Red Sox

Mullen on the Minors: September means roster expansion

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Mullen on the Minors: September means roster expansion

Major league rosters will soon expand, from 25 to 40 on Sept. 1. At that point, any player in the organization can be called up to the big league team (and added to the 40-man, if hes not already on). Also at that point, the effectiveness and the worthiness of such moves will be debated.

For teams in contention, the call-ups can provide some reinforcement and rest for players as teams make the stretch run to the playoffs although some will debate how much help a minor leaguer will provide in place of a regular major league player. For teams not in contention, the call-ups can give evaluators a chance to see them in a major league environment although most evaluators are not fans of evaluating players in September.

The Red Sox find themselves in new territory this September. In previous years they have been playoff contenders. Former manager Terry Francona was never a big fan of the late-season call-ups as he tried to prepare his team for the playoffs, with extra bodies and their requisite extra lockers and equipment -- clogging up the clubhouse and the dugout, trying to find adequate playing time for all, with the possibility of having a game turned by a player who has not been around all season, or watching the scoreboard thinking that another playoff contender is playing a team with a lesser lineup in September.

This year, though, the Sox find themselves on the other side of the coin. The Sox wakeup Thursday morning to find themselves 13.5 games back, in fourth place behind the Yankees in the American League East, 10 games behind the As and Orioles for a wild card spot with four teams ahead of them. Additionally, last weekends blockbuster trade with the Dodgers opened four spots on the big league roster. Since Saturday, the Sox have either activated from the disabled list or called up eight players. While some of the players who were called up either already have been or will be sent back, it just demonstrates the needs for players on the big league team.

A few weekends ago with the Red Sox in New York, general manager Ben Cherington said he expected Daniel Bard, who was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket on June 5 after an abysmal foray into starting pitching, to be back with the major league team before rosters expand on Sept. 1. That statement appears to be coming true today, as Bard is expected to be activated Thursday, taking a spot on the 25-man roster, with Wednesdays starter Zach Stewart likely to be optioned back to Pawtucket.

How much help Bard will be able to provide remains to be seen. In 11 games, 10 starts, before being optioned in June, he posted a record of 5-6 with a 5.24 ERA. In 55 innings, he gave up 52 hits and 37 walks with 34 strikeouts. At the time he was tied for the league lead with eight hit batters.

Whether Bard, who has recommitted to the bullpen, has actually earned a promotion is also a question. But, it is likely a moot question at this point, with the major league team in need of arms. In 31 games (one start) with Pawtucket, Bard is 3-2 with a 7.03 ERA. In 32 innings, he has given up 31 hits and 29 walks with 32 strikeouts. He has hit 10 batters, and also thrown nine wild pitches. In nine August appearances, spanning 8 23 innings, he has given up 12 runs, nine earned, for a 9.34 ERA, with 11 hits, 12 walks, and eight strikeouts. But in his last three outings, spanning three innings, he has given up just one run on five hits with no walks and two strikeouts.

Here is a look at some others who could be called up soon:

Chris Carpenter In 15 games, spanning 14 23 innings with Pawtucket, the right-hander has posted a record of 1-0 with three saves and a 0.61 ERA. He has allowed just one run on six hits, including a home run, with seven walks and 15 strikeouts. In his last 10 outings, spanning 9 23 innings, he has not allowed a run, with four hits, three walks, and 10 strikeouts. Carpenter, who turned 26 in December, was acquired from the Cubs in February as compensation for former GM Theo Epstein, and underwent surgery to remove bone spurs in February. He made his major league debut with the Cubs last season, appearing in 10 games, spanning 9 23 innings, giving up three runs on 12 hits and seven walks with eight walks.

Pedro Beato -- The right-hander, who was acquired from the Mets for Kelly Shoppach on Aug. 16, was called up Aug. 26. He earned the win that day, giving up two run on three hits in two innings against the Royals. But with Sox in need of more help, he was sent back to Pawtucket the next day. Beato, who turns 26 in October, made his big league debut in 2011, and also appeared in seven games with the Mets this season. In two relief appearances with Pawtucket, spanning three scoreless innings, he has given up just one hit and a walk with six strikeouts.

