Reviewing the Red Sox: On Betts’s dominance, Bradley’s emergence, and other good stuff

The ending was abrupt and disappointing, but there was plenty to like about the 2016 AL East champs.

Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts weren't just creative celebrants -- they were among the best parts of the 2016 Red Sox season.
Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts weren't just creative celebrants -- they were among the best parts of the 2016 Red Sox season. –Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports

COMMENTARY

Now that we’ve had a few days to ruminate on the abrupt end to a Red Sox season that had more than its share of both joy and aggravation, let’s take a moment to — novel concept here — try to find perspective.

Actually, forget taking just a moment. Let’s take a few days to consider the good (Mookie!), the bad (David Price, playoff bust), and the bewildering (John Farrell’s unique brand of in-game strategy). Every Red Sox season is interesting in its own way. But so much happened this year that it’s worthy of thorough contemplation and reconsideration.

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Heck, I could write 1,000 words alone on Farrell’s decisions to pinch-hit for Brock Holt and Andrew Benintendi in Game 3 of the American League Division Series.  Did you know Andrew Miller is tougher on righties? Only 991 words to go …

Don’t worry, I won’t subject you to that. But let’s lead off this series with the good stuff that happened. I’ll get to the bad and the bewildering in the next couple of days, but let’s first remember, even in the  aftermath of Terry Francona’s hand-delivered postseason dismissal, that there was a hell of a lot of fun to be had en route to that bitter end …

Mookie Betts, superstar:  Am I the only one who thought his wall-scraper double in the sixth inning of Game 3 looked like it was going to soar over the Monster seats when it came off the bat?

Ah, well, that’s how it went for Betts and too many of his teammates, who were close but not quite close enough in the Indians’ three-game sweep in the ALDS. Just another frustration to lament over the winter, I guess.

Betts did struggle in this first playoff action, going 2 for 10 with a .633 OPS, but that should not diminish his truly extraordinary performance this season, which was the polar opposite of frustrating. I’m skeptical that he will win the American League Most Valuable Player Award; I think Betts and David Ortiz will divvy up the Boston vote, and Mike Trout, who was the league’s premier player by a decent margin, will take the prize.

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But, goodness, what a case Betts has built in just his second full major league season. He finished his age-23 season with a .318/.363/.534 slash line, with 214 hits, 122 runs, 113 RBIs, 31 homers, 26 steals, 78 extra-base hits, and 359 total bases. How ridiculous in all the good ways is that performance? Rounding the numbers down slightly, there are only two players in Red Sox history who have submitted a season with at least a .315 batting average, 210 hits, 120 runs, 110 RBIs, and 30 homers. Betts, this year. And Jim Rice in 1978. That is it. That is all.

By the way, there is no way this is a Jacoby Ellsbury-in-2011 fluke. (Ellsbury was very close to being the third member in that club — he had 105 RBIs). That season came out of nowhere and has not come close to duplication since. Betts built up to this with a mammoth final 2/3ds of the ’15 season. There’s a chance he could get better — hopefully the next step is a successful postseason. Then again, I’m not sure how much better anyone can be than he already is.

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Big Papi’s last bash: The two negatives about his exceptional final season (.315/.401/.620, 37 homers, 121 RBIs, and — I still don’t know how he pulled his off — 48 doubles) are that it ended 11 wins too soon and it’s his final season. I almost wish the Red Sox spent less time saying goodbye and more time trying to convince him to stay, though it’s a relief that he went out with his powers fully intact. Think you miss him now? Just wait until spring training comes around.

Hanley’s redemption: I guess the what-ifs from Game 3 haven’t quite slipped to the back of my mind yet, because I keep thinking how close he was from turning his line-drive RBI single in eighth inning into a three-run homer with an exit velocity of something like 437 miles per hour. He crushed the ball, and he just missed it at once. But, wow, what superb, image-transforming season he had, especially in the second half when he went .305/.386/.616 with 25 homers in the final 80 games. If you can’t admit that he’s one of your favorite Red Sox now, you can at least admit that there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be.

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Jackie Bradley, everyday player: I suppose that’s not the highest praise — look at him, he shows up for work all the time! — but we have to remember the context of how he was perceived entering this season and how far he ultimately came. Bradley entered 2016 as a proven spectacular defender whose wildly inconsistent hitting threatened to relegate him to The Next Gary Pettis status. He had hit .216 in 31 games the previous September, and was a player who owned a .213/.290/.349 slash line in 738 career games. At 26 years old and having failed in a good-sized sample, he was more suspect than prospect. So to see Bradley establish himself as more than a sensational defensive outfielder this season — despite some occasionally extreme peaks and valleys, he finished with 26 homers, 87 RBIs, and an .837 OPS — was one of the unsung but rewarding developments of this season.

Rick Porcello, 22-game winner: Yeah, I know, wins are pretty far from the most accurate way to measure a pitcher’s contribution. Won-lost record is highly dependent on how well the offense performs the day a starting pitcher takes his turn, and Porcello led the American League in run support per nine innings pitched at 7.63. Still, it’s an impressive act of reliability and durability to win 20 games in a season; and Porcello excelled in other categories, leading the league in K/BB ratio (5.9) and finishing second in WHIP (1.009), and fifth in pitcher’s WAR (5.0) and ERA (3.15). It was unfortunate that he reverted back to his 2015 form in Game 1 of the ALDS, but the 27-year-old has emerged as a top-of-the-rotation starter that the Red Sox should be able to rely on for years to come.

Other considerations: Sandy Leon’s unexpected offensive competence, Xander Bogaerts’s Nomar-like first half, Koji Uehara’s post-injury return to form, Andrew Benintendi’s Fred Lynn swing, and Steven Wright’s pitching (but not his pinch-running).

Back with Part 2 – the bad! – on Friday.

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