You may have heard. The Boston Red Sox finished off an historic collapse by losing game 162 when they had to get just one more out to take the victory and at worst force a playoff game with the Tampa Bay Rays. That didn’t happen. Jonathan Papelbon, for the second time in the past three years, ended the Sox season with a meltdown, thus giving the Red Sox a record of seven wins and 21 losses in September, and allowing the scrappy Rays to make up ten games in the standings to earn the AL wildcard birth.
What went wrong? Well, let me begin by saying I saw this coming… sort of.* The problem — one of them — was simply that this team was never as good as they or anyone else thought they were. Mostly it was the pitching that was suspect. Jon Lester is routinely called an ace by baseball pundits. But I haven’t really seen it. He’s a solid pitcher. A terrific number two. But ace? Uh, uh. And that was evident by his horrible performance this month. Imagine Pedro Martinez in the same situation, or Curt Schilling. Then there’s Josh Beckett — terrific when he’s healthy, but he can’t seem to get through the season without significant physical problems. Of course, John Lackey was horrible. No need to bash that loser any more. Dice-K. Right! Losing Clay Buchholz was probably the biggest blow to the team. If he’d been healthy, this is a different post, and I’d be previewing the post season. As it was, the starting pitching could not deliver any quality starts beyond the sixth inning all season long.
The bullpen over-achieved most of the season, but having to pick up three or four innings (or more) ever single game finally took its toll and the relief just wasn’t there when it was needed most.
But the position players also bear some of the blame. Again, when it mattered, they made stupid base-running blunders and fielding errors. The clutch hitting disappeared (if September call-up Ryan Lavarnway didn’t have two home runs in game 161, the season is over then). The absence of Kevin Youkilis? Probably part of it. But fatigue played a lot bigger part. This team was out of shape, old and just plain worn out. And part of that is due to having David Ortiz in the lineup — a man who can’t substitute in the field.
Okay. Enough moaning. Let’s look at the few positives:
- Jacoby Ellsbury was great all season and was one of the few bright spots in September.
- Alfredo Aceves was a fighter out of the bullpen all season, the only arm that seemed to still have any life in it even though he was used continually for multiple innings down the stretch.
- There is no three, I’m afraid…
As bad as this season was, it could get worse. The Sox payroll is massive and while they will be shedding some of it this winter, they still owe John Lackey, Carl Crawford and Dice-K about $180 million (if my mind math is correct). Can they really afford to sign any high-priced free agents in the off season? Dare they, given the miserable track record they have?
Here’s what I’d like to see them do:
Cut ties with David Ortiz, Tim Wakefield, and Jason Varitek. These guys have been great Red Sox, but it is time for them to move on, retire, get into coaching. The Red Sox need to get younger.
Trade John Lester and Clay Buchholz for Felix Hernandez. The Sox need an ace, a real one. A stopper. A guy who can pitch into the eighth or ninth every game.
Dump John Lackey and eat the remaining contract.
Prep Will Middlebrooks to take Kevin Youkilis’ spot at third, maybe as early as May.
Get Ryan Kalish ready to take over right field.
Keep Ryan Lavarnway as backup catcher and DH. Youk can play DH and spot AG at first.
Get a good defensive short stop.
Fire Curt Young and get a real pitching coach, one who knows how to develop pitchers who can give you seven or eight quality innings a game instead of six mediocre innings, as we got this year.
Sign Heath Bell to replace Papelbon as closer.
Don’t expect to win 100 games.
Keep Terry Francona as manager. He’s a good manager who was let down by the players he trusted to play up to their contracts.
Of course, none of this will happen. The Sox will fire Terry Francona. Theo Epstein will once again squander John Henry’s money on bloated contracts for over-valued, under-achieving free agents. This team is the New York mets from five years ago.
*Granted, I didn’t expect them to puke up a nine game lead with a month to play.