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.

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