Sox will be watching Tribe-Rays with close eye

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Sox will be watching Tribe-Rays with close eye

BOSTON -- The Red Sox finished with the best record in the American League, at 97-65, tied with the Cardinals for the best record in baseball. For their accomplishment, they will have home field advantage throughout the postseason, and will face the winner of Wednesday’s one-game wild card playoff, either the Rays or Indians, on Friday in Game 1 of their AL Division Series at Fenway Park.
 
“I think more than anything, we’ve put ourselves in a very good position and that’s over a course of 162,” manager John Farrell said. “Our guys have earned that. We’re in a little bit different format because of the number of days off. It’s rewarding for all of us to say we won a division and we’ve been able to maintain home field advantage. Those are two things, that I think as we begin this postseason, sit well with us. I know by Friday this group will be chomping at the bit to get in the field.”
 
In addition to four days of rest, the Sox’ accomplishment  also means they are the last team in baseaball to know who their Division Series opponent will be.  Farrell was asked if there are any disadvantages to that.
 
“None that I can state right now,” Farrell said. “Only because I know that amount of scouting work we’ve done on every team that was in contention is not going to change because we’re going to find out [Wednesday] night. We’ve got meetings scheduled for Thursday morning and that would encompass any team that we’re going to play. The fact that’s not going to be determined until [Wednesday] night, we’re more than prepared to shift according to who it is.”
 
Farrell has not announced his roster or Game 1 starter yet, preferring to get through today’s workout and simulated game before making any information public. The Sox’ opponent may have an impact on those decisions to some degree.
 
“There’ll be some of that involved,” Farrell said, “but the one thing that I want to be clear at is that we’ve set a pretty clear approach to how we’ve used all of our position players throughout the course of the regular season. To make a drastic shift from that  I don’t know that that would be putting guys in the best position to succeed.
 
“So, this is a team that we’ve had a couple of situations where we’ve pinch-hit before, or we’ll use a pinch-runner, we’ve demonstrated that. So to say that we’ll look to do something completely different because we’ve got a five-game series with two offdays in it, I think that would be running from what our strengths have been established all year.”
 
Farrell, like his staff and players, will be watching tonight’s game, just as he has watched playoff games in the past.
 
“Every year, yeah,” he said. “Even those years when you’re on the outside looking in, personally I have a strong interest in the game. You like to see how things unfold and what decisions are made based on certain things that come up in a game. You think along the game as it’s happening even though you might not be there.”
 
The Red Sox will all be watching tonight’s game, but with a different perspective than most viewers.
 
“There won’t be any fan in me pulling for either team,” said Jake Peavy, “I was talking to my father about this, the way I watched the game [Monday] night [between the Rays and Rangers] was so different than he and my mother and brother and everybody else. I’m watching pitch sequences, and how guys are setting up and what guys are trying to do in certain situations. And that’s certainly the way I think we’ll all watch the game [Wednesday] night, with an idea that we’re going to face one of those teams. I’m going to face those hitters that I’m watching. So I’ll watch it a lot like I do homework tapes.”
 
“I’m in a good situation to where I can watch it,” said Jonny Gomes. “It doesn’t matter who wins. It’s not like baseball-sized tears at the end of the game. Just watch it as a fan. And they got 162 games under their belt too. They’re not going to reinvent the wheel [tonight]. So just watch the game as a fan.”
 
Neither the manager of any of his players expressed a preference for who they might face in their Division Series. In six meetings between the Rays and Indians, Tampa Bay won four, going 2-1 both at home and at Cleveland. The Sox finished 6-1 against the Indians, but have not faced them since May, when they were a much different team. The Sox finished 12-7 against the Rays, 6-4 at Fenway, 6-3 at Tropicana Field, and know Tampa Bay as well as any team.
 
A scout who has followed both the Rays and Indians gave his thoughts on the potential matchups:
 
“I think if Cleveland plays Boston, I don’t think Cleveland will match up well at all. I think Boston will kill them," the scout said. "Cleveland’s bullpen is really weak right now. If Boston plays Tampa, because of familiarity I think Tampa has a legitimate shot at staying competitive. However, I still see Boston winning either series rather handily. For me, right now as an outsider, I would have to say Boston is a clear-cut favorite to win  the whole thing.”

