This offseason promised to be a major one for the Boston Red Sox, and it is becoming more and more evident that the Sox of 2012 are going to look a *lot* different than the Sox of 2011. Their manager is unemployed, their general manager is now in Chicago, and now their closer works for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Now that everyone has had their opportunity to weigh in on the Boston Globe article ripping apart the Sox (including me), let's do what bad journalists do and make some blind guesses - in this case, who the Globe's "unnamed sources" might be.
Every good scandalous story has "unnamed sources", acquired in one of two ways - completely made up, or from people close to the situation who didn't want to be named because they were concerned they'd
get their ass kicked lose their job. Directly from the Globe article:
It's hit the fan.
With manager Terry Francona gone and general manager/golden boy Theo Epstein apparently on his way out the door to Chicago, the Boston media has unleashed the dogs. Bob Hohler in today's Boston Globe paints a picture of a Boston Red Sox team that went soft, run by a manager who gave up, and played (with a few exceptions) uninspired baseball, leading to their eventual collapse from a team that had the best record in the American League to a team that missed the playoffs on the regular season's final day.
FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal called it the "best night of regular season baseball [he] has seen", and I have trouble disagreeing with him.
As I mentioned yesterday, the last day of the baseball regular season was going to have some drama involved, as both Boston and Atlanta were on the brink of huge collapses and giving up playoff spots that were all but guaranteed when the month started. Both did, in varying levels of drama, as a result of four games.
Game one was the least dramatic, and probably the most predictable. St. Louis made short (and quick - two hours, twenty minutes) work of Houston, scoring five in the first and having Chris Carpenter pitch like he had to catch a plane. Carpenter pitched a complete game two hit shutout, giving up a hit only to J.B. Shuck and Jose Altuve, who were in Triple A and Single A respectively when the season started. Thanks for trying, Houston - your 106 losses were the most by a team in six years, and you let a 90-loss team come in two places ahead of you in the division.
Game two saw Atlanta go up on Philadelphia 3-1 early, then give up a run in the seventh, another run in the ninth, then finally (as is the case with these games most times), a fluke broken bat hit to drive in the eventual winning run in the 13th inning. It seemed appropriate that Dan Uggla was involved in all three of the most memorable offensive moments for the Braves in this game, since he was the "impact player" Atlanta picked up during the offseason that was going to put them over the top. Uggla would hit the home run that put the Braves on top early, get thrown out at the plate to turn the tide of the game, and be part of the double play that ended the game. There's your impact.
Really, though - it was games three and four that put the night over the top. On one side, Tampa and the Yankees, and on the other, Boston and Baltimore. At one time during the evening, with Tampa down 7-0 and Boston up on Baltimore 3-2 in the middle of a rain delay, I joked with someone that if the Red Sox didn't clinch tonight the Yankees and God were plotting against them.
Turns out they were - Tampa comes back to put it at 7-6 before Dan Johnson delivers a pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the 9th to tie the game at 7, Baltimore scores two runs in the bottom of the 9th - all with two outs - in their game to beat Boston, then Tampa's Evan Longoria hits a solo home run in the bottom of the 12th to give Tampa the win, shutting the Red Sox out of the playoffs.
In a night filled with excitement and the emotional highs and lows for the various teams' fanbases, things start to get picked apart and analyzed, if just for the varying randomness that you get from baseball and few other sports.
- On September 3rd, the Boston Red Sox stood a half-game behind the New York Yankees for the best record in the American League and nine games ahead of Tampa Bay for the AL Wild Card lead with 24 games left to play. At that time, the Red Sox stood a 99.6% chance of making the playoffs, the highest point they would achieve during the season, while Tampa's chances stood at 0.5%. Tampa would go 16-8 over the rest of the season, while Boston would go 6-18.
- Boston's collapse is all the more dramatic just because of how dominant they were early in the season. On July 9th, Boston's playoff chances cracked the 90% barrier with a 54-35 record, best in the American League. On that same date, Detroit stood at 39.9% (a half-game behind Cleveland in the AL Central), Milwaukee stood at only 24.6% (tied for the NL Central with St. Louis and only a game above Pittsburgh), and Arizona was at 41.3%, two games behind NL West leading San Francisco. Detroit, Milwaukee, and Arizona would all make the playoffs. In contrast, Atlanta - themselves the victim of a playoff run collapse, didn't break the 90% barrier until August 19th, and cracked 80% only one time before then - on July 9th.
