Red Sox

Drellich: Sale's a success, no matter what happens Thursday

red_sox_chris_sale_061517.jpg

Drellich: Sale's a success, no matter what happens Thursday

HOUSTON -- The weight on Chris Sale, the pressure on a bubble of insulation he maintains better than most, is immense.
 
There is the most basic element entering Thursday’s Division Series at Minute Maid Park, that he is pitching Game 1, on the road, opposite Astros ace Justin Verlander. A win feels close to a must.
 
“It's going to be a grind. It's kind of like the first person to blink,” Verlander said Wednesday. “As a starting pitcher, you love those battles.”
 
But Verlander has an otherworldly offense behind him. Sale does not. Sale is the closest thing to certainty the Red Sox have
 
A year ago, the Sox offense was baseball’s best, and was immediately silenced come the postseason. The starting pitching didn’t exactly help matters, but the bats were what carried the Sox in 2016, and they disappeared until it was too late. 
 
This year’s Sox team is about pitching. It’s about Sale more than any other individual.
 
Less than 12 months into his time in Boston, the lefty’s success in his first career playoff outing -- or lack thereof -- could have a disproportionate effect on his public standing. It should not, because he accomplished so much already. But it probably will.
 
"It's exciting. A lot of hard work goes into this," Sale said. "Ups and downs of the season, battling the travel and all this other stuff. So to be sitting here right now is pretty fulfilling."
 
Sale already quieted talks of the first-year jinx with the Sox. He had no trouble adjusting to the market that loves to consider itself the market. That’s a prime reason John Farrell believes Sale won’t look different in his first postseason outing.
 
“I think this somewhat compares to the way he came into Boston following the trade,” said the Sox manager. “He has handled it without distraction. He’s handled it with I think a consistency to his routine and being true to himself, who he is as a performer, as a pitcher. I would venture to say, knowing Chris the person, that the same approach will be applied tomorrow. 
 
“And I think the beauty inside of Chris Sale is that he focuses solely on the things that he can control, something as simple as command in the count. Strike one. Keeping it pretty much to the basics. He's done such an excellent job of that coming in with all the expectations and the highlight from the trade. He's handled it beautifully and I would suspect at this stage, this next set of games in which he's going to experience for the first time will be handled the same way.”
 
It’s easy to imagine the adulation for a win. It’s easy to hear the scorn that would follow a loss -- particularly if the Sox then dropped the Division Series . . . or, worse, were swept. 
 
Sale has said the right things since being traded from the White Sox. He’s performed as well as anyone, better than anyone, could hope. He wants the ball on short rest in Game 4, if need be.
 
“Three days' rest, I'm in,” Sale said. “This is what I live for. I'm throwing until my arm falls off.”
 
In Sale, the Sox have arguably the best pitcher in the majors, the reincarnation of Randy Johnson. He may win the American League Cy Young. 
 
But his 300 strikeouts will be so quickly forgotten if he doesn’t do well. It’s a battle David Price faced to an extent last year and into this year, albeit in a different scenario. 
 
Price’s overall effectiveness in 2016 was not fully recognized because of his poor postseason start and a higher-than-expected ERA in the regular season. Sale was a much better pitcher in 2017 than Price was in 2016, and Price was no slouch.
 
It’s almost sad, if you think about the potential for perception to be skewed based on one game. Sale should be regarded as excellent no matter what. His ability to pitch under pressure should not be judged on one outing. 
 
Yet, that does seem to be the nature of the beast when one is an ace for the Red Sox. You can start go through an offseason, make 35 starts, be king of the world as expected -- and then no one cares. Or too few care.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Which version of Bradley, Bogaerts and Betts can Red Sox expect going forward?

Which version of Bradley, Bogaerts and Betts can Red Sox expect going forward?

The most important evaluations the Red Sox have to make this winter are internal.

Who exactly is Jackie Bradley Jr.? And Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts? Can all three be expected to return to their 2016 forms, or is 2017 closer to reality? Who are they actually? Maybe 2016 was an exception.

(Betts, it should be noted, remains a player who should be viewed a little differently, a step above.)

From there, the question is whether the Red Sox should really be trading any of the Bradley types after a down 2017. It’d be a great winter to try to lock someone up long term, although fat chance getting Scott Boras (Bradley, Bogaerts) or Greg Genske (Betts) to bite just because of a down year.

Last winter, it was the opposite. The kids were coming off great seasons, and paying them with the mindset they’d perform similarly every year forward could have hurt financially.

MORE:

But this is where the Sox’ judgment, where Dave Dombrowski’s long experience in the game, can show its merit. Ostensibly, the trade value for Bradley should only rise from here. Yet, if the Sox don’t feel it would rise appreciably, it’s easier to justify moving him. 

Part of the failure of the 2016 offense, which still pumped out 93 wins in conjunction with a great pitching staff, was the overestimation of the Killer B’s. David Ortiz was gone, and the Sox just didn’t seem prepared for the possibility that on top of his departure, some individual performances in 2017 weren’t shoe-ins to be repeated.

Whether the Red Sox are actively shopping Bradley seems to be a matter of semantics. Baseball sources said the Red Sox have made clear the center fielder is available. They’ve talked about him in potential trades for power hitting, to be specific.

