Bost-Done: The Boston Red Sox and Their Unforgettable Meltdown
I'm giving up on big leads. Seems to be a common trend for Boston sports teams lately.
First the Patriots give up a 21-point lead to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, losing to them for the first time in eight years.
But nothing, absolutely nothing, tops the meltdown by the Boston Red Sox.
Up nine games in the American League wild-card race in early September, the Sox failed miserably in the most important part of their season, losing 20 of their last 27 games. Easily, the worst collapse for a team in September in MLB history.
Up 3-2 against the Orioles in the seventh inning and with the Rays down 0-7 in the eighth, it looked like the Red Sox had somehow held on and could positively go into the playoffs forgetting about their awful September.
Then heartbreak hit the Sox and all of their fans. The "reliable" Jonathan Papelbon struck out two, and gave up back-to-back doubles and a walk-off single that $142 million Carl Crawford failed to catch. Sox choke, 4-3, all hoping for a Rays loss.
What felt like seconds later, the Sox were in their clubhouse when Evan Longoria hit the walk-off home run to give Tampa Bay an 8-7, 12th-inning victory over the Yankees.
For the second consecutive season, the Red Sox have not made the postseason.
Who's to blame?
The guys with the red socks. No one else.
In the month of September, the Red Sox pitching all around was the worst it had been all season. The starting pitchers had a combined 7.08 ERA. John Lackey led the way giving up five or more runs in three of his five starts. Jon Lester and Josh Beckett combined for a 2-9 record, and the bullpen was just as bad. Setup man Daniel Bard had a 10.64 ERA and Papelbon had three blown saves.
But perhaps the worst stat of the Red Sox' unforgettable September? Their .259 winning percentage, their worst since 1964. The team failed to protect their nine-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays in the wild-card race.
Now as the Red Sox head into the offseason, while the Rays took their postseason spot, the Red Sox have a lot of questions heading into next season.
Fire Terry Francona?
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Terry Francona has been the Boston Red Sox manager since 2004. Within that time period, Francona has managed the Sox to two World Series titles, three ALCS appearances and five postseason appearances.
He has never finished a season without at least 86 wins and has 1,019 all-time wins.
Francona is a player’s manager that has handled all types of players, from Hall of Famers such as Curt Schilling to total headaches like Manny Ramirez. Francona is one of the best managers in baseball.
With that being said, this season was easily his worst as Red Sox manager and with the historical collapse, it could cost him his job. It was clear towards the end of the season that Francona couldn't motivate his players or bring out their best possible game on a consistent basis. Often the Sox players seemed uninterested in the game, making mental and fundamental mistakes constantly.
However, firing Francona would not solve the Sox' problem. He put the best possible lineup out with the players that his management provided him with. He cannot control injuries to players or the depletion of the Red Sox roster, especially the pitching staff and bullpen down the end of the stretch of the season.
Francona is one of the best managers in baseball. He managed the Sox to two World Series titles in four years. He has was it takes to make this team a contender again; he just needs the proper pieces.
It's Okay Theo, You Can Talk to the Cubs
Theo Epstein did something for the Red Sox Nation no one will ever forget: a world championship in 2004 that brought an end to 86 years of misery. Even better? He brought another one in 2007.
The boy wonder brought a lot of success to the Red Sox and was the main man behind their championship runs in 2004 and in 2007. Since then, Epstein has made a lot of questionable moves when it comes to bringing players to Boston and their price tags.
The most recent? Most of his free-agent moves for the 2011 season. The fact that Epstein thought the Red Sox starting rotation could last on the arms of Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield already put the team in hot water from the start of the season. All three pitchers hurt the Red Sox far more than they helped them. The trio combined for a 22 wins and 23 losses and combined for a 5.61 ERA, all of them averaging five runs a game.
During the trade deadline, Epstein made a deal for Erik Bedard. Bedard also hurt the Sox with his ERA, posting a high 4.35 ERA with a 1-3 record with the team.
Not only has Epstein been lacking in getting the Red Sox pitching, he continues to "throw" unlimited amounts of money for players long-term that are not worth the check.
Carl Crawford is the first that comes to mind. Crawford was a top-of-the-line free agent that would succeed with a lot of teams. He's a horizontal fielder who moves better side to side then vertically. He hits well from the top of the lineup and has speed. The Red Sox backed up the Brink's truck to pay for Crawford and he isn't worth their time.
Crawford had trouble playing the Green Monster in his first year for Boston. He never hit in the top of the lineup and posted mediocre numbers batting .255, hitting 11 home runs and knocking in 56. Crawford does not fit the Red Sox type of play and with his $20 million a season he will be likely impossible to deal.
Epstein has made a lot of great moves that have brought the Red Sox to playoffs and have made them a contender. The boy wonder made one great move this season in acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, who had an MVP-type season, but all of Epstein’s poor decisions and moves balance out his lone good move.
Epstein may be around Boston for a few more years but if he continues to put a team together that cannot compete pitching-wise, the Red Sox will continue to struggle and third place in the A.L. East will become a more permanent home for Boston.
Red Sox Free Agents
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The Red Sox have some decisions to make regarding some of their free agents this offseason. All throughout the season, especially towards the end of the season, it was clear the Red Sox had minimal depth with their position players and pitching staff due to injuries.
The Sox are going to have nearly $52.75 million to free up from their cap this offseason with all of the following players becoming free agents:
J.D. Drew ($14 million) 2011 Stats: .222 AVG, 4 HR, 22 RBI
David Ortiz ($12.5 million) 2011 Stats: .309 AVG, 29 HR, 96 RBI
Jonathan Papelbon ($12 million) 2011 Stats: 31 SV, 2.94 ERA, 3 BLSV
Mike Cameron ($7.25 million): Traded to Florida Marlins
Dan Wheeler ($3 million) 2011 Stats: 4.38 ERA, 4 HLDS, 39 K
Jason Varitek ($2 million) 2011 Stats: .221 AVG, 11 HR, 36 RBI
Tim Wakefield ($2 million) 2011 Stats: 7-8 record, 5.12 ERA, 93 K
Players To Keep
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Out of the six key free agents the Red Sox have, they should highly consider bringing back one: David Ortiz.
Ortiz proved to the Sox this season that age is just a number. Big Papi had a solid year with the Red Sox, hitting .309, belting 29 home runs and batting in 96. He was a key reason the Red Sox offense was one of the best in baseball this season. Ortiz can still contribute even for his age and will produce as a solid middle-of-the-lineup hitter for years to come.
With that being said, the Red Sox need to say goodbye to Drew, Papelbon, Varitek, Wakefield and Wheeler. All five players had subpar seasons and minimally produced for the Red Sox this season.
Papelbon had 31 saves and only three blown saves in 2011 but it only takes one pitch for Papelbon to self-destruct. He can no longer be relied on as a closer that cannot finish games for a Red Sox team that desperately needs a closer.
Varitek and Wakefield will be tough to say goodbye to. Two great players that were warriors for the Sox throughout this whole decade but their time has come and they can no longer produce at the level that the Red Sox need them to.
The Red Sox' September collapse was the worst MLB has ever seen. Boston became the only team to give up a nine-game lead in September but there is hope. The Red Sox have a tremendous fanbase and one of the best ownership groups in the sport. If anyone can rebound, as history has shown, the Red Sox can.
For starters, the team needs to address the back end of their pitching rotation, revamp their bullpen and acquire the right free agents. The Red Sox have missed the playoffs for the second consecutive year, which has not happened since 2001. The Red Sox need to address their team if they ever want to be so good, so good, so good, again.