Red Sox

A conflicted conversation about the Red Sox

A conflicted conversation about the Red Sox

Evan: Something is keeping me from buying into these Red Sox. All the way, I mean. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Yankees win the division. The Sox offense feels too tenuous, too reliant on inconsistent hitters getting hot. The Eduardo Nunez gravy train has already lasted longer than it should. With Hanley Ramirez, really anything out of him at this point feels like a bonus. If the starting pitching isn’t there, they don’t have the long ball at their disposal like others do. You talk about a playoff setting — if they’re scorching hot, they’ll be fine. That’s true of any team. But am I really supposed to be sold on Christian Vazquez as a hitter at this point? If not, then what about this lineup tells you it can compete with the others? By others, I mean the Yankees’, Astros’ and Indians’.

Other Evan: Well, the fact that the offense has been getting it done — however that has happened — should not be ignored. You can’t ignore the bottom line. And the standings, man. Particularly with Dustin Pedroia coming back. Jackie Bradley Jr. hasn’t been away long but there’s pop there too. The trouble you’re having is that the names getting it done lately aren’t the ones you expected the Sox would rely on going into the year.

Evan: Maybe. That’s why I called them underdogs a few weeks back. That didn’t sit well with everyone because the Sox had high expectations coming into the year. I was honing in on this point, though: the people powering the team were not names you’d expect. At the same time, I never thought it was anywhere close to a given a guy like Mookie Betts would repeat or improve. The assumption all the young kids would immediately improve was a faulty assumption for many. Just because you’re both good and young doesn’t mean you inherently maintain or get better from year to year.

Other Evan: Fine. You’re a genius. Your prediction that Andrew Benintendi would finish with a higher wRC+ than Betts looks like it might pan out. But you can’t sit there and say, 'The guys who have contributed, like Nunez, shouldn’t be this good, and the guys who have not contributed, you knew would step back.' If Mookie Betts is what he is at this point in the year, then isn’t the same true of Mitch Moreland?

Evan: One guy, Moreland, has a longer track record. Same with Nunez. The other guy, Betts, had one amazing year. So it’s not exactly the same, but your point is taken. Maybe you could say that Betts is due to just scorch the ball in September? That wouldn’t be surprising, at all.

Other Evan: How about you let the offense go. The standard last year’s offense set, even if you’re ignoring it on an individual level with guys like Betts, is poisoning your conception of how the team should win. You can win in other ways than mashing. This team is built around pitching. Chris Sale is rather literally half way to a Hall of Fame career, with 1,500 strikeouts now. You’ve heard of him? 

Evan: Yeah I’ve heard of him. And Dave Dombrowski’s probably got too many resources at his disposal to enter an executive of the year conversation. But the guy’s moves keeps paying off. No one — NO ONE — saw Nunez’s power coming. People made fun of me when I called the trade underwhelming, but for what Nunez had done do to date, for what the Sox offense needed, it was. The scouting staff deserves a ton of credit too.

Other Evan: Are you not overwhelmed now, moron? What should actually worry you is how the bullpen usage goes come playoff time. If Craig Kimbrel can’t pitch in the eighth inning — and only the eighth inning, if his pitch count relegates him to it — he needs to look himself in the mirror and this team needs a manager who can put a pitcher in front of that mirror.

Evan: John Farrell showed us earlier this year he actually wants to use Kimbrel in the eighth. If this is about amassing saves, they don’t count saves in the postseason toward all-time records. Not the records most people care about, anyway. They’ll do the right thing in the playoffs. But the fact the Red Sox could win the division without using Kimbrel in some huge eighth inning moments, the fact they could do it without close to a full year from David Price and with Dustin Pedroia missing significant time — you know, come to think of it, this team seems pretty stacked.

