Red Sox

Red Sox magic number now 2 after topping Blue Jays, 10-7

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Red Sox magic number now 2 after topping Blue Jays, 10-7

BOSTON -- Rick Porcello struggled in his final playoff tuneup. No matter, he had another AL Cy Young winner to bail him out.

Porcello gave up three runs in the first inning and five in all, but David Price came out of the bullpen with four straight outs to help the Boston Red Sox beat Toronto 10-7 on Wednesday night and lower their magic number to two.

"I think he'll be a weapon out there," said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, who had Price on his team for the 2015 pennant race and playoffs. "It was good to see him back out there. I think he's going to be huge for them in the playoffs."

The Red Sox maintained a three-game lead in the division over the second-place Yankees, who beat Tampa Bay 6-1 on Wednesday night. Boston, which is already guaranteed at least a wild-card berth, could clinch the first back-to-back AL East titles in franchise history with a victory over Houston on Thursday and a New York loss to the Rays.

"The clock's running out. We've got to win ballgames," Porcello said. "Talk about the playoffs and stuff, but we haven't clinched the division yet. We have to do that to put ourselves in a position where we don't have to play a wild-card game. These games are important."

Hanley Ramirez and Xander Bogaerts homered in a five-run third inning for Boston after Porcello (11-17) gave up the three runs in the first. The Red Sox scored one in the first and three in the second and then took a 9-4 lead in the third to chase Marco Estrada (10-9) and snap a two-game losing streak.

Porcello allowed five runs, seven hits and two walks, striking out eight in 5 2/3 innings. A year after winning a career-high 22 games to earn AL Cy Young honors, the 28-year-old right-hander posted the most losses in his career. With a chance to become baseball's first 20-game loser since 2003, Porcello went 2-0 with a no-decision in his last three starts.

"After a rough start to the ballgame, he settled down just enough," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "And the offense covered it."

Price pitched 1 1/3 perfect innings, striking out three, as he works his way back from left elbow problems that kept him on the disabled list for most of the year. It was his third relief appearance since returning on Sept. 14; he is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA, striking out nine in six innings.

"The three appearances he's made for us out of the bullpen, they've been extremely consistent and powerful," Farrell said. "Hopefully he's getting adapted a little bit more to the role."

Mitch Moreland homered for the Red Sox. Bogaerts had three hits and drove in four runs, including a three-run homer in the third to make it 9-4.

Estrada allowed eight runs - seven earned - nine hits and a walk, striking out two while recording just seven outs and losing for the first time in six decisions. He had only allowed two earned runs in his previous three starts against Boston this season.

LONG BALL

Jose Bautista, Darwin Barney and Teoscar Hernandez homered for the Blue Jays, who hit 10 home runs in the three-game series. Hernandez has eight since he was called up on Sept. 1 - a franchise record for rookies in the month.

"We hung in there. We scored some runs," Gibbons said. "We just couldn't stop them."

CHALLENGING SLIDE

Bogaerts scored two runs, the first when he came around from first on Dustin Pedroia's single in the second inning and slid in under the tag head first. Home plate umpire Larry Vanover ruled him out, but Bogaerts came up signaling emphatically for Farrell to challenge; replays showed Bogaerts got his hand on the plate before catcher Russell Martin caught his thigh with the tag.

"They're all competitors," Farrell said. "They all think they're safe."

TRAINER'S ROOM

Red Sox: RF Mookie Betts (sore left wrist) and INF Eduardo Nunez (right knee injury) were out for the second straight game. Farrell said before the game that Betts was "improved" and they hoped to have him available if needed to pinch hit after further treatment. . Nunez did some running and said he was trying "everything to get back on the field."

UP NEXT

Blue Jays: Off Thursday before opening their final series of the season Friday afternoon at the New York Yankees.

Red Sox: LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (6-6, 3.91 ERA) is set to start the opener of a four-game series Thursday night in Fenway Park against AL West champion Houston. He's 2-1 with a 1.78 ERA in his last four starts as he bids for a start in the postseason rotation.

Cora wants to see quick changes in Red Sox hitting approach

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Cora wants to see quick changes in Red Sox hitting approach

FORT MYERS, Fla.  -- At Fenway Park at least, there may be no need to implement silly mechanisms to increase pace of play. Alex Cora’s vision for the Sox offense could speed us along.

The Sox of yore strove to work counts for the sake of booting a starter out of the game early. A higher pitch count made it easier to get into a presumably weaker bullpen.

