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Mike Napoli vs. Curtis Granderson in an inflationary market 12.06.13 at 3:59 pm ET
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Mike Napoli (AP)

Mike Napoli (AP)

A year ago, Mike Napoli had a three-year, $39 million deal in hand with the Red Sox before the uncertainty generated by his diagnosis with a degenerative hip condition led to the deal’s revision into a one-year, $5 million deal that got pushed up to $13 million with incentives.

But Napoli did a number of things in 2013 to put him in position to seek something along similar lines: He remained healthy, played the second most games of his career (139) and he went from being a bat-first catcher whose defensive skills were in question to a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman, he went from a down year in 2012 (.227 with a .343 OBP and .469 slugging mark and 113 OPS+) to one very much in line with his career line in 2013 (.259/.360/.482 with a 127 OPS+).

There are still concerns in some places about the long-term risks associated with his hip condition. But given that the medical issue remained stable in 2013, it went from a dramatic uncertainty to a somewhat more normal/typical injury concern that accompanies most free agents. All of that explains why the free agent felt that it was reasonable to seek a deal that was at least comparable to the one he initially secured from the Red Sox last winter.

Yet in a fast-moving free agent market that has seen a number of landmark contracts already, Napoli’s asking price may be rising by the day. The early movement of Jacoby Ellsbury on a seven-year, $153 million deal to the Yankees and Robinson Cano on a 10-year, $240 million deal to the Mariners has spearheaded a robust market for position players, at a time when teams got a windfall of additional tens of millions — something that appears to be pushing contracts up rather rapidly. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Curtis Granderson, mike napoli,
Red Sox-Yankees series preview 09.13.13 at 9:39 am ET
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The Red Sox may not have completed the sweep against the second-place Rays, but they’ll come home to Fenway with an 8½-game lead in the division and a magic number of 8.

It's been a trying season for Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and the Yankees, but they arrive in Boston well within reach of a wild card berth. (AP)

It’s been a trying season for Alex Rodriguez (left), Derek Jeter and the Yankees, but they arrive in Boston well within reach of a wild card berth. (AP)

It was an impressive road trip for the Sox, who took series in New York (three of four) and St. Petersburg (two of three), and now have won seven straight series. They’ve already accrued more wins in September 2013 (eight) than they did in the last month of either 2012 or 2011. It appears the Red Sox have gotten hot just at the right time.

“We continue to play a very good brand of baseball,” manager John Farrell said after Thursday’s series finale with the Rays. “We’re executing for the most part in key moments and we come ready to get after it every single night.”

The Red Sox are hitting milestones left and right lately. Koji Uehara broke the franchise record for consecutive batters retired on Wednesday night, passing Ellis Kinder (32 in 1952). Uehara now has 34 consecutive outs. Mike Napoli collected his 31st bases-loaded RBI in Wednesday’s contest, which represents the highest total by a Red Sox player since Vern Stephens‘ 32 in 1950. And with their 89th victory of the season, the Red Sox have won 20 more games than they did in all of 2012, good for the largest season-to-season turnaround since the 1967 Impossible Dream team.

With a good amount of distance between them and the second-place Rays in the division standings, the Red Sox look to be a virtual lock for a postseason berth. They also have the ability to make a big impact on the wild card standings. Though the Sox don’t have any remaining regular-season games against the Rays, the team currently occupying the second wild card slot, they’ll come home to face the Yankees, who are hanging on to playoff hopes, staying within a game of Tampa Bay with a win on Thursday. Interestingly enough, the Yankees won their series finale with the Orioles on a wild pitch from Baltimore closer Jim Johnson in the top of the ninth inning, the second time this week they’ve won thanks to a wild pitch.

The Yankees, who have been playing nonstop baseball without an off day since Aug. 29, haven’t been playing bad baseball since the last time the Red Sox saw them (which, albeit, was five days ago). They managed to take three of four from Baltimore, moving ahead of the Orioles and Indians in the race for the second wild card spot. The Yankees just barely eked out the three victories in Baltimore, winning two of them by one run and the other by two runs.