Other Evan: They’re winning in spite of many things, if you think about it. The clubhouse questions were probably overhyped after “It’s not me, it’s them,” and with David Ortiz out the door. But considering Price’s approach to air travel, maybe it wasn’t. That goes back to the Dombrowski point: he put together a damn good team to be able to stomach all that’s gone on. Remember Tyler Thornburg? You won’t until spring training. Addison Reed has helped ensure that lately.

Evan: Carson Smith’s on his way back too. If Price, Pedroia and Smith all return, or even two of the three, maybe the Sox are easier for me to believe in. But it just feels like if the starter isn’t awesome, this team is behind the 8-ball. Strengthen the bullpen with another shutdown reliever, get the infield defense shored up with Pedroia back, add another great starter — it's less worrisome.

Other Evan: Yeah, worrying about a team projected to have a win total in the low- to mid-90s when the playoff structure is more or less a crapshoot. That really makes sense. Keep doing you, buddy.

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NLCS: Turner's 3-run shot in 9th gives Dodgers 4-1 win over Cubs

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NLCS: Turner's 3-run shot in 9th gives Dodgers 4-1 win over Cubs

LOS ANGELES -- Justin Turner savored every last stride as he followed in Kirk Gibson's famous footsteps at Dodger Stadium.

The red-bearded slugger from Southern California knew all about the history attached to this home run trot.

On the 29th anniversary of Gibson's celebrated pinch-hit homer that shocked Oakland in the 1988 World Series opener, Turner added another landmark shot to Los Angeles Dodgers postseason lore.

Turner hit a three-run drive with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, and the Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 4-1 on Sunday to take a 2-0 lead in the NL Championship Series.

"One of my earliest baseball memories was being at my grandma's house and watching that game in '88 and seeing Gibby hit that homer," said Turner, who wasn't quite 4 years old at the time. "So yeah, it feels pretty cool. I thought about doing the fist-pump around the bases, but we'll wait until we get to the World Series for that, hopefully."

The dominant Dodgers are two wins away after Turner drove in all four runs in Game 2 to keep Los Angeles unbeaten in the postseason.

He delivered a tying single in the fifth before sending a long shot to center field off John Lackey in the ninth. Completing the poetry of the moment, a fan wearing a blue Dodgers jersey took a few steps onto a walkway and gracefully caught the ball in his glove on the fly.

"It's very cool, and J.T., we were talking about it in there after the game," Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said. "Twenty-nine years to the day. It was special. Our guys feel it."

Another generation of Dodgers fans now has its own historic homer, and these Dodgers are growing increasingly confident they can earn their first trip to the World Series since 1988.

Turner got swallowed up at home plate by another pack of ecstatic Dodgers, just as Gibson did. Unlike Gibson, Turner spiked his batting helmet after rounding third, allowing his unruly red hair to go as wild as the crowd.

"What's not to enjoy about it?" Turner asked. "We have an opportunity to bring a championship back to LA. It's been a long time."

Game 3 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Midseason acquisition Yu Darvish starts for the Dodgers against Kyle Hendricks.

Yasiel Puig drew his third walk of the game leading off the ninth, and Charlie Culberson bunted him to second. After losing pitcher Brian Duensing struck out pinch-hitter Kyle Farmer, Chicago manager Joe Maddon went to the bullpen for the 38-year-old Lackey, who pitched on consecutive days for the first time in his 15-year career.

Lackey got the call over All-Star closer Wade Davis, and the veteran starter walked Chris Taylor on six tense pitches. Maddon said he wanted to save Davis for a potential save on the road, and Lackey would have pitched the 10th inning as well if the Cubs did not have a lead.

"Nobody is a really great matchup against Turner, so it just did not work out," Maddon said.

Turner stepped up and ended it with his fourth career playoff homer. After taking a slight free-agent discount to stay with the Dodgers last winter, he had another solid season before excelling again in October.

The All-Star third baseman is batting .377 with 22 RBIs in his postseason career. He is 13 for 18 with runners in scoring position (.722), including 6 for 8 this year.