- Dan Johnson, who hit the game-tying home run for Tampa, was batting .108 at the time he came to the plate against the Yankees in the bottom of the 9th with two outs. He had not played in six games, and his last major league hit had come more than five months earlier, on April 27th.
- Johnson had spent most of the season with the Rays Triple-A affiliate Durham Bulls, where he hit 13 home runs - down from 30 the previous season. His .459 slugging percentage was the worst of his minor league career. Johnson's teammate for about two weeks when he was sent down to Durham? Cory Wade, who served up the solo shot to him.
- When Boone Logan struck out Russ Canzler in the bottom of the 7th, the Rays statistically had less than a 1% chance of winning the game.
- Jonathan Papelbon blew only three save opportunities during the 2011 season; two were against Baltimore within the span of eight days, including the final game of the season, where Papelbon received his only loss.
- Papelbon struck out the first two batters of the inning before facing Chris Davis. Davis in September had 25 strikeouts in 84 plate appearances, including a rare 5 strikeout game three weeks earlier, and struck out 30% of time he made a plate appearance with the Orioles, second highest among team regulars. He had faced Papelbon six times before that at-bat, going 0-6 with three strikeouts. Davis doubled into right field.
- Nolan Reimold, the Orioles #9 batter, had one hit in seven previous plate appearances against Papelbon. Reimold hit a ground-rule double, tying the score.
- Remember how I mentioned Papelbon blew two saves against Baltimore? The player who drove in the game winning runs against Papelbon in that game was Robert Andino, who batted after Reimold and drove him in with the game-winning base hit.
I could go on and on with this type of stuff, but since this is already what - 3 days late? - we'll end it here.
Those who like drama (or watching trainwrecks), you've got your wish.
The Red Sox, after failing to contact Vaughn Eshelman and Joe Hesketh, had Terry Francona close his eyes, spin around, and point to Erik Bedard, who went out and almost got through the fourth inning before having to be rescued by Alfredo Aceves, who probably should have started one of the recent games, but then he couldn't have pitched 6 1/3 innings over the last three games back-to-back-to-back. Daniel Bard decided to be September Daniel Bard (0-4, 11.70 ERA) and even Jonathan Papelbon decided to make it interesting by putting the tying run on second base before recording the final out in an 8-7 victory over Baltimore.
Tampa, facing a Yankees B-squad lineup that featured Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira, found themselves with runners on second and third, no outs, and down 3-2 in the top of the 6th at the Trop. Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson intentionally walks Jorge Posada to load the bases surely in an effort to get Russell Martin to ground into a triple play. Martin did (STRATEGY!), Matt Joyce hits a three-run homer off of former Rays closer Rafael Soriano, and Tampa remains tied with Boston for the AL Wild Card with a 5-3 win thanks to a sequence that had it taken place in Moneyball everyone in the theater would have rolled their eyes at the same time.
Over in the National League, the Cardinals tied for the NL Wild Card lead by going all CPU cheat on Houston, coming back from 5-0 and 6-5 deficits to win 13-6. During the game, Cards manager Tony LaRussa managed to use nearly every player on his 40-man roster, so it's quite possible St. Louis had 11 or 12 players on the field during the game. Memo to Tony - you can't have this kind of fun in the American League.
Meanwhile, the Phillies beat the Braves again, 7-1, after knocking around Braves starter Derek Lowe for five earned runs and six hits in four innings of work. I know Lowe hasn't exactly been great this season, but his 0-5 record and 8.75 ERA in 5 September starts makes it seem like he thinks he's still in Boston. Not Lowe's fault (entirely, at least): Atlanta only managed four hits all game, and their lone run came from a Martin Prado solo shot off Kyle Kendrick in garbage time in the 9th.
So here's what we've got.
- Same matchups as last night; Boston's in Baltimore, Tampa hosts the Yankees, the Phillies are in Atlanta, and St. Louis takes on the Astros in Houston.
- According to coolstandings.com, Boston stands a 59.1% chance of coming out of this with the AL Wild Card over Tampa, while St. Louis now is 61.3% likely to take the NL Wild Card over Atlanta. No other team is playoff eligible - the Angels and Giants were disposed of a few days ago.
