I give the Red Sox a lot of credit. They had three all star players out of their lineup, and seemed dead in mid-August. But as much as everyone was on their case, they did stay in contention until the last week of the season. And when you have pretty much the Pawtucket Red Sox playing in the AL East, what more could of they done?
Well..... A lot. They could have done a bit more, and maybe still be in the hunt. But I do not necessarily blame the Red Sox for that. I do blame individuals, but not the team. Here are the top three reasons they did not make the playoffs, the top three reasons why we should be proud of this team.
Why did they miss the playoffs?
This may be surprising for anyone thinking it is John Lackey. I will get to him, but right now it has to be Papelbon. Papelbon has eight blown saves, and the eleventh save percentage out of the twelve eligable pitchers in the AL. His ERA, WHIP, walks, and HR% are higher than any other year.
I will admit I jump on Papelbon a bit too often at times. But this is not one of them. If you cut Papelbon's saves in half, the Red Sox are 2.5 games back right now. There is no way getting around that. I understand he has to be thje closer, but that is only because of his own weaknesses. Daniel Bard can come in with guys on base and it's inning over. Can Papelbon do that? No. That is the only reason he is closer of this team.
2. John Lackey and Josh Beckett
I wrote about these two the other day. Lackey has 12 losses. For a guy making $16.5 mm, that is way too many. I am not as much on Beckett becasue he was hurt, but he is not out of the doghouse. With Beckett I guess I am more upset with Theo for signing him to a four year deal, but I do not blame him for signing Lackey. He has just not lived up for who we thought he would be.
3. The Manager
I know everyone loves Terry Francona. He led the Red Sox to two world series and blah blah blah. Really? Did he lead the Red Sox, or was it Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, and David Ortiz? I am not one to believe a manager can win you a game; The players on the field do that. But a manager can lose you a game, and Francona may have lost enough to cause the Red Sox to miss the playoffs. Francona, first off, does not know how to handle his bullpen. Scott Atchison does not come in in the bottom of the tenth in Tropicana field. Just no. He leaves his starting pitchers in way too long. And one other thing; Why isn't Bard pitching? That is the question I kept asking myself, all the way into last night when Hideki Okajima walked in the winning run. While Bard was not even warming up. Oh wait. Now I remember. They are saving his arm. OK Terry, I agree. Let's save Bard's arm in the most important game of the year.
Now some positives.
You can add in Darnell McDonald and Daniel Nava too, but I look at these guys because they have a future in the organization. Kalish looks like he could be a superstar. He reminds me a bit of Jacoby Ellsbury, but better. Kalish is going to be in this team's future for a long time.
Lowrie is a very interesting story. He looked like he was going to be a starting shortstop and then the injuries came. We all talk about, where did this power come from? Maybe his wrists are finally healed. Lowrie is coming into next spring training looking to fight for the starting job over Marco Scutaro. Either way, the Red Sox will have a helluva utility player.
2. The emergence of Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard
Two high round draft picks, the Red Sox made sure they got these right. They both have similar stories of professional ball experience, maybe Buchholz's remembered most. We all know he threw the no hitter and was sent down to double A after his immense struggles. But Buchholz came into spring training looking to fight Tim Wakefield for a spot in the rotation. He out pitched Wakefield, and made the rotation, but maybe that had to do with Daisuke Matsuzaka's injury. But when Matsuzaka returned, it was Buchholz who stayed in the rotation while Wake went to the pen. Buchholz has pitched himself into a Cy Young race this season. He finally is what we thought he would be.
Bard had his struggles too, but not at the Major League Leval. In Greenville, low single A, Bard was crushed with an ERA around nine, and as a starting pitcher. His mechanics were a mess. It was one of the worst seasons you would ever see. But Bard bounced back, and became a relief pitcher. Bard climbed to the MLB easily after that, and has emerged into the Red Sox closer of the future.
3. They put together a good team
For the most part, Theo and co put together a really good baseball team. You may say, well how can a team out of the playoffs be that good? You have a case there. But are you telling me that Dustin Pedroia, Mike Cameron, Kevin Youkilis and Jacoby Ellsbury wouldn't have given you seven more wins? Or even Buchholz and Beckett while they were out. The front office did their job. And even deeper than that is organizational depth. This year more than ever we were able to see how well this team drafted.
Well, it didn't happen. But it could have, and will it next year?