And after a collective offensive effort drove the Dodgers to a 5-2 win in Game 1, Turner did it all in Game 2. He has 10 RBIs in the Dodgers' five postseason games, getting five in the playoff opener against Arizona.

Addison Russell homered in the fifth for the Cubs, who are down early in this rematch of the 2016 NLCS. Chicago won that series in six games after splitting the first two.

Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen got the win with a hitless ninth despite hitting Anthony Rizzo on the hand with a one-out pitch. That ended the Los Angeles bullpen's impressive streak of 22 straight Cubs retired to begin the NLCS, but the Dodgers have thrown eight hitless and scoreless innings of relief in the NLCS.

Jon Lester yielded three hits and five walks while failing to get out of the fifth inning in the shortest start of his long postseason career, but the Dodgers couldn't take advantage of a rare shaky night by the Cubs' star left-hander.

Rich Hill struck out eight in five more impressive innings for the Dodgers, but he was pulled for pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson in the fifth in a debatable decision by Roberts.

Russell was off to a 4-for-22 start in the postseason with nine strikeouts before the slugging shortstop put a leadoff homer into the short porch in left field.

Turner tied it moments later by poking a two-out single to right after a leadoff double by Culberson, the Dodgers' improbably successful replacement for injured All-Star shortstop Corey Seager.

The Dodgers chased Lester with two outs in the fifth, but reliever Carl Edwards Jr. came through after several recent postseason struggles, striking out pinch-hitter Chase Utley and then pitching a strong sixth.

Lester was the co-MVP of last season's NLCS, winning Game 5 at Dodger Stadium and yielding two runs over 13 innings in the series. He had nothing near the same success against the Dodgers' revamped lineup in this one, issuing four walks in the first four innings and repeatedly escaping jams.

Dodgers third base coach Chris Woodward held up Turner in the third when it appeared he could have scored from first on Cody Bellinger's double to the left-center gap.

Javier Baez, the other co-MVP of last season's NLCS for Chicago, got to third base in the third with one out, but also was stranded.

UP NEXT

Cubs: Hendricks dominated Chicago's playoff opener with seven scoreless innings against the Nationals, but yielded four runs in four innings during the team's wild Game 5 victory in Washington. He is starting on normal rest.

Dodgers: Darvish was outstanding in Game 3 against the Diamondbacks, earning his first career postseason victory with seven strikeouts over five innings of two-hit ball. He was acquired from Texas precisely for these moments, and he starts on seven days of rest.

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NLCS: Puig, Taylor power Dodgers past Cubs 5-2 in Game 1

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NLCS: Puig, Taylor power Dodgers past Cubs 5-2 in Game 1

LOS ANGELES -- Although Clayton Kershaw once again failed to dominate in a postseason start, these Los Angeles Dodgers don't need one guy to carry them.

With a relentless lineup, flawless relief pitching and a collective charisma epitomized by the bat-flipping Yasiel Puig, the Dodgers are still unbeaten in the postseason and off to a strong start in the NL Championship Series.

Chris Taylor hit a tiebreaking homer in the sixth inning, Puig added a homer and an RBI double to his dynamite postseason, and the Dodgers overcame a short start by Kershaw for a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Saturday night in the NLCS opener.

"We just tried to set the tone early against the Cubs," closer Kenley Jansen said. "We understand they're the defending champions, so they're a really good team. We understand that we won 104 games, but right now it doesn't matter."

Charlie Culberson doubled, drove in the tying run and scored another while replacing injured All-Star shortstop Corey Seager for the resourceful Dodgers, who improved to 4-0 in this postseason."

With another collective offensive effort and four innings of perfect relief for Kershaw, the Dodgers calmly overcame an early two-run deficit and took the first game of this rematch of the 2016 NLCS, won in six games by the Cubs on the way to their first World Series championship in 108 years.

"It's two different ballclubs," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "There are some similar players, but I think that the season we had versus the season they had last year, I think that you could parallel those two, and the confidence we have in our group, and they had in their group last year. I just know that this year we're a very focused group, very confident group."

