Red Sox

Drellich: Fernando Abad worth look as playoff roster dark horse

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Drellich: Fernando Abad worth look as playoff roster dark horse

BOSTON — The Red Sox left-handed pitching situation is one of the most unclear heading into the playoffs, with seemingly only one bullpen spot on a potential playoff roster locked up: David Price’s.

Now, it might be wise for the Red Sox to rethink their stance on Price and give him a shot at starting — but, for now, he’s viewed as a reliever. 

That gives way to a slew of other questions. If, say, Eduardo Rodriguez does not make a postseason rotation, would the Sox see value in him out of the bullpen? His reverse splits this season — an .850 OPS against lefty hitters compared to .709 vs. right — might discourage the Sox, if they’re looking for match-up help. 

But E-Rod looks more likely to start with Price relegated to relief and Doug Fister struggling.

So, who else behind Price, who won’t be considered a specialist? Based on his usage for most of the year, you’d think Robby Scott would be a lock. You’d think.

Sox manager John Farrell didn’t make it sound a certainty Monday

“That’s his role, that’s his forte,” Farrell said of Scott vs. lefties. “That’s where we’ll take every opportunity to hopefully take advantage of the side arm and the angle that he pitches with.  That’s all going to be within the context of how our roster builds out going forward and more importantly, how we can get him to the mound in the final two weeks.”

Enter Fernando Abad, who has been used (or not used) as though he were an outcast much of the year.

You have to wonder if Farrell will at least give him a thought as a hot hand down the stretch. He probably should, because Abad's had better command, allowed fewer home runs and has considerably more experience. But Abad’s been used in the lowest leverage situations of all Red Sox relievers with at least 20 innings, even lower than Blaine Boyer, per FanGraphs.

In the last 14 days, Abad has been used in higher leverage moments than previously, but still not to the extent of Scott.

Both Abad and Scott have both been excellent against lefties overall. Scott’s faced 70 lefties and held them to a .133 average, while Abad has faced 65 and held them a .190 average. The peripherals are slightly tilted Abad’s way: Scott’s walked eight, Abad’s walked five. Scott’s struck out 17, Abad’s fanned 20.

But of late, Scott hasn’t been quite the same. He has a 6.47 ERA since the start of August, although he’s allowed opponents an average of just .167 in that time, a seven-inning span. He’s given up three home runs in the stretch as well.

Abad, meanwhile, has a 1.86 ERA in the same period, with 9 2/3 innings pitched.

Abad’s had to be patient all year. He had nine days down, sitting from Aug. 14-24. But he’s made good of his opportunities.

“It's part of the game,” Abad said. “So, I’m here, to do whatever they want to me to do. … I got my routine, you know every single day, with [bullpen catcher Mani Martinez]. And I got like two, three days of pitching and throwing a little flat ground to get my arm in shape.”

The biggest difference for Abad this year compared to last has been his command. His walk rate with the Sox last year was 4.2 per nine between Boston and Minnesota, down to 2.6 in 2017.

“I think I last year I [was thinking] too much,” Abad said. “I was thinking too much in the game, you can’t concentrate a lot. So this year I feel like more fresh. To come in the game, I say, oh, I have to throw a first-pitch strike. No matter what pitch it is, breaking ball, changeup, whatever, it has to be a strike.”

Abad, 31, is a free agent to be, and someone’s going to pay him decently to handle southpaws next season. Abad said he’d like to re-sign with the Red Sox next season.

“I want to come back here,” he said. “I’m focused now to come here every day to come here prepare get ready. To go to the playoffs and then World Series.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

ALCS: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees 7-1 to force Game 7

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ALCS: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees 7-1 to force Game 7

HOUSTON -  Justin Verlander remained perfect with Houston, pitching seven shutout innings when the team needed him most, and Jose Altuve homered and drove in three runs as the Astros extended the AL Championship Series to a decisive Game 7 with a 7-1 win over the New York Yankees on Friday night.

Acquired in an Aug. 31 trade, Verlander has won all nine outings with the Astros. And with his new club facing elimination in Game 6 against the Yankees, he delivered again.

After striking out 13 in a complete-game victory in Game 2, Verlander threw another gem. The right-hander scattered five hits and struck out eight to improve to 9-0 with 67 strikeouts since being traded from Detroit. George Springer helped him out of a jam in the seventh, leaping to make a catch at the center-field wall and rob Todd Frazier of extra bases with two on and Houston up 3-0.

Game 7 is Saturday night in Houston, with the winner advancing to the World Series against the NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

NLCS: Dodgers win first pennant since 1988 with 11-1 Game 5 rout of Cubs

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NLCS: Dodgers win first pennant since 1988 with 11-1 Game 5 rout of Cubs

CHICAGO -- Enrique Hernandez put a Hollywood ending on an LA story three decades in the making.

Fueled by a home run trilogy from their emotional utilityman, Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers are finally going to the World Series.

Hernandez homered three times and drove in a record seven runs, Kershaw breezed through six crisp innings and Los Angeles ended the Chicago Cubs' title defense with an 11-1 rout in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series on Thursday night.

