Red Sox

McAdam: MVP candidates leave Sox wanting more

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McAdam: MVP candidates leave Sox wanting more

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
BOSTON -- Before their September nosedive, the Red Sox boasted two legitimate MVP candidates -- outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.

Together with Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano and Justin Verlander, Ellsbury and Gonzalez had viable candidacies -- Gonzalez for his year-long consistency and Ellsbury for his emergence as a budding superstar.

For a while, Gonzalez looked capable of leading the league in two of three Triple Crown categories (batting average and RBI), while Ellsbury's offensive contributions were lauded for a leadoff hitter.

But as the Red Sox' lead in the wild card has diminished, dropping from seven games prior to their arrival at Tropicana Field on Sept. 9 to the present two games, Ellsbury and Gonzalez have simialrly disappeared.

The Rays capped another big series win over the Red Sox with an 8-5 victory Sunday at Fenway, giving them three of four over the weekend and six of seven over last two weekends. They were able to do so in large part because the Sox' offense stalled.

Boston's best offensive player in this series was Mike Aviles, who homered in two of the three games in which he started and whose three-run belt into the Monster Seats in the seventh inning Sunday briefly gave the Sox some comeback hopes.

Other than that, the Sox didn't generate much at the plate. Part of the problem, of course, has been the team's poor starting pitching, which put the team behind in all four of the games.

"We've been playing from behind a lot in this stretch,'' said Terry Francona.

And indeed, that's no way to play, or win. Being down 2-0, 3-0 and 4-0, as the Sox were in the series with the Rays, creates a level of desperation in a lineup.

Pitches out of the strike zone are chased. Usual approaches are quickly discarded. Players start trying to hit the proverbial five-run homer to erase early-inning deficits.

Still, the production -- or lack thereof -- from Ellsbury and Gonzalez was alarming against Tampa Bay.

Gonzalez went the entire series without a single base hit in 12 at-bats and knocked in exactly one run in the four games. In his final two at-bats Sunday, he fanned both times.

He acknowledged that he was off his game in the series, got himself out too often and should have exhibited more patience at the plate.

Ellsbury was only slightly better. Though he had a single in the seventh and a double in the ninth on Sunday, he finished the series 4-for-16. Two of the hits were doubles and he had two RBI in the four games with two runs scored.

Combined, the Red Sox' MVP candidates were 4-for-28 (.143) with two RBI, two runs scored and two extra base hits.

To a certain extent, the four-game set was a microcosm of the month, when the Red Sox first began their free-fall. Gonzalez is hitting just .250 since September 1 with eight RBI in 16 games. Those aren't horrendous numbers, but neither are they the kind of numbers which carry a team.

(It should be noted that Gonzalez told Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports Saturday that his surgically-repaired right shoulder has felt weak of late, no doubt contributing to his dropoff. Still, as Gonzalez has chosen to remain in the lineup, he must be judged on what he does -- or doesn't -- deliver.)

Ellsbury's poor series, by contrast, is all the more mystifying since his September has been the opposite of Gonzalez's -- stellar.

For the month, Ellsbury is hitting .361 (26-for-72) with a slugging percentage of .629 to go with 12 RBI in 17 games.

This weekend, however, Ellsbury's impact was minimal.

Contrast both players with the production turned in by the Rays' franchise player, Evan Longoria, who seemed to be in the middle of every Rays' rally.

It's unreasonable to think that any player is going to have the kind of series that, say, Carl Yastrzemski had on the final weekend of 1967, when the Red Sox beat the Minnesota Twins to capture the American League pennant.

But the larger point is this: MVPs are expected to lift a team and contribute in big games when their teams need them most. On that scale, both Ellsbury and Gonzalez came up short and their candidacies suffered accordingly.

Then again, individual awards are the last thing the Red Sox should be concerned with at the moment. If things don't get better soon, Ellsbury and Gonzalez will be disqualified for another reason: MVPs seldom come from non-playoff teams.

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

HOFer Joe Morgan's letter urges voters to keep steroid users out of Hall

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HOFer Joe Morgan's letter urges voters to keep steroid users out of Hall

Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan is urging voters to keep “known steroid users” out of Cooperstown.

A day after the Hall revealed its 33-man ballot for the 2018 class, the 74-year-old Morgan argued against the inclusion of players implicated during baseball’s steroid era in a letter to voters with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The letter from the vice chairman of the Hall’s board of directors was sent Tuesday using a Hall email address.

Read the full text of Morgan's letter here. 

“Steroid users don’t belong here,” Morgan wrote. “What they did shouldn’t be accepted. Times shouldn’t change for the worse.”

Hall voters have been wrestling with the issue of performance-enhancing drugs for several years. Baseball held a survey drug test in 2003 and the sport began testing for banned steroids the following year with penalties. Accusations connected to some of the candidates for the Hall vary in strength from allegations with no evidence to positive tests that caused suspensions.

About 430 ballots are being sent to voters, who must have been members of the BBWAA for 10 consecutive years, and a player needs at least 75 percent for election. Ballots are due by Dec. 31 and results will be announced Jan. 24.

Writers who had not been covering the game for more than a decade were eliminated from the rolls in 2015, creating a younger electorate that has shown more willingness to vote for players tainted by accusations of steroid use. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens each received a majority of votes for the first time in 2017 in their fifth year on the ballot.

Morgan said he isn’t speaking for every Hall of Famer, but many of them feel the same way that he does.

“Players who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in Major League Baseball’s investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell Report, should not get in,” Morgan wrote. “Those are the three criteria that many of the players and I think are right.”

Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez were inducted into the Hall of Fame in July. They were joined by former Commissioner Bud Selig and retired Kansas City and Atlanta executive John Schuerholz, who were voted in by a veterans committee.

Some baseball writers said the election of Selig, who presided over the steroids era, influenced their view of whether tainted stars should gain entry to the Hall.

Morgan praised BBWAA voters and acknowledged they are facing a “tricky issue,” but he also warned some Hall of Famers might not make the trip to Cooperstown if steroid users are elected.

“The cheating that tainted an era now risks tainting the Hall of Fame too,” he wrote. “The Hall of Fame means too much to us to ever see that happen. If steroid users get in, it will divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn’t bear.”

© 2017 by The Associated Press

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.