Where Did it All Go Wrong for the Red Sox?

The irony was painful. After a summer of blowout wins and offensive fireworks, the Red Sox succumbed weakly in the fall, unable to locate the big hit when it mattered most. A vaunted lineup, unrivaled in the Majors this season, was stifled by a resilient Cleveland Indians team, as old friend Terry Francona masterminded a Division Series sweep of Boston.

Red Sox

Before the series, few people took the Indians seriously. Three of their best players – Michael Brantley, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar – were missing due to injury. Another star, Corey Kluber, saw his start pushed back due to another ailment. By most measures, the Red Sox were far superior. Most fans predicted a swift sweep. That’s exactly what they got, but of an entirely different flavor.

A Shock for Red Sox Nation

The way it happened was stunning. Boston didn’t play great to close the regular season, but a refreshed approach was expected once the playoffs began. Instead, Red Sox Nation was left waiting, and waiting, and waiting some more, for a team that never showed up. Almost from the first pitch in Cleveland, there was a sense of brewing melodrama. There was a sense that this team had run its course, quite incredibly. The Indians finished the job with shocking rapidity.

Perhaps plain old complacency is to blame. Did the Red Sox simply believe their own hype? That’s difficult to confirm, but it would at least explain the way Boston was caught like a deer in the headlights. When the games really mattered, when the wheat was separated from the chaff, this team wasn’t good enough. It just never got going. And now we’re left to contemplate through the bitter months ahead.

As people digest this loss around the hot stoves of New England, one topic will inspire more debate that any other: the choking offense. So powerful during the regular season, the Red Sox lineup froze on the biggest stage of all.

How Did the Red Sox Get Swept?

While it’s unfair to pinpoint any one guy for criticism, it is worth noting the performance of these praised hitters to paint a collective picture. Dustin Pedroia managed two hits in twelve ALDS at-bats. Mookie Betts, by all consensus an MVP candidate, collected just two in ten. That was better than Jackie Bradley, who produced just one hit, while Xander Bogaerts and Hanley Ramirez combined to go 6-for-24. It just wasn’t good enough.

Even David Ortiz, the master of October baseball, found little magic left in his wand. Papi added just one more hit to his postseason ledger before riding off into the cold night. For once, he couldn’t muster the big blow, and neither could his teammates. The Red Sox left 41 runners on base during this three-game series. They scored just seven runs. In the end, after all the worrying, that ridiculed rotation kept Boston in these games for the most part. The offense just couldn’t deliver.

And so, what now? The Red Sox will seek a replacement for Ortiz, as weird as that sounds. Perhaps John Farrell will see his position as manager reviewed. Maybe Dave Dombrowski will try to address some weaknesses throughout the offseason.

This young core will return to the postseason on plenty of occasions moving forward. But, right now, this was just a step too far for Mookie, Xander, Jackie and the rest. They should learn from the experience, and come back stronger for it. That may not help Red Sox fans deal with the present shock, but it should assist these players in preparing for future assaults on a World Series championship.

The Red Sox Are Built for Sustainable Success

The Red Sox are edging closer to their first division title since 2013. At various times in recent memory, that seemed impossible. Too many collapses. Not enough nerve. But as the leaves change color and autumn truncates summer, things are falling into place just nicely this time. The offense is unstoppable, and the pitching has improved. Boston is galloping away with the American League East, and that may be the case for many years to come.

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This current success is rooted in fairly recent failure. The Red Sox have made just one postseason appearance since 2009. They’ve finished in last place three times since then, including the past two seasons, while winning eighty games has proved difficult. Managers have changed. Front office members have been fired. New players have arrived on bloated contracts. Yet, through it all, hope still pervaded, for an exciting group of prospects received playing time in which to hone its craft. Now, we’re seeing the fruits of that labor at the Major League level, and it’s pretty magical.

How the Red Sox Built a New Core

In darker days, back when Pablo Sandoval flailed at off-speed junk or Bobby Valentine lost control, we heard so much about the new core developing below. Well, it’s finally here. And it’s finally attuned to big league ball. Mookie Betts has over 200 hits, 30 home runs, 100 RBI and 20 stolen bases. Xander Bogaerts has 20 bombs of his own and he led the league in batting average earlier this season. Jackie Bradley Jr. may finish with 30 homers and 100 RBI with a late surge, complimenting his all-world defense. These players have an average age of just 24. They’re great, and they’re going to be around for a very long time.