The injury bug still is biting the Yankees. It was decided earlier in the week that shortstop Derek Jeter, who has played only 17 games this season, will return to the disabled list with an ankle injury and will not return this season. To fill the shortstop hole, the Yankees acquired the defensive-minded but light-hitting Brendan Ryan from the Mariners. Although the Yankees pulled out the victory on Thursday night, they lost a key member of their lineup when Brett Gardner was removed from the game and was diagnosed with a left oblique strain, an injury that can take a few weeks to heal. Gardner is scheduled to receive an MRI to determine the severity of the strain, but he will at least miss the series with the Red Sox, if not the remainder of the regular season. Catcher Austin Romine also is sidelined after suffering a concussion earlier in the week.

With the regular season winding down, this will be the last time the Red Sox face the Yankees barring a meeting in the playoffs, which means this weekend will be Mariano Rivera‘s final games at Fenway Park. The Red Sox are set to honor the closer on Sunday night.

Here are the pitching matchups for the weekend set.

Friday: John Lackey (9-12, 3.48) vs. Hiroki Kuroda (11-10, 2.99)
Saturday: Jon Lester (13-8, 3.86) vs. C.C. Sabathia (13-12, 4.82)
Sunday: Clay Buchholz (10-0, 1.61) vs. Ivan Nova (8-4, 3.17)

WHO’S HOT: RED SOX

• As noted earlier, Uehara set a new Red Sox record with 34 straight batters retired. He’s been unbelievably dominant since taking over the closer’s role and just continues to get better. Uehara has recorded 26 straight scoreless outings, passing Daniel Bard for the longest streak in team history. He hasn’t allowed an earned run in over two months, not since June 30, which was 30 appearances and 32 2/3 innings ago. Since becoming the closer, Uehara has earned four wins (no losses) and 18 saves in 20 opportunities. His ERA as the closer is an absolutely remarkable 0.25, while his WHIP is an equally mind-boggling 0.3273. Opposing hitters are batting a meager .084/.099/.126 against Uehara in his last 34 games, and he’s walked only two batters while striking out 51. That means his strikeout-to-walk ratio is a staggering 25.5. According to wins above replacement, Uehara has been worth more wins than any other reliever this season, which really is not surprising when looking at his unbelievable numbers.

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Alex Rodriguez, Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, daniel nava
Jacoby Ellsbury has his goals and the 2012 AL MVP might just be one 02.26.12 at 4:42 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Speaking publicly to the Boston media for the first time since Detroit’s Justin Verlander narrowly edged him out for the 2011 American League MVP, Jacoby Ellsbury said Sunday that he admits he was a little disappointed that the best year of his career so far didn’t result in winning the award.

“Well, we’re playing against the best competition in the world,” Ellsbury said. “Obviously, I did everything I could, left it all on the field last year. When I found out about the results, I was happy for Justin Verlander but at the same time, being as competitive as I am, I wish I would’ve won. I bet if you ask all those other guys, they would say the same thing, too. That’s how I look at it, we’re playing against the best players in the world, definitely held my head high and finished second.”

Ellsbury hinted that that award might be one of the goals he’s setting for himself this season as he looks to follow up a season in which he batted .321 with 32 homers while driving in 105 runs.

“I went into my workouts how I went about it last year and made goals for this coming season,” Ellsbury said. “I think the biggest thing is to continue what I’ve been doing. Those goals, I always say at the beginning of the year, I revisit them throughout the season. They’re personal goals. I’m just excited for coming into this season.”

In edging out Ellsbury, Verlander became the first starting pitcher in 25 years to be voted Most Valuable Player, adding it to the Cy Young Award he also captured.

Verlander earned the American League MVP honor, receiving 13 of 28 first-place votes and 280 points in voting announced by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Ellsbury was second with four first-place votes and 242 points, followed by Toronto right fielder Jose Bautista with five first-place votes and 231 points, Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson with 215 and Detroit first baseman Miguel Cabrera with 193.

Read More: 2011 AL MVP, Boston Red Sox, Curtis Granderson, Detroit Tigers
Is Jacoby Ellsbury the leading man? A look at the American League MVP field 11.21.11 at 10:48 am ET
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The American League MVP field is incredibly competitive this year, with strong cases to be made for no fewer than five candidates, all of whom impacted the game in a variety of ways.

