(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
The Red Sox just dropped 2 of 3 to the Yankees, the final game being an agonizing 1 run loss where former Boston post season star Jacoby Ellsbury drove home the fatal blow.
The Sox are spiraling with the second worst record in the American League. The only Major League teams worse are the A’s, the Phillies, the Marlins, the Brewers, the Diamondbacks, the Padres and the Rockies. In an air tight American League Wild Card race, Boston is one of the only teams totally out of it. And yet at the trade deadline, they only dealt Shane Victorino as many of their veterans had no value in the open market.
Their off season moves have gone from Inconsistent (Hanley Ramirez), EXACTLY as mediocre as I predicted in November (Pablo Sandoval) and a catastrophe of Biblical proportions (Rick Porcello.)
For the third time in 4 years, the Red Sox will not only finish with a losing record but at the bottom of the standings. For the 5th time in 6 seasons, there will be no playoff games played in Fenway Park.
So you would think your pal Sully, a lifelong Red Sox fan, would be angry and fed up with this squad. You would think I would find this to be unacceptable and be screaming for people’s heads and calling this season a travesty.
You would be wrong.
As I wrote in the title, this is my favorite last place Red Sox team EVER and one that should make “The Nation” happy about the future.
Let me explain.
First of all, the 2012, 2014 and 2015 seasons are the only Red Sox teams to finish in the cellar since the advent of Division Play in 1969. Before 2012, the last time the Red Sox finished in last place was in 1932 when they went 43-111. So for living Red Sox fans, comparing last place finishes is indeed a recent and I admit not very pleasant exercise.
But think about those years and why THIS season is so much more positive by a mile.
(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
The Mayans supposedly predicted that would be the end of the world. Perhaps they only foresaw Bobby Valentine’s one year as manager of the Red Sox.
NOTHING could be worse than that year. While writing for Bleacher Report in 2012, I declared it The Least Fun Boston Red Sox Season Ever. It was more than just a bad team, and believe me, the 69-93 squad was dreadful and the worst team they fielded in decades.
But they were also unlikable. The atmosphere surrounding the team was tense and joyless. Coming off the stunning collapse in 2011 which saw the departure of beloved Terry Francona and local boy wonder Theo Epstein, Boston seemed rudderless and possibly heading into decades of futility.
They had bloated contracts, injury prone veterans and nobody wanted to be there. Kevin Youkilis was chased out of town. Pedroia and Ortiz seemed angry all year. Josh Beckett’s golf game became a story when he was supposedly hurt (and his post season hero halo removed with the aura of beer and fried chicken.)
There was a strange controversy about Kelly Shoppach and his text messages which I never totally understood. They first failed to invite Terry Francona to the 100th anniversary of Fenway celebration and then he arrived, essentially giving a middle finger to his former team.
Players blew off Johnny Pesky’s funeral and Valentine continued to manage even though it was obvious by mid season there was no way he could possibly return for 2013.
The players, coaches and management all looked terrible that year. And they limped lifelessly into the sunset, dropping 13 of their last 16 games and their final 8.
The lone bright spot came when the Dodgers accepted the contracts of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Nick Punto and Josh Beckett in a deal that basically only brought financial sanity back to the team.
Look me in the eye and tell me THIS season is worse than that. After the surreal collapse of 2011, 2012 was rock bottom. But for how long?
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2013. We all know what happened. This was indeed OUR fucking city. Boston was strong.
I will get back to this year in a bit. Back to the last place clubs.
Boston Herald Staff photo by Christopher Evans
2014… a big let down.
It was a lot like Ghostbusters 2. Everyone came back, but the magic was gone and in the end we all saw it but would rather just forget it.
It was a frustrating seeing the same crew that won our hearts just a year before falling so short of the mark.
Buchholz went from All Star to liability. Jake Peavy and Brandon Workman combined for a 2-19 record with an ERA around 5.00. Grady Sizemore could not fill Jacoby Ellsbury’s shoes. Nobody could hit at catcher and a 10 game losing streak in May seemed to take the wind out of the sails of any repeat. Their record after July 21 was the worst in the league and soon became sellers.
Any season that begins with a ring ceremony can’t be all bad. But in the end, it was a let down.
(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
The Red Sox spend dumb money on Sandoval, roll the dice on another flaky Ramirez in left field and somehow flip Lester into Cespedes into Porcello. Plus they shoveled tons of money to Rusney Castillo and Yoan Moncada.
The result was a quick 9-5 start and almost immediately the Sox did a nose dive into irrelevance. The pitching was a disaster, the bats inconsistent and the horror of seeing a seemingly flawed Yankee team take command of the Division made the results even worse.
But take a closer look at the 2015 Boston Red Sox.
Wipe away any “We need to Win the World Series EVERY year” bullshit mandate from the slate. (We went from wanting to see ONE in our lifetime to being restless we’ve only seen 3 in 12 seasons!)
