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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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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