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The somewhat confounding X-Factor: John Farrell explains usage of Sox prospect Xander Bogaerts 10.08.13 at 7:23 pm ET
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Xander Bogaerts saw his first action in the playoffs as a pinch-runner for Will Middlebrooks on Monday. (AP)

Xander Bogaerts saw his first action in the playoffs as a pinch-runner for Will Middlebrooks on Monday. (AP)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — As he prepared to meet with a small group of beat reporters, John Farrell leaned back in his chair and smirked.

“So last night . . .,” he cracked and then trailed off, knowing that the lion’s share of inquiries he faced would relate once again to some of his Game 3 managerial decisions. Yet Farrell suggested he hadn’t had a change of heart since the previous evening’s contest concluded, while also offering insight into his outlook on a number of questions related to his lineup for Game 4 on Tuesday.

Most notably, asked whether he felt it was important to remain consistent to the managerial style and decisions that he employed while navigating the Red Sox to the postseason, Farrell suggested that while there is value in such an approach, the decisions he made in Game 3 were “not just based on the intangible of trust or faith.” Specially, he suggested that he remained convinced of the “sound reasoning” behind letting Stephen Drew hit against left-handed reliever Jake McGee in the eighth inning, rather than using Xander Bogaerts for such a situation.

“To me, there’s sound reasoning behind not pinch hitting for Stephen Drew in that situation. I know everyone calls for the fact that just because he’s a right-handed hitter, it’s an automatic base hit,” said Farrell. “I wish that were the case.”

Farrell noted that the flame-throwing McGee throws his high-octane fastball almost exclusively, without the killer breaking ball that typically characterizes a left-on-left specialist. Indeed, McGee threw Drew nothing but fastballs in the eighth-inning at-bat between the two. As such, given both Drew’s familiarity with the Rays lefty (Drew was 0-for-5 with a walk and two strikeouts against him) and the lack of familiarity by Bogaerts against the left-hander, not to mention the fact that McGee has been just as effective against righties as he’s been against lefties, and the decision, to Farrell, was relatively clear.

It’s also worth noting that Farrell acknowledged that Bogaerts remains, at this point, an unknown quantity as a pinch-hitter.

“That’s not his fault,” said Farrell. “It’s just at-bats.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Red Sox-Rockies series preview 09.24.13 at 10:55 am ET
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The American League East has been decided, and for the first time since 2007 the Red Sox have wrapped up the division title, completing their worst-to-first turnaround. All that’s left for the Red Sox to do is secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Sox own a 95-62 record, just one game better than the A’s (94-63).

Todd Helton's last month in the majors has been a rough one. (AP)

Rockies first baseman Todd Helton’s last month in the majors has been a rough one. (AP)

The Red Sox continue to play good baseball in September, going 6-3 on the just-completed homestand, the last of the regular season. Although their streak of consecutive series wins was broken by the Orioles, who took two of three last week, they’ve still won five of their six series this month and have gone 14-6 since the start of September.

While the Sox might be looking to rest some players before the postseason, it doesn’t mean the lineup for the upcoming two games in Colorado will look like one for an intrasquad game in Fort Myers.

“We want to win out — we want to win 100 games,” Will Middlebrooks said. “And we want to have home-field advantage, too. It’s a close record for the best record. Oakland is right behind us. That’s important to us. A lot of starters are still playing. I’m sure they have the option to have the off time. But guys don’t want it. Guys want to play, and that’s pretty cool to see.”

The Sox dominated the Rockies in the two games against the interleague opponent at Fenway back in June, scoring a total of 16 runs off of Rockies pitching. The Rockies are 4-14 in interleague games this season.

It’s the pitching that’s been the biggest issue for the last-place Rockies. The Colorado staff has the worst ERA in the National League at 4.39. Both the relievers and the starters sit in the bottom third of just about every pitching category. And at 71-86, the Rockies occupy the cellar of the NL West, 19½ games off the pace set by the Dodgers.

The Rockies are coming off a game in which the staff allowed a season-high 13 runs, causing them to slip to a season-low 15 games under .500. It’s been a rough September for the Rockies, who have won just seven of their 20 games. However, with a decent offense, the Rockies could be a threat to any team visiting Coors Field. They own a 44-35 record at home as opposed to a dismal 27-51 mark on the road.

