End of an era?
The Red Sox will play no more in 2009 thanks to a shocking meltdown by closer Jonathan Papelbon. Or was it that shocking? Papelbon has been shaky all year, despite his save numbers, which look deceiptively good. I’m not saying Pap was bad… He is still one of the top dozen closers in the game. But he appears no longer dependable… i.e. he’s no Mariano Rivera. Papelbon’s best performances may well be behind him.
And sadly this may be the case with many significant Red Sox players: David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, Jason Varitek are each in the twilight of his career.
The rest of the pitching staff is shaky, too. Jon Lester is a very good pitcher, but he can’t be your ace. Josh Beckett may never regain the form of his 2007 season, not for a whole year. Clay Buchholz looks like he’d be a good fourth or fifth pitcher, but not more than that. And Dice-K… the man the Sox have invest $100 million dollars in, didn’t even see an inning during the Angels series.
The bullpen has even bigger questions. Is Daniel Bard the heir apparent to Papelbon? If so, who takes his place in the setup roll? Billy Wagner probably won’t be back. Manny Delcarmenn regressed to the point that he was left off the playoff roster. Ramon Ramirez was good at the start of the year, but became undependable as the innings added up over the season.
So Theo Epstein has his work cut out for him in the months to come. He’s going to have to rebuild the bullpen, shore up the starting pitching, and, probably his biggest challenge, find a way to add a difference-making bat or two to the lineup. Frankly, I don’t think he will be able to turn this team around for 2010. There’s just too much work, and the farm system’s depth is a mirage. I think we’ve seen the end of an era when we could expect the Sox to make the playoffs every year, and be a legitimate contender. I just hope that the championship draught period doesn’t last 86 years.