Cleveland Indians

Alex Cora remains convinced no one wants to face Red Sox in playoffs

Alex Cora remains convinced no one wants to face Red Sox in playoffs

BOSTON -- Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Twins counterpart Rocco Baldelli had a message for him as their three-game series concluded on Thursday: See you in a month.

It may sound like wishful thinking, but Cora made it clear before the series opener against the Yankees on Friday night that he's not giving up on the season, even if the math makes a return to the playoffs highly improbable.

He told his team as much in a series of individual conversations on Friday afternoon.

"Well, like I told the guys today, I know where we at, I know the odds are against us but whatever percent chances we have, we still have a chance to play [the Yankees] in October – as of now," Cora said. "So let's not get ahead of ourselves. We're still hungry. We know where we're at and for everything I heard around the league and whoever we play, Rocco Baldelli told me, I'll see you in a month. I don't think he's planning on going on vacation to see me."

The Red Sox opened Friday trailing the A's by 6.5 games for the second wild-card spot with only 22 games remaining. They must also leapfrog the Indians, who stood a game out of the playoffs before Friday's games.

So what gives Cora confidence that his team can suddenly turn it on when that has yet to happen all season?

"I know we haven't played well, but we're still talented," he said. "We're still good. We've still got two weeks. We can get on a run, although you guys don't believe me, but I feel that way. I told the guys today, let's do what we have to do this weekend. We've got to win the series. And we know we have to keep winning series, but if we make it and we play that [wild-card] game, I don't think too many people would like to match up with us in a playoff series. And that's a fact.

Because we're that talented. They're good, Houston is good, Minnesota is good, Cleveland is good, the A's are good. We're good, too. We haven't been consistent, obviously. But as far as talent, we're still one of the best teams in the big leagues. The thing is, we haven't proved it, that's the difference."

Needless to say, they're running out of time to make that point in any meaningful way.

 

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Red Sox miss golden opportunity to make up wild-card ground with season slipping away

Red Sox miss golden opportunity to make up wild-card ground with season slipping away

BOSTON -- Well, that was a killer.

The scoreboard loomed large as the Red Sox fell in a 6-0 hole vs. the Twins and then slowly crawled towards the light on Tuesday night.

The Rays had already dropped the opening game of a doubleheader to the lowly Orioles, drawing the Red Sox within five games of Tampa Bay in the wild-card race, and the nightcap was a one-run game. The Indians, meanwhile, were struggling with the White Sox, locked in a 2-2 tie in the seventh.

By the time Andrew Benintendi blasted a solo homer to bring the Red Sox within a run at 6-5 in the eighth, the Indians had swung from a 5-2 lead to a 6-4 loss, the Rays were closing out a 2-0 win, and the A's trailed the Angels on an early Mike Trout homer.

The stars were aligning for the Red Sox to make up ground on every wild-card contender, if they could just figure out the Twins in the ninth. When Brock Holt led off with a single, the 20,000 or so fans remaining at Fenway Park came alive. 

Pinch-runner Marco Hernandez advanced to second on a sacrifice, but neither Mookie Betts (sharp comebacker) or Rafael Devers (strikeout) could advance him.

When the 6-5 loss was over, it felt like it had taken the Red Sox season right along with it. Manager Alex Cora pulled levers and mashed buttons like he was directing a frantic Game 7, but all his machinations ended up doing was burning through his three best relievers with nothing to show for it except a demoralizing defeat. And now two more against the Central-leading Twins and then four vs. the mighty Yankees loom.

"It's very tough, because we know where we're going this week and how many off days we don't have," a deflated Cora acknowledged. "We pushed those guys very hard on the road trip."

Instead of being 4.5 games behind the Indians, the Red Sox still trail by 5.5, and they're running out of season to do anything about it. Only 24 games remain, with three teams blocking their path to October. A team that hasn't been able to beat good clubs all season once again fell to one of the haves after feasting on some have-nots out West. Why should we have expected them to change their stripes now?

"Keep pressing and keep going hard," said starter and loser Rick Porcello. "That's it. That's all you can do."

Porcello played a featured role in the Sox losing ground, allowing a pair of mammoth homers to Nelson Cruz and Miguel Sano in a three-run fifth when the Twins opened that 6-0 lead.

"Yeah, I sucked," Porcello said. "That's the bottom line. Six runs in four innings, not going to get it done. We need to win every game right now and that's the part that hurts the most is going out and giving it up like that.

