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Mike Shalin's Working Press: Plenty to talk about with Sox

By MIKE SHALIN
August 13. 2018 11:27PM




MOOKIE BETTS AND J.D. MARTINEZ are battling for the MVP Award. Chris Sale is putting up historical numbers as he fights for his first Cy Young. Craig Kimbrel has struggled some and the bullpen remains a bit of a roller coast for a team that is 85-35 – yes, 85-35 – for a rookie manager.

Lots of chatter about a lot of things.

But no one seems to be talking about Xander Bogaerts.

The shortstop rested Sunday, holding steady with a .275 batting average, 17 homers and 72 RBIs in 98 games. He has an .860 OPS and seven errors at a very important position. He remains a key behind the potent top of the order, but deserves credit for another solid year.

Remember when you were worried about him as a shortstop?

Martinez, my current MVP choice, was named AL player of the week Monday as he cleared the 100-RBI mark. I love Betts, but Martinez is the difference in this team.

Sale-ing along

There just aren’t enough words to describe what Sale has done, so take these stats from @SoxNotes:

“Chris Sale has a 0.20 ERA in his last 7 starts (44.0 IP, 1 R). According to @EliasSports, that is the lowest ERA by a Red Sox pitcher over any 7-start span since earned runs became an official stat in 1913. In those 7 starts, Sale has 79 K and 6 BB.”

And “Prior to Chris Sale, it had been 50 years since any pitcher recorded an ERA of 0.20 or lower over a 7-start span (min. 15.0 IP). During Bob Gibson’s 1968 MVP season, he posted a 0.14 ERA in a stretch of 7 starts from June 6-July 6 (source: @EliasSports).”

After Sunday’s five-inning/12-K outing, Sale, who was coming off the disabled list, said, “I felt normal for the last three or four days. You get stuck in that training room, you can feel like a science project pretty quick. I felt normal. I knew I was mainly worried about command. Sandy (Leon) saw some things early and used it to our advantage.”

More @SoxNotes: “The Red Sox’ 85 wins are their most ever through 120 games. They are 50 games above .500 for the first time since 1946. The Sox will need to go 21-21 or better in their final 42 games in order to break the franchise’s single-season wins record of 105, which was set in 1912.”

Topsy turvy

The Red Sox kept rolling over the weekend, but a look around the majors show some interesting things as we hit the middle of August.

Staring in the AL West, where the Mariners swept four games in Houston against the injury riddled Astros to re-insert themselves into both the division and wild card races. Through Sunday, sizzling Oakland was 2½ games behind the Astros and the M’s were 1½ games behind the A’s.

The Yankees led the A’s by 4½ games for the wild card and Seattle by six.

Over in the NL, the Braves and Phillies ended the weekend tied for first in the East (Atlanta took a half-game lead with a win Monday in the first half of a doubleheader), while the favored Nationals suffered a crushing Sunday Night Baseball defeat against the Cubs to fall 5½ out.

The Rockies took three straight from the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks moved into first place in the West, a game ahead of LA and 1½ ahead of Colorado. The Cubs led the Central by three games over Milwaukee, but here come the Cardinals, suddenly 5½ out with Matt Carpenter playing like an MVP. One of the two East leaders and Milwaukee were tied for the wild card spots, with five teams within 2½ games.

Buckle up — this should be fun.

Brady active

Reportedly battling a sore back, Tom Brady has clearly been more active in camp — and apparently is back in terms of competitiveness. He reportedly became so frustrated after one play at Monday’s practice that he punted the ball into the stands.

The Patriots host the Eagles in a Super Bowl “rematch” Thursday, which means Philly’s Lane Johnson gets another look at the team he says doesn’t have any fun.

“I’m ready,” Johnson told KYW Newsradio. “I’ve been waiting on this ever since the Super Bowl was over with. It’s time.”

Hope he doesn’t get TOO excited.

Asked if there’s any extra motivation for his players with the Eagles coming to Foxboro — FOR AN EXHIBITION GAME— Bill Belichick said, “Right now we’re really just trying to focus on having a good practice today. That’s what we need to do, build off yesterday, correct some mistakes from yesterday and go out and have a good day today.

Monday, Belichick praised the work Jason McCourty has been doing in practice and, as you might have guessed, wouldn’t comment on McCourty not playing in the preseason opener.

“The guys we played, we played. The guys we didn’t play, we didn’t play,” he said when asked if there might have been an injury involved. “We’ll play other guys this week and we’ll see how it goes. I mean, you all know I’m not talking about anybody’s injuries, so there’s no point in even bringing that up. We’re not going through that. Can’t look at everybody every week — there’s just too many guys. So, some guys will play one week, some guys will play more the other week.”