Here are the pitching matchups for the two-game set.

Tuesday: John Lackey (10-12, 3.44) vs. Tyler Chatwood (7-5, 3.36)
Wednesday: Jake Peavy (11-5, 4.02) vs. Roy Oswalt (0-6, 7.71)

WHO’S HOT: RED SOX

• The streak is broken and it’s been proven that Koji Uehara is in fact human, and not some strike-throwing pitching machine. But Uehara has shown very impressive resiliency. After a triple broke his club-record streak of consecutive batters retired at 37 and a sacrifice fly brought ended his streak of scoreless innings at 30 1/3, Uehara settled down and got the next two outs without a hitch. Since taking the loss in that game, Uehara has thrown 3 2/3 innings, giving up a couple of hits and earning two saves. The 38-year-old still is being used on a consistent basis and has yet to show any signs of fatigue. He’s racked up a total of 21 saves this season.

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Closing Time: Red Sox cap 2013 regular-season home slate with 5-2 win over Blue Jays 09.22.13 at 3:51 pm ET
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Felix Doubront logged eight shutout innings against the Rays on Tuesday. (AP)

Felix Doubront tossed seven effective innings against the Blue Jays at Fenway Park Sunday afternoon. (AP)

And now, Felix Doubront is off to the bullpen.

The 25-year-old left-hander stymied the cellar-dwelling Blue Jays in the Red Sox’ regular-season home finale, tossing through seven innings of two-run ball as the Sox beat Toronto, 5-2, in front of a sold-out crowd of 37,020 at Fenway Park.

The outing will stand, barring injury to another Red Sox starter, as Doubront’s final start of 2013. Manager John Farrell said before the game Doubront will work out of relief starting next weekend when the team visits the Orioles. Whether or not Doubront makes the postseason roster in any capacity remains to be seen.

Sunday, though, Doubront cruised through his seven innings on 97 pitches (61 strikes) and was particularly effective late. He retired the final nine Toronto batters he faced and saw only two over the minimum in his last four innings. His afternoon ended with a perfect eight-pitch seventh inning, capped by a nifty play by Stephen Drew, who ranged to his left, snagged a Kevin Pillar grounder, spun and got the out at first.

Although Doubront only struck out a pair — including Jose Reyes swinging to get things started — he scattered four hits and two walks to limit damage.

“He was very good,” Farrell said. “Much more powerful than the first few times out. The additional rest we were able to provide him seemed to pay off. A lot of strikes. Maybe not the number of strikeouts we’re used to seeing from Felix, but I though the carried his stuff through a full seven innings. He was efficient, they were aggressive early in the count. He went to his changeup when he needed to.

“He repeated his delivery. He just looked more fresh and rested. And that was the case. A solid seven innings of work.”

Doubront finished 2013 with a 3.87 ERA in 27 starts, giving the Red Sox five pitchers with sub-4.00 ERAs as starters. Only Ryan Dempster (4.64) is above that mark.

It has been the best season of Doubront’s relatively young major league career, and Farrell — who was Doubront’s pitching coach in 2010 when he made nine of his 12 major league appearances out of the bullpen — was complimentary of his growth.

“He’s a talented left-hander, he’s got a full compliment of pitches, he’s got some swing-and-miss to his fastball,” Farrell said, later adding, “The only thing that limits him currently is just the stamina and endurance over the course of a full season. He’s an extremely talented young guy.”

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX

Jackie Bradley Jr. put the Red Sox up for good with a three-run homer over the Blue Jays’ bullpen in the second inning, the third long ball in the 23-year-old’s sporadic major league time in 2013.

The home run tripled his big league RBI total from June 5 through Sunday, a span Bradely spent most of with Triple-A Pawtucket.

He didn’t have a ton of experience against knuckleballers coming into Sunday’s game against R.A. Dickey, but he did go 0-for-4 when the Sox faced Dickey April 7.

“I saw a pitch up that I could handle and I tried to take advantage of it with guys on base, and I was able to get it air-born and let the wind do the rest,” Bradley said. “When it went in the air, I was like, ‘Aw, man, please keep going.’ I think it got in on me a little bit, but I just got enough of it.

