McAdam: A second-guesser's delight

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McAdam: A second-guesser's delight

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

BOSTON - It was a game, naturally, that seemed to have an endless number of turning points, and, correspondingly, innumerable opportunities to second-guess strategy.

If you could stay awake long enough to watch the Red Sox' maddening 5-3, 13-inning loss to the Los Angeles Angels Thursday morning, you could pick apart a dozen or so plays or sequences or moves.

We'll keep it to a three.

Twice, Terry Francona lifted middle-of-the-order hitters for pinch-runners.

In the eighth, after Adrian Gonzalez reached on a swinging bunt (which scored the first Boston run) and took second on reliever Fernando Rodney's throwing error, Francona lifted him for pinch-runner Marco Scutaro.

Scutaro got to third when Kevin Youkilis lined a hard single to left, but was stranded there when David Ortiz flied to center.

That left Scutaro, hitting .197 when the game began, hitting in the third spot in the order. His spot would comeup two more times when the Sox would have liked Gonzalez's bat there. But that's the tradeoff made for the short-term gain in speed on the basepaths.

Ironically, Scutaro made the biggest out of the game when he was cut down at the plate in the 12th trying to score from first on a Wall double from Kevin Youkilis with one out.

It took a perfect relay, but left fielder Vernon Wells to shortstop Erick Aybar to catcher Jeff Mathis did the trick.

"We were all on the top step of the dugout, thinking maybe we'd get to go home," said Francona. "It turns out we didn't."

Also, Francona chose to lift Ortiz for Darnell McDonald in the 10th after Ortiz worked a two-out walk.

McDonald would get stranded at home in that inning, then came up in the 12th after Scutaro was thrown out at home. He got an infield single, moving Youkilis to third, but Jed Lowrie grouding out to first for the final out of the inning.

Mike Cameron seemed to be overly aggressive in the ninth, though his manager absolved him of any blame after the game.

Cameron was on first and Jed Lowrie was on second with no outs when Jordan Walden tossed a wild pitch. As catcher Hank Conger scrambled to get the ball, Lowrie took off for third and Cameron for second.

Conger threw to third hoping to get Lowrie, but the ball got past third baseman Alberto Callaspo and struck third-base umpire John Hirchbeck on the foot, with the ball tricking to short.

That was enough for Lowrie to score. But Cameron, motoring from second, was thrown out sliding into the bag for the first out of the inning. And though it's
impossible to think that the inning would have unfolded the exact same way had Cameron eithe been safe or remained in scoring position at second, the out seemed more costly when Carl Crawford followed with a double to left-center.

"I thought their guy shortstop Erick Aybar made a pretty good play,'' said Francona. "He's running, full-speed, barehands it . . . when that ball goes by third, Cam's going. It's unfortunate because if it doesn't hit the umpire, it probably rolls into the corner.

"Again, it's unfortunate, but it's hard to blame Cam for running right there. The result was terrible. I don't second-guess what he was doing. Aybar ended up making a pretty good play.''

In the ninth, Hideki Okajima began his third inning of relief, having come into the game with one out in the seventh.

Appearing to tire, Okajima gave up back-to-back hits, putting runners on the corners.

Francona opted for Tim Wakefield from the bullpen when hard-throwing Daniel Bard might have been the more logical choice.

Wakefield walked Peter Bourjos to fill the bases, then allowed a sacrifice fly to Aybar.

Had Bard came in there, he might have been able to get Aybar on a strtkeout, keeping what was then an insurance run off the board.

Then again, knowing that Bobby Jenks (arm cramp) was unavailable, Francona knew he would have to use his relievers sparingly, holding Bard out until the 11th and, as it turned out, 12th inning, too.

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.