Che-Hsuan Lin The outfielder was called up Aug. 25, his third call-up this season, but was sent back the next day. With the Sox he has appeared in seven games, six in right field, one in center, going 1-for-6 (.167) at the plate. In 109 games with Pawtucket, he has appeared in 88 games in center field, 20 in right, and one in left, serving as the designated hitter for two games. Lin, who turns 24 on Sept. 21, is batting .244, with a .321 on-base percentage, and .310 slugging percentage.

Danny Valencia The infielder was acquired in a trade with the Twins on Aug. 5, getting his first call-up on Aug. 11. He appeared in four games, playing third base, batting .125 (1-for-9) with an RBI before being sent back to Pawtucket on Aug. 21. Valencia, who turns 28 on Sept. 19, appeared in 34 games for the Twins this season. Making 33 starts at third, he hit .198, with a .212 on-base percentage and .310 slugging percentage. In eight games with Pawtucket, he has hit .312 (10-for-32) with a .371 OBP, .406 SLG. In 77 combined Triple-A games with Pawtucket and Rochester this season, he is batting .258, with a .298 OBP, and .400 SLG

The Sox could also get bullpen help in September from left-hander Rich Hill and right-hander Scott Atchison, who are both on the 60-day DL. Hill underwent Tommy John surgery in June 2010, returning to the big league team on April 29. But an elbow strain has sidelined him since June 8. In five rehab appearances with Pawtucket, spanning five scoreless innings, Hill has a record of 1-0, giving up one hit with one walk and five strikeouts. Atchison, on the DL since July 14 with right forearm tightness, initially thought he might have to have Tommy John surgery until doctors recommended rest and rehab. If healthy, he could return in the middle of September.

ALCS: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees 7-1 to force Game 7

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ALCS: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees 7-1 to force Game 7

HOUSTON -  Justin Verlander remained perfect with Houston, pitching seven shutout innings when the team needed him most, and Jose Altuve homered and drove in three runs as the Astros extended the AL Championship Series to a decisive Game 7 with a 7-1 win over the New York Yankees on Friday night.

Acquired in an Aug. 31 trade, Verlander has won all nine outings with the Astros. And with his new club facing elimination in Game 6 against the Yankees, he delivered again.

After striking out 13 in a complete-game victory in Game 2, Verlander threw another gem. The right-hander scattered five hits and struck out eight to improve to 9-0 with 67 strikeouts since being traded from Detroit. George Springer helped him out of a jam in the seventh, leaping to make a catch at the center-field wall and rob Todd Frazier of extra bases with two on and Houston up 3-0.

Game 7 is Saturday night in Houston, with the winner advancing to the World Series against the NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

NLCS: Dodgers win first pennant since 1988 with 11-1 Game 5 rout of Cubs

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NLCS: Dodgers win first pennant since 1988 with 11-1 Game 5 rout of Cubs

CHICAGO -- Enrique Hernandez put a Hollywood ending on an LA story three decades in the making.

Fueled by a home run trilogy from their emotional utilityman, Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers are finally going to the World Series.

Hernandez homered three times and drove in a record seven runs, Kershaw breezed through six crisp innings and Los Angeles ended the Chicago Cubs' title defense with an 11-1 rout in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series on Thursday night.

"It feels good to hear World Series," Kershaw said. "It's been a long time coming for this team."

After years of playoff heartache, there was just no stopping these Dodgers after they led the majors with 104 wins during the regular season. With Kershaw firing away at the top of a deep pitching staff and co-NLCS MVPs Justin Turner and Chris Taylor leading a tough lineup, one of baseball's most storied franchises captured its first pennant since Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda managed Kirk Gibson, Orel Hershiser and Co. to Los Angeles' last championship in 1988.

"Every night it is a different guy," Turner said, "and this is one of the most unbelievable teams I've ever been a part of."

Kershaw will be on the mound again when the Dodgers host the New York Yankees or Houston Astros in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night. The Yankees have a 3-2 lead heading into Game 6 of the ALCS at Houston on Friday night, so one more New York win would set up another chapter in an old October rivalry between the Yankees and Dodgers.