Dombrowski doesn’t agree with the notion he’s shopping Bradley, however. It’s more of a listening mode, the way he tells it. 

“I don’t know where those rumors have started, but they’re not accurate,” Dombrowski said. “I can say that we have interest in our players and people have asked us about our players often. But I’d say we’re very happy with our outfield. Could we do anything? I can't say we can't do anything with any of our players. But we like our outfield.”

How about this: Bradley is a chip they could reasonably move.

The Cubs are listening on Kyle Schwarber. But it’s hard to see a fit for a trade because Chicago is after pitching. Eduardo Rodriguez, due back in April, could be a chip but he doesn’t move the needle enough given his knee troubles.

“He's always been someone that teams have an interest in, I guess,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said Monday about Schwarber, via The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma. “But we have probably the most interest.”

The Sox, at some point, have to choose which of their young stars to hitch their ride to. Is it worth parting with Bradley now? Who is he really?

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Dombrowski on Stanton: 'We called at the end, we were not on his list'

Dombrowski on Stanton: 'We called at the end, we were not on his list'

We can go through all the handwringing we want with the Red Sox and Giancarlo Stanton and the pursuit or the lack thereof. The bottom line is twofold.
 
One, the Sox clearly didn’t want to take on the money, even if they tiptoe around it publicly.
 
“There’s a lot of things that are involved in that, not only position, finances, futures, there’s a lot that’s involved in those things,” Sox president of baseball operations aDombrowski said when asked about roster flexibility.
 
Two, Stanton preferred to go elsewhere, although we’ll never know what would have happened if push came to shove and the Sox and Marlins struck a deal.

MORE:

 
“We were not on his immediate list,” Dombrowski said. “We called at the end, we were not on his list. So they were going somewhere else. Yeah, we did all our homework on Stanton. In fact, I know a couple of you guys saw me talking to [Marlins general manager] Mike Hill during the general managers’ meetings. … I knew exactly where everything was, what they were looking for, dollars that were involved. Just was not where we were at that particular time. 
 
“And you have to remember that the guys they [would have received in deals Stanton blocked with] St. Louis or San Francisco … might have been a little bit better than what they ended up getting in their own minds. And then they switched off and at that point, [Stanton] had given them the four clubs that he wanted to go to and we weren’t one of the four.”
 
Stanton preferred to go to one of the Yankees, Astros, Dodgers or Cubs.
 
“Those are the clubs that they were concentrating on at that time,” Dombrowski said. “As soon as that changed, they jumped into the Yankees situation. … I mean I knew exactly when St. Louis and San Francisco were out of it.”
 
The early asking price was a turn off for the Red Sox. But, the package the Yankees ended up sending did not include the team’s very best prospects. It did include a major league contributor that the Yankees’ strong farm system and relatively low payroll can readily replace in Starlin Castro
 
“But the early asks for him were not things that we were interested in,” Dombrowski said of Stanton. “And then as a time went on the end, there were no conversations based upon — I mean, he was traded, I had a pulse of, they had a deal done with St. Louis. They had a deal done with San Francisco. At that point, when I reached out, they were in the midst of dealing with the Yankees at that point.
 
“[I reached out] to Mike Hill last week, yeah. But he was in the midst of the Yankee deal at that point.”
 
Dombrowski was asked if based on the final offer the Marlins accepted if he would have liked to make a revised offer, with the leverage lessened for the Marlins.
 
“Those are the things that are really in a confidential basis,” Dombrowski said.
 
Dombrowski said there’s no change to Red Sox plans because of the Yankees. The plan was already to make the Red Sox as strong as can be. 
 
“You’re not only trying to beat the clubs in your own division, but to to have the best club in the league and the best club overall,” Dombrowski said. “So we’re already tying to do that.”
 
Stanton’s agent Joel Wolfe on Monday noted the Red Sox told him they were focused on pitching, referring to relief pitching in particular. Dombrowski gave his remembrance of the conversation with Wolfe.
 
“No, and I never said that to him. I might have said we were looking at people for relief pitching,” Dombrowski said. “We’re not prioritizing pitching. I think that their basic conversations with us, they looked at our outfield and thought they probably really weren’t a fit with our ball club.
 
“We’re looking for a middle of the order bat, that hasn’t changed. First base or DH.”
 
Dombrowski did not handicap whether an addition was more likely via free agency or trade. He also shot down the idea of adding two bats. Hanley Ramirez is penciled into play one of first base or DH.
 
“I’ve read that, but I don’t know where we’d play these two bats,” Dombrowski said. “I’m trying to figure that one out. So, but I would say we’d be more limited to probably one bat. I can’t say that, I don’t know I guess if we went for a platoon type guy or something somewhere else. But I don’t really know where the second bat would play. Middle of the order type.”
 
Dombrowski said that the trade of Stanton and signing of Shohei Ohtani has opened up the market “tremendously.” It was hard to get a phone call last week, Dombrowski said. Now, there’s a lot going on, although he’s not necessarily convinced something gets done at the winter meetings.
 
“It’s been since yesterday afternoon nonstop,” Dombrowski said of conversations.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE