Red Sox

First pitch: Silent nights (and days) for Red Sox

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First pitch: Silent nights (and days) for Red Sox

MIAMI -- For so long this season, the Red Sox have had such difficulties with their pitching staff -- first the bullpen, later the starting rotation -- that it was nearly unthinkable to consider the offense as bearing any blame for their struggles.

Yet, with the team reeling after its fourth straight loss, that's exactly where it belongs.

Until recently, in fact, the offense had been so dependable that not even the players themselves seemed capable of recognizing the problem.

Over the weekend, when the Sox were being swept by the Washington Nationals, the Boston clubhouse was divided between criticizing the umpires and crediting the Washington pitching staff.

To be sure, the Sox ran into a tough string of starters at Fenway (Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman). And facing Josh Johnson Monday night in Miami didn't make things any easier.

But there's a limit to how much praise should go the opposition when the lineup is sputtering. Johnson, after all, came into Monday night with a 4.56 ERA. Yet he limited the Sox to four hits and one run over seven innings, with seven strikeouts, as Boston once again went down meekly, 4-1.

"With our offense,'' said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, "we should be able to come up and score some runs . . . We're facing some really good pitching, but this is the big leagues. We need to step it up, get some guys over, get some guys in. That includes everybody.''

Indeed, the downturn has been from top to bottom in the lineup. For a team that was second in the league in runs scored only 10 days ago, the last eight games (1-7) have seen the Red Sox average 3.1 runs per game and hit just .221 collectively.

In that eight-game stretch, the Sox have lost games by two runs twice, one run two other times, and three runs on two other occasions.

"You get that one hit that continues the inning and you get two or three to follow . . . '' said Bobby Valentine wistfully. ''But we're just not getting that one to continue the inning. It seems the other team is getting it against us.''

Among the regulars, only David Ortiz has been a consistent performer. Dustin Pedroia's double Monday night was just his second since May 13, sure evidence that the infielder is being hampered by his right thumb injury.

Meanwhile, the brief hot spurt by Adrian Gonzalez last week seems to be over as quickly as it began.

The long-term losses of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford -- to say nothing of Cody Ross, who was second on the team in homers and slugging percentage when he broke a bone in his foot last month -- seem to become more acute with each passing day.

"We don't have a lot of options with the lineup,'' acknowledged Valentine ruefully, "so we're trying just get guys in motion once in a while. We need that homer, we need that bloop -- one of the two.''

"There's a lot of frustration,'' said Saltalamacchia. "We know we're better than this. We know we can put some runs on the board. It just seems like right now, guys are pitching us really well and we're not hitting any mistakes. When you miss the mistakes, it's tough to do much.''

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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