Los Angeles made the playoffs eight times in the previous 13 seasons and came up short of its 22nd pennant each time, often with Kershaw shouldering much of the blame. The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner took the loss when his team was eliminated by the Cubs in Game 6 of last year's NLCS at Wrigley Field.

The ace left-hander was just OK during his first two starts in this year's postseason, but Los Angeles' offense picked him up each time. Backed by Hernandez's powerful show in Chicago, Kershaw turned in an efficient three-hit performance with five strikeouts and improved to 6-7 in the playoffs - matching Burt Hooton's club record for postseason wins.

"To get to be on the mound tonight and get to be going to the World Series on the same night, it's a special thing," Kershaw said. "Who knows how many times I'm going to get to go to the World Series? I know more than anybody how hard it is to get there. So, I'm definitely not taking this one for granted."

When Kenley Jansen retired Willson Contreras on a liner to shortstop for the final out, the party was on . The Dodgers poured out of the dugout and mobbed their dominant closer near the mound, and a small but vocal group of Los Angeles fans gathered behind the visitors' dugout and chanted "Let's go Dodgers! Let's go Dodgers!"

On the field, manager Dave Roberts hugged Lasorda and told the iconic skipper the win was for him.

"I bleed Dodger blue just like you," Roberts said. "Thank you, Tommy."

Hernandez connected on the first two pitches he saw, belting a solo drive in the second for his first career playoff homer and then a grand slam in the third against Hector Rondon. Hernandez added a two-run shot in the ninth against Mike Montgomery.

The 26-year-old Hernandez became the fourth player with a three-homer game in a league championship series, joining Bob Robertson (1971 NLCS), George Brett (1978 ALCS) and Adam Kennedy (2002 ALCS). Hernandez's seven RBIs tied a postseason record shared by four other players who all did it in a Division Series.

Troy O'Leary was the previous player to have seven RBIs in a playoff game, for Boston at Cleveland in the 1999 ALDS.

It was a stunning display for a player with 28 career homers who remains concerned about his native Puerto Rico, which is recovering from a devastating hurricane. He delivered a historic performance in front of his father, Enrique Hernandez Sr., who was diagnosed with a blood cancer related to leukemia in December 2015, but got word last November that he was in remission.

"For me to be able to come here and do something like this is pretty special," said Hernandez, who also goes by Kik�. "My body's here, but my mind's kind of back home. It's hard being away from home with what's going on.

"All I want to do right now is go to my dad and give him a big hug."

Kris Bryant homered for Chicago, but the NL Central champions finished with just four hits in another tough night at the plate. Each of their eight runs in the NLCS came via the long ball, and they batted just .156 for the series with 53 strikeouts.

Long playoff runs in each of the last two years and a grueling five-game Division Series against Washington seemed to sap Chicago of some energy, and its pitching faltered against sweet-swinging Los Angeles. Jose Quintana was pulled in the third inning of the final game, and the Cubs never recovered.

"They executed their plan," Bryant said. "They pitched great and the bullpen was lights out. That makes for a tough time scoring runs."

Turner and Taylor helped put it away for Los Angeles, contributing to a 16-hit outburst while closing out a pair of impressive performances.

Turner singled home Taylor in the Dodgers' five-run third, giving him seven RBIs in the series and 24 throughout his postseason career. Taylor finished with two hits and scored two runs as the Dodgers, who have won five straight NL West titles, improved to 7-1 in this postseason.

Taylor's versatility helped Los Angeles cover for the loss of All-Star shortstop Corey Seager, who missed the series with a back injury, but is expected to return in the next round. Coming off a breakout season, the 27-year-old Taylor hit .316 with two homers and scored five times against the Cubs.

"I couldn't be happier to be a part of this and be with these guys," Taylor said. "It's been an unbelievable year, and I'm just super excited."

OUT WITH A BANG

Hernandez joined Kennedy (2002), Adrian Beltre (2011), Reggie Jackson (1977 vs. the Dodgers) and Babe Ruth (1928) as players to hit three home runs in a postseason series clincher.

LIGHTS OUT

Dodgers relievers have thrown 23 consecutive scoreless innings, a postseason record.