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Winning players in a lost Red Sox season

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  September 27, 2012 11:16 AM

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Not to be too cynical -- well, actually, forget that, because you probably can't be too cynical about a Red Sox team that finished 13 games under .500 at home, attempted and probably pulled off a wag-the-dog on us by celebrating the eighth anniversary of the 2004 champs for no reason other than to distract us from the lemon of the moment, and continues to pretend that a distribution streak is the same thing as a sellout and that we actually care about the damn thing.

So yeah, I'll be cynical for a second before getting back to the usual good cheer. (Don't snicker. I heard you snicker.) The best thing about the Red Sox wrapping up their home schedule Wednesday night is that it's the last time we're going to see some of these guys represent the uniform at Fenway Park. There's usually a feeling of melancholy when Fenway closes for the season, but this year it's fleeting at best. The tourist traps are empty, vacancy abounds, almost like it used to be, before the circus came to town. If only the circus hadn't left such a stench behind. I think we all know now why the Yankees couldn't wait to get rid of Alfredo Aceves and his 24-3 career record, don't we? He's at the top of our good riddance list.

OK, now about that good cheer. There are the usual reasons for hope for next year -- Clay Buchholz, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Jon Lester, and Jacoby Ellsbury would form a decent core when healthy, presuming they all return. And there are also some smaller ones that may have been lost in the melodrama of the summer or the indifference of fall. Here are a few players I'm looking forward to seeing at Fenway again next April ...

Junichi Tazawa: The life and movement on his secondary pitches was apparent when he first came up in 2009, but the Atlantic League is full of pitchers with good breaking stuff who didn't have the velocity to succeed in the big leagues. Tazawa's fastball wasn't blowing anyone away, and you wondered whether his was as mythical a creation as Daisuke Matsuzaka's gyroball. But here he is, three seasons and a Tommy John surgery later, having emerged as an outstanding reliever (1.54 ERA, 43 strikeouts and 5 walks in 41 innings). And you know what? He's throwing harder. According to Fangraphs, his average fastball velocity is up 2.4 miles per hour from '09. Perhaps that's because of the switch to the 'pen, perhaps he's one of those oft-rumored pitchers who actually benefited from Tommy John surgery, but it's apparent that he's going to have a very important role on the staff next year.

iglesiasjosefinn927.JPGJose Iglesias: If you stop by this space with any regularity, you probably know that I have expressed serious skepticism about whether the 22-year-old shortstop will ever hit enough to justify a spot in a major league lineup. Looking at that .589 OPS in more than 700 Triple A plate appearances, it starts to feel like those Rey Ordonez comps might be aiming too high, which is something that has probably never been said before. Some of my skepticism is probably an attempt to counterbalance those who absurdly thought Iglesias should have been the Opening Day starter when he hadn't yet proved adequate in Triple A. He wasn't ready then, and given his .118 average through 60 plate appearances in majors this season, he probably isn't now. He may never be. But good heavens, that otherworldly glove makes you hope he gets every single chance to succeed. Watching him play defense has been one of the few reasons to tune in to NESN the past couple of weeks. (OK, months.) Iglesias hit .251 at Pawtucket this year. If he can do that in the big leagues, with that highlight-reel defense, he'll be around for a long time.

Will Middlebrooks: Practically lost in all of the other lousy stories that engulfed this team through the summer was the season-ending wrist injury the promising 24-year-old third baseman suffered when he was hit by an Esmil Rogers fastball Aug. 11. If Middlebrooks and Papi had remained healthy, might things have played out differently? OK, probably not, since neither can pitch. But it was a terrific rookie season -- .288, 15 home runs, .835 OPS -- in which he proved capable of being a cornerstone for the next half-dozen years or so. Random aside: Which team do you think he thinks would win a seven-game series -- the '12 Sox, or the Arizona Fall League team he played for following last season?

Felix Doubront: I totally agree with Peter Abraham's take the other day that the Red Sox can't enter next season with the young lefty slotted in the No. 3 spot in the rotation. His level of success this season has probably been exaggerated because of the failings of the more established pitchers around him -- it will be a disappointment if Doubront can't knock at least one run off his 4.91 ERA next season. But he might just do it. He's whiffed over a batter per inning this season (157 in 154 innings), including 31 in 26.1 innings in September. That's a strong indication that he has the stuff to succeed long-term, and perhaps even become more than a No. 3 starter eventually.

Cody Ross: He's fun to watch, a happy-go-lucky masher of lefties (1.017 OPS this year, .928 career) with a swing made to put a few dents in the wall. And personality-wise, he's one of the few recent Sox who would have fit in perfectly with the fun-loving, take-no-prisoners 2004 club, which is about the highest compliment there is around here. Yeah, Ross has his flaws, and in a perfect world he platoons with a healthy Ryan Kalish, but here's hoping he's back for the next couple of seasons. Ben Cherington got this one right. Here's hoping he hits on a few more Ross-types just as his predecessor did in the winters of 2003-04.

@GlobeChadFinn

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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