Red Sox

McAdam: Getting better . . . really!

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McAdam: Getting better . . . really!

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

BOSTON -- Like most Red Sox fans, Dave Magadan is frustated by the team's failures with runners in scoring position in the first two weeks of the season.

Unlike those Red Sox fans, it's his job to fix the problem.

Through their 11-game stumble, which has them lodged in the bottom of the American League East standings, the Sox have hit a lowly .192 with RISP; in the last four games, they're just 7-for-52.

The .192 batting average ranks them 29th in baseball, ahead of only the Los Angeles Dodgers. Meanwhile, they're also ranked next-to-last in OBP with RISP (.267) and next-to-last in slugging (.240).

Magadan, however, has noted improvement -- if not necessarily better results -- of late.

"Actually, I've been pretty pleased with our at-bats, especially lately,'' said Magadan. "All we can is try to hit the ball hard.''

Magadan then recounted a half-dozen or so at-bats in which the Red Sox ran into bad luck -- Kevin Youkilis's hard line drive to second base Monday night that instead of resulting in runs scoring produced a double play being the most obvious.

"All I can ask guys to do is have good at-bats,'' Magadan said, "hit the ball hard and try to stay to the big part of the field. And I think, for the most part, that's what we've done. I feel like this whole homestand, we've had pretty good at-bats with runners in scoring position.

"Just because you don't get a hit doesn't mean it wasn't a good at-bat.''

Problem is, they haven't resulted in much offense. In their loss to the Yankees last Saturday, the Sox were an abysmal 1-for-17. Things weren't much better on Monday when they were just 2-for-12. In consecutive losses, then, the Sox were 3-for-29.

Still, numbers aside, the Sox have shown improvement since their season-opening road trip, according to Magadan. As bad as things have been in the first five games at Fenway, they were worse when the Sox were being swept by the Indians in Cleveland last week.

"On the road trip, yes we struggled,'' acknowledged Magadan. "We had some poor at-bats, we chased pitcher's pitches early in the count, we weren't aggressive on pitches we should have been aggressive on.''

Ironically, Magadan saw things begin to turn in the road trip finale when the Sox were shut out by Indians starter Fausto Carmona.

"I felt like from a hitting coach's standpoint,'' Magadan said, "I felt OK with the at-bats we had. We hit some balls hard. Sometimes you have to give the credit to the other team. You might have a guy who's making pitches. And Tampa's one of the best teams in terms of aligning their defense. It seems like every time we hit a hard ground ball, it's right at the infielder. Or a hard line drive is right at the outfielder.

"That's a credit to them and the pitchers hitting their spot and the defense playing according to how the pitcher is pitching.''

Then, there's the pure randomness of some results. Case in point: Jason Varitek, hitting right-handed Tuesday night, hit an opposite-field line drive to right early in the count of his fifth-inning at-bat. Improbably, Tampa Bay outfielder Ben Zobrist needed to take just five steps to snare the ball.

"That's something we really can't control,'' said Magadan. "All we can do is hit the ball hard. As a hitting coach, or as a hitter for that matter, I can't control what happens after the ball comes off the bat. All you can do is get yourself in a good hitter's count, get a good pitch to hit and hit it hard.

"If we're doing that, which I think we have for the most part on this homestand, eventually that's going to even out. It's a small sample size -- 11 games. We don't want to be 2-9. We don't want to be hitting .228 overall as a team. But I think, over the long haul, I like our chances if we continue to have good at-bats.''

Magadan knows what the numbers say, and more importantly, where the won-loss record stands. But by other indicators, Magadan sees reason to believe things aren't as bad as they seem.

On Tuesday night, in a 3-2 loss to the Rays, the Red Sox counted 15 hard-hit balls - "That's a stat we keep.'' Problem was, the Sox got just five hits for their work.

"Yeah, I'd like to have banged out 15 hits,'' said Magadan. "But we don't control that. I was actually pretty happy with our at-bats against a really good pitcher David Price. You really can't do anything about it. I've got to look it as if we're having a good at-bats, we're getting good pitches to hit and we're putting good swings on those pitchers . . . as a hitting coach I'm happy with that.

"I think that bodes well. As the season unfolds, I like our chances to correct that stat.''

Magadan spent most of Wednesday's washout at Fenway working with hitters taking extra batting practice in the indoor cage. But these days, he's focused as much on the hitter's mental approach as he his with the mechanics of their swings.

"No question,'' he said. "It doesn't matter who you are, whether's it Youk Kevin Youkilis or Jed Lowrie or Jarrod Saltalamacchia, you battle yourself mentally and you get to the point where you're trying to get two hits every at-bat. You try to calm guys down, remind them to get take a breath during at-bats and just relax.

"Good hitters, when they're hitting, are very relaxed. Guys that are showing a lot of tension, looking like they're ready to squeeze the bat in two, those are usually the guys who don't have a lot of confidence going into his at-bat.''

Wednesday's rainout and Thursday's scheduled off-day might be a good break for the hitters, whom, Magadan maintains, are getting closer to being rewarded for their approach.

For a team searching for answers early in the season, that can't come soon enough.

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

Astros beat Yankees in Game 7 to advance to World Series, 4-0

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Astros beat Yankees in Game 7 to advance to World Series, 4-0

HOUSTON -- Jose Altuve embraced Justin Verlander as confetti rained down. An improbable thought just a few years ago, the Houston Astros are headed to the World Series.

Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. combined on a three-hitter, Altuve and Evan Gattis homered and the Astros reached the World Series for only the second time by blanking the New York Yankees 4-0 Saturday night in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.

