Tag:Red Sox
Posted on: September 17, 2011 7:24 pm
Edited on: September 17, 2011 9:53 pm

Youkilis out, and a lefty shuts down the Sox

BOSTON -- Even with Kevin Youkilis, the Red Sox lineup is very left-handed.

And without him?

Well, in Boston's 4-3 loss to the Rays Saturday, Rays manager Joe Maddon used left-handed rookie Matt Moore for three innings of set-up relief. Moore, in just his second big-league appearance, entered the game with a two-run lead in the sixth, and handed a one-run lead to fill-in closer Joel Peralta in the ninth.

Moore gave up one run, but held the lead. He held the Red Sox lefties down, and he helped the Rays cut Boston's wild-card lead to just three games with 11 games remaining.

The Rays are still a real longshot; while they seemingly have an edge in Sunday's pitching matchup (David Price vs. Tim Wakefield), the schedule after that is decidedly against them.

But the Youkilis question is worth watching. It's not clear when or even if he'll play again this year, because of the combined effects of a hip problem and a sports hernia. Even if he plays, it's impossible to say what the Red Sox could expect from him.

"I'm not trying not to tell you," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said Saturday. "I just don't know. Where it goes from now, we really don't know."

Without Youkilis, Francona has moved left-handed hitting David Ortiz up to the cleanup spot, with left-handed hitting Josh Reddick moving up to hit behind him. Add in leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury and third-place hitter Adrian Gonzalez, and four of the first five hitters in the Boston lineup Saturday were left-handed.

And when Francona went to hit for Reddick in the eighth inning of a one-run game Saturday, the best right-handed hitter he could summon off the bench was Conor Jackson, who was just off an 0-for-27 drought.

Maddon admitted after the game that the Red Sox lefty-dominated lineup was a big reason he used Moore the way he did.

Before we make too much of this, it's worth noting that the Red Sox have been good against lefties this season, and that Ortiz (.342), Gonzalez (.315) and Ellsbury (.287) have all hit lefties well. Average-stuff lefties don't bother them much.

It's also worth noting that the Red Sox haven't hit well against Rays pitching -- right- and left-handed -- and that Youkilis, at .184 in 11 games, is one of the culprits.

Moore, who was clocked at 95-98 mph on the radar gun Saturday, is one of baseball's top pitching prospects, maybe the best one out there.

Still, it's interesting that Maddon would use him for three innings in such a tight -- and important -- game. And equally interesting that the left-handed Red Sox weren't able to do much with him.

Category: MLB
Posted on: September 16, 2011 10:43 pm

Beckett, Bard give Red Sox reason to believe

BOSTON -- If Thursday was about reasons to believe for the Rays, Friday was about reasons to believe for the Red Sox.

Reason No. 1: Josh Beckett, back after missing a start with an ankle injury, gave up just two earned runs in six excruciating but encouraging innings.

Reason No. 2: Daniel Bard, back after losing each of his last three appearances, struck out three in a much, much better eighth inning.

Reason No. 3: A 4-3 Red Sox win over the Rays that extended Boston's lead back to four games in the American League wild-card race, with now just 12 games left on the schedule (and just two more head-to-head meetings).

Now, no matter how much belief the Rays have, they basically need to win both Saturday and Sunday to have any realistic chance at catching the Red Sox. And even that might not be enough.

Short-term, that's the most important Red Sox development from Friday night. Long-term, it's Beckett and Bard that are crucial for the Red Sox to believe they have any chance in the playoffs.

Without Beckett to team with Jon Lester atop the rotation, the Red Sox have who -- maybe John Lackey and his 6.19 ERA? -- as a No. 2 starter. Without Bard, the Red Sox have questions about the back end of their bullpen.

Beckett allowed a two-run first-inning home run to Evan Longoria, but beyond that he gave up just an unearned run in the third. More than that, the ankle didn't seem to be a problem.

Bard got a break on a disputed call for his first strikeout, but after a one-out walk he fanned the next two batters impressively.

Friday wasn't perfect for either Beckett or Bard, but at least Friday gave them -- and the Red Sox and their fans -- some reason to believe.

