Red Sox Baseball is Exciting Again

The standings may not show it, but the Red Sox have been a pretty good baseball team in recent months. Boston is 35-33 since the All-Star break; 24-14 since Dave Dombrowski was hired; and 20-11 since Hanley Ramirez last played defensively. Once a basement-languishing mess, the Red Sox have risen accordingly to third place in the East and ninth overall in the American League, with tangible hope resurfacing that this team can finally be competitive again next year.

Red Sox

Perhaps more importantly, the Red Sox have just been fun to watch recently. After months and years of acrimony and borderline crisis, it’s great to be able to smile when watching games again, as the team looks more alive and enthusiastic. Maybe that’s a testament to interim manager Torey Lovullo, who seems more relaxed and well-liked than John Farrell, or perhaps it’s a reflection of homegrown talent replacing overpaid failures like Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. But whatever its genesis, the energy is back at Fenway Park, which was sold out 94.8% of the time this year despite obvious disappointments, a quite incredible statistic.

When Mookie Betts made his stupendous catch at the right field wall last week, taking a home run away from the Orioles’ Chris Davis, the old ballpark was rocking like times of yore. That ferocious buzz, that hearty Bostonian roar, was back at the corner of Yawkey Way and Van Ness Street. The fans were pumped up, no matter the record or the standings. Fenway Park was an exciting place again, which is not only good for Boston and the Red Sox, but also for Major League Baseball and sports in general. Everything is better when the marquee franchises are playing great at packed and passionate stadiums.

Such moments of drama have rekindled optimism around the Red Sox and thawed some of the skepticism that greeted Dombrowski’s hiring. Now, there is genuine excitement about his vision for the future; real belief that The Olde Towne Team is on the cusp of another great era. Everything Dombrowski has done so far has worked, from aligning the electric outfield of Bradley Jr., Betts and Castillo to giving extended playing time to farm graduates like Travis Shaw. His early moves have inspired Red Sox Nation, which is ready for the next phase of his plan to be enacted.

The next stage of that vision will be built by a newly aligned hierarchy that has been stitched together in recent weeks. Dombrowski will be the chief arbiter on all baseball matters, with Mike Hazen serving as General Manager and Frank Wren coming aboard as Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations. In layman’s terms, Hazen, a noted sabermetrician, and Wren, a renowned scout, will work as two halves of one organ, from which Dombrowski will seek detailed wisdom to moderate his views and validate his decisions. Elsewhere, Sam Kennedy will oversee the Red Sox’ business operation, while Larry Lucchino will slide into an emeritus role almost as an honorary advisor.

Freshly assembled front offices usually inherit a dire situation. After all, executives are typically fired for under-performance. However, while this is true of the Red Sox in that Boston has reached the postseason only once in the last six years, Dombrowski, Hazen and Wren could barely ask for a greater foundation from which to build. The Red Sox have an excellent farm system and an even better young core at the big league level. Accordingly, the team’s biggest objective this offseason will be supplementing that base with quality imports, rather than totally starting over.

Therefore, Red Sox fans have a lot to be happy about, at the end of another trying season. The sun is once again shining over Fenway Park, and the cheer has returned to Red Sox Nation. We’re experiencing the start of a bright new dawn. Hopefully twilight doesn’t arrive for another generation.

Looking at the Red Sox New Faces

This season has been rough for the Red Sox so far, as they sit  6 games below .500 and in last place in the AL East. The whole team has been under performing, but some of the new acquisitions the Red Sox brought in have been particularly disappointing. With about a third of the season gone, it’s time to take a look at some of the key guys the Red Sox brought in during the off-season.

Pitching: D

Going into the season, one of the areas many analysts and fans thought the Red Sox Red Soxwould struggle was pitching, especially with the starting rotation. Well, through 2 months of the season, those predictions have come true.

For the starters, the lowest ERA on the staff is Clay Buchholz at 4.33, and Wade Miley has the lowest of the 3 new starters the Red Sox brought in at 4.97, per ESPN. Rick Porcello, the guy a lot of people thought could have been a solid #2 at the least, has won only 4 games and has an ERA of 5.33, while Justin Masterson has an ERA over 6, and is injured to boot.

The new guys in the bullpen have not been much better, save for Alexi Ogando, who the Sox brought in as a free agent. He’s sporting a 2.95 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 18.1 innings of work, according to ESPN,which easily makes him the best acquisition as far as the pitching staff goes.

Lineup: C

The 2 big money guys we brought in, Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, have left a lot to be desired so far. Both have had their upsides so far, but they haven’t been consistent enough so far. Hanley has been the better signing offensively with 12 home runs so far, but there was a big gap between numbers 10 & 11, which came Thursday in the Red Sox beat the Texas Rangers, 5-0.

Sandy Leon has been a pretty pleasant surprise, at least defensively. He’s thrown out 3 of 4 base stealers so far, per Bleacher Report, which is pretty good in his limited action. He’s only hitting .205 right now, but most fans probably wouldn’t expect much more than that from a catcher.

