Sunday, October 23, 2016

It's Theo Vs. Tito For All The Marbles

History was made last night as the Chicago Cubs won their first pennant since 1945, as they beat the LA Dodgers, 5-0, to win the National League Championship Series in six games.

Jon Lester and Javier Baez were named co-MVPs of the series.

I was pulling for the Cubs to make it to the World Series throughout this postseason, as it would truly have been fun to see the Cubs play the Red Sox for the World Series title. That was not in the cards. And, as someone born and raised in Brooklyn, it was a pleasure to see them knock the Los Angeles Dodgers out of the postseason. (And now they've got a significant streak of not making it to a World Series: 28 straight years.)

In the ninth inning, I was getting a bit emotional, and I'm not even a Cubs fan. The TV was showing fans praying, and some with tears in the eyes as to what was finally unfolding before their eyes. And for me, it brought back some precious memories of the 2004 postseason. So I know EXACTLY what those fans were feeling at those moments.

The Cleveland Indians wrapped up the AL pennant last Wednesday, beating the Toronto Blue Jays in five games. And now this means that Theo Epstein and Terry Francona will face off against each other to see who will raise the championship trophy this season.

I am very happy for both men. They are two of the classiest baseball men in the business today, and they will forever be remembered for bringing not one but two titles to Boston. And, no matter how this turns out, both will one day be enshrined at Cooperstown.

A lot of Red Sox fans are seeing this unfold with a sense of "what could have been" had both men stayed in Boston. After the disaster of 2011, it appeared that both needed to move on. And they did, both to struggling franchises that needed to be rebuilt. It was sad that both left town under such lousy circumstances, but that's just the way it turned out.

Plus I think to myself, "how many titles have the Red Sox won since they both departed?" The answer to that is one: the glorious win of 2013. There's no telling what would have happened had they both stayed. But the Sox have had success since 2011, and are absolutely headed in the right direction. (And please, don't "denigrate" what happened in 2013 as some kind of "fluke, " as some baseball "experts" have implied. It wasn't. You don't win 108 games in total and call it some kind of fluke. Treasure it, folks.)

I guess the old saying "don't be sad it's over, be glad it happened" applies here. Both Theo Epstein and Terry Francona are great baseball men, and have built their current franchises into winners (it took Theo five years, Tito four, so it didn't happen overnight). They will be forever remembered by Boston and Red Sox fans everywhere as the ones were most responsible for bringing two titles to Red Sox Nation.

I wish them both well, and hope we have a great World Series to conclude 2016.

I like the Cubs in six games.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

2016 Ends Abruptly & Papi Says Goodbye

At 9:51 PM last night, Travis Shaw flied out to Lonnie Chisenhall in right field, and the Red Sox 2016 campaign came to an abrupt conclusion, as they were swept by the Indians three straight in the ALDS.

But it also marked the end of the stunning career of one David Ortiz.

Papi closed his career with 38 HRs and 127 RBI in his age 40 season. It was simply the greatest season any player has had to close a career. None of us wanted it to end the way it did, with the Red Sox losing at home and leaving the playoffs after just three games. But it did. I found myself getting emotional as the ninth inning was beginning last night. The Large Father is leaving all of us a million great memories, and most of them seem to flash back to me in the ninth.

Big Papi came out a few minutes after the game ended to salute the crowd that had not left, and had tears in his eyes as he took in their cheers one last time. He said nothing, as it was clear he was too choked up to speak.

The Cleveland Indians were just better in this series. They hit more, pitched better, and played better defense. This is a very good team, a team capable of going all the way to the end, and they have one of MLB's best managers in Terry Francona. They deserved to win this series.

Was this 2016 season a success or a failure? I would call it a success, no question about it. While David Ortiz is leaving, Mookie Betts is an MVP candidate and Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley have emerged as solid, dependable players. Hanley Ramirez had an amazing bounceback year, and Dustin Pedroia is still a force at age 32. (He should be made captain now that Papi is retired.)

The pitching, both in the rotation and in the pen, needs some fine tuning over the winter, but I would say the future looks bright for the Boston Red Sox. Andrew Benintendi and Yoan Moncada will be stars down the road. There's a lot to love about this team right now. They are young, and like the Chicago Cubs this season, they may have an even better team next year after this early round loss.