Next up for the Astros: Game 1 against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night. Los Angeles opened as a narrow favorite, but Verlander, the ALCS MVP , and fellow Houston ace Dallas Keuchel will have plenty of rest before the World Series begins at sweltering Dodger Stadium.

"I love our personality," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We have the right amount of fun, the right amount of seriousness, the right amount of perspective when we need it. This is a very, very unique group. To win 100 games and still be hungry is pretty remarkable."

The Astros will try for their first World Series title, thanks in large part to Altuve , the diminutive second baseman who swings a potent bat, and Verlander, who switched teams for the first time in his career to chase a ring.

Four years removed from their third straight 100-loss season in 2013, the Astros shut down the Yankees on consecutive nights after dropping three in a row in the Bronx.

The only previous time the Astros made it this far, they were a National League team when they were swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005.

Hinch's club has a chance to win that elusive first crown, while trying to boost a region still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

"This city, they deserve this," McCullers said.

Clutch defensive plays by third baseman Alex Bregman and center fielder George Springer helped Houston improve to 6-0 at Minute Maid Park in these playoffs and become the fifth team in major league history to capture a seven-game postseason series by winning all four of its home games.

Morton bounced back from a loss in Game 3 to allow two hits over five scoreless innings. Starter-turned-postseason reliever McCullers limited the Yankees to just one hit while fanning six over the next four. A noted curveballer, McCullers finished up with 24 straight breaking pitches to earn his first major league save.

Combined, they throttled the wild-card Yankees one last time in Houston. Aaron JudgeGary Sanchez and their New York teammates totaled just three runs in the four road games.

"I know people are going to talk about how we didn't win many games on the road. There were some other teams that haven't won many games on the road, either. We just happened to run into a very good team that just beat us," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

The Astros also eliminated New York in the 2015 postseason, with Keuchel winning the AL wild-card game at Yankee Stadium.

CC Sabathia entered 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 13 starts this season after a Yankees loss. But he struggled with command and was gone with one out in the fourth inning.

Houston was up 2-0 in fifth when former Yankees star Brian McCann came through for the second straight game by hitting a two-run double. He snapped an 0-for-20 skid with an RBI double to give Houston its first run on Friday night in a 7-1 win.

The Yankees, trying to reach the World Series for the first time since 2009, lost an elimination game for the first time this season after winning their first four in these playoffs. New York went 1-6 on the road this postseason.

After going 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position through the first three innings, the Astros got on the board with no outs in the fourth with the 405-foot shot by Gattis.

Altuve launched a ball off Tommy Kahnle into the seats in right field with one out in the fifth for his fifth homer this postseason. It took a while for him to see that it was going to get out, and held onto his bat until he was halfway to first base before flipping it and trotting around the bases as chants of "MVP" rained down on him.

Altuve finished 8 for 25 with two homers and four RBIs in the ALCS after hitting .533 with three homers and four RBIs in the ALDS against Boston.

Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel hit consecutive singles before Kahnle struck out Gattis. McCann's two-strike double, which rolled into the corner of right field, cleared the bases to push the lead to 4-0. Gurriel slid to avoid the tag and remained on his belly in a swimming pose at the plate for a few seconds after he was called safe.

It was just the second Game 7 in franchise history for the Astros, who lost to the Cardinals in the 2004 NLCS exactly 13 years earlier.

Sabathia allowed five hits and one run while walking three in 3 1/3 innings. He wasn't nearly as sharp as he was in a Game 3 win and just 36 of the 65 pitches he threw were strikes.

Morton got into trouble in the fifth, and the Yankees had runners at the corners with one out. Bregman fielded a grounder hit by Todd Frazier and made a perfect throw home to allow McCann to tag Greg Bird and preserve Houston's lead. McCann held onto the ball despite Bird's cleat banging into his forearm. Chase Headley grounded out after that to end the inning.

A night after Springer kept Frazier from extra-bases with a leaping catch, Judge returned the favor on a ball hit by Yuli Gurriel. Judge sprinted, jumped and reached into the stands to grab his long fly ball before crashing into the wall and falling to the ground for the first out of the second inning.

Springer had another nifty catch in this one, jumping in front of Marwin Gonzalez at the wall in left-center to grab a ball hit by Bird for the first out of the seventh.

With McCullers in charge, the Astros soon closed it out.

"It's not easy to get here. And I don't take any of this for granted. And this is what we play for," Verlander said. "These are the experiences that you remember at the end of your career when you look back, winning these games, just playing the World Series. Hopefully winning the World Series."

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Red Sox reportedly make offer to Cora

Red Sox reportedly make offer to Cora

UPDATE: The deal is for three years, per Ken Rosenthal.

BOSTON — We’re just waiting on an announcement now.

A pair of national reports on Saturday afternoon, one from FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal... 

...And another from MLB Network and FanRagSports.com's Jon Heyman...

have firmed up Alex Cora’s expected hiring as Red Sox manager. Both reported that Cora, the Astros bench coach, is expected to take the job once Houston's season ends, which could come as soon as Saturday night after Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. 

Heyman reported a contract offer has already been made to Cora. 

A baseball source said this week that there was “not a doubt” Cora, the Astros bench coach, would wind up with the Red Sox gig. It’s unclear when exactly the offer was made to him, but one had not been made as of midday Wednesday, the source said. 

Cora, 41, a former Red Sox infielder (2005-08) who's also worked in the media and is the most sought-after managerial candidate at the moment, appeared the front-runner since the outset of what proved a small search for the Red Sox.

Earlier, Boston Globe reported that the Washington Nationals were interested in Cora after they fired Dusty Baker on Friday.