Sox fans could be getting a glimpse into the future with Bradley seeing more time in center while Jacoby Ellsbury remains sidelined with a fractured foot. In 10 games (31 at-bats) since rejoining the major league team, Bradley is hitting .258 with a .743 OPS and the three RBIs on that one swing.

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Closing Time: Jon Lester continues to dominate as Red Sox beat Yankees, 5-1 09.14.13 at 3:50 pm ET
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Jon Lester allowed one run over eight innings on Saturday. (AP)

Jon Lester allowed one run over eight innings on Saturday. (AP)

Jon Lester continued his recent dominance, holding the Yankees to three hits and one run over eight innings to lead the Red Sox to a 5-1 win on Saturday. He now has a 1.86 ERA over his last eight outings, all of which have been quality starts. Saturday marked the fifth time during that stretch that he’s surrendered one earned run or fewer.

Lester was perfect through the first three innings before giving up a leadoff triple to Curtis Granderson in the fourth. Granderson wound up scoring, but then Lester allowed just four more baserunners the rest of the way.

Offensively, the Red Sox continued their 2013 dominance of CC Sabathia. They got to him for nine hits, four walks and five runs over six innings, forcing him to throw 110 pitches before departing. Sabathia now has a 7.22 ERA and 1.88 WHIP against the Sox this season. The Red Sox scored each inning from the second through fifth.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

-Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes — batting fourth and fifth in the order — each reached base all four times they went to the plate. Napoli singled and scored in the second, singled in the third, walked and scored in the fifth, and walked in the seventh. Gomes walked in the second, lined an RBI single to center in the third, doubled in the fifth, and walked in the seventh. Napoli now has a .386 average and .500 on-base percentage over his last 18 games, while Gomes is at .343 and .385 over his last 12.

-A little small ball paid off with a pair of runs in the early innings. Daniel Nava moved two runners over with a sacrifice bunt in the second, and Napoli scored from third one batter later on a Will Middlebrooks groundout. The next inning, Shane Victorino moved Dustin Pedroia to second with a sacrifice, and Pedroia scored one batter later on a double by David Ortiz.

-David Ross reached base twice, walking in the second and singling and scoring in the fourth. Ross is now 6-for-18 (.333) with three walks over his last six starts.

-Franklin Morales pitched a perfect ninth. He’s allowed just one run over 8 1/3 innings since returning from injury.

-Alfonso Soriano was a late scratch for the Yankees due to a sprained right thumb. Soriano was hitting .278/.333/.595 with 12 home runs and 39 RBIs over his last 31 games. He is considered day-to-day.

WHAT WENT WRONG

-Victorino got all kinds of turned around in center field on Granderson’s triple to lead off the fourth. It might have been a tough catch even if Victorino had taken a good line, but once he got spun around, he had no chance. Victorino has played plenty of center field throughout his career, but had just 58 innings there this season going into Saturday’s game. Granderson scored on a groundout two batters later.

-Middlebrooks continued to struggle, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. He’s now gone 17 straight at bats without reaching base. Middlebrooks did register an RBI on his groundout in the second, though.

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Red Sox-Rays series preview 09.10.13 at 12:26 pm ET
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The Red Sox will look to keep up their winning ways and extend their lead over the second-place Rays as they kick off a three-game set in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Tuesday night.

Evan Longoria and the Rays have fallen well behind the Red Sox after a rough West Coast road trip. (AP)

Evan Longoria and the Rays have fallen well behind the Red Sox after a rough West Coast road trip. (AP)

On Aug. 24, the Rays and the Red Sox were tied atop the AL East. The circumstances have changed since then, however, and the Rays now are looking to keep alive their hopes of a division title.

On Saturday, with a Red Sox win and Rays loss, Boston moved 8½ games ahead of the struggling Rays, the largest gap between the two clubs this season. The Rays managed to capitalize on a Red Sox loss on Sunday, moving to within 7½ games, but with 19 games left on the Tampa Bay schedule (16 for the Red Sox), time is running out to make up ground.

Sunday’s loss was not an easy one for the Red Sox, who managed to even the score in the ninth inning off of Mariano Rivera only to lose the game in the bottom of the inning on a wild pitch from Brandon Workman that allowed Ichiro Suzuki to score. But the offensive outburst in the first three games of the series is enough to ease the pain of the tough loss. Including the 20-run explosion in the series finale with Detroit, the Red Sox scored 54 runs over the course of four games. That’s the highest total in a four-game stretch for the Red Sox since 1950, and the total is 10 more than any other team has scored over the course of four games this season.

