McAdam: Starters digging Sox out of hole

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McAdam: Starters digging Sox out of hole

By SeanMcAdam
CSNNE.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- They're still a game under .500 and even with their recent surge, remain closer to last place in the American League East than first.

But it's hard not to be impressed with the roll the Red Sox are on (8-1) and how quickly and dramatically they have pulled out of their early-season nosedive which, for a while, threatened to sabotage their season almost before it started.

On Sunday, the Sox finished off a sweep of the Los Angeles Angels -- their first four-game sweep here in 31 years --- with a 7-0 blanking of the Angels.

They outscored the Angels 20-5 and never once trailed in the series. If they're not fully back, they're certainly on their way.

"We're playing good baseball,'' said Adrian Gonzalez, who drove in the first run of the game and the last. "The pitching's doing great, the defense has been good, we're scoring runs . . . things have been going well here.

"I don't think we ever lost confidence. If anything, we were kind of wondering what was going on. But we're starting to play like we knew we were capable of playing all season long.''

The most dramatic turnaround, of course, has been with the starting rotation.

After John Lackey (2-2) held the Angels scoreless for eight innings, the starters' ERA over the last nine games is a microscopic 0.88. In that nine-game stretch, no starter has allowed more than two runs; in fact, four times, the starter has been unscored upon.

Since the 8-1 streak began, opposing hitters are batting just .159.

"It's been impressive,'' said Gonzalez. "They've been going out there and pitching seven or eight innings consistently and not giving up runs.''

The consecutive shutouts Saturday and Sunday to cap the sweep were the first back-to-black shutouts since 2007. And not since 2002 have the Red Sox had three starters in a row not allow a run.

"I don't know the numbers,'' said manager Terry Francona, ''but I get back to what I've been saying -- when we pitch like that, it's a good way to play the game.''

Because Lackey was able to go deep (Dan Wheeler pitched the ninth to complete the shutout), the Sox were able to stay away from their most important relievers -- Daniel Bard, Bobby Jenks and Jonathan Papelbon.

"That means on Tuesday, they're back to where (they should be in regards to being rested),'' said Francona.

There are signs, too, that the offense is starting to rumble to life. Sunday, they provided Lackey with three runs even before he took the mound. In the last nine games, they've scored 46 runs; in the first 12, they had managed just 47. In the first six games -- all losses -- they were either shut out or limited to a single run half the time.

Carl Crawford (single, homer) has hit safely in six of his last seven games and had multihit games in the last two. Jacoby Ellsbury has five hits and a walk since being returned to the top of the lineup three games ago.

Again, there are no congratulations in order for a team with big expectations to get within a game of the break-even mark. But it sure beats where they were 10 days ago, when the club was in an alarming freefall.

"We dug ourselves a hole,'' said Francona, "and now we're trying to dig out of it. It's kind of like a hitter with a low batting average, but is starting to feel better about himself. We're starting to do some things better.''

Most obviously on the mound.

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

Felger: Crazy can be good, but Sale needs to harness it

Felger: Crazy can be good, but Sale needs to harness it

Chris Sale brings with him to Boston some attitude. He also brings a measure of defiance and, perhaps, a little bit of crazy.

All of which the Red Sox starting staff just may need. And if Sale pitches as he has for much of the past five years, he'll probably be celebrated for it.

I still wonder how it will all play here, especially if he underachieves.

What would we do to him locally if he refused to pitch because he didn't like a certain kind of uniform variation the team was going with? What would we say if he not only refused to pitch, but took a knife to his teammates' uniforms and the team had to scrap the promotion? Sale did exactly that in Chicago last year, after which he threw his manager under the bus for not standing by his players and attacked the team for putting business ahead of winning.

All because he didn't want to wear an untucked jersey?

"(The White Sox throwback uniforms) are uncomfortable and unorthodox,'' said Sale at the time. "I didn't want to go out there and not be at the top of my game in every aspect that I need to be in. Not only that, but I didn't want anything to alter my mechanics. ... There's a lot of different things that went into it.''

Wearing a throwback jersey would alter his mechanics? Was that a joke? It's hard to imagine he would get away with that in Boston.

Ditto for his support of Adam LaRoche and his involvement of that goofy story last March.
 
