Posted on: September 28, 2011 11:53 pm
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Posted on: September 28, 2011 3:32 pm
Edited on: September 28, 2011 7:12 pm
BALTIMORE -- Dellin Betances and Ryan Lavarnway began the season in Double-A. Between them, they've started eight major-league games.
Wednesday night, the Red Sox are counting on both of them.
Lavarnway, the 24-year-old catcher who hit his first two big-league home runs Tuesday, is batting fifth for the Sox in Baltimore. Betances, whose major-league career consists of two outs, four walks and a hit batter, starts for the Yankees at Tropicana Field against the Rays.
The Red Sox and Rays begin the day tied atop the American League wild-card race. A Rays win combined with a Red Sox loss would end Boston's season. If both teams win -- or if both lose -- there would be a Thursday playoff game hosted by the Rays. The Red Sox talked about trading for Royals left-hander Bruce Chen to start that game, but by Wednesday afternoon sources said they won't be making a deal for a pitcher.
Crazy, isn't it?
Starting Lavarnway is hardly ridiculous. Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek, the Red Sox' regular catchers, are beat up. And both have struggled at the plate this month.
The Yankees starting Betances isn't outrageous, either. The Yankees clinched the American League EAst last week, and their main goal is to be at full strength Friday, when the playoffs begin.
Yankee manager Joe Girardi is starting his regular position players Wednesday. Of the regulars, only Russell Martin is out of the lineup against Rays lefty David Price.
The Red Sox just hope to play Friday. And now it depends, in part, on Lavarnway and Betances.
Posted on: September 26, 2011 6:07 pm
BALTIMORE -- Yes, the Yankees rested regulars Sunday, not playing any of them in both ends of a day-night doubleheader against the Red Sox. But no one who watched the weekend series in the Bronx could say that the Yankees didn't try to win.
Will they do the same the next three nights against the Rays, who enter the final series of the season one game behind Boston in the American League wild-card race?
Yankee manager Joe Girardi's Monday night lineup would suggest that the answer is yes, as Girardi included most of his regulars for the opener of the series.
But no matter how Girardi approaches the series, Red Sox manager Terry Francona said Monday he'll have no complaints.
"They're a professional team," Francona said. "Saying that, they can do what they want. They've played themselves into that position. I wish we were in that position. If they want to rest guys, they can."
Because the Red Sox beat the Yankees in the second game Sunday, Boston can win the wild card without any help from their rivals. But obviously a Yankee win or two against the Rays would make the Red Sox' task a whole lot easier.
"Our goal is to win the three games [against the Orioles]," David Ortiz said.
Ortiz said he talked to Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano on Sunday, and he took heart from what Cano told him.
"He said, 'I don't like days off,' " Ortiz said.
Does Ortiz think the Yankees will play as hard against the Rays as they did against the Red Sox?
"Hopefully," he said. "That's the way it's supposed to be."
Posted on: September 25, 2011 11:44 pm
NEW YORK -- The Red Sox may still collapse.
Jacoby Ellsbury didn't.
The Red Sox may have been saved from collapse Sunday night.
Saved by Jacoby Ellsbury.
There are still three games to play, and the Boston lead in the American League wild-card race is down to one single game. Down from nine games, just three weeks and one day ago.
But the Red Sox and Rays aren't tied. The Red Sox still lead, and the feeling of doom has lifted just a little.
Because of Jacoby Ellsbury.
Ellsbury has had an MVP-type September, overshadowed by his teammates collapsing around him. He had an MVP-type Sunday, and his three-run, 14th-inning home run Sunday night will be the one the Red Sox remember, if this season doesn't end in gloom.
It gave the Red Sox a 7-4 win over the Yankees, and it gave them a hint of life.
This race isn't over. The Red Sox will likely need a win or two or three in Baltimore this week. There's no guarantee how the Yankees will treat their three-game series against the Rays at Tropicana Field.
But the Red Sox were looking at a tie in the wild-card race if they lost Sunday night. They were looking at an absolutely embarrassing weekend sweep in New York.
Jacoby Ellsbury saved them from all that.
He may not be the MVP. But he sure is their MVP.
Posted on: September 25, 2011 4:11 pm
Edited on: September 25, 2011 5:19 pm
NEW YORK -- Top of the first inning Sunday: Jacoby Ellsbury leads off with a single, and promptly gets picked off.
Bottom of the first inning Sunday: The Yankees turn two bunt singles, two steals, a wild pitch, a passed ball and an error into two runs.
The game could have ended right there. The Red Sox season could have ended right there.
