Red Sox

Clay Buchholz: Ace by default

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Clay Buchholz: Ace by default

These days, its easy to forget just how bad Clay Buchholz was at the beginning of this season.

Actually, no its not.

Imagine Byung-Hyun Kims poise with John Wasdins overpowering fastball.

Through six starts, Buchholz had given up 33 earned runs over 32.2 innings a Lackey-esque 9.09 ERA. He had 19 walks, and only 20 strike outs. The most ridiculous number? In those first six starts, Buchholz served up 10 home runs. This, after giving up 10 total in 14 starts last year, and only nine in 28 starts in 2010.

He was also 3-1, but that was a joke. Just goes to show how meaningless W-L record is, we said after every start.

What was wrong?

We never really got an answer. But in retrospect, its clear that Clay was just a little rusty. He hadnt started a game since June 16, and you can imagine how back surgery might mess with a pitchers head. Im sure it takes some time to re-discover that Major League mentality.

Or maybe Buchholz is just a slow starter in general?

After all, on the heels of his stellar 2010 when he went 17-7 with a 2.30 ERA and seemed to finally turn the corner on his path to stardom Clay was 1-3 with a 5.33 ERA in five April starts last year. He was awful.

But over his next nine outings, he went 5-0 (the Sox went 8-1) with 2.67 ERA. He gave up more than two runs in a start only twice. He was dominant . . . before back issues and the Sox bogus medical staff derailed his season. We tend to think of 2011 as a disappointing year for Buchholz, but thats only because he was injured. When he pitched, he was great.

And now hes back. After giving up 33 earned runs over those first six starts, Buchholz has allowed only 29 in 12 starts since. After giving up 10 home runs in his first six starts, hes surrendered only six in 12 starts since. Buchholz is 6-2 since May 6, and as we know, that can be deceiving. But whats not deceiving is his 3.15 ERA, his 2.59 KBB ratio and his 1.11 WHIP.

Right now, there's no debate: Buchholz is the best and most reliable pitcher on this Red Sox staff. If the season was riding on one game, hes the guy youd want with the ball.

He's the ace.

And that's too bad, because you know what? He'd make an even better No. 3. And that's what this is supposed to be. Lester, Beckett and Buchholz.

In the words of Tommy Heinsohn: "Bing, Bang, Boom!"

These days, it's just boom. And as great as it is to see Buchholz back pitching at this level, you can't help but fear that it's all going to waste. While it's uplifting that there's finally a guy on the staff who you'd feel comfortable calling on in an important game, you know that without Beckett and Lester, there will be no important games. The Sox will never get closer than they are today, and Clay's resurgence will be lost in another off-season of silly drama.

Tonight at Fenway, one half of the ambiguously talented duo will attempt to finally start living up to his end of the bargain: Josh Beckett vs. Justin Verlander.

Now there's an ace.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

MLB will institute rules to pick up pace, with or without players' agreement

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MLB will institute rules to pick up pace, with or without players' agreement

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Major League Baseball will change rules to speed games next year with or without an agreement with the players' association.

Management proposed last offseason to institute a 20-second pitch clock, allow one trip to the mound by a catcher per pitcher each inning and raise the bottom of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level at the top of the kneecap. The union didn't agree, and clubs have the right to impose those changes unilaterally for 2018.

Players and MLB have held initial bargaining since summer, and MLB chief legal officer Dan Halem said this week he would like an agreement by mid-January.

"My preferred path is a negotiated agreement with the players, but if we can't get an agreement we are going to have rule changes in 2018 one way or the other," baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday after a quarterly owners' meeting.

Nine-inning games averaged a record 3 hours, 5 minutes during the regular season and 3:29 during the postseason.

Corey Kluber beats Chris Sale for American League Cy Young

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Corey Kluber beats Chris Sale for American League Cy Young

Max Scherzer heard his name and thrust his arms in the air, shouting and smiling big before turning to kiss his wife.

Corey Kluber, on the other hand, gulped once and blinked.

Two aces, two different styles - and now another Cy Young Award for each.

The animated Scherzer of the Washington Nationals coasted to his third Cy Young, winning Wednesday for the second straight year in the National League. He breezed past Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, drawing 27 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Kluber's win was even more of a runaway. The Cleveland Indians ace took 28 first-place votes, easily outpacing Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox for his second AL Cy Young.

Scherzer yelled "yes!" when his award was announced on MLB Network, a reaction in keeping with his expressive reputation. He showed that intensity often this year, whether he was cursing under his breath like a madman during his delivery or demanding - also with expletives - that manager Dusty Baker leave him in the game.

Just a little different than the pitcher they call "Klubot." Kluber was stoic as ever when announced as the AL winner. He swallowed hard but otherwise didn't react, only showing the hint of a smile moments later when answering questions.

Not that he wasn't thrilled.

"Winning a second one maybe, for me personally, kind of validates the first one," Kluber said.

Scherzer's win moves him into rare company. He's the 10th pitcher with at least three Cy Youngs, and among the other nine, only Kershaw and Roger Clemens aren't in the Hall of Fame.

"That's why I'm drinking a lot of champagne tonight," Scherzer said.

Scherzer earned the NL honor last year with Washington and the 2013 American League prize with Detroit.

"This one is special," he said. "When you start talking about winning three times, I can't even comprehend it at this point."

Scherzer was 16-6 with a career-best 2.51 ERA this year. The 33-year-old righty struck out a league-leading 268 for the NL East champion Nationals, and in an era noted for declining pitcher durability, he eclipsed 200 innings for the fifth straight season. He had to overcome a variety of ailments to get there, and Washington's training staff was high on his thank-you list.

"Everybody had a role in keeping me out on the field," he said. "I'm very thankful for all their hard work."

Kershaw has won three NL Cy Youngs and was the last pitcher to win back-to-back. He was 18-4 with a league-best 2.31 ERA and 202 strikeouts. This is his second runner-up finish. Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals finished third.

Kluber missed a month of the season with back pain and still easily won the AL award over Sale and third-place finisher Luis Severino of the New York Yankees. Kluber led the majors with a 2.25 ERA, and his 18 wins tied for the most in baseball. He added to the Cy Young he won with the Indians in 2014 and is the 19th pitcher to win multiple times.

The 31-year-old Kluber was especially dominant down the stretch, closing out the season by going 11-1 to help Cleveland win the AL Central. He and Minnesota's Ervin Santana tied for the major league lead with five complete games - nobody else had more than two. Kluber also led the majors with 8.0 wins above replacement, per baseball-reference.com.

Kluber and Scherzer both had rough outings in the playoffs. Kluber gave up nine runs over two starts in an AL Division Series against the Yankees, and Scherzer blew a save in the decisive Game 5 of an NL Division Series against the Cubs.

Scherzer said he couldn't even watch the League Championship Series, although he did tune in for the World Series.

"That will eat at me this whole offseason," he said.

Voting for the awards was completed before the postseason began.

The final BBWAA honors will come Thursday when the MVP awards are announced in the AL and NL.

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