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‘Game changers’ Jackie Bradley Jr., Brock Holt, Mookie Betts bring youth, athleticism to Red Sox outfield

07.03.14 at 9:25 am ET
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Jackie Bradley Jr.

Jackie Bradley Jr.

A year ago, the Red Sox outfield was an area of strength for the club. Jacoby Ellsbury and veteran Shane Victorino provided not only solid offensive output but often stellar defense in right and center field while Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes held down the fort in left.

Things are different in 2014. The offensive struggles of Red Sox outfielders have been no secret, but the outfield alignment could feature three rookies, including two players who have a total of 53 games worth of outfield experience between them.

However, the inexperience of Jackie Bradley Jr., Brock Holt and Mookie Betts might not be a detriment to this Red Sox defense. In fact, the players bring some positives to the table.

“We feel like between Brock, Jackie and Mookie, when they play in the outfield we have three center fielders chasing the ball around,” said bench coach Torey Lovullo, alluding to the speed and athleticism of three. “They’€™re game changers. When those three guys are out there we feel like we have guys who can go chase the ball and execute a game plan as good as anybody.”

Defensive performance isn’t an easy thing to quantify, and there aren’t nearly as many statistics to analyze performance as there are for hitting and pitching. But the Red Sox outfield grades out pretty favorably when looking at the numbers. Prior to Wednesday night, the Red Sox actually ranked second in the majors in defensive runs saved for outfielders and third in ultimate zone rating (another defensive metric that attempts to quantify how many runs a fielder saved or gave up through their fielding performance). At least when it comes to those two metrics, the Red Sox outfield defense actually has been better this season than in 2013, when the outfield ranked fifth in DRS and eighth in UZR.

Bradley obviously deserves a lot of the credit for stabilizing the defense in the outfield. While his offensive performance has left something to be desired this season, he’€™s shown time and time again that his defense is major league ready and in fact makes him one of the better outfielders in the game. He’s saved about nine runs this season when going by DRS, which ties him for sixth amongst major league outfielders. Nava also has saved nine runs.

Not that the young outfielders have gone without making their share of mistakes. Betts, more so than Holt, has shown some vulnerabilities. On Wednesday night, the second baseman-turned-center fielder misplayed a ball off the wall in left-center when trying to back up Gomes. The ball bounced over his head and resulted in a triple.

“There are a lot of angles you have to take, so many different ways to go about getting balls. I had a couple of mishaps [Wednesday] but I’€™m still learning,” Betts said. “It’€™s more just getting used to this field because not all fields are like that. Some are just off the wall and in the gap and you go and get them but here, when they’re off the wall you have to play them at certain angles.”

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John Farrell: ‘We recognize fully where we are in the standings’

07.03.14 at 3:24 am ET
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When the dust finally settled following Wednesday night’€™s slugfest at Fenway Park, the opposing team’€™s box score said it all: 16 runs, 19 hits, four home runs.

No, the Red Sox did not face off against the 1927 Yankees and their imposing Murderer’€™s Row lineup.

It was the 2014 Chicago Cubs — the same Cubs who sit 12 1/2 games out of first place in the NL Central.

It was the same Cubs who, entering Wednesday’€™s game, were 28th in baseball in runs scored. The same Cubs who had only swept one other team –€“ the lowly Mets — this season.

Chicago’€™s 16-9 thrashing and subsequent sweep of the Red Sox was just the cherry on top of what has been a frustrating and mostly fruitless 2014 campaign for Boston.

For most of this season, it has been the Red Sox‘€™s feeble lineup, ranking 14th in the AL in runs scored (321), that has served as the root cause of the team’€™s struggles.

However, that was far from the case Wednesday, as the Sox scored nine runs on 16 hits — the team’€™s highest run total since scoring 10 runs against the Indians on June 13.

But in a frustrating turn for the Sox, it was Boston’€™s pitching, which ranked fourth in the AL in team ERA (3.73) coming in Wednesday’€™s action, that fell apart.

Sox starter Brandon Workman, who registered quality starts in two of his last three outings, was rocked by the normally frail Cubs lineup. By the time Workman was pulled from the game after four innings, the lanky 6-foot-5 righty had surrendered five hits and six earned runs.

Needing a reprieve, Red Sox manager John Farrell turned to his bullpen –€“ a crew that boasted the second-best ERA (2.93) in the AL behind the Mariners (2.56) before Wednesday.