Red Sox bullpen takes a blow: Smith to undergo Tommy John surgery

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Red Sox bullpen takes a blow: Smith to undergo Tommy John surgery

The Boston Red Sox' worst fears with Carson Smith have been realized: The reliever needs Tommy John surgery and will miss the rest of the season.

The Sox announced this morning that Smith will undergo the procedure today in New York.

Smith injured his elbow during spring training and was able to pitch in only three regular-season games after being activated on May 3. His loss will probably step up the team's efforts to acquire more bullpen help, as Smith was expected to reduce the workload on Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara as set-ups for closer Craig Kimbrel. In the short term, Matt Barnes and Heath Hembree will probably help in that role.

Red Sox starters handled 'the big inning' differently in Indians series

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Red Sox starters handled 'the big inning' differently in Indians series

BOSTON -- Avoiding the big inning isn’t just a major concern for Red Sox pitching, it is for all pitchers, at any level.

They can be used as benchmarks for a pitcher’s worth, given one’s ability to minimize the damage, and are in general big momentum shifters.

In each game of the Cleveland series Boston’s starting pitchers were presented with an inning that had potential on running awry.

And each handled it differently.

Joe Kelly took care of business. Rick Porcello minimized the damage and moved on. And, in typical fashion, Clay Buchholz didn’t do well -- even though he managed to log a quality start.

Kelly’s big inning came in his 30-pitch fifth inning, where he lost his perfect game bid -- and gave him no chance at completing the game -- with three walks.

But despite a lapse in control and pressure mounting with runners in scoring position, he held down the fort.

He was able to stay in them moment and work through his worst inning unscathed.

“[I] just got a little bit out of my mechanics and tempo from the stretch,” Kelly said on his fifth inning struggles following Saturday’s 9-1 win. “The pitches still felt good. The life on the fastball felt good [and] the breaking stuff felt sharp. It was just a matter not getting that timing down with my mechanics and just being a little bit to late on getting my arm extended.”

The following day Porcello took the mound and was off once again. John Farrell credited it to a lack of sink on Porcello’s go-to pitch, which is definitely a problem if that’s the case.

But there’s a lot to be said about a pitcher who doesn’t have his best pitch, yet still goes out and pitches a good game (even if it doesn’t get marked as a quality start).

And there’s even more value in the fact that on a bad day, Porcello can still get out of a jam.

“I was overthrowing and out of my game a little bit,” Porcello said on his rough second inning in Sunday’s 5-2 win. “In the third inning I just tried to get the ball down and get some quick outs.”

He also explained that he tries to simplify his approach in starts when he doesn’t have everything working.

“[You] just regroup mentally and battle through it,” Porcello said. “[I was] just trying to keep the balls in the ballpark and let the defense make the plays behind you like they did today.”

Kelly and Porcello set a positive tone to end the series with the Indians after Buchholz had proven that even the Quality Start statistic is misleading at times.

“The one pitch to [Jason] Kipnis is the difference in this one tonight,” John Farrell said following Buchholz’s start Friday. “What we’ve seen is when it’ been a home run, it’s probably been a walk that’s mixed in . . .The home runs are going to happen I think we all look at the base runners leading up to where he puts himself into a little bit of a corner where you don’t have much margin for error with men on base.

“And then there’s been a fastball that’s leaked back to the middle. And that was the case again tonight. He’s trying to crowd Kipnis and to keep the ball in on him and it ends up on the inner half. To me I don’t know if it’s focus, it’s a manner of falling behind in the count and the walks are factoring. We’re working to get him over that hump.”

The “one pitch” being the issue for Buchholz got him a pass for a few starts -- not to belittle the issue, it still is one -- but putting runners on in excess is the righty’s big problem.

He’s clearly still not comfortable throwing from the stretch (never mind bring the game to a screeching halt) and that needs to change. Fact is pitchers throw out of the stretch more often than not.

And going back to the “one pitch” being the problem. It seems more often than not that it’s Buchholz’s “front-door” two-seamer that is supposed to start at a lefty’s hip and scrape the inner edge of the plate.

But once again it wound up catching too much plate, even more barrel and parking itself in the outfield bleachers.

The question beckons, “When will he stop using that pitch so frequently?” It is absolutely a valuable weapon, but if Buchholz has to see that the risk-reward isn’t in his favor.

Regardless, Buchholz needs to take a page out of Kelly and Porcello’s book. Simplify to minimize the damage.

He might even get a standing ovation like Kelly and Porcello when they got pulled.