Red Sox

First Pitch: September a stark reminder of Sox' continued slump

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First Pitch: September a stark reminder of Sox' continued slump

ANAHEIM -- So here we are again. September. Or nearly so. Put it this way: after the Red Sox play the opener of their weekend series with the Oakland A's Friday night, the waiver deadline will have passed and the calendar will have turned.

September. Ring any bells?

Exactly a year ago today, the Red Sox were almost 30 games over .500 and were in first place in the American League by a game and a half. The playoffs seemed a certainty; the prevailing question seemed to be whether the Sox would win the division or again have to settle for the wild card.

Then, the team went into a 7-20 dip, a descent that didn't end until the final inning of the final game. Even then, a ninth-inning loss to Baltimore didn't eliminate the Sox from the playoffs. But minutes later, a near-miraculous comeback by the Tampa Bay Rays against the New York Yankees did.

It was the worst collapse in baseball history. The Red Sox had gone from 9 12 games in front of the wild card chase to out of the post-season altogether.

And that was just the half of it. Terry Francona was effectively fired, Theo Epstein left town and the club's name was further soiled when it was revealed that the team's underperforming starting pitchers passed time during games treating the clubhouse like some teenagers' basement, complete with beer, chicken and video games.

A year later, the Sox barely resemble the franchise they appeared to be as August turned into September. The Sox are on their second manager since then, their third pitching coach and who knows how many players.

And yet, in some respects, they don't seem to have moved much at all.

This year, like last, will end without hope of a playoff appearance, making it three years since they last played in the post-season and four years since they actually won a post-season game.

This year, like last, the pitching has too often flat-lined, leading to too many games like Thursday night when the Sox trailed 2-0 three batters into the Los Angeles Angels' first inning. It happened last September when the rotation came unglued and presented opponents with early-inning leads on an almost nightly basis.

By other measures, things are worse. While last September's unraveling was mystifying at the time -- how does a team go from having the best record in baseball to being regularly embarrassed by good teams and bad in the span of a month? -- this upcoming September could be just as bad.

Night to night, the Sox are outclassed on the field. The lineup features exactly four regulars that the Sox envisioned back at the start of the season: Mike Aviles, Dustin Pedroia, Cody Ross and Jacoby Ellsbury.

(Jarrod Saltalamacchia might qualify as a fifth as he still plays most games, but some are as DH while the Red Sox evaluate Ryan Lavarnway's potential to replace him behind the plate next spring).

The rest of the Sox players are either role players given starting spots out of necessity (Scott Podsednik, Pedro Ciriaco) or recent acquisitions filling a lineup hole (James Loney).

As such, the Sox can't be considered favorites in many series. The nine-game West Coast road trip is off to an 0-3 start and the Sox still must play wild-card leading Oakland and a resurgent Seattle club which currently features a better record than the Sox themselves.

A winless trip hardly seems impossible, given how poorly the Red Sox are playing and how much better the upcoming pitching seems to be.

On the final day of August, the Sox sport a ghastly 9-19 record for the month, almost as poor as last September's historic 7-20.

Last year, the Sox saved their nightmarish play for the final month and crushing as it was, the skid was only the final month.

This year? It's as if the Red Sox are getting a running head start into the September abyss, entering the month with exactly the wrong kind of momentum.

Unless the Sox play 22-8 over their next 30 games, they will not finish with a winning record. In other words, it's virtually guaranteed they will finish under .500 for the first time since 2001.

There's no promise that Bobby Valentine will return for a second season, and regardless of what side you come down on regarding the manager's future, the uncertainty of the situation is troubling.

In other words: there's at least the possibility that the Sox at the end of this season could be, in its own way, finish every bit as disappointing as the last. And who thought that was possible a year ago today.

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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