Around that nucleus, there are more layers of young Red Sox talent. Andrew Benintendi is just 21, but his grace, poise and ability belies that fact. Yoan Moncada needs further refinement, but his raw skills saw him promoted to Boston before turning 22. Meanwhile, Eduardo Rodriguez has slowly returned to form, and he may be the Red Sox’ third playoff starter. Then we have Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez, one of whom will eventually become the starting catcher at Fenway Park.

Few Teams Can Compete With This Talent

Quite simply, no other team in the AL East can match that cadre of young, cost-controlled, Major League-ready talent. Toronto is a strong opponent, but many of their aging stars will soon hit free agency. The Yankees are transitioning to a youth movement, and their farm is loaded. But in developmental terms, New York is probably where Boston was in 2014. Many of those bright young players still have a lot to learn, and that can be a painful process. Meanwhile, Baltimore relies on a veteran core, and Tampa Bay is so far removed from contention as to be almost irrelevant.

The Red Sox will have tremendous flexibility moving forward, as these players should remain in Boston for many years. However, right now, veterans like David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Rick Porcello and Dustin Pedroia are providing valuable experience and leading the Red Sox back to contention. That blend of youth and know-how is crucial. It may just result in a deep championship run, if the magic dust doesn’t run out.

Whether the Red Sox win it all this year or not, fans can rest assured that other opportunities will arise in future years. At one point, just a few short years ago, that was a distant dream. Yet now, after building through the tough times, sustainable success is once again on tap in Beantown. It should be fun to watch.

Porcello Emerges As Red Sox Unlikely Ace

When David Price signed a 7-year $217 million dollar deal last December, many assumed he’d fill the role as the Red Sox ace. For that kind of money, a pitcher should do more than just win a few games. Despite Price’s strong performance, all eyes are now on Rick Porcello. As Porcello emerges as the Red Sox unlikely ace, many in Boston are beginning to wonder if he can win the AL Cy Young Award, and carry the team to a World Series.

Since starting his career in 2009, Porcello has held his own in the American League (for the most part).porcello emerges Despite an ERA that often hovered above 4, he led the American League in shutouts in 2014 with three. Porcello is a strong pitcher, but before this season did not have many opportunities to prove himself. It didn’t help that he went 9-15 his first year in Boston. It is, however, hard to blame Porcello’s dismal 2015 season on him alone. 2015 was one of the Red Sox worst seasons in recent memory. Porcello and the rest of the pitching staff didn’t have strong run support. Thankfully, 2016 is proving to be a much different year for the better.

As Porcello Emerges, So Does Rest Of The Team

One of the reasons why Porcello is finally getting the recognition he deserves is because of run support. Four of the team’s hitters have 20+ home runs and five of them have a batting average over .300. On top of that, other pitchers on the rotation are showing their strong stuff, too. Steven Wright is surprising everyone with a 13-6 record. While Price may be taking a back seat to Porcello, he’s holding steady with a 15-8 record including 201 strikeouts.

It’s all but certain that the Red Sox will make the post season. If they can keep it together, they’ll meet either Toronto, Cleveland, or Texas in the playoffs. Those are not easy teams to beat. After the 13-3 shellacking the Sox gave the Blue Jays on September 9th, however, which marked Porcello’s 20th win, it might not be so hard.

If Porcello can stay focused, get the run support he needs, and keep his hat out of the washing machine, I won’t be surprised if he gets a Cy Young Award after taking the Red Sox to the World Series.

 

Dave Dombrowski Has Done All He Can

What more can Dave Dombrowski do to help the Red Sox win in 2016? Not a whole lot. From surprising trades to aggressive promotions, the President of Baseball Operations has worked tirelessly to spark a renaissance of Boston baseball. Now, the trade deadline has passed and the dog days of summer are upon us. It’s time for John Farrell to pilot the plane Dombrowski has built. It’s time to win.

The Dave Dombrowski Project

The overhaul began last winter. Craig Kimbrel arrived in a blockbuster trade. David Price signed a humongous contract. Pablo Sandoval was relegated from the long term plan. In stunning style, the Red Sox transitioned from planning for a brighter tomorrow to fighting for a happier today. Dombrowski executed a shift in philosophy, and a new blueprint was implemented.

