Red Sox

Where was this in the first half from Lester, Gonzo?


Where was this in the first half from Lester, Gonzo?

NEW YORK -- This is how the Red Sox hoped it would go back in April, when hopes were high and six months of baseball were still laid out in front of them:

Jon Lester would pitch well and win big games and Adrian Gonzalez would provide extra-base hits and produce the way he did in the first half of 2011.

And so it was on Saturday, when Lester limited the powerful Yankee lineup to a single run over seven innings and Gonzalez smacked a two-run homer in the top of the first.

When someone asked Bobby Valentine if this is what he thought he had from two key performers earlier in the year, Valentine said: "We still have it. We just haven't used it as often. We saved it up.''

If the Red Sox hadn't score again -- they did, with a Nick Punto double in the fifth and, with the aid of a wild pitch, again in the eighth -- it would have been enough for Lester, who improved to 7-10.

It was Lester's second consecutive strong start, coming on the heels of a six-inning, one-run performance last Sunday in Cleveland. In point of fact, it was his fifth straight decent start, part of a second-half turnaround that began last month when the Sox last visited the Bronx.

Over the last five starts, Lester's ERA is 3.48, more in keeping with what the lefthander's career ERA was (3.53) at the start of this season.

Gonzalez, too, has had a second-half renaissance. He leads all American Leaguers in RBI in August with 22 and has been named AL Player of the Week twice since the All-Star break. Since June 23, he has the best batting average in the American League, with a .380 batting average.

Most telling, perhaps, is his slugging percentage, which was an anemic .416 before the All-Star break, but is a smoldering .618 since the start of the second half of the season.

In the team's first 89 games, Gonzalez had just six homers; in the last 32, he has eight. And thanks to his recent surge, he now ranks fifth in the A.L. in RBI with 84.

Here's the problem, however: while both Lester and Gonzalez have turned their individual seasons around in recent weeks, it's too late to help the Red Sox turn theirs.

They were needed in the first half, when injuries hit and the club sputtered.

But it wasn't until mid-June that Lester won his fourth game of the year and it wasn't until the last month that Gonzalez began doing damage at the plate.

Neither Lester nor Gonzalez can provide much in the way of explanation for their recent spurts. Manager Bobby Valentine believes that Lester is throwing his curveball harder and is benefiting from better luck, continually citing Lester's abnormally high BABIP (batting average with balls in play) as evidence of the breaks that have gone against him.

Lester, never one for self-analysis, shrugs off the improvements to "better execution'' of pitches and other generalities.

"Results are all that matter,'' he said.

For much of the year, Gonzalez has seemed almost indifferent to his numbers, emphasizing that, by the end of the year, he'll have an on-base percentage of .400 or so, a slugging percentage in the neighborhood of .500and an OPS of .900.

And sure enough, he's getting there. His OBP is at .352 and his slugging is up to .477. By the end of the year, he may well reach his goal.

But the Red Sox won't. And the first-half drop-offs by Lester and Gonzalez are, let's face it, partly to blame.

Red Sox can be thankful for a successful past and a bright future

Red Sox can be thankful for a successful past and a bright future

For the glass-is-half-full folks, there are those back-to-back Eastern Division titles. For the glass-is-half-empty folks, well, there are those two first-round playoff ousters (though both their conquerers made it to the World Series, and one of them won it). But, here on Thanksgiving night, there's plenty for Red Sox Nation to be thankful for, starting with . . . 


We know you don’t need the Red Sox to know you how important the most basic elements of life are. But sometimes, the typical fantasy land of baseball can grab our attention. The death of 17-year-old Sox prospect Daniel Flores (above) this month from complications because of cancer didn’t take away only a potentially great baseball career. It took away a beloved, hard-working young person from the people who loved him. He had just made millions of dollars in July for his talent on the field, but what does such a windfall matter compared to one’s health? His cancer was both rare and fast-moving, per the Boston Globe.


The kids deserve some love. They probably won’t be together on the Red Sox forever. Heck, the group could get broken up this winter. But while any of the Killer B’s (plus a D) remain on the Sox, there should be a sense of optimism. Two straight 93-win seasons may have resulted in a first-round exit, and 2017 didn’t meet expectations for some individual performances. But you know what? The youths are still damn good, and there’s time for them to show us they can be even better.


