McAdam: Sox offense coming up aces


McAdam: Sox offense coming up aces

By Sean McAdam

BOSTON -- They're still hitting just .248 as a team. Tuesday night's lineup featured three players hitting .204 or below. Their struggles hitting with men in scoring position (.225) have yet to be cured.

But somehow, someway, the Red Sox have managed to beat three straight aces -- reigning Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez Sunday; previously undefeated Jered Weaver Monday; and Dan Haren Tuesday.

At the time, each of the three starters began with the best ERA in the American League. And each time, the Red Sox figured out a way to win.

"I think we're playing crisp baseball," offered Terry Francona by way of explanation after the Sox beat Haren and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 7-3, Tuesday night. "We've faced some good pitchers. You go into these games knowing you're probably not going to knock them around. They're some of the best pitchers in baseball. And they're hot."

Indeed, the Sox did not bash any of the trio. Hernandez allowed just two runs over seven innings. Weaver was charged with three over six innings. Haren gave up four in seven-plus innings.

But each time, the Red Sox used the same successful formula: they drove up pitch counts, did more damage against the bullpen, and tellingly, got terrific outings from their own starters.

In fact, over the three games, Red Sox starters compiled an ERA of 1.86, compared to 3.15 for Hernandez, Weaver and Haren.

"When you beat guys like that," said Red Sox infielder Jed Lowrie, "you've beat some of the best in the game."

Finally, more than a month into the season, the Red Sox are showing the same approach that has made them one of the best offensive teams in the game the last few years: patient, selective, and grinding.

"They're great pitchers," said Adrian Gonzalez, who extended his hitting streak to 10 games and smacked his first homer at Fenway, ending a drought of 96 at-bats, "so you just go out up there looking for good at-bats."

The Sox couldn't get much of anything done in the early innings against Haren, whom they beat in Anaheim two weeks ago, handing him his first loss of the season. Through the first four innings, their only hit was a single by Carl Crawford with one out in the third.

Crawford then stole second, but neither Jarrod Saltalamacchia nor Jacoby Ellsbury could deliver him.

In the sixth, however, with Haren's pitch count climbing, the Sox scratched out two runs for their first lead of the night. Ellsbury led with a double into the right-field corner.

Haren then fanned Dustin Pedroia, but three straight singles followed from Gonzalez, David Ortiz and Lowrie.

In the seventh, another single from Crawford -- two hits for the third straight game -- and well-timed double off The Wall by Saltalamacchia stretched the Red Sox lead to 3-1. Gonzalez's leadoff homer to start the eighth chased Haren.

Offensively, there's still plenty of room for improvement. While others have heated up, Pedroia has continued to cool, dropping to .255. J.D. Drew has been virtually non-existent from the start, with a .231 batting average and just five RBI.

But there are good signs, too. Ellsbury appears comfortable again in the leadoff spot, having hit safely in each of the 11 games since he was returned to the top of the batting order. And Crawford is up to .194, having lifted his batting average some 40 points in the last three games.

Mostly, however, there's the satisfaction that they have figured out ways to score enough -- sometimes just enough -- to beat front-line starters.

"It's a great sign," said Gonzalez. "It's something we can definitely move forward from."

Sean McAdam can be reached at Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

IRVING, Texas -- Baseball players and owners reached a tentative agreement on a five-year labor contract Wednesday night, a deal that will extend the sport's industrial peace to 26 years since the ruinous fights in the first two decades of free agency.

After days of near round-the-clock talks, negotiators reached a verbal agreement about 3 1/2 hours before the expiration of the current pact. Then they worked to draft a memorandum of understanding, which must be ratified by both sides.

"It's great! Another five years of uninterrupted baseball," Oakland catcher Stephen Vogt said in a text message.

In announcing the agreement, Major League Baseball and the players' association said they will make specific terms available when drafting is complete.

"Happy it's done, and baseball is back on," Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy said.

As part of the deal, the experiment of having the All-Star Game determine which league gets home-field advantage in the World Series will end after 14 years, a person familiar with the agreement told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been signed.

