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: Dodgers close in on World Series with 6-1 win over Cubs

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NLCS: Dodgers close in on World Series with 6-1 win over Cubs

CHICAGO -For the Los Angeles Dodgers, it's beginning to look a lot like 1988.

Yu Darvish pitched sparkling ball into the seventh inning, Chris Taylor homered again and the Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 6-1 on Tuesday night to open a 3-0 lead in the NL Championship Series.

Andre Ethier also went deep and Taylor added an RBI triple in the fifth as Los Angeles set a franchise record with its sixth consecutive playoff win. Yasiel Puig had two more hits in another entertaining performance that included an impressive bat flip - on a long foul ball in the first inning.

Looking for a four-game sweep and their 22nd NL pennant, the Dodgers will send Alex Wood to the mound Wednesday night at Wrigley Field with a chance to reach the World Series for the first time since Tommy Lasorda managed Kirk Gibson, Orel Hershiser and company to the championship 29 years ago. Jake Arrieta, eligible for free agency after the season, pitches for the Cubs in what could be his final start with the team.

Los Angeles was eliminated by Chicago in the NLCS last year, but this is a different group of Dodgers. Their patient lineup is coming up big in key spots and their pitching staff is much deeper, especially since Darvish was acquired in a trade with Texas in the final minutes before the July 31 deadline.

Not even a return to Wrigley Field could get the Cubs back on track after a rough stay in Los Angeles. Chicago manager Joe Maddon juggled his lineup, inserting Kyle Schwarber into the No. 2 slot and benching slumping second baseman Javier Baez, but the defending World Series champions were shut down by another Dodgers starter and more stellar relief from the NL West champions.

Making their third straight appearance in the NLCS, the weary Cubs also hurt themselves with a couple of big mistakes. Carl Edwards Jr. walked Darvish on four pitches with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth, continuing a rocky postseason for the reliever and leading to a round of boos from a frustrated crowd of 41,871. A passed ball brought home another run in the eighth, and pinch-hitter Kyle Farmer hit a sacrifice fly to make it 6-1.

Darvish departed after striking out Addison Russell in the seventh, pausing for congratulations from his whole infield before heading to the dugout. The Japanese right-hander allowed six hits, including Schwarber's first-inning homer, in his second career playoff win - both coming this year. He struck out seven and walked one.

Tony Watson got two outs, Brandon Morrow worked the eighth and Kenley Jansen closed it out after Ross Stripling gave up two hits in the ninth. With manager Dave Roberts pushing all the right buttons, Los Angeles' bullpen has yet to allow a run in the series.

The Cubs finished with eight hits, one more than in the first two games combined.

The only four-game postseason sweep for the Dodgers came in the 1963 World Series against the New York Yankees. If Los Angeles can finish off Chicago on Wednesday, the Dodgers would have days off before hosting the Yankees or Houston Astros in the World Series opener.

Schwarber's sixth career postseason homer got Chicago off to a fast start, but Jon Jay struck out with two on to end the inning. The Dodgers responded with Ethier's leadoff drive in the second and Taylor's second homer of the series in the third, a mammoth shot to center off losing pitcher Kyle Hendricks.

Ethier had two hits in his first start of this year's playoffs after he missed most of the season with a herniated lumbar disk. Taylor also had two hits and is 4 for 14 for the series, helping make up for the loss of All-Star shortstop Corey Seager to a back injury.

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ALCS: Judge leads way as Yanks rally from 4-0 deficit, tie series with 6-4 win

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ALCS: Judge leads way as Yanks rally from 4-0 deficit, tie series with 6-4 win

NEW YORK -- With a soaring shot headed for Monument Park, Aaron Judge got New York back on course for another memorable October.

Yankee Stadium sounds like it's ready, too.

"That ballpark is alive," Judge said after this latest rousing rally.

Judge ignited a comeback with a home run , then hit a tying double during a four-run eighth inning to spur the unflappable Yankees over the Houston Astros 6-4 Tuesday night and tie the AL Championship Series 2-2.

The Baby Bombers trailed 4-0 against starter Lance McCullers Jr. until Judge homered leading off the seventh. He tied it with a line drive that nearly left the park in the eighth and scored when Gary Sanchez hit a go-ahead two-run double off loser Ken Giles.

"I didn't know what to do after I touched home plate," Judge said. "I can't describe it."

The Yankees overcame three errors and have roared back from a second straight 0-2 series deficit - they beat Cleveland in the Division Series by winning three in a row to take that best-of-five matchup.

Aroldis Chapman struck out two in a perfect ninth to cap a three-hitter and get the save . Before a sellout crowd of 48,804, New York improved to 5-0 at home in the playoffs and won for the 18th time in its last 21 home games.

