Red Sox

McAdam: Beckett the x-factor vs. Yankees

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McAdam: Beckett the x-factor vs. Yankees

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
A year ago, Josh Beckett had one win against the New York Yankees and a bloated 10.04 ERA against them in five starts.

Not so incidentally, the Yankees finished in a tie for first place in the American League East while the Red Sox lagged behind in third place, far from the playoff picture.

This season, Beckett is 4-0 in five starts against the Yankees with a tidy 2.12 ERA.

No so incidentally, the Red Sox have the best record in the American League, and as September dawns, are virtually assured of reaching the post-season.

Sensing a pattern here?

When Beckett gets blown up against the Sox' main rival, the Red Sox stumble. When he pitches well against them, they thrive.

Four of Beckett's wins this season have come against the Yankees, making him the first Red Sox pitcher since Al Nipper in 1987 to beat them four times in the same season.

On Wednesday night, Beckett had his difficulties. In the sixth inning alone, with the Red Sox leading 4-1, Beckett allowed four runs -- or, more than he had in 27 innings against the Yankees before Wednesday night.

Outfielder Josh Reddick kicked a ball around the right field corner, allowing Eric Chavez to end up on third base, but Beckett could take most of the blame after hitting Mark Teixeira on the foot to open the inning, and, two batters later, walking Nick Swisher.

But that inning was the one slip-up. Other than the four-run fourth, he allowed just one other run and lugged the Sox through the seventh inning, where only Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon were needed from the bullpen.

The Sox are now 11-3 against the Yankees and that dominance helps to explain why they're not only ahead of New York in the standings, but also, ahead of everybody else.

And the starting pitcher in almost half (five) of those Red Sox wins? Beckett.

Jon Lester is essentially repeating the season he had a year ago. So, too, for better or worse, is John Lackey. Daisuke Matsuzaka did little before being shelved for the year.

The X factor, then, is Beckett. Although he's excluded from the team's MVP debate, the case could be made that it is he who is most responsible for their turnaround from a year ago.

''This is the guy we've relied on,'' said an appreciative Terry Francona. "We were hoping he'd come back with a vengeance and he has. He's been so consistent."

It helps that Beckett hasn't had any of the nagging injuries that have marked his sub-par years. Helps, too, that he enjoyed a healthy spring training, when, in other seasons, injuries and illness in March have set Beckett up for failure.

Beckett was determined to bounce back from a poor 2010 (6-6, 5.78). He dedicated himself to a more rigorous off-season training program and has yet to miss a start.

But ask Beckett what's been the difference between this season and last and he answers, in an almost zen-like state, that it's all about executing pitches.

"I think that's what separates good seasons from mediocre seasons or bad seasons," he said.

Understand that Beckett likes self-analysis about as much as a root canal. He loves competing. What he doesn't like is talking about competing.

And so, Beckett offers up some vague generalizations about his bounce-back season.

"I'm a different pitcher now than I was at any time last year," he said.

Of that, there can be no argument. The innings and strikeouts are up, the hits allowed and walks are down. With better run support -- incredibly, Beckett and Lackey are tied with the same number of wins, despite the fact that the former's ERA is less than half that of the the latter -- Beckett might have 16 or 17 wins and be on the outskirts of the Cy Young Award discussion.

The Red Sox still have a month to make a decision about their No. 3 starter in the playoffs. But there can be no debate about who will be their No. 1. And should the Sox and Yankees keep their date for the ALCS, it's clear who should start Game 1 for the Red Sox.

Because without an improved Josh Beckett, the Red Sox wouldn't be worried about their playoff rotation, only about getting there.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Are Red Sox playing a waiting game before naming their new manager?

Are Red Sox playing a waiting game before naming their new manager?

BOSTON — As soon as the American League Championship Series ends, the Red Sox could make a move for their manager.

Industry sources continue to expect Astros bench coach Alex Cora will be the Sox’ pick. No offer had been officially made as of midday Wednesday, one source close to the situation said. But the belief is such an offer waits out of respect to the Astros-Yankees ALCS that can end no later than Saturday if the series goes a full seven games. 

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“Not a doubt it is him,” the source said.

Sunday and Monday would both be off days ahead of the Tuesday night start of the World Series. That leads to the potential for at least a Red Sox announcement of Cora, if not a press conference, before the Fall Classic begins. (If the Astros advance to the World Series, it may be harder to have Cora in Boston for any length of time.)

All those who know Cora praise his ability to connect with players. The former Red Sox infielder is good friends with Dustin Pedroia. Cora’s previous knowledge of the Boston market works in his favor, as well, as does his mettle handling the media. Some question his readiness as a first-time manager, considering he would be taking over a team with great win-now expectations and complicated clubhouse dynamics.

Nothing takes the place of experience and there is such a thing as being too close to players. Ultimately, if the Sox do land Cora, 41, they would be adding the hottest up-and-coming managerial prospect who’s available on the market. The everybody-wants-him reputation could give Cora added cachet with players and certainly becomes a public-relations win for those fans following the search.

