Red Sox

Epstein: Red Sox still 'pretty close' to a championship

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Epstein: Red Sox still 'pretty close' to a championship

By Art Martone
CSNNE.com

You know what they say about best-laid plans?

Well, Theo Epstein lived it in 2010.

"I wish we could rewind right to the end of spring training . . . I wish we could go back and replay it," the Red Sox' general manager said a bit wistfully in an extensive interview Thursday afternoon on WEEI's Dale and Holley Show. "Stay a little bit healthier, pitch a little bit better, play a little better defensively, and I think there'd be a different result."

But none of that happened . . . and it certainly wasn't what Epstein and the Red Sox anticipated.

"We felt like we had a really good team, one of the best two or three in all of baseball," he said. "Some things went right, some things went wrong and we had a lot of injuries."

The things that went right?

"The offense performed pretty much as we anticipated," said Epstein. "We're probably going to finish second in runs scored, and lead the league in OPS."

And the things that went wrong?

The plague of injuries, certainly. But, he added, "the pitching and defense underperformed pretty dramatically."

Epstein said injuries to key defenders -- outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron, first baseman Kevin Youkilis, second baseman Dustin Pedroia -- was "largely" the reason the team didn't field as well as antipated. "We had a lot of key defenders go down, and that's an important part of your pitching."

But he said "the greatest weakness" was the bullpen.

"We didn't have a third guy emerge" behind Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon, he said. "Coming into the year we thought we had internal candidates (such as Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez) . . . Perhaps we waited too long to find the third arm, but all the while were actively looking outside the organization."

Epstein was particularly frustrated by the lack of available relievers on the open market.

"Trust me, we looked all year," he said. "There just weren't that many guys moved and not many guys at all who helped their teams. Of the guys were were moved by the July 31 trade deadline, there were four major-league relievers traded who ended up helping their clubs, five if you count players who were traded in August.

"Matt Capps traded by the Nationals to the Twins on July 29 would have cost us Daniel Bard.

"Brian Fuentes was claimed by a team, the Twins, that at the time was behind us on the waiver list.

"Then there was Kerry Wood traded by the Indians to the Yankees on July 31. He became available at the last minute. We made what we thought was a pretty aggressive financial bid for him, and we were outbid by the Yankees.

"I feel bad. I feel like we didn't get it done. But there weren't that many relievers available, and not that many guys who did get traded helped their teams."

Epstein also defended embattled closer Jonathan Papelbon, saying Papelbon's past success may have made 2010 seem worse than it was.

"It's an impossible standard," Epstein said. "You're talking about someone who, for a couple of years there, was near-perfect . . .

"He's still good. He still helps us win. It was a tough year for him at times . . . Do we still consider him a very good closer and someone who can help us win a lot of games? Absolutely."

He's similarly optimistic about Josh Beckett and John Lackey returning to form in 2011.

"To be top-of-the-rotation type guys and pitch up to previous levels," he said when asked what his expectations were for Beckett and Lackey going into the season. "And those are still my expectations for those guys going forward."

"Josh, the injury to his back really cost him. He clearly wasn't himself all year . . . We trust the person, we trust the pitcher, to be able to bounce back, and we think he will.

"With Lackey, it was a mixed bag. He did some good things -- leading our club in innings pitched, tying for the club lead in quality starts. That said, there was definitely an adjustment period moving into the A.L. East.

"The biggest issue with him was against left-handed hitters. He was pretty much the same as he's always been against righties. That could have been a result of moving into this division, where there are a lot of good left-handed hitters."

Epstein was predictably vague about the team's specific offseason plans, but he was careful to stress that the organization wouldn't let 2010's disappointments cloud their vision and take them off their long-range plans.

"I think pretty close," he said when asked if the team was close to a championship. "I think this offseason presents us with a lot of challenges, but at the same time I think it presents us with a lot of opportunities."

There are some areas he knows have to be addressed.

"We have to completely fix the bullpen," he said. "We have a lot of important position players eligible for free agency Adrian Beltre, Victor Martinez, perhaps David Ortiz if the Sox don't pick up his contract option and we have to keep them or replace them, or some combination of the two . . .

"But we have some foundational pieces in place. Some young players who we think can help us next year -- Jed Lowrie, Felix Doubront, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, maybe Ryan Kalish -- and others who may be ready by 2012 . . . Those pieces, combined with the strong nucleus we have and what we do this winter, I think adds up to an organization is in a really good position."

And a championship?

"We could very well win one next year," he said, "and that's the goal."

Art Martone can be reached at amartone@comcastsportsnet.com

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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