Red Sox

After up-and-down first year, Lackey eager for seconds

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After up-and-down first year, Lackey eager for seconds

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- John Lackey is sure of this: His second season in Boston will be easier than his first.

"It's definitely a lot nicer this year," Lackey said on Monday. "It's kind of nice to be welcomed back instead of trying to learn everything."

Lackey is more comfortable and familiar in his second spring in a Red Sox uniform, more aware of what's expected from him and more sure how to approach the meat grinder that is the American League East.

But when the subject is last season, Lackey's first after signing a five-year, 82.5 million contract with the Red Sox, there is less certainty. There were positives -- Lackey led the staff in innings pitched and quality starts thrown -- but in recounting 2010, even Lackey was unsure how to characterize it, except to note with some bemusement, that it sure was -- and remains -- a popular topic.

Even with the benefit of hindsight, Lackey found it difficult to put last season into perspective, bouncing back and forth between satisfaction and disappointment.

"There's definitely room for improvement," he acknowledged. "But there were definitely some numbers I can look at that were pretty good. My innings were good and there were a lot of quality starts, but some were barely quality starts."

Fairly or not, some seemed to judge Lackey against his salary -- always a dangerous proposition. But at the end of the season there was a general feeling that Lackey hadn't been as good as advertised.

"Honestly, I think all the evaluation was overblown a little bit," said Lackey. "I'd only won more than 14 games once in my life. I led the team in quality starts and innings. But whatever, it kind of what comes with it. I've been asked about 400 times since I've been here.

"I don't know. I'm not worried about last year, honestly. I feel good about this year and I'm kind of moving forward."

If Lackey is unclear on his 2010 season, it's easy to understand why. For every positive (33 starts, his most since 2007), there was a corresponding negative -- such as the staggering 314 baserunners allowed, most of any pitcher in the American League. His 14 wins were respectable enough, but his ERA (4.34) was his highest since 2004, his second full season in the big leagues.

"I'm not saying I pitched great," said Lackey. "I'm not saying that at all. I definitely could have performed better. Absolutely, I agree with that. I definitely could have pitched better. But it was disappointing more for team goals. I'm more concerned with team things -- making the playoffs and winning rings."

Lackey's mixed emotions on Monday were a carryover from last season, when his postgame press conferences often offered a mix of accountability and bemoaning his bad fortune with bloop hits or plays not made behind him.

There's little doubt that Lackey pitched better in the second half than in the first. After the All-Star break, Lackey's ERA dropped by about three-quarters of a run per game and his strikeout-to-walk ratio improved dramatic.

"I thought he limited mistakes better in the second half," said Terry Francona. "He made a lot fewer mistakes as the season progressed. He threw fewer strikes at the start of the season and that made things a little harder. For whatever reason, it wasn't as easy those first couple of months as everybody had hoped. That's the human element.

"In the second half, my arm strength was a little better," he said. "I was kind of building still during the first half of the season. And knowing the hitters, the ballparks -- that sort of thing was helpful. And knowing catchers was helpful, working with those guys a couple of times.

It also may have helped that Lackey learned more about pitching in the American League East. Having been in the AL West, where ballparks are typically bigger and lineups are less fearsome, there were adjustments to made pitching in baseball's most demanding division.

Over time, Lackey learned them.

"Mentally, you've got to be focused more going through lineups," he said. "There are certain situations to pitch around a guy with a base open. There's a lot more game-planning, I would say, because the lineups are deeper."

This winter, he committed himself to a more intensive running program, resulting in the loss of about a dozen pounds. But as he begins his second season with the Red Sox, there was the feeling that the biggest weight -- that of the expectations that come with playing in Boston -- had yet to be shed.

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

Are Red Sox playing a waiting game before naming their new manager?

Are Red Sox playing a waiting game before naming their new manager?

BOSTON — As soon as the American League Championship Series ends, the Red Sox could make a move for their manager.

Industry sources continue to expect Astros bench coach Alex Cora will be the Sox’ pick. No offer had been officially made as of midday Wednesday, one source close to the situation said. But the belief is such an offer waits out of respect to the Astros-Yankees ALCS that can end no later than Saturday if the series goes a full seven games. 

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“Not a doubt it is him,” the source said.

Sunday and Monday would both be off days ahead of the Tuesday night start of the World Series. That leads to the potential for at least a Red Sox announcement of Cora, if not a press conference, before the Fall Classic begins. (If the Astros advance to the World Series, it may be harder to have Cora in Boston for any length of time.)

All those who know Cora praise his ability to connect with players. The former Red Sox infielder is good friends with Dustin Pedroia. Cora’s previous knowledge of the Boston market works in his favor, as well, as does his mettle handling the media. Some question his readiness as a first-time manager, considering he would be taking over a team with great win-now expectations and complicated clubhouse dynamics.

Nothing takes the place of experience and there is such a thing as being too close to players. Ultimately, if the Sox do land Cora, 41, they would be adding the hottest up-and-coming managerial prospect who’s available on the market. The everybody-wants-him reputation could give Cora added cachet with players and certainly becomes a public-relations win for those fans following the search.

