Red Sox

First pitch: Sorry, but Youk's time is up

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First pitch: Sorry, but Youk's time is up

MIAMI -- On Wednesday night, the decision was made for them: Kevin Youkilis, who had been struck in the ribs in his final at-bat the night earlier, was unavailable. So, naturally, the Red Sox didn't have him in the lineup.

He was examined by the Miami Marlins medical staff before the game -- no X-rays were deemed necessary -- and held out, though he would later tell manager Bobby Valentine that he was available in the later innings.

From here on out, however, the decision gets tougher.

Now that Youkilis is improving and not as sore, he should remain out of the lineup on most nights.

For the better part of the last few weeks, Youkilis has frequently been either the Red Sox' starting third baseman or first baseman as the team showcases him for a possible deal.

Mostly, his presence in the lineup has meant that rookie Will Middlebrooks, who played splendidly in Youkilis's absence earlier this season, is on the bench. Occasionally, as was the case Tuesday night, Youkilis plays at the expense of David Ortiz.

But such stratetgy no longer makes sense.

Youkilis is hitting just .219 for the season with 4 homers and 13 RBI. Over the last week-and-a-half, beginning with the start of the team's last homestand, Youkilis is hitting just .115 (3-for-28).

The hope had been that Youkilis would get hot and attract interest so the Sox could move him by the July 31 trading deadline, opening up third base for Middlebrooks for the remainder of this season and beyond.

Instead, Youkilis has done little to convince rival teams that he's worth acquiring. Scouts who remembered Youkilis being an intriguing blend of on-base ability and run-production now see
an aging, banged-up player whose bat speed has slowed.

Regular playing time can no longer be justified. While waiting for Youkilis to get hot and strengthen the Red Sox' hand when it comes to making a deal, the Sox have actually weakened themselves from a competitive standpoint. They're a better team when Middlebrooks (.290.333.492) is in the lineup over Youkilis.

Playing the veteran over the rookie has become something the Sox can no longer justify.

The trade deadline is now approximately six weeks away. If Youkilis were to suddenly get on a hot streak -- hardly unimagineable -- and spray line drives for the next two weeks, it wouldn't significantly upgrade his value on the open market.

Youkilis is what he is: A 33-year-old infielder who can play first and third capably, but prone to frequent nagging injuries and without much extra-base capability any more.

For a team in search of an upgrade at either corner infield spot -- Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Cincinnati, his hometown -- Youkilis could be of some help. But his value isn't likely to skyrocket because he experienced a good stretch at the plate.

All along, the Red Sox expected to transition from Youkilis to Middlebrooks at the start of next season, when Youkilis sports a 13 million option that the Sox were unlikely to exercise.

Circumstance and injury sped up that timetable. When Youkilis missed a month earlier this season due a lower back strain, Middlebrooks showed himself ready to play at the big-league level.

Since Youkilis returned, Bobby Valentine has been forced to figure out how to wedge four players -- Youkilis, Middlebrooks, David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez -- into the lineup at once.

In American League games, it's meant playing Gonzalez in right field, opening first for Youkilis while Middlebrooks plays third. In this current stretch of interleague games, it's meant deciding between Ortiz or Youkilis at first or Youkilis and Middlebrooks at third.

The juggling can no longer be in the Red Sox' best interest.

Perhaps the Sox should deal Youkilis for whatever modest return they can obtain. Perhaps they should keep him and use him as a valuable role player, one whose experience could help should the Sox be in contention late in the season.

But in order to give themselves a chance to be in contention in September, the Red Sox need to win games now. They remain under .500 and tied for last place in an increasingly competitive division and are in imminent danger of falling too far back if they don't soon reverse course.

Preoccupying themselves with improving Youkilis's trade value is distracting them from the goal at hand.

