If you look back to a year ago at this time, there was still talk about re-signing Jon Lester. Pablo Sandoval was but a glimmer on the free agent horizon. You hoped the Sox would keep slugger Yoenis Cespedes in the fold with a long-term deal, and Hanley Ramirez was simply a malcontent player headed for the open market.
A year later, here we are. Lester will be either starting the National League wild card game for the eventual wild-card Chicago Cubs, or Game 1 of the NLDS. Sandoval, who signed a five-year, $95-million contract with the Boston Red Sox, has been a colossal bust following his ethereal World Series performance last fall. Cespedes is a legitimate National League MVP candidate after hitting 17 home runs with 42 runs batted in only 42 games with the New York Mets. And Ramirez has been laughable as a left fielder with the Red Sox, who very well could try to fix the disaster former general manager Ben Cherington left them on his way out the door.
But October is still playing like a tease, no?
We’ve known for some time that there would be no postseason for these complicated Red Sox, a team worthy of both your derision as well as your admiration, but it’s still difficult to anticipate what could be an all-time October and not wonder what might have been.
How strange this must be for a Red Sox fan.
All the clichés of aspiration and waiting ’til next year aside, these Sox deserve some love, a leftover admiration not known in these parts since hope was but a title long due.
Maybe it took saying goodbye to team president Larry Lucchino and Cherington to finally get something done, but the Red Sox of this September have much more of a presence than the team of a year ago. That team, of course, finished in last place, a spot that Xander Boagerts brought them out of — for the moment –with grand slam in a win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night, leaping over the Rays for …ready…FOURTH PLACE. (They bounced right back into last with a loss on Tuesday night.)
Still, Bogaerts’ play is but one of the sources of hope that fans should take from this late-season surge. Not that it’s a thing of celebration, but since taking over on Aug. 14, interim manager Torey Lovullo, stepping up while John Farrell has been treated for cancer, has gone 21-14. Under Lovullo’s guidance, the team has risen out of last place in the AL East, and clearly Farrell’s status has to have become a frustrating addendum.
After all, how do you fire a guy that was leading your team to a second-straight last-place finish, despite having brought you a World Series title only two years ago, his illness denying him the chance to improve? Then again, how do you not give a guy like Lovullo the credit and — perhaps — the job he’s earned by turning these Sox around?
This is a delicate situation for these Red Sox, so concerned with public perception, yet with the necessary understanding that ridding themselves of a manager, albeit a sick one, is probably the best move for the franchise. How do you do that and feel good about yourself?
There’s no denying this feels different than it did a year ago, certainly much different than it did during the drab days of the Bobby Valentine last-pace finish. The fact that the Red Sox gave chance to finish in fourth place really doesn’t mater as much though as much as the fact that this team finally shows promise.
If only Feeding the Monster weren’t a priority. Maybe then we would have had an outfield bereft of Ramirez, and one that would have delivered Jackie Bradley, Jr., Mookie Betts, and Rusney Castillo for a full season of worth.
If only Cherington, who, to his credit, helped build this Red Sox farm system, were more proactive, and the bullpen didn’t comprise of a 40-year-old Koji Uehara and company. If only the rotation were filled with more than “bridge year’’ No. 3 starters.
Then again, let’s play this game for 2016: Eduardo Rodriguez, Henry Owens, Rick Porcello, Joe Kelly, and David Price.
Look nobody is arguing that this team could have competed with the likes of the the Blue Jays or Yankees for the American League East this season, but there was potential to bring the franchise back into the realm of respectability, something that it has only managed to do over the last month. Since Dombrowski took over.
Since Cherington has been gone.
Whether or not the Sox finish in last place for a third time in four seasons is somewhat irrelevant, considering the construction that’s needed. Dombrowski needs a general manager. He needs an ace. Most of all, he needs to be assured he’ll have total control of all decisions that he needs to make, something he’s allegedly been promised. But within the walls of 1 Yawkey Way, where chairman Tom Werner has seemingly taken control, who knows? We’ll just say that firing fan favorite Don Orsillo seems a dubious first step.
Price? Johnny Cueto? Which free agent starter do you prefer? Enjoy them in October. Get back to us in November.
Just enjoy these Sox for what they are; a young and hungry group that is the antithesis of what the team wants to sell the general fan, and one that that Cherington, wherever he may be, must be inherently proud of.
Photos: 10 things you didn’t know about Fenway Park