- Boston has a rare moment of pitching relief with Jon Lester going tonight, however Lester is coming off his worst start of the season (2.2 IP, 8 ER vs. NY) and has lost three straight. Baltimore counters with Alfredo Simon, which sounds like a bad pasta dish at a cheap Italian place.
- The Rays throw David Price at the Yanks, who counter with Dellin Betances. Price hasn't been dominant in September, but he did pitch well the last time he pitched against the Bombers (8 IP, 1 ER on August 12th). Betances pitched most of this season in AA, and is one of the top pitching prospects in their system. He struggled a bit in four starts at the AAA level (0-3, 5.14 ERA, 15 BB in 21 IP), and in his only major league appearance (against Tampa, in mop-up duty) faced seven batters, walking four of them and hitting one.
- Atlanta will at least have their best veteran starter going for them tonight as Tim Hudson faces Philadelphia. Atlanta is 3-8 in their last 11 games, but Hudson has two of those wins. The Phils are starting Joe Blanton in his first start since going on the DL in May. While it might seem like Philadelphia is layoff off of the Braves, they do have something still to play for - if the Phillies win tonight it will be their 102nd win, a franchise record.
- In contrast, Houston - in route to their worst record in franchise history - sends ex-Phil Brett Myers to the mound to face St. Louis and Chris Carpenter. While Myers' numbers don't look good this season, he's probably the best starter Braves fans could hope for the Cardinals to face, going 4-0 with a 1.23 ERA his last four starts. Carpenter started off a little rough but has been better in the second half.
- In the AL, the Yankees are the #1 seed, but that's the only thing that is set in stone. Texas is a game up for the #2 seed, but Detroit holds the tiebreaker so if they won and Texas lost, Detroit would be the #2 seed and host Tampa/Boston, with Texas visiting the Bronx. If Texas wins tonight, they host Boston/Tampa, and Detroit visits New York. Despite the wild card team having the weakest record of the four AL playoff teams, the #1 seed Yankees wouldn't play them because both Tampa and Boston are in the AL East and MLB rules prevent teams from the same division playing in the divisional series.
- It's even more complex in the NL. Philadelphia, like the Yankees, have the #1 seed set. Milwaukee has a one-game lead over Arizona for the #2, but Arizona holds the tiebreaker so if they win and Milwaukee loses, Arizona will host their NLDS series. Who they would host depends on who wins the wild card. If St. Louis wins it, they play Philadelphia and Milwaukee and Arizona play each other. However, if Atlanta wins it, Philly would host the #3 seed and Atlanta would travel to the #2 seed due to the "same division" rule mentioned earlier.
Of course, it's a little anti-climatic to have playoff hopes hinge on the performance of teams with nothing to play for. In an ideal world (at least from a baseball fan's perspective), all four teams would win (or lose), and we'd have two one-game playoffs, head-to-head, for the right to move on. If that happens, we'll discuss that tomorrow.
According to the Boston Herald, the Red Sox contacted the New York Mets about the availability of starting pitcher Chris Capuano and got serious enough for the Mets to hold Capuano back, but any kind of deal fell through and the Mets started Capuano last night.
Capuano hasn't exactly been great (4.55 ERA this season, 5.66 ERA in four September starts including last night), but average and available right now seem to be an upgrade for the Sox rotation that hasn't announced who is starting any game past Saturday. Jon Lester goes tonight against the Yankees, Tim Wakefield goes tomorrow, then open auditions for Sunday on. If you were going by their normal rotation, John Lackey would pitch Sunday, with Erik Bedard on Monday and Josh Beckett on Tuesday (in his third start since coming off the disabled list). Lackey has been roadkill most of this season, and Bedard only went 2.2 innings in his last start (only his second on the month), and Sox manager Terry Francona has stated that Bedard will not be starting Sunday's game.
What makes the push for Capuano interesting is that he would truly be a "rental" for the Red Sox. While other teams go after players at the deadline that they call "rentals", this is usually for half a season of playing time before the player enters free agency. Capuano would have started for the Red Sox Sunday... and that's it. One start, and his Red Sox career is over. Capuano is signed for this season only, so he'd be a free agent after the season ends, which for Capuano would be the end of the regular season, since he would have been acquired after the deadline for teams to acquire players to be playoff eligible. In addition, the Red Sox wouldn't have received any kind of free agent compensation for Capuano signing elsewhere in free agency, assuming the Elias Rankings hold up to earlier projections.