The Sox interviewed Ron Gardenhire on Wednesday. Gardenhire was the third candidate the Sox talked to and could well be the last. Cora met with the Sox on Sunday, followed by Brad Ausmus on Monday.
 

NLCS: Cubs avoid sweep, top Dodgers 3-2 to cut series deficit to 3-1

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NLCS: Cubs avoid sweep, top Dodgers 3-2 to cut series deficit to 3-1

CHICAGO -- Javier Baez sensed he was ready to bust out of his slump and give the Chicago Cubs the lift they needed.

As breakthroughs go, this was a big one. Just in time to keep the season going for the defending champs.

Baez snapped an 0-for-20 skid with two home runs, Wade Davis hung on for a six-out save and Cubs avoided a sweep, holding off the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 Wednesday night in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series.

"We have to be much more offensive," manager Joe Maddon said. "It's got to start happening tomorrow. We're going to do this. Going to pull this off, we have to become more offensive tomorrow."

Baez finally got going with a pair of solo drives .

Jake Arrieta pitched three-hit ball into the seventh inning to help the Cubs close their deficit to 3-1. Maddon got ejected for the second time in this series in the eighth, and a packed Wrigley Field crowd watched Davis get Cody Bellinger to ground into a game-ending double play.

Maddon was heavily criticized for not using Davis during a 4-1 loss in Game 2. This time, the Cubs closer threw 48 pitches to finish the job.

Willson Contreras also homered for the Cubs. Bellinger and Justin Turner connected for the Dodgers, who had won a team-record six straight playoff games.

Game 5 is Thursday, with Jose Quintana pitching for Chicago against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

"They're the world champs, and you know they're going to fight to the end," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "So today, they did. We got beat today."

Baez hit solo drives in the second and fifth after going hitless in his first 20 playoff at-bats. He had been watching videos and felt his timing was starting to come back in recent trips to the plate.

"I just need to take a step back and see what's going on," he said.

Contreras added a long homer against Alex Wood.

Davis entered with a 3-1 lead in the eighth. He gave up a leadoff homer to Turner, who went 2 for 2 and drew two walks.

Maddon became incensed that a swinging strike three against Curtis Granderson was ruled a foul after the umpires discussed the play. Maddon got tossed, and Granderson struck out swinging at the next pitch.

And after walking Yasmani Grandal to put runners on first and second, Davis struck out Chase Utley , who is hitless in his last 24 postseason at-bats.

All seven of Chicago's runs in this series have come on homers. And long drives in the second by Contreras and Baez made it 2-0.

"Great to have this win, because if not we were going home tomorrow," Baez said. "But I feel like we're still not on track as a team. But I think if we get back on track, everybody as a team, we're going to be the best again."

Contreras' 491-foot homer banged off the left-field videoboard and Baez sent a towering drive out to left.

Bellinger cut it to 2-1 with his drive to right in the third. But Baez got the lead back up to two with a shot to the left-field bleachers in the fifth, the raucous crowd chanting "Javy! Javy!" for the flashy young star who was co-MVP of the NLCS last year.

No Cubs player had hit two in a playoff game since Alex Gonzalez went deep twice in Game 2 of the 2003 NLCS against Miami.

Arrieta exited with runners on first and second in the seventh after walking Chris Taylor on a 3-2 pitch. He tipped his hat as fans gave him a standing ovation, a fitting show of appreciation for a pitcher with an expiring contract.

"Hopefully, it's not a goodbye, it's a thank you, obviously," Arrieta said. "I still intend to have another start in this ballpark. If that's where it ends, I did my best and I left it all out there."

Arrieta turns 32 in March and figures to land a huge deal in free agency. The trade that brought him from Baltimore helped fuel Chicago's rise, with the right-hander capturing the 2015 NL Cy Young Award and contributing to last year's drought-busting championship run.

Limited by a right hamstring injury in the final month of the season, he threw 111 pitches. Brian Duensing retired Bellinger on a fly to end the seventh.

Turner made it a one-run game with his homer off the left-field videoboard against Davis in the eighth.

A career-high 16-game winner, Wood gave up three runs and four hits in 42/3 innings.

"The only frustrating thing is we fell a run short," Turner said. "We played a great game, they played a great game. They just hit one more ball over the fence than we did."

FINISHING UP

Maddon said Davis would not be available on Thursday.

"So other guys got to do it," Maddon said. "We have to be much more offensive. It's got to start happening tomorrow. We're going to do this. Going to pull this off, we have to become more offensive tomorrow."

QUOTABLE

Chicago's Kyle Schwarber on all the Cubs' runs coming on homers in the series: "That's fine. A run's a run, anyway you can get them in. Obviously, we want to manufacture some runs, but we won a ballgame 3-2 hitting homers; I'll take that, too."

UP NEXT

Dodgers: The Dodgers turn to Kershaw to try to wrap up the series. The three-time NL Cy Young winner went five innings in Game 1, allowing two runs, and has a 4.76 ERA in two postseason starts this year.

Cubs: Quintana pitched five innings of two-hit ball in Game 1, one day after his wife, Michel, was taken off the team plane in Albuquerque with a medical ailment.

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