McAdam: Sox starters looking for relief


McAdam: Sox starters looking for relief

By SeanMcAdam

Bobby Jenks is set to return from the disabled list Tuesday, and if the prospect of a veteran reliever with a 9.35 ERA riding to the rescue doesn't seem like a significant development, think again.

Jenks hasn't pitched since May 1 due to a bout with biceps tendinitis, and in his absence, some interesting things took place with the Red Sox pitching staff.

Monday night, for example, for the third time this season and second since Jenks was shelved, manager Terry Francona allowed his starting pitcher -- in this case, Jon Lester -- to throw 125 or more pitches in a start.

That's a departure from Francona's usual approach.

Over the last few years, the only times the manager has allowed a pitcher to go that deep were when Lester and Clay Buchholz were finishing off no-hitters.

Now, in the span of just over a month, he's allowed it to happen three times.

As Francona pointed out Monday, part of his motivation was the fact that thanks to two upcoming off-days in the Red Sox' schedule -- Thursday and again Monday -- and the return of John Lackey to the rotation, Lester will be pitching next on seven days' rest, or, three more than usual.

Certainly, that influenced his decision to let Lester try to finish the sixth inning, even as his pitch count climbed to his highest total since his 2008 no-hitter against Kansas City. Francona knew that Lester would have plenty of time to rebound from Monday's outing.

But it's also true that the makeup of the bullpen was also a factor.

Without Jenks, much of the late-inning workload in the last month has fallen directly on Daniel Bard -- with mixed results. Despite an impressive WHIP of 0.974 and almost a strikeout per inning (25 in 25 23 innings), Bard's ERA is abnormally high at 3.54 and he's been charged with four losses.

Still, despite a half-dozen poor outings, Bard is still far more trustworthy than anyone else in the back end of the Boston bullpen not named Jonathan Papelbon.

Recall the May 21st game in which the Red Sox led 3-1 after seven innings against the Chicago Cubs. Francona didn't want to use Bard that night because of his recent workload and attempted to get to Papelbon in the ninth by deploying Matt Albers in the eighth.

Big mistake. Albers -- with some help from some sloppy defense behind him -- was charged with eight runs in a game that got away from the Sox.

Albers had been perfectly fine in middle-inning work, but just as some relievers find it a big jump to go from the eighth to closing responsibilities, others find that moving from middle relief to so-called "high leverage'' innings can be equally as daunting.

That's not a criticism of Albers. He's been very effective at a reasonable cost and stands as one of the better acquisitions of the off-season.

But in terms of stuff and experience, he's not Bard. And for that matter, he's not Jenks, a former closer, either.

Without Jenks to team with Bard, Francona has been pushing his starters, hoping to get them through seven -- when Bard can be asked to start a clean eighth -- or eight -- when he can avoid using Bard altogether.

Francona steadfastly refuses to burn out Bard, as evidenced by his reliance on Albers two weeks ago. But he hasn't been above pushing and extending his starters every great once in a while, especially when there is some built-in protection (read: bounce-back time) on the other end.

And tellingly, he has made every effort to scale back the pitch count on the Big Three of Lester, Buchholz and Josh Beckett in the outings immediately following.

After getting 125 pitches out of Beckett in Anaheim on April 21, for instance, he scaled back to just 92 pitched five days later in Baltimore.

Likewise, with Buchholz, who threw a 127 against Detroit on May 18, but threw just 94 in his follow-up outing.

It's uncertain, of course, how much the Sox are going to get out of Jenks and whether he can help Francona and pitching coach Curt Young spread the burden of late-inning, high-leverage situations. If Jenks pitches as he did in the first few weeks -- with scoreless appearances in five of his first six games -- the ganbit will be successful and both the starters and Bard himself will see their workload lessened at least somewhat.

The ability to use Jenks and Bard in some close games could be a huge advantage, allowing the duo to combine for six, seven or even eight outs as a bridge to Papelbon.

If, on the other hand, Jenks can't be counted upon, there will likely be fallout all over. Francona may again be forced to, periodically, push his starters deeper and GM Theo Epstein may have to accelerate his search for bullpen upgrades.