Neither hogs the spotlight once the game ends or says too much. Sale doesn’t even have Twitter. But the righty closer and lefty starter both do two things exceedingly well: make batters swing and miss, and prevent runs. When both pitch, your seat at the park may well be worth the price of admission. (But we won’t ask what you paid for those seats.) Sale didn’t take down Pedro Martinez’s Sox single-season strikeout record this year, finishing with five fewer than Martinez’s 313 in 1999. But he could have done it. And with a little more rest next year, one can envision him plowing his way through playoff opponents too.


A first-time manager’s not a sure thing, but as Sox owner John Henry noted, there was a feeling it was time for a change. It’s a little early to be thinking ahead to a New Year’s resolution, but a manager who better connects with his players and brings a different vibe to the day-to-day scene is reason to feel the Sox are following the right road map. Plus, if nothing else, Cora took that awesome picture walking toward Fenway.


We don’t want to be too materialistic. But Uncle Dave Dombrowski couldn’t let you buy everything you wanted last year. The credit card companies needed him to step back for a year. Now he’s ready to spend. He might not close down Bloomingdale’s for the day for you to do your private shopping, but if you need a couple great jackets to complete your look, it sounds like he’s ready to get you some designer threads. He probably feels there won’t be too many chances to have a moment like this with you, at this stage of your life, and he wants to make the most of it.



Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers


Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

BOSTON — There is a world outside of Giancarlo Stanton. 

Stanton, at this point, simply doesn’t appear likely to end up in Boston. That should feel obvious to those following along, and so should this: it can change. 

But there are other pursuits. Besides their search for a bat or two, the Red Sox have been actively pursuing left-handed relief options. Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is a fast mover, but this year’s market has not been.


Robbie Ross Jr. and Fernando Abad are both free agents, leaving Robby Scott as the lone incumbent southpaw from last season's primary group. Brian Johnson is bound for the pen, with Roenis Elias as a depth option too.  Still, even if Johnson’s transition pans out, the Sox still have an opening for a late-inning reliever with the departure of free agent Addison Reed. 

Reed is a righty, but between Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, Heath Hembree, Carson Smith, and Craig Kimbrel, the Sox have more right-handed choices than left. Coming back from surgery, Tyler Thornburg, should be in the mix eventually too, but it's difficult to expect too much from him.

What the Red Sox should do: sign one of each for the bullpen, one righty, and one lefty. And then trade a righty or two. Turn some of that mishmash into an addition elsewhere. Be creative. 

Because inevitably, come midseason, the Sox will want to add another bullpen arm if they sign just one now. Why wait until you have to give up prospect capital when you can just add the piece you want now?

Go get a near-sure thing such as Pat Neshek, a veteran who walks no one and still strikeouts a bunch. At 37 with an outgoing personality, Neshek also brings leadership to a team that is looking for some. He walked just six guys in 62 innings last season. Entering his 12th season in the majors, he’s looking for his first ring.

All these top of the market relievers may be handsomely paid. But relievers are still something of a bargain compared to position players and starting pitchers. One of the key words for this winter should be creativity. If there’s value to be had in the reliever market, capitalize on it. 

Comeback kid Mike Minor, Jake McGee and Tony Watson headline the crop of free agent lefties available. Brad Hand of the Padres could also be had by trade but his market isn’t moving too quickly (and he won’t come cheaply).

Minor, 29, who posted a 2.55 ERA in 2017 after health issues kept him out of the majors in 2015-16, is expected to be paid handsomely. He is also open to the idea of potentially starting if a team is interested in him doing so. The Royals reportedly could give him that shot.

McGee’s American League East experience could be appealing.

He's 31 and had a 3.61 ERA with the Rockies in 2017 and has a 3.15 ERA lifetime. He’s not quite the strikeout pitcher he was earlier in his career — he had an 11.6 K/9 in 2015 — but a 9.1 K/9 is still very strong, particularly when coupled with just 0.6 homers allowed per nine.

For what it’s worth: McGee has also dominated the Red Sox, who have a .125 average, .190 on-base percentage and .192 slugging against him in 117 regular-season plate appearances. 

McGee throws a mid-90s fastball with a low-80s slider. He can operate up in the zone, and he actually has been even more effective against righties than lefties in his career, including in 2017. McGee’s been a closer, too, with 44 career saves.

The Sox had the second-best bullpen in the majors by ERA in 2017, at 3.07. Yet, come the postseason, there wasn’t a sense of great confidence or even a clear shape to the pecking order behind one of the absolute best relievers in the game, Kimbrel.