The Sox interviewed Ron Gardenhire on Wednesday. Gardenhire was the third candidate the Sox talked to and could well be the last. Cora met with the Sox on Sunday, followed by Brad Ausmus on Monday.
 

NLCS: Cubs avoid sweep, top Dodgers 3-2 to cut series deficit to 3-1

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NLCS: Cubs avoid sweep, top Dodgers 3-2 to cut series deficit to 3-1

CHICAGO -- Javier Baez sensed he was ready to bust out of his slump and give the Chicago Cubs the lift they needed.

As breakthroughs go, this was a big one. Just in time to keep the season going for the defending champs.

Baez snapped an 0-for-20 skid with two home runs, Wade Davis hung on for a six-out save and Cubs avoided a sweep, holding off the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 Wednesday night in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series.

"We have to be much more offensive," manager Joe Maddon said. "It's got to start happening tomorrow. We're going to do this. Going to pull this off, we have to become more offensive tomorrow."

Baez finally got going with a pair of solo drives .

Jake Arrieta pitched three-hit ball into the seventh inning to help the Cubs close their deficit to 3-1. Maddon got ejected for the second time in this series in the eighth, and a packed Wrigley Field crowd watched Davis get Cody Bellinger to ground into a game-ending double play.

Maddon was heavily criticized for not using Davis during a 4-1 loss in Game 2. This time, the Cubs closer threw 48 pitches to finish the job.

Willson Contreras also homered for the Cubs. Bellinger and Justin Turner connected for the Dodgers, who had won a team-record six straight playoff games.

Game 5 is Thursday, with Jose Quintana pitching for Chicago against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

"They're the world champs, and you know they're going to fight to the end," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "So today, they did. We got beat today."

Baez hit solo drives in the second and fifth after going hitless in his first 20 playoff at-bats. He had been watching videos and felt his timing was starting to come back in recent trips to the plate.

"I just need to take a step back and see what's going on," he said.

Contreras added a long homer against Alex Wood.

Davis entered with a 3-1 lead in the eighth. He gave up a leadoff homer to Turner, who went 2 for 2 and drew two walks.

Maddon became incensed that a swinging strike three against Curtis Granderson was ruled a foul after the umpires discussed the play. Maddon got tossed, and Granderson struck out swinging at the next pitch.

And after walking Yasmani Grandal to put runners on first and second, Davis struck out Chase Utley , who is hitless in his last 24 postseason at-bats.

All seven of Chicago's runs in this series have come on homers. And long drives in the second by Contreras and Baez made it 2-0.

"Great to have this win, because if not we were going home tomorrow," Baez said. "But I feel like we're still not on track as a team. But I think if we get back on track, everybody as a team, we're going to be the best again."

Contreras' 491-foot homer banged off the left-field videoboard and Baez sent a towering drive out to left.

Bellinger cut it to 2-1 with his drive to right in the third. But Baez got the lead back up to two with a shot to the left-field bleachers in the fifth, the raucous crowd chanting "Javy! Javy!" for the flashy young star who was co-MVP of the NLCS last year.

No Cubs player had hit two in a playoff game since Alex Gonzalez went deep twice in Game 2 of the 2003 NLCS against Miami.

Arrieta exited with runners on first and second in the seventh after walking Chris Taylor on a 3-2 pitch. He tipped his hat as fans gave him a standing ovation, a fitting show of appreciation for a pitcher with an expiring contract.

"Hopefully, it's not a goodbye, it's a thank you, obviously," Arrieta said. "I still intend to have another start in this ballpark. If that's where it ends, I did my best and I left it all out there."

Arrieta turns 32 in March and figures to land a huge deal in free agency. The trade that brought him from Baltimore helped fuel Chicago's rise, with the right-hander capturing the 2015 NL Cy Young Award and contributing to last year's drought-busting championship run.

Limited by a right hamstring injury in the final month of the season, he threw 111 pitches. Brian Duensing retired Bellinger on a fly to end the seventh.

Turner made it a one-run game with his homer off the left-field videoboard against Davis in the eighth.

A career-high 16-game winner, Wood gave up three runs and four hits in 42/3 innings.

"The only frustrating thing is we fell a run short," Turner said. "We played a great game, they played a great game. They just hit one more ball over the fence than we did."

FINISHING UP

Maddon said Davis would not be available on Thursday.

"So other guys got to do it," Maddon said. "We have to be much more offensive. It's got to start happening tomorrow. We're going to do this. Going to pull this off, we have to become more offensive tomorrow."

QUOTABLE

Chicago's Kyle Schwarber on all the Cubs' runs coming on homers in the series: "That's fine. A run's a run, anyway you can get them in. Obviously, we want to manufacture some runs, but we won a ballgame 3-2 hitting homers; I'll take that, too."

UP NEXT

Dodgers: The Dodgers turn to Kershaw to try to wrap up the series. The three-time NL Cy Young winner went five innings in Game 1, allowing two runs, and has a 4.76 ERA in two postseason starts this year.

Cubs: Quintana pitched five innings of two-hit ball in Game 1, one day after his wife, Michel, was taken off the team plane in Albuquerque with a medical ailment.

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