After all, how could you not think this year was a success after two straight last-place finishes? The Sox went back to first place after two seasons of looking up at everyone else. The pieces are in places for a nice run for this team. I'm betting John Farrell returns as manager in 2017. I had my issues with him this year, but the late-season surge almost guarantees he will be back for another year at the helm.

The 2017 season begins in 174 days, as the Sox open at Fenway on April 3rd against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

I close with this personal note to David Ortiz:

Thank you for 2004. Thank you for 2007. Thank you for 2013. Thank you for giving me more thrills than I could ever have imagined getting as a Red Sox fan. Thank you for making my life in New York City so much more bearable. Thank you for everything, David Ortiz. Thank you.

Monday, October 03, 2016

93 Wins. 11 More To Go.

A memorable 2016 regular season came to a close yesterday.

The Red Sox ended their regular campaign with a 2-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, but most importantly, they finished with a 93-69 record and on top of the AL East. The 11-game winning streak gave the Sox the title, and they coasted in the rest of the way to win it, and will face the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS beginning Thursday at Progressive Field.

Where to start with this team? The Sox had the best offense in baseball, and scored 878 runs this year, and the next closest team, the Indians, were 101 runs behind them. The Sox led the AL in just about every meaningful team hitting statistic: total bases, hits, doubles, batting average, OPS, OBP and slugging percentage.

Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia finished second and third for the batting title, both at .318 (Jose Altuve won it easily at .338). And David Ortiz finished sixth at .315.

What can you say about Big Papi? It was a tearful, memorable day at Fenway, as we said goodbye to the Cooperstown-bound legend, as a bridge and a street were both named in his honor, and Red Sox legends from far and wide came to bid him adieu. His number 34 will be retired at Fenway next season. He gave all us fans a season that we will never forget, blasting 38 home runs, driving in 127 runs (tied for the AL lead), and making a strong case for AL MVP in final season.

He'll have competition for the award from one Mookie Betts, who hit 31 HRs, drove in 110 runs, and had an amazing WAR of 9.6. He also established himself as one of the AL's best outfielders, a man with an arm to be feared.

And the Comeback Red Sox player of the year? How about Hanley Ramirez? The fans were full of trepidation that Hanley was being moved to first base this year, but he calmed all those fears with some outstanding plays at first this year. (How about those two over-the-shoulder catches he made this past Friday night?) He looked like a natural at the bag, and made just four errors all year. And his bat was back, hitting 30 home runs, 111 RBI and batting .286.

The Sox also got solid years from Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. And isn't everyone excited to see what Andrew Benintendi will do going forward from here. More than a few comparisons to Fred Lynn were made with his late-season callup.

On the pitching side, Rick Porcello and David Price were a terrific 1-2 top-of-the rotation. Porcello made a great case for the Cy Young Award, winning 22, finishing fifth in ERA at 3.15, and excellent WAR at 5.0 and an outstanding WHIP at 1.01. The trade that Ben Cherington made with Detroit for Yoenis Cespedes was highly criticized last year with Porcello's struggles last year, but it doesn't look so bad now. Price struggled early on, and many a fan was wondering why the Red Sox got stuck with this guy. But Price got hot after the All-Star break, winning seven straight at one point and winning 17 for the year.

Steven Wright was a nice surprise, coming out of nowhere to win 13 games before that shoulder injury he suffered as a pinch-runner ended his regular season. Clay Buchholz was a Jekyll and Hyde pitcher for sure, and many fans wanted him gone after he was demoted to the bullpen. But to his credit, he hung in there, made some adjustments, and was simply outstanding in September.

The pen was a horror show early on, but was a big reason the Sox got hot in September. Craig Kimbrel had some struggles early on, but straightened himself out before suffering a knee injury in July, and was terrific after his August 1 return (although the final week might have you thinking differently). The return of Koji Uehara was exactly what the pen needed in August. It was a rough year for Koji to start with, and it looked like he'd hit the end of the line. But he was terrific in the 8th after returning. It allowed John Farrell to use Matt Barnes and Brad Ziegler in various roles, like the 7th or 8th and even the 9th where necessary.

I had predicted the Sox could win 90 this year, and they even exceeded that. The slump in the last six games cost them the 1st and 2nd seeds in the AL playoffs, and the offense slumped a bit, even during the 11-game hot streak. They can use these three days off to rest up for the ALDS and rejuvenate them.

11 wins to go, and it all gets started in Cleveland on Thursday. It should be exciting, and could be very memorable and special, as the boys attempt to send off David Ortiz with his fourth ring.