You thought the 9-1 loss to the Yankees on Saturday was bad? Well, the 6-2 loss on Sunday afternoon was no better.
And John Lackey, owner of the worst ERA of any regular starting pitcher in baseball, starts for the Red Sox on Sunday night.
Oh, and the out-of-town scoreboard kept showing the Rays ahead of the Blue Jays. The Rays won, 5-2, cutting the Boston lead in the wild card to just half a game.
"We've got four games," manager Terry Francona said. "We can right our whatever. We need to work on our righting skills."
Francona then wrote out a Game 2 lineup that included J.D. Drew, in his first appearance since July 19.
There is some good news, Red Sox fans. Jacoby Ellsbury hit two home runs, his 29th and 30th of the year. He has 100 RBI. He's having a great September.
He'd be an MVP candidate, if his teammates weren't collapsing around him.
The Red Sox are 5-18 in September. They're 1-18 when they don't score 12 runs.
Their starting pitchers -- it was Tim Wakefield Sunday afternoon -- have a 7.32 ERA.
They've scored first in just two of their last 16 games.
They might have scored first Sunday afternoon -- except that Ellsbury got picked off. The Yankees scored first -- because the Red Sox handed them two runs.
Oh, and John Lackey starts Sunday night. With J.D. Drew in right field.
Posted on: September 24, 2011 8:29 pm
NEW YORK -- Was Jon Lester that bad Saturday?
Or are the Yankees that good right now?
One rival scout thinks it's the latter.
"His velocity was good," said the scout, who is advancing the Red Sox for the playoffs. "They hit good pitches. Good teams hit good pitches. And [the Yankees] are so good it's scary."
The Yankees clinched the American League East Wednesday night, but they started their "A" lineup Saturday, and it produced eight runs and eight hits in just 2 2/3 innings against Lester, the Red Sox ace.
Lester has had three sub-par starts in a row -- the other two against the Rays -- which could lead you to believe that it's not just the Yankees. It could also lead you to believe that Lester is hurt, but the scout's report and Lester's own answers say that he's not.
"I'm not tired," Lester said. "I'm not hurt. There's nothing wrong with me."
Later, he suggested that he agreed with the scout that good pitches were getting hit.
"You make a pitch on the black, and it gets hit 400 feet," he said.
The Yankees have an outstanding offensive team, and in five starts against them this year (including Saturday), Lester has give up 19 runs in 25 2/3 innings, for a 6.66 ERA. Lester's ERA against the rest of baseball is 2.98.
Still, it's shocking for the Red Sox to see Lester struggle, and the problem is two-fold.
First, Lester's poor month has made it significantly harder to clinch a playoff spot, since he and Josh Beckett are the two starters the Red Sox must count on. Second, if the Red Sox make the playoffs but Lester's problems continue into October, it's hard to see them winning.
"Watching him struggle is hard for all of us," David Ortiz said. "This guy is the heart and soul of our pitching staff."
Red Sox manager Terry Francona said that if there was one positive Saturday, it was that Lester threw just 55 pitches, and should be fine to work on short rest Wednesday, if the Red Sox need him in their final regular-season game. Lester said he figures his season isn't over, "one way or the other."
But one scout advancing the Red Sox figures Boston's season won't go past Thursday. He joked that he was going home Saturday night, "because they're not making the playoffs."
If they don't, Jon Lester will be one of the reasons.
Posted on: September 24, 2011 7:11 pm
Edited on: September 24, 2011 10:11 pm
NEW YORK -- Is this a collapse?
Check back in a few days.
Is this what a collapse looks like?
Fly balls that could have been caught but aren't. Ground balls that could have turned into outs but weren't. The one starting pitcher you can count on coming up smallest in his biggest start of the season.
Yeah, that's it.
That was the Red Sox on Saturday. And that was just the second inning, in a miserable 9-1 loss to the Yankees.
By night's end, after the Rays finished off their 6-2 win over the Blue Jays, the Boston lead in the American League wild-card race was down to just 1 1/2 games, down from nine games three weeks ago.
That sounds bad, but in any normal situation, up 1 1/2 with just five to play really shouldn't be that bad a place to be. Then again, the Red Sox are starting Tim Wakefield and John Lackey in Sunday's day-night doubleheader against the Yankees.
Up 1 1/2 with five to play isn't bad, if you figure you can win even two or three of the five games. But the Red Sox have won just two of their last 10 games, and just three of their last 16.
The Red Sox are 5-17 this month. They're an incredible 1-17 in games where they don't score 12 runs. They began September in first place in the American League East, 1 1/2 games ahead of the Yankees, and now they're eight games back of New York.