“We’re doing it in bulk right now,” Jonny Gomes said after Saturday’s 13-9 win. “Everyone is on a roll.”

The Red Sox will get a key member of their club back in the series opener with the Rays, when Clay Buchholz takes the mound for the first time since June 8 as the Red Sox look to win their eighth straight series.

The Rays, on the other hand, have been on a cold streak, and are likely more than ready to return home to the comfortable confines of Tropicana Field after going 3-7 on a West Coast road trip. The Rays have faltered in the second half despite a 21-5 record in July, going .500 since the break and going 11-15 in August, their worst month to date. The Trop will be a sight for sore eyes for Joe Maddon‘s squad, which has fallen to 34-38 on the road but boasts a 44-26 record at home.

“Fortunately, the season has several more weeks to go and there’s plenty of time to right this thing and maybe get as hot as we’ve been cold,” Maddon said after a loss to the Mariners on Saturday. “We just have not hit well on this side of the world.”

Despite the significant slide, the Rays still have a hold on a wild card spot. If the season ended today, they’d be in line for the second wild card, 2½ games behind Texas for the first slot. The Orioles and Indians are nipping at their heels, though, both 1½ games back of the second wild card spot.

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Learning to win: Why PawSox playoff run matters for player development 09.07.13 at 8:52 am ET
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The Red Sox kept Jackie Bradley Jr. in Pawtucket for the playoffs rather than calling him up on Sept. 1. (AP)

The Red Sox kept Jackie Bradley Jr. in Pawtucket for the playoffs rather than calling him up on Sept. 1. (AP)

Even though Jacoby Ellsbury is dealing with a hand injury and the rosters have expanded to 40 players, Jackie Bradley Jr. remains in Pawtucket– as do Allen Webster, Brock Holt and pitchers like Brayan Villarreal and Pedro Beato, both of whom have contributed at the big league level this season.

For the third straight year, the Pawtucket Red Sox are in the playoffs, and it’s clear that the Red Sox feel that these players, each of whom could easily fill a spot on the club’s major league roster this month, would benefit from experiencing postseason play in Pawtucket. So it raises the question: why should we care about the Triple-A playoffs?

There’s not necessarily an obvious correlation between the success of high-level minor league teams and the success of the major league team, the players’ performance in that organization’s system, or even the depth of the organization. Sometimes clubs with strong farm systems will have poor records among their minor league teams because of the constant shuffling of rosters and movement of prospects throughout the levels or based on where players are in their maturation process.

But on an individual basis, getting a chance to play in the International or Pacific League playoffs is an important and positive experience. While there’s no way a minor league playoff appearance could compare to the atmosphere of a big-league postseason run, staying on the field into September has many benefits, included the added pressure of do-or-die situations, something that young players may not have experienced, and something that they would experience if they were called up to the majors.

“I think it mimics a regular season game in the majors more than anything, playing in that pressure,” former major league infielder Lou Merloni said. “Sometimes, in minor league games, when you play in front of crowds you’ll go out to win, but [in the postseason] you start to feel a little pressure. You start to get the nerves, and I think it’s the closest those guys will feel to playing in a big league game.”

Arnie Beyeler, who managed the PawSox last season and saw his team win the Governor’s Cup and advance all the way to the Triple-A National Championship, thinks that the playoff experience can really benefit young players.

“It’s great when guys get to win and go into the postseason and get playoff experience at any level,” Beyeler said. “Ultimately, when you get up here to the big leagues, it’s all about winning. So any of those experiences you can get, for guys to play extra or the pressure that you get going down the stretch trying to hold onto a lead, or playing and getting hot and getting to play in the playoffs, that do-or-die, day-to-day thing…you can’t get that experience anywhere else without being there.”

Will Middlebrooks, who was part of the PawSox club in 2011 when they finished first in the International League North division and clinched a playoff berth, thinks that while the postseason experience in the minors can’t duplicate what a playoff chase is like in the big leagues, it’s valuable nonetheless.