Xander Bogaerts has transformed from “Good prospect who may not make it” to “Legit major league shortstop with a solid bat.” Brock Holt has become a jack of all trades Tony Phillips type with an All Star Game on his resume.
Mookie Betts has shown flashes of excellence and is coming back from rehab. Young players like Blake Swihart and Rusney Castillo are getting big league experience. Perhaps they can make a similar leap that Bogaerts made and become effective big leaguers for 2016.
Young pitchers like Eduardo Rodriguez and Henry Owens made their debuts. Brian Johnson, Matt Barnes and Jonathan Aro all made it to Fenway with varying results.
And while Wade Miley, Joe Kelly and Rick Porcello have all been disappointing to say the least, they are all going to be under 30 when 2016 begins. There is an infusion of youth and possibility with this Red Sox team that could be the foundation of good things to come.
Familiar faces from the World Series team like Shane Victorino and Daniel Nava have moved on and Mike Napoli’s time with the Sox is grinding to an end. But their departure should point out the most important take away any Red Sox fan can get from this season.
Let me separate this point from the rest of the paragraph to make it more clear.
Are you ready for the main point?
Here it comes.
2013 WAS A REBUILDING YEAR!!!!
That may sound strange. How can a season when the team won the Damn World Series be a Rebuilding Year?
Rob Carr – Getty Images
I know it sounds insane, but that is exactly what happened.
The team collapses in 2011. They try a desperate gasp in 2012 to kickstart the team that fails miserably.
So remember what was happening going into 2013. There was no pretense of being a pennant contender. They had just dumped those big deals.
The plan was clear:
Get a bunch of cheaper veterans to plug the holes with shorter term deals and develop new talent from within.
Stephen Drew, Johnny Gomes, Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino and even Koji Uehara (the 4th choice as closer that year) were not supposed to be long term solutions. They filled the need for the Red Sox to have a living breathing body playing the positions while Pawtucket develops the players for 2015 and beyond.
Then the place holders had terrific seasons, the emotions of the stunned city took over the club and the fan base and (most importantly) Lester, Buchholz and Lackey all had turnaround seasons.
Everything fell into place. But it was still part 1 of a rebuild.
That fact would have been clearer had Ortiz and Victorino not hit grand slams in the ALCS. The Tigers, who would have won the series in 5 if they had an adequate bullpen, looked like the team to get back to the World Series. Had the Red Sox been a surprising division winner who made it all the way to the LCS, they would have been admired but everyone would have known this was no dynasty.
The 2013 Red Sox were not a team that would be the foundation of multiple pennants. They were a one hit wonder, a la Dexy’s Midnight Runners.
The place holders did their job better than anyone could have imagined. Boston could not win a World Series with Williams, Yaz or Rice in left field, but they did with Gomes!
That season was magical, one that only 2004 can top and gave Boston fans from Maine to my home in California reasons to hashtag Boston Strong and play Dirty Water with pride.
But the magic did NOT suddenly transform the placeholders into a long term solution. Everything is essentially going according to plan in the wake of the Bobby Valentine disaster. In fact it has been better than anyone could have imagined.
Bobby V is fired the team is a mess after 2012… placeholders fill in for 2013 while the team starts to develop home grown players from within. In 2014, the place holders start to be phased out while younger players take their positions. In 2015, more younger players develop and ready for an off season where several ace starters are available via Free Agency.
Had I listed that schedule at the end of 2012, 100% of Red Sox Nation would have signed off on it.
Now throw in a World Series title in one of those rebuilding years, and it looks extraordinary.
Sometimes positive things happen in a losing year.
In 1987, the Red Sox fell from contention and parted ways with many members of the 86 team that came so close. In their place, Mike Greenwell, Ellis Burks, Todd Benzinger and Jody Reed got playing time (along with Sam Horn and John Marzano.) The foundation for the 1988 and 1990 Division Titles were set that losing year.
In 1997, the Sox had a limp lifeless season that saw the development of Nomar Garciaparra as a star, Mo Vaughn’s rise continue and the arrival of Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe (as well as the development of Trot Nixon in Pawtucket.) That off season, Pedro arrived and the culture changed.
So look at 2015 the same way. Forget the pennant. October is gone. But if the next title should arrive and some combination of Betts, Holt, Swihart, Johnson, Rodriguez, Owens , Castillo or Moncada are contributors, you can point to this season as the moment those seeds were planted.
Sure the Red Sox are going to finish in last place. But a quick word association game will show you why this is my favorite last place finish.
When I think of 2012 I think “Embarrassment and Disgust.”
When I think of 2014 I think “Huge Let Down and Disappointment.”
When I think of 2015 I think “There is hope for the future.”
Let’s go Sox! If not for now, then for 2016 and beyond!