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

NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945


NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945

CHICAGO -- Cursed by a Billy Goat, bedeviled by Bartman and crushed by decades of disappointment, the Chicago Cubs are at long last headed back to the World Series.

Kyle Hendricks outpitched Clayton KershawAnthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered early and the Cubs won their first pennant since 1945, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 Saturday night in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

The drought ended when closer Aroldis Chapman got Yasiel Puig to ground into a double play, setting off a wild celebration inside Wrigley Field, outside the ballpark and all over the city.

Seeking their first crown since 1908, manager Joe Maddon's team opens the World Series at Cleveland on Tuesday night. The Indians haven't won it all since 1948 - Cleveland and Cubs have the two longest title waits in the majors.

"This city deserves it so much," Rizzo said. "We got four more big ones to go, but we're going to enjoy this. We're going to the World Series. I can't even believe that."

All-everything Javier Baez and pitcher Jon Lester shared the NLCS MVP. Baez hit .318, drove in five runs and made several sharp plays at second base. Lester, a former World Series champion in Boston, was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers.

Deemed World Series favorites since opening day, the Cubs topped the majors with 103 wins to win the NL Central, then beat the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs.

The Cubs overcame a 2-1 deficit against the Dodgers and won their 17th pennant. They had not earned a World Series trip since winning a doubleheader opener 4-3 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, 1945, to clinch the pennant on the next-to-last day of the season.

The eternal "wait till next year" is over. No more dwelling on a history of failure - the future is now.

"We're too young. We don't care about it," star slugger Kris Bryant said. "We don't look into it. This is a new team, this is a completely different time of our lives. We're enjoying it and our work's just getting started."

Hendricks pitched two-hit ball for 7 1/3 innings. Chapman took over and closed with hitless relief, then threw both arms in the air as he was mobbed by teammates and coaches.

The crowd joined in, chanting and serenading their team.

"Chicago!" shouted popular backup catcher David Ross.

The Cubs shook off back-to-back shutout losses earlier in this series by pounding the Dodgers for 23 runs to win the final three games.

And they were in no way overwhelmed by the moment on Saturday, putting aside previous frustration.

In 1945, the Billy Goat Curse supposedly began when a tavern owner wasn't allowed to bring his goat to Wrigley. In 2003, the Cubs lost the final three games of the NLCS to Florida, punctuated with a Game 6 defeat when fan Steve Bartman deflected a foul ball.

Even as recently as 2012, the Cubs lost 101 times.

This time, no such ill luck.

Bryant had an RBI single and scored in a two-run first. Dexter Fowler added two hits, drove in a run and scored one.

Contreras led off the fourth with a homer. Rizzo continued his resurgence with a solo drive in the fifth.

That was plenty for Hendricks, the major league ERA leader.

Hendricks left to a standing ovation after Josh Reddick singled with one out in the eighth. The only other hit Hendricks allowed was a single by Andrew Toles on the game's first pitch.

Kershaw, dominant in Game 2 shutout, gave up five runs and seven hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth. He fell to 4-7 in the postseason.

The Dodgers haven't been to the World Series since winning in 1988.

Pitching on five days' rest, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner threw 30 pitches in the first. Fowler led off with a double, and Bryant's single had the crowd shaking the 102-year-old ballpark.

They had more to cheer when left fielder Andrew Toles dropped Rizzo's fly, putting runners on second and third, and Ben Zobrist made it 2-0 a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs added a run in the second when Addison Russell doubled to deep left and scored on a two-out single by Fowler.


Maddon benched slumping right fielder Jason Heyward in favor of Albert Almora Jr.

"Kershaw's pitching, so I wanted to get one more right-handed bat in the lineup, and also with Albert I don't feel like we're losing anything on defense," Maddon said. "I know Jason's a Gold Glover, but I think Albert, given an opportunity to play often enough would be considered a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, too."

Heyward was 2 for 28 in the playoffs - 1 for 16 in the NLCS.


Kerry Wood, wearing a Ron Santo jersey, threw out the first pitch and actor Jim Belushi delivered the "Play Ball!" call before the game. Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder and actor John Cusack were also in attendance. And Bulls great Scottie Pippen led the seventh-inning stretch.