Category: MLB
Posted on: September 16, 2011 1:15 pm
Edited on: September 16, 2011 2:38 pm

Up 3, 13 to play

BOSTON -- Teams don't blow nine-game leads in September. It just doesn't happen.

Teams do blow three-game leads with 13 games to play. That does happen.

That has happened.

In fact, it's not hard to find teams that have led by four games, or even five games, with 13 games to play, and still missed the playoffs.

The 1951 Dodgers (four games) did it, although it took maybe the most famous home run of all time.

The 1964 Phillies (5 1/2 games) did it, although it took a collapse that tarnished Gene Mauch's legacy for the rest of his life.

The 1995 Angels, the 2009 Tigers and the 2007 Padres (all three games) did it, too. So did the 1934 Giants (3 1/2 games), the 1962 Dodgers (four games) , the 1965 Giants (3 1/2 games) and the 1938 Pirates (3 1/2 games).

The point isn't that the Red Sox are going to miss the playoffs. Most likely, they won't.

The point is that they've moved from "It can't happen because it's never happened," to "It could happen, but it would still be historic."

And yes, the same goes for the Rangers (up 3 1/2 games on the Angels in the American League West), and even the Braves (up 4 1/2 games on the Cardinals for the National League wild card).

Oh, and Mets fans, your 2007 team doesn't make the list. While they were up seven games on the Phillies with 17 games left, the lead was already down to 2 1/2 games by the time the Mets had played their 149th game (and had 13 remaining).

The 1978 Red Sox aren't on the list, either. They led the Yankees by seven games entering September, but led by 2 1/2 with 13 games left.
Posted on: September 16, 2011 1:58 am

3 to Watch: The Beckett edition

BOSTON -- If Josh Beckett loses Friday night, maybe the Red Sox don't get to the playoffs.

But if Josh Beckett doesn't look healthy Friday night, maybe it doesn't matter whether the Red Sox get to the playoffs.

Not to put too much on Beckett, but there might not be a more important player in baseball to watch this weekend. At this point, there's no way there's a more important player on the Red Sox.

The Sox already have a wounded starting rotation, with Daisuke Matsuzaka out for the year, Clay Buchholz still not certain to return (and unlikely to start), and John Lackey owning the worst ERA in the big leagues (6.19) for anyone allowed to make 16 or more starts.

Lackey is still Boston's third starter, and the Red Sox really don't have a fourth or fifth starter. They may be in trouble in October (if they get there), anyway.

But with a healthy Beckett to team with Jon Lester atop the rotation, and a lineup that can still be very dangerous, they'd have a chance.

There's a reason the Red Sox are 19-8 in games Beckett has started this year. There's a reason that Beckett is the one Boston starter that the Rays worry about (they have no runs and two hits in 17 innings against him this year).

There's a reason I wrote, barely two weeks ago, that Beckett was the biggest difference between the Red Sox and the Yankees.

Just six days after I wrote that, Beckett sprained his right ankle in a Sept. 5 start in Toronto. He hasn't pitched since.

The Red Sox say he's healthy now. They say he should be fine, and under no real limitations, for Friday's start against the Rays.

The Red Sox also have a habit of not always being entirely truthful about injuries.

Is Beckett healthy? For Boston's sake, he'd better be.

Without him, they don't stand much chance in October. Without him, they may not even need to worry about October.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. No matter how good or how healthy Beckett is, there's no guarantee he wins, in Rays at Red Sox, Friday night (7:10 ET) at Fenway Park. That's because James Shields is pitching for the Rays, and Shields has two (of his 11) complete games, and one (of his four) shutouts against Boston. Shields hasn't lost to anyone since Aug. 16, when he gave up just three runs on three hits in a complete-game 3-1 loss to Lester at Fenway. As Shields pointed out Thursday, his six final regular-season starts will be Texas, Texas, Boston, Boston, New York, New York. He's halfway through that tough six-game stretch, and so far he's 3-0 with a 0.71 ERA.  The 29-year-old Shields is the oldest of the Rays' starters. In fact, if he's still around next year (they could trade him), Shields would be the guy who ends Tampa Bay's major-league record streak of consecutive starts by pitchers under 30 (currently at 751 games).

