McAdam: Red Sox soap opera continues for now

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McAdam: Red Sox soap opera continues for now

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
BALTMIORE -- Over the weekend, forced to address reports of a "disconnect'' between himself and his manager, Theo Epstein, on more than one occasion, declared that his team was not, in fact, a "soap opera.''

Despite some evidence to the contrary, Epstein is correct.

But this season itself? Cue the theme music from "The Young and the Restless.''

The Red Sox are going down to the final game of the regular season -- and very likely, beyond -- to determine whether they qualify for the postseason.

Such a scenario would have, of course, been unthinkable only a few weeks ago, when the focus was on who would start Game 3 of the ALDS.

And now? The Red Sox haven't said who would start a play-in game at Tampa Bay Thursday afternoon, and one of the reasons they're putting off any sort of announcement is because they're still casting about for a potential trade acquistion to make the start.

This would give "short-term rental'' a new meaning. No fewer than three club sources on Tuesday night offered variations on "highly unlikely'' when asked about the chances of a deal being made to obtain a starter for Game No. 163.

But the very fact that the notion was still being batted around tells how strange this season -- and in particular, the last month -- has been.

In the span of about seven months the Red Sox have gone from having an embarrassment of riches when it comes to pitching to just plain embarrassing.

Tim Wakefield couldn't crack the rotation at the start of the year, but for the last two months, he's been part of the regular five-man crew. Kyle Weiland probably didn't expect to make five regular season starts for a team with designs on a championship -- especially when he began his season at Double A.

And in anticipation of a play-in game, the Sox are desperately in search of an alternative to one of their own, whom they paid 82.5 million and who, not long ago, enjoyed a reputation as one of the most dependable "big game'' pitchers in the business.

Consider, too, that the Red Sox have been caught from behind by a team which is 16-10 for the month of September.

If the Rays had gone on one of those torrid, nothing-can-stop-us runs like the Colorado Rockies in 2007 and again in 2009, that would have been perfectly understandable.

Sometimes, teams play .750 ball down the stretch and overtake a team which has dipped to, say, .500 or less in the final weeks, victims of some injuries or fatigue or disinterest -- or a combination of all three.

But 16-10 is not exactly a team with a mission, some unstoppable force. Being caught from behind by a team playing six games over .500 for the month may not be unprecedented, but is sure is rare.

It's the equivalent of being lapped on the track by a tortoise. But the Sox have been so bad, so inept, that they have not only invited the Rays into the playoff party, they have held the door open for them.

A win Wednesday night likely guarantees the Red Sox nothing but a one-day trip to Tampa for a play-in game, meaning that the same team which has not won back-to-back games since the final week of August -- think about that -- now must
win three games in a row just to make the postseason.

That same postseason berth seemed a layup a month ago, one that wouldn't require last-minute heroics from the team's third-string catcher; that wouldn't involve a desperate, scrambling, never-been-done before deal to find a pitcher from outside the organization for the 163rd game of the season.

A week ago, the one word I kept hearing repeatedly from fans was "disgust.'' The shoddy play of the Red Sox, coupled with their cliff-dive in the standings, turned people off to the degree that they not only didn't care about the playoff battle, they were openly rooting for them to fail.

In the last week, between the 14-inning win Sunday night in New York and Ryan Lavarnway's cameo right out of The Natural, that's changed. People, I suspect, are hooked again. They can't turn away. They need to watch to see what happens next, follow it to its logical conclusion, see how the story ends.

And isn't that, really, the very embodiment of a soap opera?

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

McAdam: Sure, take Buchholz out of the rotation, then what?

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McAdam: Sure, take Buchholz out of the rotation, then what?

It's easy -- obvious, even -- that Clay Buchholz should be immediately replaced in the Red Sox rotation.
     
What's more, it's apparent who should replace him. Eduardo Rodriguez, though his velocity remains mysteriously subpar, is otherwise healthy and available.
     
Even with the acknowledgement that Rodriguez's fastball isn't as lively as the Red Sox would prefer it to be, he remains a logical option.
     
And there can be little debate over the move to extract Buchholz from the rotation. In 10 starts, he's compiled a 6.35 ERA, and while pitcher’s won-loss records are notoriously misleading, this stat isn't: the Red Sox are 3-7 with Buchholz starting and 26-11 with everyone else.
     
Buchholz's confidence is shattered. You can see it in his body language on the mound. You can sense it with the glacial-like pace in which he works
with runners on base. You can observe it in his postgame remarks, where he looks and sounds like someone with no idea how to reverse his slide.
     