Instead, Boston relievers were lit up for 14 hits and 10 earned runs over six innings of work.

“€œIt was a rough night from the mound,”€ Farrell said after the game. “Starting off, Brandon had a difficult time getting the ball down in the strike zone. Any conditions where it’€™s hot and the wind is carrying the ball, we made a number of pitches up in the strike zone that they were able to take advantage of. It just wasn’€™t with Brandon, I felt like if we could get a couple innings out of Felix to stem the tide a little bit, it didn’€™t work out quite as we had hoped.”

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Read More: Brandon Workman, cubs, John Farrell, Red Sox

On night of many firsts, Mookie Betts shows type of impact he can have

07.03.14 at 3:18 am ET
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Mookie Betts

Mookie Betts

It was a night of many firsts for Mookie Betts on Wednesday. First major league home run and RBI, first hit at Fenway Park, even his first major league strikeout. But in a weird coincidence, there was a little bit of familiarity for Betts as well.

The 21-year-old deposited a 2-1 high changeup from Cubs reliever Carlos Villanueva into the Monster seats for his first big league homer, and strangely enough, the man who caught Betts’€™ inaugural long ball is someone Betts had played against in summer league baseball during his high school days in Tennessee. And as if the story wasn’t unbelievable as it is, Betts’€™ former high school opponent was at Fenway randomly, and not to watch Betts play.

It’€™s quite a small world.

While Betts’€™ two-run home run came in the fifth inning of a 16-9 drubbing at the hands of the Cubs, his play stood out as one of very few highlights from an otherwise ugly rout.

The display of power is still somewhat new to Betts, who didn’t hit a home run until his second professional season. Since then, though, he’€™s hit 23 over the course of 204 games at four different levels in the minors. He hit a pair in 106 plate appearances with Pawtucket before being promoted. Betts wasn’€™t sure he got all of the pitch he smacked out of the park on Wednesday, as evidenced by his sprint out of the box. It took him just over eight seconds to reach second base, and he trailed A.J. Pierzynski, who was on base, by just feet as they neared home plate.

“I don’€™t think I’€™m a home run hitter, so any time I hit it, I’€™m going to take off sprinting,” Betts said. “When I touched home plate I kind of startled A.J. because as soon as he turned around, I was right there. It all happened so fast, I got around the bases so fast that it didn’t really hit me until I was in the dugout and I got to kind of sit and think, ‘€˜I got my first one.’ ”  Read the rest of this entry »

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Jerry Remy loses tooth during NESN Red Sox broadcast

07.03.14 at 12:48 am ET
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It wasn’t a good night at Fenway Park on Wednesday for the Red Sox, who fell to the Cubs, 16-9, completing a three-game sweep. The Sox players weren’t the only ones having issues, as on the NESN television broadcast, live on the air, Red Sox color analyst Jerry Remy lost a tooth during the fourth inning.

See for yourself:

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Closing Time: Red Sox pitching falters as Cubs sweep Red Sox at Fenway, 16-9

07.02.14 at 11:31 pm ET
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Xander Bogaerts and the Red Sox were swept by the Cubs Wednesday night. (AP)

Xander Bogaerts and the Red Sox were swept by the Cubs Wednesday night. (AP)

Heading into Wednesday’€™s game, the Red Sox had built up an impressive record at Fenway Park: holding opponents to three runs or less in their last 14 home games — the longest such streak in franchise history.

However, in a move that only a sport as unpredictable as baseball could generate, the Cubs — who were 28th in baseball in runs scored (307) heading into Wednesday’€™s game — became the team to break Boston’€™s streak.

By the end of the game, 16 Chicago baserunners crossed home plate, as the Cubs defeated Boston by a score of 16-9 to earn a series sweep at Fenway Park.

It was the first time that the Cubs reached double-digit figures in runs since May 12 — a stretch of 45 games.

Red Sox starter Brandon Workman, who compiled an impressive 2.65 ERA in 17 innings at Fenway going into Wednesday’€™s action, struggled mightily, allowing six earned runs before being pulled after just four innings of work.

While Boston’s offense certainly wasn’t lifeless — scoring more than two runs at Fenway for the first time since June 13 — the team had plenty of opportunities to eat away at Chicago’€™s lead, leaving 14 men on base.

