Red Sox

McAdam: Painful memories are returning

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McAdam: Painful memories are returning

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

BOSTON -- It was June of last season when the injuries began to wash over the Red Sox like a tsunami, one position player after another felled.

In a matter of weeks, the Red Sox lost Dustin Pedroia and Victor Martinez to a growing list of players on the DL, joining Jacoby Ellsbury. Soon, Mike Cameron, Jason Varitek and Kevin Youkilis joined them, consigning the Red Sox to a third-place finish and a DNQ for the postseason.

Now, a quarter way through 2011, the injuries are hitting again, only this time, it's the pitching staff that is being struck. In the span of 24 hours, two starting pitchers were placed on the disabled list. First came John Lackey with a tender elbow; Tuesday night, Daisuke Matsuzaka joined him with the same malady.

It could be worse, of course. The top three starters -- Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz, who have pitched to a collective 2.97 ERA -- are healthy.

And given that Lackey (8.01) has struggled mightily and Matsuzaka (5.30) nearly as much recently, the temptation is to suggest that these losses are, in the big picture, hardly significant.

But that ignores the fact that injuries to a pitching staff have a domino-like effect. In filling Lackey and Matsuzaka's spots in the rotation with two members of the bullpen -- Tim Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves -- the Sox are depleting their relief depth, a fact that shouldn't be underestimated.

Aceves had been providing valuable innings out of the bullpen, particularly in the absence of Dan Wheeler and Bobby Jenks, who themselves are still on the DL. With Aceves shifted into the rotation, the Sox will now have to designate someone else to handle the seventh inning - or eighth, on nights in which Daniel Bard is unavailable. Matt Albers, another veteran who has quietly surpassed expectations, is the likely choice.

(How widespread have the pitching injuries been? Of the 12 pitchers who constituted the pitching staff which opened the season with the club on April 1, five -- or nearly 50 percent -- have now spent time on the DL: Matsuzaka, Lackey, Wheeler, Jenks and Dennys Reyes, the latter of whom has since been re-assigned to the minor leagues.)

It doesn't help that the rash of pitching injuries have struck at a time when the Sox are in the middle of a stretch of the schedule which finds them without an off-day until June 2. That, more than the wet conditions, may explain the decision Tuesday to postpone the final game of the mini-series with the Baltimore Orioles.

It's uncertain what the Red Sox will get from their plug-in starters. In two spot starts to date, Wakefield threw one gem -- matching Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez pitch-for-pitch on May 1 -- and another that was far more ordinary (six earned runs in just 4 13 innings against Minnesota on the last homestand). It's likely that Wakefield's starts going forward will fall somewhere in between those two.

As for Aceves, the general consensus is that his stuff plays out better as a starter. He's been terrific in his relief role (just 12 hits allowed in 17 13 innings and a 1.038 WHIP). But Aceves's history suggests that he's brittle, the chief reason the Yankees didn't tender him a contract last fall despite their obvious need for pitching inventory.

In general, the loss of pitching is more crippling than the loss of everyday players, unless that everyday player is, say, Albert Pujols. Most times, as the Red Sox demonstrated throughout most of the summer before the cumulative toll became too great, a team can withstand the loss of a key position player or two.

Pitching is, by defition, tougher to replace since pitchers tend to impact the outcome of a specific game more than any other player on the field. Also, pitching depth is almost always thinner than it is for position players.

It's worth noting that while Wakefield and Aceves are quality fill-in options, they each would have been bypassed for Felix Doubront. Like Yamaico Navarro, however, Doubront picked a costly time to be injured at Pawtucket. Doubront would have been chosen for one of the openings had he not been sidelined by a groin pull, the second nagging injury since spring training.

If there's a silver lining to the spate of starter injuries -- beyond the obvious point that the team's Big Three remain healthy -- it's that Lackey and Matsuzaka, as they were performing of late, shouldn't be hard to replace.

After all, it's not as though they were dominating hitters and routinely taking the Red Sox deep into games. All that's being asked of Wakefield and Aceves for the time being is to keep the Sox in games through the middle innings -- hardly a high standard.

How will the Sox respond over the next few weeks as Matsuzaka and Lackey recover and staff shuffling continues? That's impossible to say.

But because the injuries are taking place just as the team begins to perform as expected (7-2 over the last nine games), it has potential for disruption.

Worse, for a team which weathered a staggering number of injuries at midseason last year, there's the disconcerting notion that this season is starting to resemble, at least somewhat anyway, last.

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

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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