What was thought to be World Series favorites, has turned out to be a team of frauds. After missing the postseason for just the 2nd time in 7 years, and with doubts about the heart of their order, Sox General Manager Theo Epstein went out and acquired left-handed slugger Adrian Gonzalez from the San Diego Padres. Then, in a stunning move, he acquired hot Free Agent commodity Carl Crawford. It looked like the Sox would have a dominant lineup in 2011, and they would have arguably the best pitching staff in the AL with Lester, Beckett, Buchholz, Lackey, Daisuke, Bard, and Papelbon. The team was poised to make the postseason, having a half game lead over the Yankees for the division, and a 9 game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays for the Wild Card on September 1st. No team in Major League history has ever blown a 9 game lead with just the final month left to play. That was until, this Boston Red Sox team hit the field.
This Boston Red Sox team did the impossible, they whittled away a 9 game lead from September 1st, all the way down to a tie for the Wild Card lead on September 28. On the last game of the year though, it looked like the Sox would make up for everything that happened. The Red Sox entered the 7th inning with a 3-2 lead over the Baltimore Orioles. A rain delay though would force the game to come to a pause. While the Sox watched the Tampa Bay Rays battle the Yankees in their clubhouse, they saw the un-probable happening. Entering the 8th inning, the Yankees had a 7-0 lead over the Rays. Things started going south from here for the Sox. Tampa Bay miraculously pulled the game to within 1, and in the bottom of the 9th inning, with 2 outs and 2 strikes, pinch hitter Dan Johnson pulled a ball down the right field wall, and out of the ballpark. It was a tie game out in Tampa. The Red Sox went back to work just moments before this, and worked their way to the 9th inning. And with 2 outs, and 2 strikes of their own, closer Jonathan Papelbon allowed the game tying RBI double to Mark Reynolds. It was just his 3rd blown save in 34 opportunities this season. The very next batter was Robert Andino. With a 1-1 count, Andino hit a fastball down the middle of the plate on a line into left field. Carl Crawford came rushing in, went to the slide, and the ball hit the very tip of his glove but stayed out. Reynolds scored from 2nd on the play, and the Red Sox, in stunning fashion, had just lost to the Baltimore Orioles, 4-3. Not even 5 minutes later, Evan Longoria would hit a walk off homerun down the left field line, to give his Tampa Bay Rays an 8-7 win, and the Wild Card. Thus ended the greatest collapse in MLB regular season history. This puts the Sox, and their record payroll, in a bit of a bind now.
Ortiz, Papelbon, J.D. Drew, Scutaro, Varitek, Bedard, and Wakefield are all free agents going into this offseason. The big question becomes, who do you keep, and who do you let go? Ortiz, Varitek, and Wakefield all need to be let go. These 3 guys have done great things for the franchise in their time here, but they don’t have anything left to contribute. What it would cost to retain these players just wouldn’t be worth the money, or the years that they most likely will want. I think it also will help give the franchise a new look, and let them start fresh with some younger talent. Drew appears as if he’ll retire, and that’s besides the fact that there is no way the Sox bring him back when they have Ryan Kalish and Josh Redick they can put out in Right. Papelbon, Scutaro, and Bedard I think all have to come back. Papelbon is still an elite closer, and he showed that this year. He came back from a bad 2010 performance, and had just 3 blown saves all year. While he did blow the most important game of the year, he’s one of the only guys you can say that truly helped them get to that point with his consistency. Scutaro is another guy who provided consistent output throughout the season. Also, there is no one who the Sox can really bring in or call up that will replace him. Bedard is a question mark this offseason. He’s very injury prone, and a guy who has to be limited when he pitches. But who can the Sox go out and get to replace him? Roy Oswalt, C.J. Wilson even C.C Sabathia perhaps? While all will be free agents, I really don’t see any of them leaving their current teams. Bedard is a solid starter, and if monitored will produce for the Sox. There is already one person though we all know won’t be returning next season.