"What you've got to do right now is laugh, just to see if you can fool someone," said David Ortiz, who wasn't laughing.
"We got in a funk," Ortiz said. "We've just got to find a way out."
Sure, with Wakefield and Lackey pitching Sunday.
Saturday, with ace Jon Lester on the mound, was going to be the day they found a way out.
But just as the Red Sox haven't looked like a playoff team this month, Lester hasn't looked like an ace. And just as the Red Sox looked like a collapsing team Saturday, Lester looked like the lead collapser.
He pitched just 2 2/3 innings, in his shortest start of the season and the fourth shortest of his career. He gave up six runs, all in the second inning, just the second six-run inning he has allowed in 153 career starts (and nearly 1,000 career innings).
A day after the Rays' home loss to the Blue Jays had seemingly eased Red Sox concerns, Lester raised those concerns sky-high again.
He wasn't alone.
In that six-run inning, the Sox failed to get an out on an Andruw Jones ground ball to short. Two batters later, Russell Martin hit a fly ball to left field that $142 million man Carl Crawford could have caught.
It would have been a nice catch, but not spectacular. It's a play you'd like to see your big free-agent acquisition (signed in part for his defense) make.
Crawford didn't make it. And Lester followed it up by serving up an opposite-field three-run home run to Derek Jeter.
It was 6-0, and it was basically over.
And the Red Sox were left hoping for more help from the Blue Jays, or more help from the Yankees (who go to Tampa Bay for three games starting Monday night), or for a decent start from Wakefield (one win, 5.83 ERA since the middle of August) or Lackey (a major-league worst 6.49 ERA for the season).
It's not a collapse yet, not unless they complete it.
But it already looks like one, doesn't it?
It sure did Saturday.
Posted on: September 23, 2011 12:06 am
Edited on: September 23, 2011 12:06 am
NEW YORK -- The way the Rays made up ground on the Red Sox, you'd figure that they've been winning every game.
They have a chance in this wild-card race because they've played well . . . and mostly because the Red Sox haven't.
The Rays have swept just one series all month. They've had just one five-game winning streak, and none longer.
Now they figure they need one.
The Rays were sure they needed to beat the Yankees on Thursday, and they did, 15-8. They're sure they need to sweep the Blue Jays this weekend and home, and they believe they'll need to sweep the Yankees in the series that begins Monday at Tropicana Field.
They're two games back of the Red Sox with six to play, but the Rays have decided it's now must-win time.
"We pretty much have to win every game," Matt Joyce said. "We came here [Thursday], and we said, 'Let's win every game. Let's just win the rest of them, and see what happens.'"
Go 6-0, the Rays figure, and they'll count on the Red Sox losing at least twice in six road games against the Yankees and Orioles.
Go 6-0, the Rays figure, and they won't have to worry about the Angels, who fell to three games back of Boston (and one game behind the Rays) with their walkoff loss in Toronto.
"We're going to have to count on the Yankees taking care of the Red Sox," Johnny Damon said. "But we also have to take care of business. . . . We kind of feel we have to [win them all]. We can't rely on Boston losing all of them."
The Rays believe they missed a chance this week at Yankee Stadium, believe they should have been able to get a split of the four-game series, believe especially that they should have won Wednesday's day game with James Shields on the mound.
They got a break because the Red Sox lost three of four at home to the Orioles.
"We're kind of fortunate," manager Joe Maddon admitted.
They believe the schedule that looked to be against them when they left Boston on Sunday (also two games behind) may now have turned slightly in their favor.
They know that the Red Sox are on the road the rest of the way, and they believe that the Yankees may be more motivated to win this weekend against the Sox than they'll be in the three-game series against the Rays that follows.
"Boston playing Baltimore in Baltimore, that's not going to be easy," Maddon said, with a twinkle in his eye.
Maddon was in the unusual situation Thursday of rooting hard against the Angels, and his good friend Mike Scioscia. But there was no doubt he was happy to see the Blue Jays win.
The Rays have had plenty of help already, and they know it. Now, they believe, it's time for them to help themselves.
"We have to win every game, pretty much," Maddon said. "There might be room for one hiccup. . . . [But] you think you've got to run the table."
That would mean a seven-game winning streak, counting Thursday's game against the Yankees. That hardly sounds impossible.
There have already been 22 winning streaks that long in the major leagues this year. The Royals won seven straight. So did the Cubs. And the Twins.
Seven of the eight teams currently in a playoff position have had at least one seven-game winning streak (everyone but the Braves).
The Rays haven't. Not yet.
Now they think they'll need one.