Red Sox

For Red Sox playoff rotation, who'll be the odd man out?

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For Red Sox playoff rotation, who'll be the odd man out?

BOSTON -- Drew Pomeranz is the Red Sox Game 2 starter in the American League Division Series, as expected, opposite the Astros’ Dallas Keuchel. Beyond that, there’s a bit of mystery.

A lot seems to hinge on a question of whether or not to start Doug Fister, who doesn’t appear to be a candidate to be on the roster as a reliever, while Eduardo Rodriguez and Rick Porcello are.

Starts in Games 3 and 4 are expected to be made by at least one, and maybe two, of those three.

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“Fister would probably be the one that would not be [considered for both the ‘pen and rotation],” manager John Farrell said Tuesday. “The other two, potentially.”

Considering stature alone, it’d be hard to imagine Porcello moving to the bullpen, leaving Rodriguez as perhaps the best candidate for a relief job in the Sox’ eyes.

"You do like the fact of a veteran presence," Farrell said. "Guys that have been in a postseason, guys who seemingly will pitch with more emotional control, or control the running game, or executing a pitch in a key moment, that has maybe a tendency to shine through a little more.”

But maybe the Sox will ignore stature entirely with Porcello because of his propensity for home runs.

Farrell’s dropping hints that Fister will wind up with a start. Using Rodriguez in Game 3 would mean left-handers in three consecutive games. Would that be an issue?

“No, it wouldn't give pause, it wouldn't prevent us from doing anything,” Farrell said. “But again, I think what I tried to explain earlier is [it’s a matter of], what is the best combination of our pitching staff? And how does that play out, and putting certain guys in certain roles? It wouldn't be a shock to see a guy that's been in our rotation finding his way into our bullpen.”

Well, if a starter’s in the bullpen, that would seem to guarantee Fister is in the rotation, based on what Farrell explained Tuesday.

The hesitation to use Fister in relief is understandable. Fister’s a ground-ball pitcher who has had trouble in his first innings of work in his time with the Sox. The first batter he faces carrying a .500 on-base percentage against him this year. In his first inning of work overall, it’s .375.

But the Sox definitely want length in the bullpen, and Fister has relief experience not only this year, but in the past. Fister’s 33 innings in the ‘pen between the postseason and regular season outdo Rick Porcello’s 10 and Eduardo Rodriguez’s one. The matter of adjustment shouldn’t be overlooked.

Rodriguez has high upside with strikeouts. But he also has reverse splits, doing worse against lefties (.808 OPS) than righties (.718 OPS). The Astros are a righty heavy lineup. But, Rodriguez shouldn’t be looked at as a force to dominate lefties.

Rodriguez is also relatively inexperienced, and has been through a lot with his knees, affecting both his mechanics and his confidence in the past. How well would he handle a change?

The Astros are particularly familiar with Fister because he threw 180 1/3 innings for them last year. Granted, he’s changed significantly since then -- but the Astros have access to plenty of video, and also faced him Friday at Fenway Park in a 3-2 Sox loss.

“I think it’s definitely a difference,” Fister said Tuesday of his pitching now vs. 2016. “Whether it’s the movement on the ball, the deception getting back across the body, throwing it from the first-base side of the rubber. There’s a lot of different things. They just saw us last week, they saw me last week, so they have seen me.

“Now it just comes down to execution. I know what they do, I know what they do. It’s like facing [Alex] Bregman. I know he hits the ball inside, and that’s what I gave him for a home run [Friday]. But if I execute my pitch [further inside], I got better luck there.”

Fister said he's fine in whatever role he's asked to do.

With Porcello, the biggest scare is the home run. His rate of 1.68 long balls allowed per nine innings was the fifth-highest in the major. The Astros mash. That would be the greatest reason to get Porcello out of the rotation.

Fister and Porcello both struck out about eight batters per nine this season. Fister walked more (3.79 per nine vs. 2.12) and allowed considerably fewer homers, .90 per nine.

Farrell’s trying to take a holistic approach to his pitching staff. The Sox met Tuesday morning to work through more of the roster, and they need to also deliver the news to individual players.

“The way guys have pitched recently,” the manager said. “The composition of our bullpen, how it supports the entire pitching staff, not just looking at it in two separate segments: rotation and bullpen. I think there’s got to be some complement there. The four games that we talked about during the series [to end the regular season], that gives a little bit of first-hand knowledge and recent knowledge and how we might use guys to the best of our abilities or their abilities to take advantage of that.”

What about ordering, or bringing back Chris Sale on short rest?

Sale could go on three days rest if needed in Game 4 at Fenway Park, but that choice would be “solely dependent” on what happens in Game 1, Farrell said.

As for Game 3?

“There are two scenarios in place that will be revealed at the appropriate time and that means probably more internal discussion is needed here,” Farrell said. “I don't think Game 3 starter is going to hinge upon winning or losing Games 1 or 2.”

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Are Red Sox playing a waiting game before naming their new manager?

Are Red Sox playing a waiting game before naming their new manager?

BOSTON — As soon as the American League Championship Series ends, the Red Sox could make a move for their manager.

Industry sources continue to expect Astros bench coach Alex Cora will be the Sox’ pick. No offer had been officially made as of midday Wednesday, one source close to the situation said. But the belief is such an offer waits out of respect to the Astros-Yankees ALCS that can end no later than Saturday if the series goes a full seven games. 

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“Not a doubt it is him,” the source said.

Sunday and Monday would both be off days ahead of the Tuesday night start of the World Series. That leads to the potential for at least a Red Sox announcement of Cora, if not a press conference, before the Fall Classic begins. (If the Astros advance to the World Series, it may be harder to have Cora in Boston for any length of time.)

