New York Yankees

Drellich: Red Sox identity, standing as league's best will be tested

Drellich: Red Sox identity, standing as league's best will be tested

The greatest question the Red Sox face entering the second half of the season — well, final two-fifths, really — whether they’re good enough to avoid a Wild Card game. Whether they hold on to the American League East and keep the Yankees at bay. 

How many wins the Sox (68-30) wind up with does not matter outside of that context. A 105-win season would look plenty disappointing if it gives way to a loss in the only playoff game the Sox play in 2018.

Lurking in the background is more of a question of context and remembrance. Will these Sox eventually be recalled for something other than being outrageously good? 

They do not need to be, mind you. No team needs to do anything besides win (and act responsibly and benevolently as citizens, you could also say). This is the best team in baseball, with 64 games left on its schedule. They arrive, they rake and shove, they do it again the next day. It's 2007 all over again.

“It’s a very weird feeling in the clubhouse,” J.D. Martinez said in Washington D.C., during the All-Star Game festivities. “From the moment I got into spring training, it’s like everyone goes out there and whether we’re losing by a lot or we’re winning by a lot, the mood is always the same. There’s never any panic. 

"There’s no really like highs and lows it seems like in the clubhouse. It’s just everything is kind of like, even-keeled. So to me it’s like, it’s almost like that’s who we are: we’re playing like how we’re supposed to be playing."

The Sox are not underdogs with the highest payroll in baseball. They’re not all bearded. There are no reports of Jack Daniels shots prior to games. There’s certainly no curse to be broken, or any other broad backdrop, aside from the desire to avenge early exits in 2016 and 2017.

None of those threads are necessary for enjoyment, although they can act as an enhancement. Perhaps there’s a blue-collar narrative to be found here, if you can ignore the highest payroll in baseball. 

“Ah man, I don’t know,” Martinez said when asked about identity. “I feel like this is a very close group. It almost feels like a family. Everyone’s rooting for each other. I don’t know if I can put a label on it, it’s just, everyone always wants to grow and get better. Everyone’s always asking questions, and continuing to just not be satisfied I feel like in their own. They always want to get better. It’s been fun.”

The questions for Martinez and Mookie Betts didn’t stop at the All-Star Game, either. Both players will be high vote-getters in the American League MVP race, and Betts may well win. The duo, led by Martinez’s methods as well as hitting coach Tim Hyers, seems to have figured something out, a hitting approach that maximizes their off-the-chart talents.

“There’s a lot of hitting talk, but it’s not necessarily, ‘How do you do it?’” Betts said when asked if All-Stars were trying to understand what he and Martinez have been doing. “It’s the approaches and what not that you use. Just passing along information, that’s how everybody gets better. Everybody wants to get better.”

Hard to imagine the Sox actually getting better, given it would be a shock if they did not win 100 games. The Sox need to play .500 ball the rest of the way to reach that vaunted mark.

Martinez was asked if the Sox have peaked.

“I don’t know, you can always get better, right?” he said. “But we have a good team. I think we’re a very versatile team. I always say this: like, this is a team that can beat you in multiple ways. You can have someone throw a shutout and us put up one run. Or you know, us go out there and put up 10 runs and us win. You know the bullpen comes in, shuts the door. 

“We can steal bases. We can manufacture runs. It’s a team that’s not dependent on winning on one way. I kind of remember when I was in Detroit it was like, we had to slug. That was what we had to do to score. Here, it’s different.”

But, again, being good, or being different, or improving from this point really matters in only one context: the Yankees (62-33). They’re the only other team that can with East. And the prize associated with clinching the division — avoiding a one-game Wild Card berth — is tremendous. 

The Yanks sit 4 1/2 games back, with more games to play than the Sox down the stretch. Whether the Sox win 100 games, 110 games, really doesn’t matter outside of the magic and novelty associated with a big number. 

As of Wednesday, the Red Sox had a 58.1 percent chance to win the division, per Baseball Prospectus’ daily playoff odds. The Yanks were at 41.9 percent. They next meet in the first week of August at Fenway Park.

"We have a long way to go," Betts said. "We have to take these couple days to heal up, rest up and get ready to go."

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Jon Lester: David Price 'will figure out Yankees at some point'

Jon Lester: David Price 'will figure out Yankees at some point'

David Price's seemingly never-ending struggles vs the Yankees are bound to end at some point, at least according to one former Red Sox ace.

Following his most recent loss on July 1 to the Bronx Bombers, whom he has an 8.43 ERA against (44 earned runs, 47 innings) in nine starts as a member of the Red Sox, Price told reporters he needed to reinvent himself against the Yanks. "It's time for me to go back to that drawing board and reinvent myself against these guys," he said.

Former Red Sox southpaw Jon Lester, now with the Cubs, doesn't believe that's the case. He explained why at the All-Star Game on Tuesday.

"The reinventing thing I think gets a little overused," Lester told MassLive.com's Christopher Smith. "Because it's not like you're going out there and saying, 'OK, I'm throwing a split today and I've never thrown one.' So you're still working with the same pitches. It may be just sequence a little bit differently."