LaRoche, you'll remember, retired when the White Sox had the nerve to tell him that his 14-year-old son could not spend as much time around the team as he had grown accustomed to. Sale responded by pitching a fit.

“We got bald-face lied to by someone we’re supposed to be able to trust,'' said Sale of team president Kenny Williams. ``You can’t come tell the players it was the coaches and then tell the coaches it was the players, and then come in and say something completely different. If we’re all here to win a championship, this kind of stuff doesn’t happen.”

On what planet does allowing a 14-year-old kid in a clubhouse have anything to do with winning a title? In what universe does a throwback jersey have anything to do with mechanics? If David Price had said things that stupid last year, he'd still be hearing about it. And it won't be any different for Sale.

Thankfully, Sale's defiance and feistiness extends to the mound. Sale isn't afraid to pitch inside and protect his teammates, leading the American League in hit batsmen each of the last two years. He doesn't back down and loves a fight. And while that makes him sound a little goofy off the field, it should play well on it.

In the meantime, the Sox better hope he likes those red alternate jerseys they wear on Fridays.

E-mail Felger at mfelger@comcastsportsnet.com. Listen to Felger and Mazz weekdays, 2-6 p.m. on 98.5 FM. The simulcast appears daily on CSN.

With trade rumors finally over, Sale shifts attention to dominating in Boston

With trade rumors finally over, Sale shifts attention to dominating in Boston

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Chris Sale had been the subject of so many trade rumors for the past year that he admitted feeling somewhat like "the monkey in the middle.”

On Tuesday, the rumors became reality when Sale learned he was being shipped to the Red Sox in exchange for a package of four prospects.
    
It meant leaving the Chicago White Sox, the only organization he'd known after being drafted 13th overall by Chicago in 2010. Leaving, he said, is "bittersweet.''
     
Now, he can finally move forward.
     
"Just to have the whole process out of the way and get back to some kind of normalcy will be nice,” said Sale Wednesday morning in a conference call with reporters.

Sale had been linked in trade talks to many clubs, most notably the Washington Nationals, who seemed poised to obtain him as recently as Monday night.

Instead, Sale has changed his Sox from White to Red.

"I'm excited,” he said. "You're talking about one of the greatest franchises ever. I'm excited as anybody. I don't know how you couldn't be. I've always loved going to Boston, pitching in Boston. (My wife and I) both really like the city and (Fenway Park) is a very special place.”
     
It helps that Sale lives in Naples, Fla., just 20 or so miles from Fort Myers, the Red Sox' spring training base. Sale played his college ball at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers.
     
"Being able to stay in our house a couple of (more) months,” gushed Sale, “it couldn't have worked out better personally or professionally for us.”
     
Sale joins a rotation with two Cy Young Award winners (David Price and reigning winner Rick Porcello), a talented core of mostly younger position players and an improved bullpen.

"There's no reason not to be excited right now,” said Sale. "You look at the talent on this team as a whole... you can't ask for much more.”

Sale was in contact with Price Tuesday, who was the first Red Sox player to reach out. He also spoke with some mutual friends of Porcello.

That three-headed monster will carry the rotation, and the internal competition could lift them all to new heights.
     
"The good thing in all of this,'' Sale said, "is that I can definitely see a competition (with) all of us pushing each others, trying to be better. No matter who's pitching on a (given) night, we have as good or better chance the next night. That relieves some of the pressure that might build on some guys (who feel the need to carry the team every start).”

But Sale isn't the least bit interested in being known as the ace of the talented trio.

"I don’t think that matters,” he said. "When you have a group of guys who come together and fight for the same purpose, nothing else really matters. We play for a trophy, not a tag.”

Sale predicted he would be able to transition from Chicago to Boston without much effort, and didn't seem overwhelmed by moving to a market where media coverage and fan interest will result in more scrutiny.

"It's fine, it's a part of it, it's reality,” he said. "I'm not a big media guy. I'm not on Twitter. I'm really focused on the in-between-the-lines stuff. That's what I love, playing the game of baseball. Everything else will shake out.”

After playing before small crowds and in the shadow of the  Cubs in Chicago, Sale is ready to pitch before sellout crowds at Fenway.

"I'm a firm believer that energy can be created in ballparks,” he said. "I don't think there’s any question about it. When you have a packed house and everyone's on their feet in the eighth inning, that gives every player a jolt.”