"Every home game has been special," manager Joe Girardi said. "I just feel like the fans are back. And I see things that I haven't in a while, and it reminds me a lot of when I was playing here."

Yankee Stadium will be rocking again when Masahiro Tanaka pitches for New York against Dallas Keuchel in Game 5 Wednesday. It's a rematch of the series opener, when Keuchel outdid the Japanese right-hander in a 2-1 Astros win.

An AL MVP candidate mired in a sluggish October, Judge sparked the Yankees by chasing McCullers, who baffled the Yankees with his power breaking ball.

Except for the last one.

Judge launched a curveball into the netting above center field's Monument Park for New York's second hit.

"I thought Aaron's home run just lit a little spark," Girardi said.

Houston manager A.J. Hinch pulled McCullers after 81 pitches, Didi Gregorius tripled off Chris Devenski and Sanchez brought Gregorius in with a sacrifice fly.

Todd Frazier led off the eighth with a single to left, and pinch-hitter Chase Headley, in a 1-for-18 postseason slide, singled. He lost his balance stepping on first, fell en route to second, then took a step back before continuing on and getting his left hand in ahead of Jose Altuve's tag.

"Just stumbled and stumbled and stumbled and finally went down," Headley said. "I went from one of the best feelings of my career to one of the worst in just a matter of seconds."

Headley was awarded second after a video review, and the ballpark boomed when crew chief Gary Cederstrom gave the signal. It got so loud that on-deck hitter Brett Gardner said he "kind of blacked out for a second."

Gardner brought in Frazier on a groundout, and Judge came to bat with the bundled, buzzing crowd on its feet.

He lunged for a low slider and drilled a double high off the left-field wall as a fan in a longsleeve yellow shirt reached down and touched the ball. Pinch-runner Jacoby Ellsbury came home with the tying run, and Gregorius grounded a single just beyond shortstop Carlos Correa's reach to put runners at the corner. Sanchez, who had been 0 for 13 in the series, scored them both with a slicing drive that skipped to the wall in right-center.

"Those guys came up big for us today," Girardi said.

Judge had multiple hits for the first time since the AL wild-card game against Minnesota. He's still just 7 for 37 with 22 strikeouts in the playoffs, but he's 4 for 13 (.308) with three walks in the ALCS. He also homered in an 8-1 Game 3 win.

Judge said he used to dream about postseason at-bats in Yankee Stadium as a minor leaguer.

"The dreams aren't the same as reality," he said. "To be out with the crowd and the atmosphere, it was unbelievable."

The 35-minute bottom of the eighth was the latest stunning comeback for New York, which has overcome deficits of three or more 11 times this year, including in the wild-card game against Minnesota.

Houston had not lost consecutive games since Sept. 8-10 at Oakland and had the major leagues' best road record during the regular season. The Astros are hitting .153 in the series.

"We're not going to hit the panic button because we lost two games in a row," Correa said. "We got Keuchel going tomorrow."

McCullers cruised in his first start since Sept. 30 and turned over a 4-1 lead to his bullpen.

"He was awesome," manager A.J. Hinch said. "And really proud of him because I know how important this start was for him."

Yankees starter Sonny Gray pitched one-hit ball through five innings. His teammates have yet to score for him in four career postseason starts while he's still on the mound, including twice with New York this year.

Houston took a 3-0 lead in the sixth after George Springer walked leading off and Josh Reddick reached on catcher's interference by Austin Romine - inserted into lineup for his defense.

Yuli Gurriel lined a three-run double off David Robertson for a 3-0 lead in the sixth and second baseman Starlin Castro misplayed Brian McCann's seventh-inning grounder for his second error, allowing Marwin Gonzalez to score from second.

Winner Chad Green gave up an unearned run over two innings.

"All of a sudden, the pressure's back on the other team," Frazier said. "It's the best place to play and the loudest place in baseball to play. No doubt about it."

OUT, SAFE, OUT

The fourth inning ended strangely . Judge was doubled off first on Sanchez's popup, but the Yankees successfully challenged that Judge beat first baseman Gurriel to the base. Houston then appealed that Judge missed retouching second on his way back to first. Judge - realizing he would be called out on the challenge - decided to race McCullers' appeal throw to second and was tagged out. He would have voided the appeal attempt if he had beaten the throw.

"The coaching staff kind of gave me a heads up," Judge said. "So I said, `All right, let's go. Got to try something.'"

Adding to the strangeness: throughout the challenge, McCullers was digging around the mound with his hands, scooping up beads off his necklace, which broke during the play.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Tanaka has been receiving treatment on his leg after being struck by Reddick's liner in Game 1. He did not expect it to be an issue Wednesday.

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