Brad Ausmus interviews with Red Sox, but Alex Cora appears frontrunner

Brad Ausmus interviews with Red Sox, but Alex Cora appears frontrunner

BOSTON — Brad Ausmus was the second person to interview to replace John Farrell as Red Sox manager, baseball sources confirmed Monday afternoon. The Sox are expected to interview Ron Gardenhire, the Diamondbacks' bench coach, as well.

But the net might not be cast too wide. More and more, it sounds like the Sox already know whom they want.

Astros bench coach Alex Cora, who met with Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski in New York on Sunday, appears the frontrunner to take the reins next year. The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal has reported that to be the case multiple times, and for some inside the Sox organization, that's a growing feeling as well.

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The criteria the Sox value most isn't hard to guess: a strong connection with players, an ability to incorporate data and analytics; and someone who can handle the market.

"I knew Alex for a couple of years before getting a chance to work with him and had tried to recruit him to work a few years ago and he had other options," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Monday in New York, before Game 3 of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees. "To watch him develop relationships with the players, he's all about baseball. He's all about the competition and small advantages within the game, one of the brightest baseball intellects that I've been around. And to see him pass some of that on and transition from player to TV personality to coach, he's had a ton of impact.

"He challenges people. He challenges me. He's someone who's all about winning. And I think to watch our players respond to him, he's got a lot of respect in that clubhouse because of the work he puts in and the attention to detail that he brings. That's why he's the hottest managerial candidate on the planet and deservedly so."

Cora joined the Astros before this season.

Ausmus, whom Dombrowski hired in Detroit ahead of the 2014 season, grew up in Connecticut and went to Dartmouth. The 48-year-old spent 18 seasons as a big-league catcher, the last in 2010. He was working for the Padres before Dombrowski gave him his first shot at managing the Tigers. 

Ausmus went 314-332 in four years managing the Tigers, a more veteran team than might have been ideal for him as a first-time manager.

Ausmus pulled out of the running to interview with the Mets, per Jon Heyman of Fan Rag while Cora was expected to interview with the Mets on Monday or Tuesday, per the New York Post's Mike Puma.

What could change from here? One baseball source indicated a second interview with Cora was expected. Asked if he plans a second round of interviews generally, Dombrowski did not say.

"We have started the interview process," Dombrowski wrote via email. "I do not have any specific time frames at this point. Will wait and evaluate as we go through the process."

The Boston Herald's Chad Jennings first reported Ausmus' interview.

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NLCS: Turner's 3-run shot in 9th gives Dodgers 4-1 win over Cubs

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NLCS: Turner's 3-run shot in 9th gives Dodgers 4-1 win over Cubs

LOS ANGELES -- Justin Turner savored every last stride as he followed in Kirk Gibson's famous footsteps at Dodger Stadium.

The red-bearded slugger from Southern California knew all about the history attached to this home run trot.

On the 29th anniversary of Gibson's celebrated pinch-hit homer that shocked Oakland in the 1988 World Series opener, Turner added another landmark shot to Los Angeles Dodgers postseason lore.

Turner hit a three-run drive with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, and the Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 4-1 on Sunday to take a 2-0 lead in the NL Championship Series.

"One of my earliest baseball memories was being at my grandma's house and watching that game in '88 and seeing Gibby hit that homer," said Turner, who wasn't quite 4 years old at the time. "So yeah, it feels pretty cool. I thought about doing the fist-pump around the bases, but we'll wait until we get to the World Series for that, hopefully."

The dominant Dodgers are two wins away after Turner drove in all four runs in Game 2 to keep Los Angeles unbeaten in the postseason.

He delivered a tying single in the fifth before sending a long shot to center field off John Lackey in the ninth. Completing the poetry of the moment, a fan wearing a blue Dodgers jersey took a few steps onto a walkway and gracefully caught the ball in his glove on the fly.

"It's very cool, and J.T., we were talking about it in there after the game," Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said. "Twenty-nine years to the day. It was special. Our guys feel it."

Another generation of Dodgers fans now has its own historic homer, and these Dodgers are growing increasingly confident they can earn their first trip to the World Series since 1988.

Turner got swallowed up at home plate by another pack of ecstatic Dodgers, just as Gibson did. Unlike Gibson, Turner spiked his batting helmet after rounding third, allowing his unruly red hair to go as wild as the crowd.

"What's not to enjoy about it?" Turner asked. "We have an opportunity to bring a championship back to LA. It's been a long time."

Game 3 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Midseason acquisition Yu Darvish starts for the Dodgers against Kyle Hendricks.

Yasiel Puig drew his third walk of the game leading off the ninth, and Charlie Culberson bunted him to second. After losing pitcher Brian Duensing struck out pinch-hitter Kyle Farmer, Chicago manager Joe Maddon went to the bullpen for the 38-year-old Lackey, who pitched on consecutive days for the first time in his 15-year career.

Lackey got the call over All-Star closer Wade Davis, and the veteran starter walked Chris Taylor on six tense pitches. Maddon said he wanted to save Davis for a potential save on the road, and Lackey would have pitched the 10th inning as well if the Cubs did not have a lead.

"Nobody is a really great matchup against Turner, so it just did not work out," Maddon said.

Turner stepped up and ended it with his fourth career playoff homer. After taking a slight free-agent discount to stay with the Dodgers last winter, he had another solid season before excelling again in October.

The All-Star third baseman is batting .377 with 22 RBIs in his postseason career. He is 13 for 18 with runners in scoring position (.722), including 6 for 8 this year.

And after a collective offensive effort drove the Dodgers to a 5-2 win in Game 1, Turner did it all in Game 2. He has 10 RBIs in the Dodgers' five postseason games, getting five in the playoff opener against Arizona.

Addison Russell homered in the fifth for the Cubs, who are down early in this rematch of the 2016 NLCS. Chicago won that series in six games after splitting the first two.

Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen got the win with a hitless ninth despite hitting Anthony Rizzo on the hand with a one-out pitch. That ended the Los Angeles bullpen's impressive streak of 22 straight Cubs retired to begin the NLCS, but the Dodgers have thrown eight hitless and scoreless innings of relief in the NLCS.

Jon Lester yielded three hits and five walks while failing to get out of the fifth inning in the shortest start of his long postseason career, but the Dodgers couldn't take advantage of a rare shaky night by the Cubs' star left-hander.

Rich Hill struck out eight in five more impressive innings for the Dodgers, but he was pulled for pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson in the fifth in a debatable decision by Roberts.

Russell was off to a 4-for-22 start in the postseason with nine strikeouts before the slugging shortstop put a leadoff homer into the short porch in left field.

Turner tied it moments later by poking a two-out single to right after a leadoff double by Culberson, the Dodgers' improbably successful replacement for injured All-Star shortstop Corey Seager.

The Dodgers chased Lester with two outs in the fifth, but reliever Carl Edwards Jr. came through after several recent postseason struggles, striking out pinch-hitter Chase Utley and then pitching a strong sixth.

Lester was the co-MVP of last season's NLCS, winning Game 5 at Dodger Stadium and yielding two runs over 13 innings in the series. He had nothing near the same success against the Dodgers' revamped lineup in this one, issuing four walks in the first four innings and repeatedly escaping jams.

Dodgers third base coach Chris Woodward held up Turner in the third when it appeared he could have scored from first on Cody Bellinger's double to the left-center gap.

Javier Baez, the other co-MVP of last season's NLCS for Chicago, got to third base in the third with one out, but also was stranded.

UP NEXT

Cubs: Hendricks dominated Chicago's playoff opener with seven scoreless innings against the Nationals, but yielded four runs in four innings during the team's wild Game 5 victory in Washington. He is starting on normal rest.

Dodgers: Darvish was outstanding in Game 3 against the Diamondbacks, earning his first career postseason victory with seven strikeouts over five innings of two-hit ball. He was acquired from Texas precisely for these moments, and he starts on seven days of rest.

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