Dave Dombrowski

Through spring training, the Red Sox continued to do things differently. Dave continued to press as many buttons as he could reach, hoping to avoid another fruitless October. Travis Shaw became the everyday third baseman. Hanley Ramirez moved to first. A sense of urgency was injected into the Red Sox’ play. They knew the time for excuses had passed.

Time to Deliver

Yet, as the season has wore on, this team has been quite a conundrum. On the one hand, loitering in a three-team race for the division crown is deeply satisfying. It’s all many fans hoped for after three last-place finishes in five years. Yet, deep down, there’s also a nagging sense of underachievement. Red Sox fans see how good this team is on paper, and they think it should be doing better on the field.

Dave Dombrowski likely agrees. At the trade deadline, he made a flurry of moves to affirm that suspicion. Drew Pomeranz arrived to bolster a maligned rotation. Brad Ziegler came over from Arizona to solidify a streaky bullpen. Fernando Abad joined him a few weeks later, adding another veteran hurler to the staff. The Red Sox still haven’t performed to evolving expectations. They still haven’t surged ahead in a tense AL East.

As the calendar flipped to August, Dave Dombrowski played one final card. Andrew Benintendi was promoted to the Majors, skipping a whole level of minor league play to provide a Fenway spark. With that move, the front office went all in. More importantly, it sent a clear message to John Farrell and his coaching staff: we’ve done all we can, and you must now eke maximum value from this roster.

A Critical Stretch Run

The Red Sox are currently 61-50, good for third place. Toronto and Baltimore are tied for the division lead, just one and a half games ahead. Yet by first-order winning percentage –  which attempts to calculate how many wins a team should have based on its run differential – the Red Sox should be almost three wins better off than they currently are. That suggests Dave Dombrowski has done a really good job. It also suggests John Farrell is hurting this team more than he’s helping it.

I don’t want to criticize the guy overtly, because he doesn’t deserve that. A lot of the vitriol spewed about him is unwarranted. But if John Farrell cannot get this team performing to the back of its baseball card, trouble awaits. Dave Dombrowski has used every trick in the book. He’s made all the phone calls, traded a lot of chips and constructed one of the best rosters in a flawed American League. If the results don’t match the projections come October, somebody will be fired. And that somebody is likely John Farrell, who needs to get a better tune from his highly equipped orchestra.

Pedroia and Ramirez Suffer Injuries In Same Game

The Boston Red Sox just can’t catch a break this season.  The team has not been playing the way that they want all year, and now they have to deal with their two most productive players getting injured in the same game, Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez.

During the team’s 5-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday, Ramirez wasPedroia and Ramirez struck by a ball running from first base to second base that was hit by Xander Bogaerts.  Not only was Ramirez automatically called out because he was hit, but he was forced to leave the game with a bruised left hand.

To make things even worse, only one inning later, while rounding first base Pedroia suffered a hamstring injury.  After being looked at by team doctors, it was determined that Pedroia will have to go on the 15-day disabled list.

For a team in last place in their division, it is hard enough to have to deal with injuries, especially when it’s the two best offensive players in the lineup this year.  Pedroia and Ramirez have been two of the very few positive parts to the Sox season.  They are the two players who have the best chance at making this years All-Star Game, and they have been improving as the year has gone on.

Ramirez is batting .283 with 15 Home Runs and 38 RBI this year, including a batting average of .341 over the past 24 games.  He was one of the big additions to the team this off season, and it seemed that he was finally starting to become the productive player that Sox fans were hoping to see before the season.  The one good thing about his injury is that he did not have to go on the disabled list, so it is possible that we could see him back on the field sooner than later.

Pedroia is another story though.  His injury seems to be more serious, and all Sox fans know that he is the engine of the team.  He has been a consistent fielder and hitter since he’s been in the league, including this season.  He has a .306 batting average this year with 14 doubles and 33 RBI.

As a positive-thinking Red Sox fan, I still think that there is a little hope for the team this year.  But, it will be tough to make any type of serious run at the playoffs if either of these players is out for a long period of time.  Let’s hope that we see these guys back in action soon, and the Sox begin to make some positive strides towards winning baseball.