So with Capuano no longer an option, the Red Sox options are really limited. Internally, the team could put Alfredo Aceves in the rotation (and a former Yankee too!), or Andrew Miller if they like excitement (or terror - tomato, toMAHto), but with the desire to buy a pitcher for a start, why not see who's available as a free agent? Jarrod Washburn is "retired" but could surely come back for one game. Jeff Weaver? Chad Gaudin? Carlos Silva? Or maybe, just for fun, one last trip around the block with an old friend.
With Boston splitting their doubleheader yesterday with Baltimore (wasting their week's allotment of runs in the second game, dropping 18 runs and giving Brian Matusz the worst ERA for a starter since fellow scrub Roy Halladay - wait, what?), the Sox remain two games up on Tampa for the AL Wild Card with 10 (8 for Boston) games left to play. Seven of the ten games Tampa has left are against the AL East leading Yankees, including a four game series in the Bronx tonight. The Yanks are five games ahead of Boston and seven ahead of Tampa.
So with the Yankees taking two of four from Tampa, they're in the playoffs. That being said... do you take it easy on Tampa just to ensure Boston doesn't make the playoffs? I mean, you can get away with not playing your best team (a major injury before the playoffs would be killer), just to ensure that your biggest rival completes one of the most dramatic regular season collapses in baseball history?
Me - I'd love to see Boston fail, but there's the other side of this coin too. Tampa has been one of the best teams in baseball during September, while Boston has been one of the worst. While having Boston collapse might seem fun, having them limp into the playoffs would seem to help the Yankees in their drive for another championship better than allowing one of the hottest teams in MLB in would. Expect the Yankees to play like they (or any other team) normally would in late September with the playoffs almost in the bag, regardless of opponent.
OK - it's understood that I'm a Yankees fan and take great joy in any kind of Red Sox failure. So with Boston only two games ahead in the AL Wild Card standings after dropping three of four to Tampa in Boston, I'm starting to enjoy September baseball much more than I did going into it.
Going into September, the Sawks were 83-52, a game and a half up on the Yankees for first place in the AL East and 9 games ahead of Tampa Bay. Statistically, they stood a 61.9% chance of winning the division, and a 99.4% chance of making the playoffs. [thanks coolstandings.com] Of all the teams in baseball, only Philadelphia (on a pace to win 105 games at that point) stood a better chance of making the playoffs.
Now, if Boston goes 5-5 in their next ten games and the Rays go 8-2, the Sawks clean out their lockers and work on their golf swings. Boston has gone 4-13 in September, second-worst in baseball (behind Minnesota - WTF happened there?) while Tampa has put together an 11-6 record.
Now while Boston's playoff chances bursting into flames is fun, it wouldn't be the worst collapse ever. And no Mets fans (like a Mets fan would read this) - it's not your 2007 collapse either (which at 99.5% still is a little bit more trainwreckish than what Boston is facing right now). That award goes to the 1995 California Angels, who on August 24th had a 99.9% chance of making the newly expanded playoffs, and came up one game short.
At 67-44, the Angels were 8.5 games ahead of second-place Texas (who also wouldn't make the playoffs, and 11.5 games ahead of the Seattle Mariners (watch out for them.) The Angels had a tremendous offense led by Tim Salmon (who went a career-best .330/.429/.594 with 34 HR and 105 RBI, good enough for... 7th in the MVP voting? Really?*) and bosted seven regulars with an OPS of .800 or better. However, the team would go 11-22 in its remaining schedule, while the Mariners would go 23-11, forcing a one-game playoff. The Angels put ex-Mariner Mark Langston on the hill, while the Mariners countered with Randy Johnson, one of the players the M's got for Langston when they dealt him six years earlier.
Did I mention this was Johnson's first Cy Young season, where he went 18-2, struck out almost 300, and was on his way to establishing William Wallace-like cred by closing out games he didn't start and ruining happy endings of movies?
The Mariners would go on to crush the Angels 9-1 in that playoff, and the Angels wouldn't reach the playoffs again until 2002, when they rode the back of some lucky monkey and a clutch rookie pitcher who won Game 7 of the World Series by the name of John Lackey.
Boy, those Sawks could really use a pitcher like Lackey right now. What? Oh, right.