Lester also pointed out that Price is far from the only pitcher to have significant issues against a particular team.

"We all have trouble against teams," he said. "We all have that one team that kicks our ass and for whatever reason you can't figure it out. Sometimes it's better to go out there and go, 'You know what? Screw it. I'm not grinding this one. I'm just trying to execute one pitch at a time.' And a lot of times when that happens, you look up and you're like, 'Oh, man. I threw the ball pretty well tonight.'"

The Cubs lefty went on to discuss what goes through a pitcher's mind when they take the mound versus a team they historically struggle against.

"When you struggle against a team, it's kind of like, 'OK, when's it going to happen? I got through the first. Is it going to happen in the second? Now I got through the second. OK, now is it going to happen in the third?' Now all of a sudden, base hit to right. 'Damn, OK. Is this the inning?' A walk. 'Oh, man. Yankee Stadium. Got a righty up.' Boom. Three-run homer. And now you're like, 'OK, here it is.' Now you look up and you've given up six."

As much as it could be a real mental issue, Lester is confident Price is about to turn it around, and that "reinventing himself" isn't necessary.

"No, I don't think David Price needs to reinvent himself. I think he's a pretty darn good pitcher and he's been one for a while. I'm sure from what I've heard about him as far as his work ethic and how he goes about his craft, I'm sure he'll figure out the Yankees at some point."

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How would Manny Machado feel playing for Yankees or Red Sox?

How would Manny Machado feel playing for Yankees or Red Sox?

WASHINGTON D.C. — It's an annual rite for any All-Star player who may be traded: on the media day ahead of the Midsummer Classic, face a bombardment of questions about that possibility, or in the case of Manny Machado, virtual inevitability. Destinations, desires and so forth.

In the case of Machado, the topics are so compelling because he’s a potential $300 million talent who could swing a pennant race. No one else so impactful is expected to be moved this year’s trade deadline.

Machado actually had a brief lull in that line of questioning Monday with reporters huddled around his table. Quickly, he was asked how the silence felt.

“Amazing,” he said.

He had just finished explaining how much of his life is up in the air.

“You just don’t know what’s going to happen,” Machado said. “There’s a lot of things — this game’s already hard enough as it is. To go out there and not know where you’re going to be tomorrow, it’s kind of tough.”

The chances of the Red Sox acquiring Machado are very slim, if not nonexistent. 

Reports make a National League landing seem more likely for Machado: the Phillies, Dodgers or Brewers.

But the bottom line is Machado would not fill Boston’s largest need. Relief help has been an area of interest for a while. Now, with Eduardo Rodriguez out until perhaps September, rotation help may be on the menu as well. Even if the Sox did for some reason crave another position player, Machado’s cost in prospects would probably be too high for the Sox’ thin farm system.

But we can play fantasy baseball for a moment. J.D. Martinez, sitting at his own table on Monday, played along.

 What would Machado bring, were he to land on the Red Sox?

“I mean any time you get a bat and a player like that in a lineup, I mean — it can’t hurt,” Martinez said, laughing.

Martinez was asked for a sales pitch.

“Come and hit balls off the Monster like he does against us all the time,” Martinez said.

On the chance Machado does end up in the AL East though — the Yankees certainly have the prospect wherewithal, if they so chose — Machado acknowledged that a transition to a rival would be weird.

“Weird? Who knows? Probably so, yeah,” Machado said. “But, you know, everyone knows that it’s just part of the business, part of everything. You just never know where things are going to happen.”

Machado and the Red Sox haven’t always been the best of friends. Asked if he was cool with the Sox after what transpired in 2017, Machado indicated the only time he harbors ill will towards them is on the field.

“Cool with them? Once I step on that field. I’m trying to beat ‘em,” Machado said. “I’m trying to beat ‘em. I’m just trying to go out there and play baseball.”

If Machado has a preference to be in a big market, he did not let on Monday.

“They’re a winning team,” Machado said when asked about the Brewers. “They want to win, they’re serious. They have a good group over there. They made a lot of pushes his offseason and they’re going to continue to do whatever they can to try to get a ring.”

“I mean I’m here to play baseball, I’m not here to sightsee. I’m here to play baseball, do my job and go home and sleep and get ready for tomorrow.”

He’ll do a form of sightseeing in D.C., though. Machado is batting behind Aaron Judge in Tuesday’s All-Star Game.

“I’m little like a mini-me going in there after that,” Machado said. “That guy’s a beast. But it’s going to be nice to actually see him from the other side. Be right behind him, see his swing. I know he has a great swing, see him from shortstop and this base.”

Machado made waves in New York because he “liked” a photoshopped image of himself in a Yankees uniform that was posted on Instagram. He told reporters Monday that was a mistake.

But has he thought about playing for the Yanks?

“You know honestly, I really don’t, to be honest,” Machado said. “I think about putting this uniform every day. I can’t think of anything else.

"Once I put on this jersey, I’m an Oriole man."

Not for long, likely.

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