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.

MORE:

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."

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Tyler Thornburg wants a normal spring, but don't be surprised if it's bumpy

red-sox-tyler-thornburg-032817x.jpg

Tyler Thornburg wants a normal spring, but don't be surprised if it's bumpy

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. — Don’t confuse the goal of a normal spring training with the likelihood one will follow.

Tyler Thornburg’s time with the Red Sox has been an ordeal. He’s optimistic he can have a regular spring training after undergoing surgery to treat thoracic outlet syndrome in June, a surgery that included the removal of a rib which is now on display at his parents’ house. 

He said Saturday, in fact, there’s a “very good chance” of a normal spring. But there’s also a chance his build up to regular-season form runs unevenly. And that would be OK.

“I started throwing Oct. 2, that’s when they kind of gave me the go-ahead to go tossing,” Thornburg said Saturday at Winter Weekend. “So I’ve been building up slowly since then, just trying to make sure we don’t have any setbacks or things like that, and ramp it up at a good pace. I’m throwing at 120-140 feet, so it’s about the pace I’d normally be on, granted I’d know 100 percent before where I was [under normal circumstances]. So things could be a little different."

Consider a few other things Thornburg said Saturday at Foxwoods.

“I don’t really think any of us really know how quick I’m going to bounce back necessarily as far as how quickly the recovery’s going to go in spring training after an outing,” Thornburg said. “But hopefully I mean it’s fantastic, and we can kind of just keep going.”

A bit of natural uncertainty. He missed an entire season, and the reason he missed an entire season is he had a lot going on medically. 

What appeared to be a shoulder injury was far from your usual, say, rotator-cuff matter. His was a nerve issue.

“Two of the neck muscles were incredibly hypertrophied, like overgrown, and they just started squeezing on the brachial plexus, where all the nerves run down,” Thornburg said. “I’d be sitting there watching a game and just a nerve thing would hit me and I’d almost get knocked over by it. As well as the first rib was getting pulled up and my hand would just turn red some days if I was just standing there, cutting off the blood circulation. Then all the scar tissue and buildup along the nerves they had to go and dissect all that off there.”

So the injury wasn’t simple, and now, the recovery process is really a whole-body matter. 

"There’s a lot off things your arm has to get used to between using different muscles, as well as my arm was kind of working through a scenario where it was trying to overcompensate for this and [trying] to relieve that,” Thornburg said. “So just worked a different way. Now your body has to remember how to actually properly work again. It’s a lot of neuromuscular stuff.”

Thornburg noted the possibility too he could be ready to go to start the season but not really ready to go back to back yet. Would the Sox then carry him on the big league roster, or continue to build him up elsewhere? 

Velocity won’t be there right away for Thornburg, he said: “But I mean that’s what spring training is for for most guys anyway.”

There’s a lot of optimism, but naturally, there’s a lot to be seen. 

“The rehab process, it's been a massive rollercoaster,” Thornburg said. “It really has. But I mean, I've been trying to take it week to week which has been a lot easier. There's the good days and bad days, just different kinds.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Kimbrel's newborn daughter treated in Boston for heart condition

cp-red-sox-kimbrel-100917.jpg

Kimbrel's newborn daughter treated in Boston for heart condition

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. — Coming off a phenomenal season, Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel spent the offseason in Boston. Not to be closer to Fenway Park, but for proximity to something far more important: the city’s first-rate medical community.

Kimbrel’s daughter, Lydia Joy, was born in November with a heart issue.

MORE RED SOX:

“It’s been a lot,” Kimbrel said Saturday at Red Sox Winter Weekend at Foxwoods. “My wife and I, we’ve kept it kind of private. But when she was born, she had some heart defects so we decided to stay in Boston and work with Children’s Hospital and just been going through that ordeal and it’s had its ups and downs but she’s doing great right now."

Focusing wasn't always easy in season, but Kimbrel said his daughter's condition has motivated him even more.

“They always say when you have a child, things change and they have," he said. "I’m definitely more focused towards her and her needs and our family needs. It’s just one day at a time and give everything I got. It’s real easy to look at her and understand everything I’m doing is for her and it makes it a lot easier.”

Kimbrel and his wife, Ashley, found out early in the 2017 season that they would be staying in Boston for the winter and were preparing.

“Everything has kind of gone as planned so far,” Kimbrel said. “She’ll have another surgery during spring training, so I’ll come back to Boston for a week and do that, but it’s been good. It’s definitely been tough, but one of the happiest, joyful times of our life.”

"Being in Boston, we feel blessed, because the doctors are the best in the world. Being able to work with them has been great.”

Kimbrel said his wife has stayed in touch with Travis Shaw’s wife. The Shaw family has had a similar experience, Kimbrel said.

“It seems like they’re doing pretty good,” Kimbrel said. “It’s been very encouraging to see.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE