Red Sox

First Pitch: When losing is winning

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First Pitch: When losing is winning

ARLINGTON, Texas - It's a given that there's no such thing as a meaningless series between the Red Sox and Yankees, and the weekend set that begins Friday night at Yankee Stadium is further proof.

The Red Sox trail the Yankees by 10 12 games in the standings, so to suggest that the outcome of these three games will have some bearing on the divisional race is a stretch.

Even if the Yankees have been stung by a string of recent injuries, topped by Alez Rodriguez's broken hand in Seattle, it seems far more likely that a team other than the Red Sox will be the beneficiary of the Yanks' ill fortune.

The Sox, having lost six of their last seven, have other, more modest goals in their sights. The second wild card would seem to be their best path to the postseason, and for now even that seems unattainable.

But that doesn't render these games meaningless. For the Red Sox, they're indeed critical -- but for reasons that have little to do with their seemingly hopeless pursuit of their archrivals.

Instead, how the Red Sox fare this weekend will have a significant impact on the team's approach to the non-waiver trading deadline, which arrives soon after the Red Sox return to Boston early Monday morning.

Multiple baseball sources indicated Wednesday that general manager Ben Cherington was eyeing the team's play carefully as he decides how to handle the deadline.

Had the Sox won Wednesday's game -- rather than losing, 5-3, at they did to Texas -- and won the series from the first-place Rangers, and followed that with a series win in the Bronx, Cherington might have been motivated to more aggressively pursue help for the season's final two months.

If the Sox had hinted that they were worth investing in, then Cherington would have acted accordingly and gone about the business of looking for starting pitching reinforcements to augment the current rotation.

But dropping the series to the Rangers, followed with the prospect of a rough weekend against the Yankees, could push Cherington into full-on sell mode.

After all, what's the sense of packaging valauble prospects for pitching help to push the Red Sox across the playoff finish line when there's every chance that the team's stay in the postseason might not last more than a single game in the new winner-take-all, wild-card format?

As it is, a short-term rental such as Zack Greinke or Ryan Demptster is already virtually out of the question, especially considering the changes in the new collective bargaining agreement which make rentals more problematic than ever.

It's hard to justify shipping off two upper-tier prospects for the sake of a one-game playoff, especially given that teams can no longer recoup draft picks by offering newly-acquired free-agents-to-be arbitration.

Landing a player who isn't eligible for free agency until after 2013 -- such as Matt Garza -- might make somewhat more sense, since such a player would be under the team's control for all of next season, too. And unlike rentals, players with more than this year remaining can return draft picks if they sign elsewhere.

Left in limbo, at least until after this weekend at least, are such spare parts as Kelly Shoppach and Ryan Sweeney, both of whom have value and could be dealt for some return if the Sox determine by Tuesday that all hope is essentially lost.

In that sense, as counterintuitive as it may be, the Sox might be better off losing the series and cashing in on what has all the appearances of a lost season.

At nearly 100 games in, the Sox are below .500 and can't seem to gain any traction. They're like a overheated car in stop-and-go beach traffic, lurching forward for a short while, only to just as quickly stall and sputter.

Putting competitive pride aside, the Sox might benefit by some losses, since it will give them the go-ahead to pull the plug on 2012 and begin the process of getting ready for 2013 months ahead of schedule.

Shoppach, Sweeney and perhaps a bullpen arm can be auctioned to the highest bidders and prospects won't be needless sacrificed for the illusion of short-term gain.

For once, then, Red Sox and Yankee fans might agree on something, with both sets -- one silently and full of shame, of course -- rooting for the same team and the same result starting Friday night.

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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