Overall, I expected a lot more from the Red Sox lineup. I thought if there was one place I thought they would have success, it would be swinging the bat. With the lineup they have, they should have been able to at least somewhat mask the pitching deficiencies, but that hasn’t happened so far. That doesn’t fall squarely on the shoulders of the 2 big money guys, but they’ve had their struggles as well this season. I think I’m right in assuming that most of Red Sox Nation, myself included, expects more from the entire lineup, not just the guys we paid big bucks for.

It’s a long season, but the Red Sox need to turn things around ASAP. They have the talent to do so – they just need to start executing like they can.

Offseason Review: Did the Red Sox Do Enough?

red sox offseason

In signing two of the top free agent position players and revamping a depleted starting rotation, the Red Sox undoubtedly made progress this offseason. Yet, deep down, questions still remain as to whether they improved enough, and whether management could’ve done even more to upgrade a messy roster and steer Boston back to the postseason.

In analyzing the winter work of Ben Cherington, it’s important to remember the thorough incompetence of the baseline roster he sought to improve. As you are probably all too aware, the 2014 Red Sox were awful, ranking 18th in runs, 24th in slugging, 23rd in ERA and 22nd in WHIP. At 71-91, they finished dead last in the AL East, 25 games behind the runaway Orioles. Only three teams American League teams compiled a worse record.

Offseason Review

Accordingly, in seeking a swift rebuild, Cherington was at an immediate disadvantage, with the Red Sox basically trying to win a race after giving a head start to all their closest opponents. They would have to work incredibly hard just to get back in the conversation.

Thus, no time was wasted, as Boston committed a combined $192.5 million to Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez and Justin Masterson, before acquiring Rick Porcello and Wade Miley via trade, dealing from surplus to add quality.

The success of this approach, and, by extension, the degree to which the Sox will improve in 2015, rests largely on the ability of those five new arrivals to significantly outperform their predecessors. The probability of that happening is relatively high, with the collective 2014 WAR of the incoming players sitting at 11.5, compared to the awful 3 WAR accumulated by the forebears in the same position, namely Yoenis Cespedes, Will Middlebrooks, Brock Holt, Anthony Ranaudo, Rubby de La Rosa and Allen Webster.

Theoretically, the net increase of 8.5 WAR should help the Sox back above the .500 threshold, but, at this point, it’s difficult to foresee a quantum leap back into the 90-win range required to secure a wildcard, let alone the 95-win plateau typically needed to clinch the AL East.

Of course, we’ve seen this team march from worse starting points to loftier destinations, most recently in 2013, but, this time round, there seems to be far more uncertainty and far less magic surrounding the team. As Opening Day approaches, there are still so many landscape-altering factors to be determined, all with potentially major affects on the baseline win-loss record. Will the new superstars meet their expectations? At what point do the Sox abandon their no-ace strategy and pursue elite, frontline starting pitching? What impact will the new hitting coach have? Is the clubhouse culture compatible with another worst-to-first turnaround?

At this point, we just don’t know. This Sox team is harder to define and quantify than most in recent memory. In all likelihood, it’ll be better than the 2014 incarnation, but to what extent? Ultimately, that will only be discovered once this perplexing blend of players jogs onto the diamond in competitive action. Nobody knows what to expect, which, after all, is why 162 actual games are required to capture a definitive answer.

Sox Must Master Off-Season

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After a frenzy of a trade deadline moving most of the pitching staff, the Sox must master off-season free agency. By mastering free agency, the target should be signing and bringing pitcher Justin Masterson back to Boston. He began his career with the Red Sox from 2006-2009. He was later traded away to Cleveland for Victor Martinez who was supposed to have been a big back the Sox needed at the time.

Re-living the trade deadline of 2009, teams were interested in a young fire balling Daniel Bard. The Sox felt he was untouchable at the time and unloaded Masterson. What a mistake that was looking back on it! Masterson did a fine job in Cleveland, most of the time being the staff ace while he was there, until being traded recently to St Louis. Masterson won’t be a tier one free agent pitcher as those will-be-Max-Scherzer and the since departed Jon Lester.

As much as Sox fans would like to think that Lester will come back in the off-season, that isn’t going to happen. He teased Red Sox fans by saying even if traded, he would welcome a return back. After hearing owner John Henry’s comments about not signing players to long-term contracts after a player hits 30, there is your proof he is not returning. If he was going to be here, the Sox would have already signed him.

Getting back to Masterson, he could work out as a veteran addition to the staff to help with the youngsters that are going to be here. He could potentially be the Mike Napoli or Shane Victorino free agent attraction the Sox are looking for—big money, short-term three-four year deal. Three is my guess of what they would top out for him.

This would only be the case if he doesn’t go on too much of a tear for the Cardinals and prices himself out of what the Red Sox would be willing to commit to him. The Cardinals did good for themselves getting him and John Lackey to join them for the stretch run. Masterson has played for John Farrell before during his first stint here and would be a good fit in the clubhouse.

The future of the staff appears to be Ruby De La Rosa, Anthony Ranaudo and Brandon Workman at this time. Allen Webster hasn’t shown much yet, but he will continue to get more chances. The Sox still have, and are high on, Henry Owens who is still in the minors and could be here possibly in September for a cup of coffee. With the remaining games of the year, the Sox should get a good idea of whom will be ready for 2015 and what they will need to do in free agency.