"It feels good to hear World Series," Kershaw said. "It's been a long time coming for this team."

After years of playoff heartache, there was just no stopping these Dodgers after they led the majors with 104 wins during the regular season. With Kershaw firing away at the top of a deep pitching staff and co-NLCS MVPs Justin Turner and Chris Taylor leading a tough lineup, one of baseball's most storied franchises captured its first pennant since Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda managed Kirk Gibson, Orel Hershiser and Co. to Los Angeles' last championship in 1988.

"Every night it is a different guy," Turner said, "and this is one of the most unbelievable teams I've ever been a part of."

Kershaw will be on the mound again when the Dodgers host the New York Yankees or Houston Astros in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night. The Yankees have a 3-2 lead heading into Game 6 of the ALCS at Houston on Friday night, so one more New York win would set up another chapter in an old October rivalry between the Yankees and Dodgers.

Los Angeles made the playoffs eight times in the previous 13 seasons and came up short of its 22nd pennant each time, often with Kershaw shouldering much of the blame. The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner took the loss when his team was eliminated by the Cubs in Game 6 of last year's NLCS at Wrigley Field.

The ace left-hander was just OK during his first two starts in this year's postseason, but Los Angeles' offense picked him up each time. Backed by Hernandez's powerful show in Chicago, Kershaw turned in an efficient three-hit performance with five strikeouts and improved to 6-7 in the playoffs - matching Burt Hooton's club record for postseason wins.

"To get to be on the mound tonight and get to be going to the World Series on the same night, it's a special thing," Kershaw said. "Who knows how many times I'm going to get to go to the World Series? I know more than anybody how hard it is to get there. So, I'm definitely not taking this one for granted."

When Kenley Jansen retired Willson Contreras on a liner to shortstop for the final out, the party was on . The Dodgers poured out of the dugout and mobbed their dominant closer near the mound, and a small but vocal group of Los Angeles fans gathered behind the visitors' dugout and chanted "Let's go Dodgers! Let's go Dodgers!"

On the field, manager Dave Roberts hugged Lasorda and told the iconic skipper the win was for him.

"I bleed Dodger blue just like you," Roberts said. "Thank you, Tommy."

Hernandez connected on the first two pitches he saw, belting a solo drive in the second for his first career playoff homer and then a grand slam in the third against Hector Rondon. Hernandez added a two-run shot in the ninth against Mike Montgomery.

The 26-year-old Hernandez became the fourth player with a three-homer game in a league championship series, joining Bob Robertson (1971 NLCS), George Brett (1978 ALCS) and Adam Kennedy (2002 ALCS). Hernandez's seven RBIs tied a postseason record shared by four other players who all did it in a Division Series.

Troy O'Leary was the previous player to have seven RBIs in a playoff game, for Boston at Cleveland in the 1999 ALDS.

It was a stunning display for a player with 28 career homers who remains concerned about his native Puerto Rico, which is recovering from a devastating hurricane. He delivered a historic performance in front of his father, Enrique Hernandez Sr., who was diagnosed with a blood cancer related to leukemia in December 2015, but got word last November that he was in remission.

"For me to be able to come here and do something like this is pretty special," said Hernandez, who also goes by Kik�. "My body's here, but my mind's kind of back home. It's hard being away from home with what's going on.

"All I want to do right now is go to my dad and give him a big hug."

Kris Bryant homered for Chicago, but the NL Central champions finished with just four hits in another tough night at the plate. Each of their eight runs in the NLCS came via the long ball, and they batted just .156 for the series with 53 strikeouts.

Long playoff runs in each of the last two years and a grueling five-game Division Series against Washington seemed to sap Chicago of some energy, and its pitching faltered against sweet-swinging Los Angeles. Jose Quintana was pulled in the third inning of the final game, and the Cubs never recovered.

"They executed their plan," Bryant said. "They pitched great and the bullpen was lights out. That makes for a tough time scoring runs."

Turner and Taylor helped put it away for Los Angeles, contributing to a 16-hit outburst while closing out a pair of impressive performances.

Turner singled home Taylor in the Dodgers' five-run third, giving him seven RBIs in the series and 24 throughout his postseason career. Taylor finished with two hits and scored two runs as the Dodgers, who have won five straight NL West titles, improved to 7-1 in this postseason.

Taylor's versatility helped Los Angeles cover for the loss of All-Star shortstop Corey Seager, who missed the series with a back injury, but is expected to return in the next round. Coming off a breakout season, the 27-year-old Taylor hit .316 with two homers and scored five times against the Cubs.

"I couldn't be happier to be a part of this and be with these guys," Taylor said. "It's been an unbelievable year, and I'm just super excited."

OUT WITH A BANG

Hernandez joined Kennedy (2002), Adrian Beltre (2011), Reggie Jackson (1977 vs. the Dodgers) and Babe Ruth (1928) as players to hit three home runs in a postseason series clincher.

LIGHTS OUT

Dodgers relievers have thrown 23 consecutive scoreless innings, a postseason record.