Red Sox

First pitch: Nothing a trade or two can fix

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First pitch: Nothing a trade or two can fix

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Even now, after four straight losses that have dropped them beneath the .500 mark and destroyed whatever momentum was built a week ago, the Red Sox cannot be counted out of the playoff race in the American League.

Thanks to the addition of the second wild card, few teams are out of contention and won't be for be for some time. If you're anywhere near the break-even point, you're not too far from a spot in the post-season.

Of course, much of it illusory. There's nothing necessarily distinguished about a .500 record that offers the empty promise of a one-game playoff against a superior opponent.

But the second wild card provides false hope.

The Red Sox' 9-1 thumping at the hands of the Texas Rangers Monday night may have represented a new low in an already disappointment-filled season. The Sox were flat, as their sloppy play in the field demonstrated. A wild throwing error by second baseman Dustin Pedroia and a careless overrun by outfielder Carl Crawford contributed to
three of the nine runs.

More to the point, what does it say that the Red Sox sent out their winningest pitcher Monday night while the Rangers sent out a spot starter who hadn't pitched in the second half -- and the Rangers won by eight runs?

Pitting the Sox against the Rangers, head-to-head, only shows the yawning gap that exists between the Sox and honest-to-goodness contenders.

Things could get worse, too. There are two more games left with the Rangers here, leading to a three-game set in New York, with the Detroit Tigers waiting for the Sox when they return home to Fenway Monday, a day before the non-waiver trading deadline.

If the Sox fall further behind -- as seems almost inevitable given the rut they're currently in -- then management might subtly shift gears into "sell'' mode as the deadline nears. Why invest in a club that has little chance of making an impact in October?

After all, the Sox have done little to convince Ben Cherginton and ownership that they are only a player or two from becoming legitimate threats to reach the World Series.

Dustin Pedroia, for one, hasn't given up and hopes management feels the same way.

"We hope not,'' said Pedroia. "That second wild card could come down to the last week of the season. I was talking to (bullpen coach) Gary Tuck on the bus and he tells me every year, 'Look at the standings Sept. 15 and see where you're at.' I remember 2010, we had half of our starters hurt and you loom up on Sept. 15 and we were still there.

"So, we've got to keep fighting. That's our mindset.''

No one is making the case for giving up, of course. But doubling down is another matter altogether.

Is there a case to be made that this team deserves the benefit of the doubt? Surrendering anything in the way of prospects for a (relative) short-term boost would seem foolish.

If the Sox were truly a player away -- as they've been at past deadlines -- a deal would make sense. But with a good half-dozen teams standing in between the Sox and a ticket to October, there's far more work to be done and pulling the trigger on a deal before next Tuesday afternoon would seem shortsighted and could actually derail the effort in the big picture.

Sacrificing a future building block for the reward of a cross-country flight to Anaheim and a one-game win-or-go-home match sounds like little incentive.

Not even a sudden unexpected winning streak in the next week should distract the Sox from the task at hand. There's more that ails the Sox than a simple trade or two in the next week, a point that shouldn't be lost regardless of the outcome of the next six games.

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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