The difference now is manifold. For one, relievers are simply better. 

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“We used to wait them out. But that was 10 years ago, 13 years ago,” Cora said Thursday morning, before the Red Sox first exhibition game of the spring. “It's been a while. It's a different game. I had a conversation with Mikey [Lowell] about that. I was like, ‘Mikey, the starters, they go four or five innings.’

“[They don’t] bring in the 87-88 [mph] cutter/sinker/breaking ball guy. Now the guy in the sixth inning is 97 with a great off-speed pitch, secondary pitch. I'm a big believer when you get to that starter, if you can get him right away, get him. Either he'll get you or you'll get him.”

And everyone is very directly trying to "get” one another. Attack plans are both more deliberate and more easily accessible these days. The proliferation of analytics has led to better scouting reports. Waste pitches may still be thrown with some sense of purpose, but there is a trend toward maximizing efficiency. See Chris Sale, who has talked a lot about the need to reduce wasted pitches -- not necessarily the same as a purposeful pitch outside of the zone , but still in the same vein. You don't necessarily need a fastball to set up your amazing curveball, or may not need it as frequently.

The best offense in the majors in 2017 belonged to the world champion Astros, and they saw the second fewest pitches per plate appearance of anyone in the majors, 3.78. Cora was their bench coach.

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Now, you can still have a great offense and work counts. The team the Astros beat in the American League Championship Series, the Yankees, had 3.98 pitches per plate appearance in the regular season, the second-most. The Red Sox were seventh, at 3.94.

Another effect rooted in the same causes: Lineup construction doesn’t mean quite as much. A left-right balance may be helpful throughout the regular season, at least, but it doesn’t have to drive the boat.

“It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter,” Cora said. “You put the best lineup out there. I hate to bring up last year, because I want turn the page, but you saw what happened at the end. We had five righties [in the Astros lineup consecutively], it didn’t matter. If you can hit, you can hit. 

“They’re good hitters. Throughout the minor leagues, you face lefties and righties and all of a sudden, your first month in the big leagues and you can’t hit lefties. I never got that. Probably have to make that decision later on, but it doesn’t matter.”

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Lineup protection isn’t a priority, either, from the sound of it.

“I believe in lineup construction, that’s most important,” Cora said recently. “You’ve got David [Ortiz] and Manny [Ramirez], you pick your poison. You’ve got Miguel [Cabrera] and Victor [Martinez], you pick your poison. You decide when to challenge who at certain times. But I think it’s making that lineup long enough to keep putting pressure on the opposition. 

“The way the league is pitching sometimes, it doesn’t matter who is hitting behind you. It’s a matter of how they attack you. There are certain teams [where] this is how you’re going to attack this guy, regardless of the situation, and they’re going to go there. If they walk him, they walk him. And if they strike him out, they strike him out. If they put together a good at-bat and they get on base, so be it. It’s a lot different because of the way stats are attacking guys. So for me, it’s all about construction."

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Yankees GM believes Red Sox are still AL East favorites

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Yankees GM believes Red Sox are still AL East favorites

The Yankees really outdid themselves this offseason, adding slugger Giancarlo Stanton to their already powerful batting order.

Bringing Stanton to New York is a pretty horrifying prospect for anyone in the AL East. Especially considering the Bronx Bombers already have Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, Gary Sanchez, and Didi Gregorius.

Most MLB fans are already leaning toward crowning the Yankees AL East champions.

But Brian Cashman says not so fast.

The Yankees GM believes that there's still work to do in order to top the Red Sox, and rightfully so. His team is still in the early portions of spring training. 

“They’re the AL East champs, so we’re not on equal footing,” Cashman said to media on Wednesday. “We were the Wild Card. They had the title within the division last year. I don’t know if they’re putting a flag up for it or not, but they are the AL East champs, we are not. So we are not on equal footing until we take that away from them, while at the same time preventing anybody that finished behind us from surpassing us and joining the fray.

Cashman even goes on to compliment the roster moves the O's and Blue Jays have executed this offseason.

“Toronto’s done a lot of work on its roster. Baltimore is starting to make some signs. So, no, we’re not on the same ground because they are the AL East champions, and until someone takes that away from them, you’ve got to pay homage.”

Does anyone actually buy the Yanks are underdogs to the Sox? Probably not.

But Cashman wants to make sure he is respectful and wouldn't want to provide any extra motivation for Boston to feed off.

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