line starter this year. They've had success against Tampa Bay's James Shields and (before last week) David Price, and have won two games started by Seattle's Felix Hernandez.

But what do Tampa Bay and Seattle have in common? They are, statistically speaking, two of the weakest offensive clubs in the American League, often unable to provide much run support for their starters.

That's not the case with Texas, which can support Wilson (and others in the starting rotation) with some muscle. The same goes for Detroit and Justin Verlander, another potential first-round opponent.

Beyond their success against Sabathia, the Red Sox have shown little evidence that they can beat front-of-the-rotation starters who receive at least moderate run support.

That doesn't bode well for October when, by definition, the quality of the starting pitching improves and lineups must grind out wins in low-scoring games.

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.