Red Sox

Drellich: Like 2016 Indians, Red Sox will be favorites for early exit

Drellich: Like 2016 Indians, Red Sox will be favorites for early exit

BOSTON — A year ago, the team that lost the World Series in seven games was the team everyone wanted to play. The team everyone thought would make for a quick KO.

Certainly, the Red Sox wanted the Indians. The Sox got ‘em in the Division Series, and subsequently got their clocks cleaned.

But that was the sentiment within the organization at the time: we hope we get the Indians.

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The Indians were hurting. Michael Brantley was out. Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar were both down too. Longtime Indians beat writer Paul Haynes famously wrote the Indians off before the playoffs even began.

It’s no mystery why the Indians were viewed that way, or why they ended up excelling. Any team that makes it has a chance.

But the Red Sox are wearing Cleveland's shoes now, or will be, barring a Yankees takeover of the division title. The Red Sox will be the team everyone wants to play as October begins.

If you’re the Astros, if you’re the Indians, you’re scared straight by Chris Sale. (Well, maybe not the Indians, who have knocked Sale around.) But that’s about it.

The Sox offense simply is outmanned. Baseball Prospectus’ playoff odds entering Sunday had the Red Sox with the lowest chance to win the World Series, 5.2 percent, of any current division leader — and with even lesser odds than two second-place teams, the Yankees (7.8 percent) and Diamondbacks (5.8) percent.

Maybe the Sox would do well to realize how people look at them.

You’ve probably noticed Sox pointing at their wrists after some hits. Christian Vazquez has done it. Jackie Bradley Jr. too. The reference, to the Apple Watch sign-stealing scandal, is obvious. (And it might not be the best idea, to mock rule-breaking before a punishment is handed down.)

But this is a Sox team that does seem keen to play with a chip on its shoulder. David Price has embodied that all year long. Dustin Pedroia has some bite too.

“Nothing bothers me, man,” Pedroia said when asked if the sign-stealing allegations bother him. “Like you know, playing in this environment you kind of have to have thick skin and turn the page on whatever is being said because a lot of it is just talk and that's it. I mean, you just go play."

Thick skin is great, but the Sox can also channel some negative energy. Pedroia's not in a bubble. None of them are. Pedroia was also well aware of what photos were circulating of him and teammates — like Doug Fister with his mouthguard around his ear — in relation to that sign-stealing scandal. 

There’s been a lot of negativity surrounding the Sox this year, externally and at times internally as well. The Sox are still in first place. They’re still the American League East leader. 

But the facts do work against them. 

Their on-base percentage entering Sunday, .333, was a point lower than the Twins, who are fighting to hold on to the second Wild Card in the American League. Their slugging percentage, .408, was the fifth worst in baseball, and the worst in the AL.

The pitching is great, with the fourth best ERA in the majors, at 3.70. The Indians are better, at 3.44. The Astros, with the best offense in the majors in terms of runs scored per game (5.54), still have above league average pitching, with a 4.24 ERA — and some healthy starters who just returned. The Indians offense produces more runs per game (5.06) than the Sox' (4.79).

David Price might come back. Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts might bust out. They can turn heads quickly. But the Red Sox are poised to enter the playoffs as the team no one believes in. Or at least, as the team the fewest believe in.

The Indians proved that's not necessarily the worst position to be in.

"I think we have enough players where we can win," Terry Francona said on Oct. 13, 2016, before the Championship Series began. "We're going to have to play very good baseball. Your margin for error is a little bit less when guys get hurt. So you hope you don't make errors."

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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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