Red Sox-Phils: Prelude to October?

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Red Sox-Phils: Prelude to October?

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It's difficult to assign too much significance to spring training games, with their casual atmosphere, patchwork lineups and wholesale mid-game substitutions.

But that didn't stop some from viewing Thursday's Phillies-Red Sox Grapefruit League meeting as a potential sneak preview of the 2011 World Series.

Those people, apparently, didn't get the memo to Terry Francona.

"Who are we playing today?'' Francona asked reporters gathered for his morning media briefing.

It could be that Francona was having some fun with the hype. Or his ignorance could have been genuine.

Either way, it didn't take away from the pregame talk. The Phillies were good enough to get to the NLCS and though they fell shy of reaching their third straight World Series (they won in 2008, and lost to the Yankees in 2009), adding lefty ace Cliff Lee in the off-season has made them the prohibitive favorites in the National League.

Similarly, the Red Sox' offseason acquisition spree has positioned them as the American League team to beat.

As might be expected for a team traveling 2 12 hours on a bus, the Phils didn't field their 'A' team against the Red Sox. In fact, of the players who made the trek, only outfielders Ben Francisco and Shane Victorino will be in Philadelphia's Opening Day lineup.

Still, this wasn't about March. This was about thinking ahead to October and what could be. And while neither team was silly enough to proclaim itself likely pennant winners, the Sox and Phils weren't shy about praising one another.

"We might see this matchup in the World Series," agreed Phils manager Charlie Manuel. "But at the same time, it's like anything else: you've got to go out there and play. Expectations are high and I'm sure that's good. I look at it as good.

"I like to think that, after the last four or five years, expectations on our guys are kind of what they put on themselves. The World Series is where we want to go. I know Terry Francona - I was his hitting coach at one time. And I know that's where he wants to go. Basically, I imagine our thinking is kind of alike.

"It's actually what the players think and what they expect of each other and the team. High expectations from the media and the fans is absolutely great. But you still have to go out there and play and you've got to play the best baseball."

Phils general manager Ruben Amaro went a step further.

"Boston is the best club in baseball I think,'' he said. "Their combination of speed, power, pitching and bullpen -- they're a hell of a ballclub. They don't have a lot of holes."

In adding Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, the Red Sox might have given themselves the best lineup in either league. Meanwhile, the Phils added Lee to a rotation which already boasted Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, forming the game's most talented collection of starters.

Francona was ecstatic when Lee chose the Phillies over other suitors. Then again, he had his own team's interest in mind.

"I was glad, but I think everybody kind of thought it was a foregone conclusion that he was going to go to the Yankees,'' Francona said. "And if he didn't go to the Yankees, he was going to Texas. They're both in our league and one's in our division, so I was really glad. Facing Cliff once in interleague's a lot better than facing him four or five times a season."

The Sox and Phils have met in interleague play every year but one since 2003 and will play a three-game set this season in Philadelphia in the final week of June.

That meeting itself is almost four months away. But on a beautiful March morning, if you tried hard, you could almost see all the way to October.

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

Sandoval’s offseason transformation doesn't guarantee he's Sox starting third baseman

Sandoval’s offseason transformation doesn't guarantee he's Sox starting third baseman

BOSTON - The weight room, as much as Instagram, has been Pablo Sandoval’s home in the offseason leading up to the 2017 season.

His change in diet and routine have clearly led to visible results, at least in terms of appearance. His play is yet to be determined. But his manager and teammates have taken notice.

“Compliments to Pablo,” John Farrell told reporters before Thursday’s BBWAA dinner. “He’s done a great job with the work that he’s put in, the commitment he’s made. He’s reshaped himself, that’s apparent. He knows there’s work to be done to regain an everyday job at third base. So, we’ll see how that unfolds. We’re not looking for him to be someone he’s not been in the past. Return to that level of performance.”

Farrell noted that Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge are the other two players in contention for time at third base and while others, such as prospect Rafael Devers, may get time there in the spring, those are the only three expected to compete for the job.

“The beauty of last spring is that there’s a note of competition in camp,” Farrell said. “And that was born out of third base last year [when Travis Shaw beat out Sandoval at the third base]. That won’t change.”

Sandoval's 2016 season ended after shoulder surgery in April. 

While the manager has to be cautiously optimistic, Sandoval’s teammates can afford to get their hopes up.

“Pablo is definitely going to bounce back,” Xander Bogaerts told CSNNE.com “Especially with the weight he’s lost and the motivation he has to prove a lot of people wrong, to prove the fans wrong.

“He’s been a great player for his whole career. He’s not a bad player based on one year. Playing in Boston the first year is tough, so, hopefully this year he’ll be better.”

Prior to Sandoval’s abysmal 2015, his first season in Boston, when he hit .245 with 47 RBI in 126 games, the 2012 World Series MVP was a career .294 hitter who averaged 15 home runs and 66 RBI a year.

If Bogaerts is right and Sandoval can be that player again, that will be a huge lift in filling in the gap David Ortiz left in Boston’s offense.

Scott's taste of big-league life with Red Sox has him hungering for more

Scott's taste of big-league life with Red Sox has him hungering for more

CHESNUT HILL -- The Red Sox Rookie Development Program is designed to help young players prepare for what playing at the major-league level is like,. That can be valuable for a prospect like Rafael Devers, who hasn’t even made it to Double-A.

But of the eight-man cast at the workout this year, there’s one guy who actually has major-league experience.

Robby Scott joined the Red Sox as a September call-up last season and turned some heads, holding opponents scoreless over six innings of work.

Now the lefty is back working with younger guys to prepare himself for spring training -- something he’s itching to get started.

“It’s one thing that we always talk about,” the left-handed reliever told CSNNE.com “It’s a tough road to get there, but it’s an even tougher and harder road to stay there. And having that taste in September last year was incredible to be a part of it.”

That taste Scott had last fall has only made the desire to rejoin Boston greater.

“Yeah, because now you know what it’s like,” Scott said CSNNE.com. “You see it and you’re there and you’re a part of it. And it’s like, ‘Man, I wanna be there.’ You’re a little bit more hungry.”

And his hunger to pitch with the Red Sox only becomes greater at an event like this where he’s the only one with MLB time.

“They ask on a consistent basis,” Scott started, “ ‘What’s it like?’ ‘What was it like getting there the first day?’ ‘How did the guys react?’ ‘What was it like dealing with the media?’

“That’s what this program is here for, just to kind of gives these guys a little taste of what it is like and get familiar with the circumstances.

While the experience and constant discussion invites players to try to do more in the offseason or change their routine, the 27-year-old has stayed the course, trusting what’s gotten him there.

“The offseason training stays the same, nothing really changes on that side of things,” Scott said. “Nothing changes. Go about my business the way I have the last six, seven years.”