Dont’a Hightower is impressed with rookie linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley, saying Monday, “He’s a smart kid, eager to learn. Fast learner. He’s a big kid, quick on his feet. He’s going to be a good ballplayer.” Bentley was selected by the Patriots in the fifth round of the 2018 draft.

Bentley led the team with six tackles, five solos and two for lost yardage, in the opener. He also relayed defensive signals in from the sideline, Belichick saying, “Ja’Whaun’s a smart kid, so the mental has never been an issue with him.”

Said Bentley: “That’s a big part of the game, knowing the playbook and being able to grasp certain things. You’ve got to be able to know what things are and think fast and think fast on the fly. That’s something here we take pride in.”

Hard knocks

Watching the first week of the annual HBO series Hard Knocks, I instantly became a fan of the Browns, who were winless in 2018. I defy you to watch that and see what coach Hue Jackson has already been through and NOT root for that team.

In a span of less than two weeks, Jackson, who already has more than he can handle professionally, suffered the losses of both his brother and then his mother — the first show dedicated to the memory of Betty Lee Jackson.

“At any given time he’s got two cameras in his office,” Jackson’s agent, John Thornton, said. “He’s doing the best he can not to let his emotions get the best of him. He knows he has to be there for the team.”

Jackson’s spirits had to be lifted, however, by the play of top draft pick Baker Mayfield in the opener against the Giants. Mayfield is battling Tyrod Taylor for the starting spot. The money here is on Mayfield.

Tiger talk

I wasn’t home for the PGA finish on Sunday, but I would have been watching if I was. I’ve said this before, but the only time these eyes look at golf is when Tiger Woods is a factor.

He shot his best-ever final day of a major with a 64 but it wasn’t quite enough. Still, when Tiger plays, people watch.

Brooks Koepka became the first since 2000 (Tiger, one of four to previously do it) to win both the U.S. Open and PGA in the same year — but remained the “in other news” of the tourney because of Woods’ near-miss.

Here and there

Thanks to the Boston Herald’s Steve Buckley from reporting from the Billy Joel concert at Fenway with a tweet saying Piano Man said: “So the Red Sox are doin’ pretty good ... it’s all right.’ Followed, of course, by “New York State of Mind.” … The Cubs’ David Bote, an 18th-round draft pick playing third base for the injured Kris Bryant, made history Sunday. He became only the third player in baseball history to hit a pinch-hit grand slam with his team down three runs and down to its last out. The Cubs beat the Nationals, 4-3.… Cubs manager Joe Maddon and Alex Rodriguez had it out in a “candid” chat Sunday over A-Rod’s claim an injured Yu Darvish is a distraction to the team while working out and not doing it on his own. “It was very good,” Maddon said. “Alex and I had a very nice discussion. I felt good about it. Hopefully he felt equally the same. We talked openly about it. Under those circumstances for me, normally it’s one of those things that you speak in a candid manner to one another and then you move on from there. I really believe through that conversation, we have a chance to become pretty good friends.” … Happy to report “The Hometown Team,” photog Steve Babineau’s four-decade compilation of Red Sox photos (with yours truly providing the words around the pics) is entering a second printing. Check it out on Amazon.… Top Celtics draft pick Robert Williams, who has had problems being on time, took a step toward fixing that — he bought a place right next to the team’s new practice facility. “Two-minute walk,” said Williams, who laughed and said, “Can’t be late!” … The Bruins will have 14 games televised nationally by NBC or NBCSN, including the Winter Classic against the Blackhawks at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind. … Kimbrel in his last seven games: 7-1/3 innings, six earned runs, six walks, two blown saves. He hasn’t had a clean inning in any of his four appearances this month, but has 11 strikeouts among his 12 outs in those games. … Marlins first base coach Perry Hill inserted a wet piece of lettuce inside his helmet at hot Atlanta Monday. He said it was a trick Pete Rose taught him to keep cool. … We repeat: the Red Sox are 85-35. Column pal Ken Powtak asked me to rank this team in relation to the other great teams. We will do that here soon. … Finally, a baseball signed by Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Cy Young, Tris Speaker, George Sisler, Walter Johnson, Connie Mack, Nap Lajoie, Eddie Collins and Grover Cleveland Alexander went for a record $623,369 at auction. No, you can’t come over and see it.

Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is shalinmike@yahoo.com.


Sports columns Patriots/NFL Red Sox/MLB Celtics/NBA Bruins/NHL