The top candidates include a pair of center fielders who combined power and speed to serve as game-changing, multifaceted contributors, a starting pitcher whose season was so great as to put him in position to become potentially the first starter to take home MVP honors in 25 years, when Roger Clemens won Cy Young and MVP honors for the Red Sox in 1986.

There is a traditional middle-of-the-order slugging first baseman, and the single most ferocious hitter in the league, but one who happened to play for a team that was never really in contention.

Who do you think deserved to be the American League MVP?

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Here’s a look at the top five AL MVP candidates (in alphabetical order):

Jose Bautista (AP)

JOSE BAUTISTA, BLUE JAYS, THIRD BASE/RIGHT FIELD

Bautista was no one-hit wonder. For the second straight year, the Blue Jays thumper delivered a monster season. He led the AL with 43 homers and an astonishing 132 walks, the foremost combination of power and patience in the game. Bautista hit .302 with a .447 OBP, an AL-leading .608 slugging mark and 1.056 OPS, continuing a mid-career transformation like few others in recent memory (his two best seasons came at age 29 and 30).

Bautista did fade down the stretch. Through the All-Star break, he had across-the-board video game numbers: .334/.468/.702/1.170 with 31 homers and 65 RBI. In the second half, he was human: .257/.419/.477/.896 with 12 homers and 38 RBI. He will also get knocked down in the eyes of some voters for the fact that he played on a team that went 81-81, landing in fourth place in the AL East. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: al mvp, Curtis Granderson, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jose Bautista
John Kruk on M&M: ‘I’m still going to stick with the Red Sox’ in the playoffs 09.08.11 at 12:45 pm ET
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ESPN baseball analyst John Kruk joined Mut & Merloni Thursday to share his thoughts on how the American League playoff race is shaping up as well as who the contenders are for postseason awards.

Kruk noted that the American League playoff picture is more cloudy considering the injuries to Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz, but he said he still believes the Red Sox will pull through.

“I’m still going to stick with the Red Sox,” Kruk said. “I picked them early and what the heck, they’re still there.”

If Beckett’s sprained ankle turns into a lingering injury, however, Kruk said the Red Sox could easily have their October cut short.

“With this injury to Beckett, you don’t know now if he can go on three day’s rest if they were even going to think that way anyways,” Kruk said. “If Beckett’s not healthy and he tries to come back and he’s not healthy and pitches poorly, the Red Sox might be a quick out against whoever they’re going to play, Detroit or Texas or the Angels.”

Kruk agreed with Curt Schilling‘s comments from his appearance on Mut & Merloni on Wednesday when Schilling predicted that either Curtis Granderson or Jacoby Ellsbury will win the AL Most Valuable Player award.

“I think it’s the center fielders in the East, Granderson and Ellsbury,” Kruk said. “And the thing is, it’s two unexpected great years. You thought Ellsbury would be a good player. You didn’t know he’d be a great player. You didn’t know what you’d get from Granderson because he really struggled last year. When you have a guy who’s hit seventh and eighth and even ninth in the lineup, and now all of the sudden, he’s hit third every single day against righties and lefties like Granderson is doing, driving in runs and hitting home runs.

“Both guys are so vital to their team’s success and if either one of them got hurt and was out for awhile, both teams would really really struggle to win games because that’s how great these two players have been for their teams.”

Kruk acknowledged that Detroit’s Justin Verlander, who won his 22nd game of the season on Wednesday, is having a great season, but said he does not think pitchers should win the MVP because of the limited number of games they participate in.

“In the clubhouse, it’s the pitchers and the regular guys,” Kruk said. “The pitchers hang out amongst themselves. They should have their own award and they do and that’s great. I know what Verlander does has been spectacular. And any pitcher, [CC] Sabathia‘s like that, [Jon] Lester‘s like that, the guys in Philly are like that.

“It’s not what they do the day they pitch, but it’s what they do the day before and the day after they pitch that really is vital to the team and can save a bullpen. They only play 35 days, 34, 35 days. It’s hard for me to say this guy is our most valuable guy because he’s only played 35 games. I’ve always struggled with that.”