Instead, the pennant winner with the better regular-season record will open the Series at home.

Another important change: The minimum time for a stint on the disabled list will be reduced from 15 days to 10.

The luxury tax threshold rises from $189 million to $195 million next year, $197 million in 2018, $206 million in 2019, $209 million in 2020 and $210 million in 2021.

Tax rates increase from 17.5 percent to 20 percent for first offenders, remain at 30 percent for second offenders and rise from 40 percent to 50 percent for third offenders. There is a new surtax of 12 percent for teams $20 million to $40 million above the threshold, 42.5 percent for first offenders more than $40 million above the threshold and 45 percent for subsequent offenders more than $40 million above.

Union head Tony Clark, presiding over a negotiation for the first time, said in a statement the deal "will benefit all involved in the game and leaves the game better for those who follow."

Key changes involve the qualifying offers clubs can make to their former players after they become free agents - the figure was $17.2 million this year. If a player turns down the offer and signs elsewhere, his new team forfeits an amateur draft pick, which usually had been in the first round under the old deal.

Under the new rules, a player can receive a qualifying offer only once in his career and will have 10 days to consider it instead of seven. A club signing a player who declined a qualifying offer would lose its third-highest amateur draft pick if it is a revenue-sharing receiver, its second- and fifth-highest picks (plus a loss of $1 million in its international draft pool) if it pays luxury tax for the just-ended season, and its second-highest pick (plus $500,000 in the international draft pool) if it is any other team.

A club losing a free agent who passed up a qualifying offer would receive an extra selection after the first round of the next draft if the player signed a contract for $50 million or more and after competitive balance round B if under $50 million. However, if that team pays luxury tax, the extra draft pick would drop to after the fourth round.

Among other details:

-For a team $40 million or more in excess of the luxury tax threshold, its highest selection in the next amateur draft will drop 10 places.

-While management failed to obtain an international draft of amateurs residing outside the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada, it did get a hard cap on each team's annual bonus pool for those players starting at $4.75 million for the signing period that begins next July 2.

-There is no change to limits on active rosters, which remain at 25 for most of the season and 40 from Sept. 1 on.

-Smokeless tobacco will be banned for all new players, those who currently do not have at least one day of major league service.

-The regular season will expand from 183 days to 187 starting in 2018, creating four more scheduled off days. There are additional limitations on the start times of night games on getaway days.

-The minimum salary rises from $507,500 to $535,000 next year, $545,000 in 2018 and $555,000 in 2019, with cost-of-living increases the following two years; the minor league minimum for a player appearing on the 40-man roster for at least the second time goes up from $82,700 to $86,500 next year, $88,000 in 2018 and $89,500 in 2019, followed by cost-of-living raises.

-The drop-off in slot values in the first round of the amateur draft will be lessened.

-Oakland's revenue-sharing funds will be cut to 75 percent next year, 50 percent in 2018, 25 percent in 2019 and then phased out.

-As part of the drug agreement, there will be increased testing, players will not be credited with major league service time during suspensions, and biomarker testing for HGH will begin next year.

Negotiators met through most of Tuesday night in an effort to increase momentum in the talks, which began during spring training. This is the third straight time the sides reached a new agreement before the old contract expired, but a deal was struck eight weeks in advance in 2006 and three weeks ahead of expiration in 2011.

Talks took place at a hotel outside Dallas where the players' association held its annual executive board meeting.

Clark, the first former player to serve as executive director of the union, and others set up in a meeting room within earshot of a children's choir practicing Christmas carols. A man dressed as Santa Claus waited nearby.

Baseball had eight work stoppages from 1972-95, the last a 7 1/2-month strike in 1994-95 that led to the first cancellation of the World Series in 90 years. The 2002 agreement was reached after players authorized a strike and about 3 1/2 hours before the first game that would have been impacted by a walkout.

The peace in baseball is in contrast to the recent labor histories of other major sports. The NFL had a preseason lockout in 2011, the NBA lost 240 games to a lockout that same year and the NHL lost 510 games to a lockout in 2012-13.