One of the few bright spots for the Red Sox offensively was rookie Mookie Betts, who took a 2-1 offering from Carlos Villanueva into the last row of the Green Monster seats for a two-run home run in the fifth inning. It was his first career hit at Fenway.

Cubs pitcher Travis Wood, like Workman, was ineffective on the hill, allowing seven hits and three earned runs while walking four over 3 2/3 innings of work.

With the loss, the Red Sox fall to 38-47 on the year.

Here’€™s what went right (and wrong) for Boston.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

–  Xander Bogaerts‘€™ struggles at the plate continue to snowball. The 21-year-old third baseman finished the game 0-for-4 and stranded six runners. Bogaerts, who is 0 for his last 23, did manage to reach base with a walk in the third inning, which was just his second walk since June 14.

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Read More: Brandon Workman, cubs, mookie betts, Red Sox

Red Sox slugging prospect Rafael Devers gets promoted to Gulf Coast League

07.02.14 at 11:03 pm ET
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Rafael Devers

Rafael Devers

Rafael Devers went 0-for-3 for the Dominican Summer League Red Sox on Wednesday, in what amounted to his best day of the year for reasons that had nothing to do with the contest in which he played.

According to an industry source, the 17-year-old — the jewel of the Red Sox‘ 2013 international amateur free agent class — will report to Fort Myers on Thursday to join the Red Sox’ Rookie Level Gulf Coast League affiliate. While the GCL Sox represent the lowest rung of the minor league ladder in the States, the fact that Devers is advancing to that level of competition before the end of his first pro season speaks volumes about how impressive he’s been.

In 28 games, the third baseman hit .337 with a .445 OBP and .538 slugging mark with a dozen extra-base hits (six doubles, three triples, three homers), 21 walks and 20 strikeouts. All but one of those extra-base hits came for the left-handed hitting Devers against right-handed pitching, which he pulverized for a .372/.467/.593 line.

In advancing to the GCL, Devers is moving more aggressively than did Xander Bogaerts and Manuel Margot, among other recent top international amateur prospects. But Devers’ offensive dominance (albeit as a corner player — unlike Bogaerts and Margot, who were athletic up-the-middle players) separated him from virtually all offensive performers for the Sox’ DSL affiliate in recent years.

Devers’ middle-of-the-order potential gives him as high a ceiling as virtually any position player in the Red Sox system, even though he remains years away from the big leagues.

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Red Sox pregame notes: Personnel changes ‘not in the cards’ for the Red Sox; John Farrell ‘hasn’t noticed’ attention in clubhouse regarding Jon Lester’s contract talks

07.02.14 at 6:31 pm ET
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The Red Sox offense has been one of baseball’€™s biggest enigmas this season.

While Boston is currently third in the big leagues in walks (298) and sixth in the AL in times on base (1,026), the team is dead-last in the league in runs scored (312).

The struggle has been frustrating for all parties who are living through it. Yet Red Sox manager John Farrell remained stout in his stance that the team has been creating opportunities to score all season, and added that he doesn’t see a forthcoming roster shakeup to spark the offense.

“I don’€™t think that we’€™re going to make wholesale changes with [our] personnel,” Farrell said. “€œThat’€™s not in the cards. My answer remains fairly consistent, and that is: We continue to create opportunities for ourselves. The elusive base hit is the difference. … We have to stay with a consistent, relentless approach that these guys have done and have a long track record of.”

Of course, the team also is relying heavily on the contributions of players without track records. In what has been a recurring theme all season long, the Red Sox rookies — foremost third baseman€“ Xander Bogaerts and outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. – continue to search for answers at the plate. During the month of June, both players combined for just 29 hits in 173 at-bats while driving in 10 runs.

Despite Bogaerts and Bradley’€™s lack of contributions in the lineup, Farrell defended both players and added that it’€™s too early judge their seasons as a whole.

“I look at it as how are the young players’€™ mental strength going to allow them to endure the challenges that they’€™ll face,” Farrell said. “€œThat’€™s what will continue to give you confidence and give them the opportunity and you feel like they’€™re going to handle some of the downturn and maybe some of the focus and the attention that maybe some struggles will generate. On the flip side, you don’€™t say that by X number of games, he’€™s going to be an established big leaguer. That’€™s pretty difficult to project.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: John Farrell, Jon Lester, Red Sox, xander bogaerts
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