"Same old story," he added. "Misfiring on pitches, Christian [Vazquez] to Cruz and Sano, he called different pitches and I shook off to get to those and I didn't execute them. Not only does it result in a hit but it resulted in home runs. It's entirely on me. I don't know what to say besides I'm frustrated, embarrassed, that's it...It's been tough all year. That's it. No excuses other than I've been terrible."

Even down 4-0, Cora had left-hander Josh Taylor warming. He summoned Taylor in a 6-0 game after Sano practically knocked down the back wall of the stadium with a homer, and if that seemed like a panic move, it's officially panic time.

Taylor has been a find this season, and he was followed by left-hander Brian Johnson, righty Marcus Walden, lefty Darwinzon Hernandez, righty Andrew Cashner, and finally closer Brandon Workman, who struck out the side in the ninth to keep the score at 6-5. Hernandez also struck out the side in his frame, the seventh, with a series of electrifying fastballs.

Cora would love these guys to carry him to the finish, but the starters must contribute more than three innings a night, and outside of Eduardo Rodriguez, they appear incapable of doing so.

So, what you get are nights like Tuesday, when the scoreboard practically begs you to complete the comeback and tighten the race, but instead, it just ends up taunting you with what might've been.

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AL wild card standings make it clear that Red Sox must target these two teams

AL wild card standings make it clear that Red Sox must target these two teams

The Red Sox are still treating the 2019 season as if it can end with a spot in the Wild Card game, so in the spirit of the holiday weekend, let's play along and indulge this exercise in wishful thinking.

They trail the Indians by six games and the Rays and A's by 5.5 each. Forget about Oakland. The A's have beaten good teams all year -- they're 25-22 vs. the other AL contenders -- and their schedule is packed with softies like the Tigers, Angels, Mariners, and Royals down the stretch.

If the Red Sox are going to leapfrog two teams, it's going to have to be Cleveland and Tampa.

There's some vulnerability there. The Indians seemed out of reach as recently as last week, but injuries keep sidelining starters. On Friday night, outfielder Tyler Naquin tore his ACL while making a spectacular running catch in the corner vs. the Rays.

He joins third baseman Jose Ramirez (broken hamate) on the shelf, robbing the lineup of two of its few productive hitters and effectively reducing the offense to Francisco Lindor and Carlos Santana.

The Indians have overcome adversity all season, but they're hanging by their fingernails. Second baseman Jason Kipnis left a recent game with a sore wrist. Ace Corey Kluber broke his arm after being hit by a line drive on May 1 and hasn't pitched since. He recently suffered an oblique injury during his rehab and could be out for the season. Outfielder Jordan Luplow, who had provided unexpected production in a reserve role, hasn't played since early August because of a hamstring injury. One bright spot: right-hander Carlos Carrasco just returned after missing three months while battling leukemia.

Add it all up, and the Indians have dropped in the standings. They led the Twins by a half game on Aug. 12, but they trail by 4.5 games today. They've lost three games in the standings to the A's and four to the Red Sox since, putting them ever so slightly in play as the final month begins.

With six games remaining against the Twins and six more against the Phillies and Nationals in the final 10 days of September, the Indians face a tough road to the postseason. Could they open a door for the Red Sox?

Only if the Rays collapse, too. The Red Sox at least somewhat control their own destiny in that regard, with four games in Tampa looming on Sept. 20. Unfortunately, the rest of the schedule isn't particularly kind to Boston, with games remaining against the Twins, Yankees, Phillies, and Giants as well.

The Rays have rebounded from a four-game losing streak to win three straight, and will try to complete a sweep of Cleveland on Sunday. They've been crushed by injuries, too, with defending Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell (elbow surgery), breakout star Tyler Glasnow (forearm strain), and solid starter Yonny Chirinos (finger) all on the injured list. Tampa, which has perfected the art of the opener, has used 14 different starting pitchers and still ranks second in the AL in ERA (3.67).

The Rays are 9-6 against the Red Sox and have consistently outplayed them. Boston is trying to win the Tampa way, with openers and bullpens ruling the day, though the Red Sox boast the clearly superior offense.

After Sunday's finale in Anaheim, the Red Sox will have 25 games left to make up a significant wild card deficit. The odds remain decidedly against them, but the path they must follow is clear. It passes through Cleveland and Tampa.

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