The Dodgers hadn't won the opening game of an NLCS since 1985. Game 2 is Sunday, with Rich Hill starting at home against Chicago's Jon Lester.

Kershaw pitched five innings of four-hit ball, but the Los Angeles ace fell behind 2-0 before getting pulled for a pinch-hitter during the Dodgers' tying rally.

After winning 104 games in the regular season and sweeping Arizona in the Division Series, the Dodgers have a lineup and bullpen equipped to handle almost anything. They made Kershaw's latest laborious postseason start virtually irrelevant, just as they did after he gave up four homers in his 2017 playoff opener against the Diamondbacks last week.

Albert Almora Jr. hit a two-run homer in the fourth, but the final 18 batters failed to reach base for the weary Cubs, still bouncing back from a 10-hour cross-country flight after finishing off Washington in an epic Game 5 late Thursday night.

"Their bullpen is pretty firm, and we have to really get our feet back on the ground," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

Puig added another huge offensive game to his recent surge with his first career postseason homer - though in a postgame interview on TBS, he was convinced he had hit one before.

The Cuban slugger also included his usual array of creative bat discards and portentous pauses at the plate.

Los Angeles finally got rolling in the fifth when Logan Forsythe and Austin Barnes drew one-out walks before Puig hammered a double to left-center. The ebullient Cuban slugger headed to second only after flipping his bat and spreading his arms wide at the plate.

Puig's sky-high homer off Mike Montgomery in the sixth barely got over the fence in left. Puig is 7 for 15 with six RBIs in the Dodgers' first four playoff games.

"I grew up a little bit," Puig said. "(I'm) going to home plate having fun, because I know (if) I hit nothing, (if) I do nothing in the game, my teammates are going to have my back."

Kenta Maeda got three outs and the victory in his latest standout relief effort, and Jansen struck out all four batters he faced for his third save this postseason.

Kershaw's inability to match his sublime regular-season performances in the playoffs is a central theme of his career. The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner won the NLDS series opener last week despite giving up four homers at Dodger Stadium, and Almora's shot made him the first Dodgers pitcher to yield five homers in a single postseason.

CLOSE CALL

Maddon was ejected in the seventh after a call at the plate was reversed. Culberson initially was ruled out when he attempted to score from second, but was called safe after video review when catcher Willson Contreras was deemed to be in violation of blocking home plate without the ball.

"I saw a great baseball play," Maddon said. "His technique was absolutely 100 percent perfect. I could not disagree more with the interpretation of that."

GOOD START

Jose Quintana pitched five innings of two-hit ball for the Cubs one day after his wife, Michel, was taken off the team plane in Albuquerque with a medical ailment. But the Dodgers tied it against him in the fifth and went ahead in the sixth with Taylor's leadoff shot off loser Hector Rondon.

Despite pitching for the third time in six days after a start and a relief appearance against Washington, Quintana retired 12 of Los Angeles' first 13 batters.

SEAGER OUT

Seager was left off the NLCS roster due to back pain. The All-Star's surprise absence deprived Los Angeles of its No. 2 hitter and prompted the club to play Culberson, who had only 15 big league plate appearances in the regular season. But Culberson came through with a series of big plays at the plate and on the basepaths.

UP NEXT

Cubs: Lester won Game 5 of the 2016 NLCS at Dodger Stadium. He started Game 2 of the Division Series this year and added 3 2/3 innings of relief in Game 4 on Wednesday, but the veteran lefty compared that relief appearance to normal side work between starts. Lester's nine career postseason victories are the most among active pitchers except Justin Verlander, who picked up No. 10 in Houston earlier Saturday.

Dodgers: Hill is a former Cubs pitcher with just one career postseason victory, but the resilient veteran regularly comes through in tough situations for LA. He made it through just four innings in Game 2 against Arizona, but yielded only two runs.

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