Following are more highlights from the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Curtis Granderson, Jacoby Ellsbury, John Kruk, stephen strasburg
Curt Schilling on M&M: Red Sox’ season riding on Josh Beckett’s health 09.07.11 at 12:03 pm ET
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Curt Schilling

Former Red Sox pitcher and current ESPN analyst Curt Schilling joined Mut & Merloni Wednesday morning. Among the topics discussed was Josh Beckett‘s sprained right ankle. Schilling, who is no stranger to ankle injuries, said that he is not sure how serious Beckett’s injury is as Boston heads toward the postseason.

“Their season’s riding on it, that much is clear, but I don’t have a clue as to what’s going on,” Schilling said. “I think it’s going to be very Belichickian around there for the next few days to a week as you try to get information.”

Beckett sprained his ankle in the fourth inning of his start against Toronto on Monday. While the sprain was good news to those expecting a more serious injury, it is still unclear as to when Beckett will pitch next. Schilling said that even if Beckett is not at full health for the rest of the season, it is important that he is able to pitch before the playoffs begin.

“We’re never 100 percent; last time I was 100 percent I was like 13,” Schilling said. “My concern is this: I don’t want him to have to work back up to pitching going into the postseason. … When you’re rolling into the postseason, you literally want to be gearing up like you do at the end of spring training going into the season. You want to feel like, ‘I’m executing some stuff, I’m doing some things game-plan-wise,’ and then you’re rolling into the postseason. If it’s anything other than that, it doesn’t bode well for them.”

Following are more highlights from the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

On injured pitcher Clay Buchholz possibly returning for postseason: “He’s throwing flat ground, 60 feet. On a scale of 1-10, 10 being pitching in a big league game as a starter, he’s at step 2. … You’re asking him to go onto the mound in front of the most rabid, loyal, passionate audience in the world, in the most important games of his life. That’s tough to do with a healthy regular season finish into the postseason.”

On the American League MVP race: “I think it’s going to come down to [CurtisGranderson, to [JacobyEllsbury, to [Adrian] Gonzalez, to Pedey [Dustin Pedroia], all stealing votes from each other. It’ll end up being a close vote, but I think you’re going to see Granderson or probably Ellsbury win it.

On who will win the AL playoff races: “I would tell you that it’s going to probably end up being the way it is today, in my mind. The Yankees, the Tigers, the Rangers, even though I like [Mike] Scioscia‘s Angels, and I think you’ll have the Sox coming in as the wild card.”

Read More: Clay Buchholz, Curt Schilling, Curtis Granderson, Jacoby Ellsbury
How the Yankees finally got to Jon Lester 08.06.11 at 12:46 am ET
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Default Player for embeding in WEEI.com columns and blogs.


Red Sox fans have seen this movie before.

An ace pitcher is cruising along against the vaunted Yankee lineup, like Jon Lester was on Friday night. The Sox left had allowed just two hits in five scoreless innings, throwing just 73 pitches in the process.

Then, boom. All of sudden, the Yankees start taking pitches, fouling off pitcher’s pitches and making every swing count. The Yankees still work the pitcher as well as any team in baseball and they proved it again Friday night, trailing 2-0.

Even the best pitchers the Red Sox ever had – like Pedro Martinez, circa 1999 – have fallen victim to this in the last 15 years that Derek Jeter has been a captain. And Jeter was at the middle of things – or more to the point – the start of things on Friday night.

Eduardo Nunez fell behind quickly two strikes to open the sixth, with the Lester and the Red Sox in command, 2-0. Then six pitches – including two foul balls – later, he was on base with a walk. Jeter singled and Curtis Granderson followed with an RBI single to left-center and it was 2-1.

“Just really lost command,” Lester said. “You have to tip your cap to them. They did a good job being patient that inning. I threw some pretty good pitches they laid off, whether it was a ball or strike, they stayed within themselves and it seemed like the first five innings, we dictated both sides of the plate and in the sixth inning, they did.”

Lester would throw his final 35 pitches of the night in that sixth inning as the Yankees rallied for three runs off Lester.

“The first thing was Nunez’s at-bat, the fact that he was able a 3-2 walk after fouling off some really tough pitches,” Granderson said. “I think he threw pretty anything and everything at him. Derek got his first hit of the ball game, I got my first hit. Nunez read it really well and was able to score.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: baseball, Boston Red Sox, Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter
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