All those who know Cora praise his ability to connect with players. The former Red Sox infielder is good friends with Dustin Pedroia. Cora’s previous knowledge of the Boston market works in his favor, as well, as does his mettle handling the media. Some question his readiness as a first-time manager, considering he would be taking over a team with great win-now expectations and complicated clubhouse dynamics.

Nothing takes the place of experience and there is such a thing as being too close to players. Ultimately, if the Sox do land Cora, 41, they would be adding the hottest up-and-coming managerial prospect who’s available on the market. The everybody-wants-him reputation could give Cora added cachet with players and certainly becomes a public-relations win for those fans following the search.

The Sox interviewed Ron Gardenhire on Wednesday. Gardenhire was the third candidate the Sox talked to and could well be the last. Cora met with the Sox on Sunday, followed by Brad Ausmus on Monday.
 

NLCS: Cubs avoid sweep, top Dodgers 3-2 to cut series deficit to 3-1

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NLCS: Cubs avoid sweep, top Dodgers 3-2 to cut series deficit to 3-1

CHICAGO -- Javier Baez sensed he was ready to bust out of his slump and give the Chicago Cubs the lift they needed.

As breakthroughs go, this was a big one. Just in time to keep the season going for the defending champs.

Baez snapped an 0-for-20 skid with two home runs, Wade Davis hung on for a six-out save and Cubs avoided a sweep, holding off the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 Wednesday night in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series.

"We have to be much more offensive," manager Joe Maddon said. "It's got to start happening tomorrow. We're going to do this. Going to pull this off, we have to become more offensive tomorrow."

Baez finally got going with a pair of solo drives .

Jake Arrieta pitched three-hit ball into the seventh inning to help the Cubs close their deficit to 3-1. Maddon got ejected for the second time in this series in the eighth, and a packed Wrigley Field crowd watched Davis get Cody Bellinger to ground into a game-ending double play.

Maddon was heavily criticized for not using Davis during a 4-1 loss in Game 2. This time, the Cubs closer threw 48 pitches to finish the job.

Willson Contreras also homered for the Cubs. Bellinger and Justin Turner connected for the Dodgers, who had won a team-record six straight playoff games.

Game 5 is Thursday, with Jose Quintana pitching for Chicago against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

"They're the world champs, and you know they're going to fight to the end," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "So today, they did. We got beat today."

Baez hit solo drives in the second and fifth after going hitless in his first 20 playoff at-bats. He had been watching videos and felt his timing was starting to come back in recent trips to the plate.

"I just need to take a step back and see what's going on," he said.

Contreras added a long homer against Alex Wood.

Davis entered with a 3-1 lead in the eighth. He gave up a leadoff homer to Turner, who went 2 for 2 and drew two walks.

Maddon became incensed that a swinging strike three against Curtis Granderson was ruled a foul after the umpires discussed the play. Maddon got tossed, and Granderson struck out swinging at the next pitch.

And after walking Yasmani Grandal to put runners on first and second, Davis struck out Chase Utley , who is hitless in his last 24 postseason at-bats.

All seven of Chicago's runs in this series have come on homers. And long drives in the second by Contreras and Baez made it 2-0.

"Great to have this win, because if not we were going home tomorrow," Baez said. "But I feel like we're still not on track as a team. But I think if we get back on track, everybody as a team, we're going to be the best again."

Contreras' 491-foot homer banged off the left-field videoboard and Baez sent a towering drive out to left.

Bellinger cut it to 2-1 with his drive to right in the third. But Baez got the lead back up to two with a shot to the left-field bleachers in the fifth, the raucous crowd chanting "Javy! Javy!" for the flashy young star who was co-MVP of the NLCS last year.

No Cubs player had hit two in a playoff game since Alex Gonzalez went deep twice in Game 2 of the 2003 NLCS against Miami.

Arrieta exited with runners on first and second in the seventh after walking Chris Taylor on a 3-2 pitch. He tipped his hat as fans gave him a standing ovation, a fitting show of appreciation for a pitcher with an expiring contract.

"Hopefully, it's not a goodbye, it's a thank you, obviously," Arrieta said. "I still intend to have another start in this ballpark. If that's where it ends, I did my best and I left it all out there."

Arrieta turns 32 in March and figures to land a huge deal in free agency. The trade that brought him from Baltimore helped fuel Chicago's rise, with the right-hander capturing the 2015 NL Cy Young Award and contributing to last year's drought-busting championship run.

Limited by a right hamstring injury in the final month of the season, he threw 111 pitches. Brian Duensing retired Bellinger on a fly to end the seventh.

Turner made it a one-run game with his homer off the left-field videoboard against Davis in the eighth.

A career-high 16-game winner, Wood gave up three runs and four hits in 42/3 innings.

"The only frustrating thing is we fell a run short," Turner said. "We played a great game, they played a great game. They just hit one more ball over the fence than we did."

FINISHING UP

Maddon said Davis would not be available on Thursday.

"So other guys got to do it," Maddon said. "We have to be much more offensive. It's got to start happening tomorrow. We're going to do this. Going to pull this off, we have to become more offensive tomorrow."

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Chicago's Kyle Schwarber on all the Cubs' runs coming on homers in the series: "That's fine. A run's a run, anyway you can get them in. Obviously, we want to manufacture some runs, but we won a ballgame 3-2 hitting homers; I'll take that, too."

UP NEXT

Dodgers: The Dodgers turn to Kershaw to try to wrap up the series. The three-time NL Cy Young winner went five innings in Game 1, allowing two runs, and has a 4.76 ERA in two postseason starts this year.

Cubs: Quintana pitched five innings of two-hit ball in Game 1, one day after his wife, Michel, was taken off the team plane in Albuquerque with a medical ailment.

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