“Of course it’s a positive experience, it’s just a chance to play ball after the regular season is over, which is something not a lot of people get to do,” Middlebrooks said. “It doesn’t translate to anything up here [in the majors] as far as playoffs go, though. It’s another level.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Red Sox-Yankees series preview 09.05.13 at 10:34 am ET
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It’ll be a showdown in the Bronx as the Red Sox visit Yankee Stadium for the first time since early June, taking on the Yanks in a four-game set this weekend.

The Yankees are 12-5 since Ryan Dempster hit Alex Rodriguez with a pitch in a Sunday night game on Aug. 18. (AP)

Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees are 12-5 since Red Sox right-hander Ryan Dempster hit Rodriguez with a pitch in a Sunday night game on Aug. 18. (AP)

The Red Sox finished off a series victory over the Al Central-leading Tigers in style on Wednesday night, with the team knocking eight home runs by seven different players for a final score of 20-4. With the victory, the Red Sox maintained their 5 1/2-game lead over the Rays in the division and improved to an American League-best 84-57.

The 20 runs scored by the Red Sox stands as the highest total since the team scored 25 back in 2003. The eight home runs tie a franchise record, done just one other time (July 4, 1977, vs. the Blue Jays). The home runs by seven different players set a franchise record. And all of this came against a fellow first-place team, one that the Red Sox could meet again in October.

“One through nine, we have a guy that can hit the ball over the fence,” starting pitcher Ryan Dempster said. “That’s something not a lot of teams have, but at the same time, we’re putting up runs however we can get them.”

Dempster and the Red Sox will meet up with the Yankees for the first time since the incident with Alex Rodriguez that resulted in a five-game suspension for Dempster, although the right-hander will not face the Yanks in this series.

Just when it looks like the Yankees might fall out of the playoff picture, they find a way to string together wins and stay afloat in the division and the wild card chase. While the Yankees sit eight games back of the Red Sox for the AL East lead, they’ve managed to keep themselves in the race for a wild card, currently 2 1/2 games out. The Yankees had a decent month of August, going 16-12, good for their best winning percentage of any month since April.

Getting some of the key members of the lineup back on the field has done wonders for the Yankees. In August, the club put together its best offensive month since April, with the lineup batting a collective .267/.337/.417. The return of players like Derek Jeter and, of course, Rodriguez, plus the acquisitions of Alfonso Soriano and Mark Reynolds have given the Yankees a bit of a spark heading into the stretch.

The series against the Red Sox will be a big one for the Yankees, the kind of series that can all but make or break their chances at a playoff berth. They’ve won five of their last six games but have lost seven of their last 12 contests against the Red Sox. Overall, the Yankees have a winning record against American League East teams, but that mark is skewed by a 13-3 record against the last-place Blue Jays. The Yankees are under .500 against every other AL East club.

“[This series] could do a lot to determine where we’re going to be at,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said after Wednesday’s 6-5 victory over the White Sox. “I think it’s important that we concentrate on one game at a time and not look too far ahead.”

Here are the pitching matchups.

Thursday: Jake Peavy (11-5, 3.91) vs. Ivan Nova (8-4, 2.88)
Friday: Felix Doubront (10-6, 3.89) vs. Andy Pettitte (10-9, 4.01)
Saturday: John Lackey (8-12, 3.22) vs. David Huff (2-0, 1.13)
Sunday: Jon Lester (13-8, 3.88) vs. Hiroki Kuroda (11-10, 2.99)

WHO’S HOT: RED SOX

• Two nights, two huge hits for Will Middlebrooks. The third baseman provided all the runs the Red Sox would need on Tuesday night, clubbing a two-out, two-run single in the fifth inning (credit also due to Stephen Drew, whose ground-rule double made Middlebrooks’ big hit possible). Middlebrooks came through in a big way again in the series finale, breaking the game open with the second grand slam of his career and first this season. Since returning from Pawtucket, Middlebrooks has impressed at the plate and has stayed consistent with his approach. He’s hitting .343/.413/.529 since his recall on Aug. 10 with seven extra-base hits, along with eight walks against 17 strikeouts, an improvement over his performance earlier in the season. He cooled off for a stretch prior to the series against the Tigers, going 4-for-25 in the previous three series, but Middlebrooks went 5-for-11 in his last three games.

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