2. The first team to clinch a playoff spot was the Phillies, who did it earlier this week. But they didn't celebrate, waiting to clinch the division first. So the first team to spray champagne could be the Phillies, whose magic number is two going into Cardinals at Phillies, Friday night (7:05 ET) at Citizens Bank Park (they'd also need a Braves loss to the Mets); or the Tigers, whose magic number is one going into Tigers at A's, Friday night (10:07 ET) at the Coliseum (they could also clinch with an Indians loss in Minnesota). The Phillies starter is Vance Worley, who might not make the playoff rotation but would be second or third for the Yankees or Red Sox. The Tigers starter is Doug Fister, who the Yankees and Red Sox probably should have tried harder to trade for in July.

3. Like the Rays, the Angels aren't done yet. They're 3 1/2 games behind the Rangers in the American League West, and four games back of the Red Sox in the wild card. Unlike the Rays, the Angels don't have five dependable starters. That's why the Angels will bring ace Jered Weaver back on three days' rest to start in Angels at Orioles, Sunday afternoon (1:35 ET) at Camden Yards. By starting Weaver on short rest now, the Angels will be able to start him on normal rest in their final series of the season, against the Rangers.

Posted on: September 15, 2011 10:36 pm
Edited on: September 16, 2011 12:25 am

Do the Rays have a chance? Sure they do

BOSTON -- Do they have a chance?

Yeah, they have a chance.

Do they have a good chance?

Ask again tomorrow.

The Rays looked great Thursday night in winning the opener of their four-game must-win series in Boston, holding the Red Sox to six hits in a 9-2 rout. Boston's lead in the American League wild-card race, which was nine games on the morning of Sept. 3, is now down to three games just 13 days later.

With 13 games remaining in the season -- including three more games this weekend -- of course the Rays have a chance.

And if they beat Josh Beckett on Friday night -- and especially if Beckett doesn't look fully recovered from the ankle injury that cost him a start last week -- then you might say the Rays have a good chance in their improbable run at a playoff spot.

A run, by the way, that they don't consider that improbable.

"I think this is what we expected from the first day of spring training, to be in this race," Rays designated hitter Johnny Damon said Thursday afternoon.

They believe they can win, and they believe they can beat the Red Sox head-to-head, at Fenway Park.

They should. The Rays have won 18 of their last 29 games at Fenway, dating back to 2008 and including the American League Championship Series that year.

This season, the Rays have beaten the Red Sox 10 times in 15 games, and they've now won six in a row.

"Against us, their pitchers have a plan, and they follow through on it," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "They're a hard team to play."

The Red Sox are something of a mess right now. Their lineup is beat up, to the point where Francona said Thursday night that third baseman Kevin Youkilis (hip and sports hernia) won't play Friday.

The starting rotation is worse. The Red Sox had to start rookie Kyle Weiland on Thursday, and he didn't make it out of the third inning. They'll start struggling Tim Wakefield in the final game of the series Sunday.

Compare that to the Rays, who are able to run a solid starter out there every night. Thursday, it was Jeremy Hellickson, a 13-game winner who may well be the American League rookie of the year. Friday, against Beckett, it will be James Shields, who leads the majors with 11 complete games and gave up one run in 8 1/3 innings against the Red Sox last weekend in Florida.

But that's what the Rays are, and that's how they've managed to get this far, after losing Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and their entire bullpen off last year's division winners. They pitch, they play defense, and sometimes, they hit enough.

Posted on: September 15, 2011 6:28 pm
Edited on: September 15, 2011 7:11 pm

Rays' Maddon hoping for reverse of 1995

BOSTON -- On the list of all-time collapses, the 1995 Angels don't get enough attention.

The Angels held an 11-game lead in mid-August, still held a 7 1/2-game lead on the morning of Sept. 1, and missed the postseason after losing a one-game playoff to the Mariners.

The website coolstandings.com calls it the worst collapse ever, because their computers gave the Angels a 99.9 percent chance of making the playoffs, as of Aug. 24 that year. That's a higher percentage than the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers ever had (99.7 on Aug. 13), higher than the 2007 Mets (99.5 on Sept. 13) and way higher than the 1964 Phillies (96.3 on Sept. 20).

Joe Maddon remembers. He was on the Angels coaching staff in 1995.