Heartbreakingly, Terry Francona has not had his option picked up by Red Sox management. Sad to see Francona go, especially with the way it happened. Sounds like he was tired of this team though, and wanted to go just as much as management wanted to get rid of him. These players let him down, and there needs to be a big change with the environment. According to reports by the likes of Sean McAdams and Dan Shaughnessy, the players weren’t listening to Tito anymore. There were cliques in the clubhouse, players were drinking beer in the middle of games. They flat-out didn’t care, and didn’t want to hear his message anymore. Terry can’t make them care if they don’t want to, and it showed on the field when the going got tough. This team showed their true colors as Francona said in his press conference on Friday. He didn’t like what he saw, and neither did I. You could say it’s his fault because he lost the clubhouse, but the collapse is all about how the players performed down the stretch. It’s all on the players. Epstein made some bad moves in Free Agency, but he also put together a team that was on pace for 100 wins at the beginning of September. And because of the way the players acted in this final month, Terry Francona has to lose his job.
He leaves Boston with a 744-552 record, 2nd most wins among Red Sox managers. He was 28-17 in the postseason, having a .622 winning percentage. That is the 2nd best all time in Major League history, with a minimum of 25 starts. He also became just the 2nd Red Sox manager ever to win 2 World Series. His greatest feat by far, was amounting the greatest comeback in Baseball history, by coming back from a 0-3 deficit in the 2004 ALCS against the rival Yankees. The Sox became the only team in Baseball history to come back down 0-3 to win a series 4-3. That led Boston to its first World Series appearance since 1986, and their first World Series Championship since 1918 after sweeping the best team in the Major Leagues that year, the St. Louis Cardinals. He was the best manager in Red Sox history. I don’t think anybody can really say otherwise. Now the question becomes, who are you going to find that can replace Terry Francona? Big shoes to fill for whoever it is, and they will be expected to take this team to the World Series.
As the final buzzer sounds on the regular season, the Celtics have a lot of questions as to whether or not this is a Championship caliber team. Many people are still worried about this team heading into the postseason, and with good reason. This is a team that went just 16-12 since the All-Star break, and coasted into the postseason. This team had a chance to grab the number one seed if they had played better, and just two more wins would have got them the number two seed. Especially if one of those wins was against Miami on Apr. 9. But, let’s not forget what his team did last year. They were only the number four seed last year, coasted well into the playoffs, told everybody not to panic and that they would turn it on in the postseason, and they did. All this team had to do was win one out of two games and they would have been NBA champs again. But still, something feels different about this year.
Perkins was traded, and they have huge question marks at center. Do you really expect Shaq and Jermaine to be game changers? Rondo has turned into a puddle of mush. Whether it’s his finger, or that he’s upset about the Perk trade, he’s not the same guy he was a year ago or even just three months ago for that matter. He’s not being the playmaker that they need. And KG seems to have lost that fire. He comes out in a post game press conference and says Doc called the team soft, and then comes out the next night, and plays soft. This team seems to lack that fire it had last year, when they wanted to prove that they were better than getting bounced by Orlando in ’08-’09. This team doesn’t even compare to the ’07-’08 team. The big three, in their first year together, each seeking their first title. There was a fire inside those three that could have burned down the old Boston Garden. This year just doesn’t feel like either of those years.
But, why can’t the C’s win it this year? Kendirk Perkins? Please. If you’re one of those people who thinks that the reason the Celtics lost the NBA Finals was because they didn’t have Perkins, you are out of your mind. That is so asinine. Those same people will tell you that Andrew Bynum being out in ’07-’08 had no affect on the NBA Finals. You gotta roll with the punches, and if your team is that good, then losing your starting center who doesn’t contribute offensively shouldn’t affect you. Their defense was just fine in that series. They only allowed 83 points in the final game. So without their starting center, who is supposed to be such a force on defense, they were in a great position to win the Finals. Rondo hasn’t been the same, but one would think he’s adult enough to turn it up in the postseason. If not, then his finger must really be hurt, or he’s just a very petty man about the Perk trade. The big three, they’ll be ready. I’m not worried about those guys. They just get it, they know this is it. They sat the last two games of the year, and they might as well have been on the bench in the Heat game. They should be fully rested, and ready to compete. And yes, this team did coast into the postseason. But, they did this to us last year, and made it to the Finals. It seems like the only thing to do is believe that the C’s know what they’re doing. So, is this year really so much different from last year? Maybe with the Perk trade, they will be better offensively when it counts, and that could be te deciding factor in Game 7 of the 2011 NBA Finals.