Case closed.
     
But the next part of the equation is a little trickier: what do the Red Sox do with him now?
     
It's highly unlikely that the Sox will just release him. For one thing, there's more than $8 million coming to him for the remainder of the season and those decisions aren't made lightly.
     
For another, it's possible -- hard as it might be to imagine now -- that Buchholz could help the 2016 Red Sox before the season is through. And if you think that's a ridiculous notion, then you've forgotten other similar stretches in his career.
     
In 2014, when Buchholz had what was, until then, the worst season of his career, he still managed to put together a seven-start stretch at the end of the season that saw him go 4-3 with a 3.18 ERA.
     
Or the 13-game stretch inside the otherwise hideous 2012 (season ERA: 4.56) in which Buchholz was 6-2 with a 2.53 ERA.
     
Those two stretches are at the heart of the paradox that is Buchholz - even in the course of miserable seasons, he invariably finds a stretch where he figures some things out and pitches brilliantly for a time.
     
It's one reason the Red Sox have stuck with him for the first two months -- the knowledge that, at any time, something may click, sending Buchholz on one of his patented rolls.
     
After all, Buchholz is just 31, too young to be finished. And as both the pitcher himself and manager John Farrell said Thursday night, in the wake of another poor outing, health isn't an issue.
     
And that's the rub here.
     
If Buchholz hadn't been given a public clean bill of health, the Red Sox could have discovered a heretofore undetected "general soreness'' somewhere on Buchholz's body -- a balky shoulder here, or a tender elbow there.
     
That would have bought Buchholz and the Red Sox some time to place him on the DL, take a mental break from the mound and work on making some adjustment away from prying eyes.
     
Now, that would seem not to be an option -- unless Buchholz, ahem, stubbed a toe getting on or off the Red Sox charter flight to Toronto early Friday morning.
     
Finally, Buchholz is long out of options and has sufficient service time to refuse an assignment to the minor leagues.
     
So what's left? Not much, beyond a trip to the bullpen. And that's where things get complicated.
     
In a 10-year major league career, Buchholz has made exactly two (2) appearances in relief, the most recent of which took place in 2008.
Given that Buchholz has struggled mightily early in games -- until Thursday's start, when he completely flipped the script and retired the first nine hitters he faced, Buchholz had allowed a batting average of  .366 the first time through the order -- it's difficult to imagine him being successful in relief.
     
Sure, the Red Sox could designated him as their mop-up man in  relief, brought in when the team has fallen behind early or jumped out to a huge lead in the middle innings.
     
But such scenarios can't be counted upon to provide Buchholz with enough regular opportunities, and even  if they did present themselves, there's no guarantee that Buchholz would thrive under such circumstances.
     
So, the club appears at a dead end -- unwilling to release Buchholz because of meager starting depth options and the likelihood that he might be needed in a few weeks or months, and unable to find a spot for him to get straightened out.
     
It's the ultimate conundrum, which, when you think about it, is the perfect way to view Buchholz's career.
     

 

McAdam: Ridiculous to think Bradley's streak ended because he hit leadoff

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McAdam: Ridiculous to think Bradley's streak ended because he hit leadoff

BOSTON -- If you think John Farrell's decision to hit Jackie Bradley Jr. leadoff for one night is the reason Bradley's 29-game hit streak came to an end, I've got some swamp land you might be interested in buying.

Such silly talk first surfaced mid-afternoon when the lineup was announced. With Mookie Betts getting his first day off this season, somebody had to hit leadoff. Farrell went with the guy who was leading the league in hitting.

That sounds reasonable. But not to some, who cried that putting Bradley at the top was (take your pick) disrupting Bradley's routine, putting him in a place with which he wasn't familiar, or asking him to change his approach.

Of course, none of those made much sense.

First of all, Thursday night marked the sixth (SIXTH!) different spot that Bradley has hit during the hitting streak. He had hit second, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth. So the notion that any change was disruptive was absurd.

As for the notion that Bradley would treat his at-bats differently because he was leading off? Also wrong. Bradley's major adjustment since spring training has been being aggressive early in the count. So, do you know how many pitches Bradley saw in four at-bats as the leadoff hitter? Eight.

Does that sound like someone who was being forced to be more patient for the night, or someone changing their approach by working the count more?

Finally, Bradley hit two balls on the screws -- one to the warning track in right, just in front of the bullpen in his first at-bat and another in front of the center field door, some 400 or so feet away, in his third.

Streaks come to an end, even when hitters belt the ball hard. Twice.