So if you ask Maddon if he ever doubted that the Rays could get back in the race this year, he insists that he didn't.

"I lived it, man," he said Thursday. "We had an [11]-game lead. We were playing games that were over by the sixth inning. We were annihilating people."

And then they lost.

The Angels went 14-28 over their final 42 games, while the Mariners were going 27-17. Maddon pointed to the M's acquisition of Vince Coleman on Aug. 15 as the difference-maker.

"Believe me, it was awful," Maddon said. "So why can't it happen to someone else?"

The Rays trailed the Red Sox by nine games in the wild-card race on the morning of Sept. 3. Thursday, they began a four-game series at Fenway Park facing a four-game deficit.

They don't absolutely need to sweep, but . . .

"That's the goal," pitcher David Price said. "We're four games back."

Category: MLB
Posted on: September 15, 2011 6:13 pm

Gonzalez, Ortiz return to face Rays

BOSTON -- The Red Sox weren't sure they'd have either Adrian Gonzalez or David Ortiz for the start of their big weekend series against the Rays.

Turns out they'll have both of them.

Ortiz (back) and Gonzalez (calf) are both in the lineup for Thursday's series opener. The Red Sox enter the four-game series with a four-game lead over Tampa Bay in the American League wild-card race.

Manager Terry Francona said both Gonzalez and Ortiz told him they were ready, but also admitted that the decision may have been different if the wild-card race hadn't become so close.

"I haven't been accused of being Ivy League, but to me, these are important games," Francona said.

While the Red Sox seem to be getting healthier, the Rays have a couple of injury concerns. Sam Fuld is out with a wrist injury, and manager Joe Maddon said that closer Kyle Farnsworth remains unavailable with elbow soreness.
Category: MLB
Posted on: September 14, 2011 3:42 pm

Interleague inequities continue in 2012

Interleague play in 2012 will give us plenty of Tigers-Pirates Marlins-Red Sox and Yankees-Braves.

But it won't bring the Braves to Kansas City.

The Royals have ex-Braves as general manager (Dayton Moore), manager (Ned Yost), and players (including Jeff Francoeur). The Braves have a club president (John Schuerholz) who first made his name as the Royals GM, and checks the schedule every year looking for a trip back to Kansas City.

In 15 years of interleague play, the Braves have never been there.

Make that 16, because they're not going there in 2012, either. But they will play home-and-home series with the Yankees.

Baseball announced its 2012 schedule Wednesday morning, and there will soon be complaints all around about bad road trips, or too many home games early, or not enough home games late.

But the biggest problems, as always, come from the interleague schedule.

It's not fair. It makes little sense. And it doesn't come close to serving one of its main, originally announced purposes, because it doesn't bring every team to every city.

No Braves in Kansas City, for the 16th straight year. No Padres in Toronto, for the 16th straight year. No Rangers in St. Louis, for the 16th straight year. No Twins in Atlanta, for the 16th straight year.

Through 2011, there were nine interleague matchups that had never happened. Not one of those nine is on the 2012 schedule.

But the Tigers and Pirates will play six times, as will the Marlins and Red Sox.

It's fine that interleague play gives us games between natural rivals, which remain popular. But for people outside the two-team markets, interleague play was sold as a way to see every team from the other league, at least once every six years.

Now it's 16 years and counting for nine matchups that still haven't happened.

And it's another year of teams in the same division playing unequal interleague schedules.

The Braves play 12 of their 18 interleague games against the best three teams in the American League East (Yankees, Red Sox, Rays). The rival Phillies don't play the Yankees at all, so they play just six of 15 games against the AL East Big 3.

Yes, that's right. The Braves and Phillies don't even play the same number of interleague games. With 14 teams in the AL and 16 in the NL -- no realignment yet -- the only way to make it work is for 12 of the 16 NL teams to play five interleague series, while the other four play six.

I understand, the schedule is ridiculously complicated, mostly because there are 14 teams in one league and 16 in the other. I realize that baseball allows its television partners (ESPN, Fox) to dictate some interleague matchups.

I'll even admit that the 2012 schedule seems a little more logical, with (for the most part) East meeting East, Central meeting Central and West meeting West.

But couldn't they bring the Braves to Kansas City? Just once?
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com