Red Sox

Ranking the Red Sox hooks playing on into October

With 12 teams in the mix for the first time, we've got a lot to choose from when it comes to local October ties.

Theo Epstein and Terry Francona exchange smiles as they talk prior to David Ortiz's Hall of Fame celebration at Fenway Park.
Cleveland manager Terry Francona (right) had a chance to chat with his old boss, Theo Epstein, this summer at Fenway Park. Jim Davis/Globe Staff

COMMENTARY

The 2022 Red Sox can’t depart the stage quickly enough. Let’s not get in their way.

“We’re just trying to make the best of it right now, honestly. . . . I feel like we’re honestly playing more relaxed,” J.D. Martinez told NESN Thursday afternoon, after his 14th home run beat Baltimore.

“More relaxed” not the best sound when in the following two days Toronto outscored them, 19-0, on the way to a sweep, but at least we don’t have to wonder what might have been.

The playoff field is all but set in MLB, so let’s embark on that annual tradition of the outsiders: Finding reasons to draw ourselves back in the circle. With 12 teams in the mix for the first time, and roster turnover the move of the moment, we’ve got a lot to choose from when it comes to Red Sox ties to October baseball.

Dodgers fan group Pantone 294 bought a trolling billboard directly across the street from Fenway Park in March 2021, following Mookie Betts’s trade to Los Angeles. – Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The big ones

Dodgers (110-49 entering Monday, top NL seed) — At this point in history, Los Angeles and the Red Sox feel impossibly intertwined. To the point should Trea Turner leave the Dodgers as a free agent this winter, an available Xander Bogaerts becoming their replacement choice is almost preordained.

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Along with Mookie Betts, who sits sixth in WAR among National League players despite only seeming to have been hot for two months of the year, Dave Roberts’s team still sports both David Price and Craig Kimbrel on the pitching staff. Not that either are stalwarts: Kimbrel, in shades of the 2018 Red Sox, was dumped from the closer’s role two weeks ago. And Price, beloved in the LA clubhouse, is talking retirement after spending most of September injured and most of his 14th MLB season as a low-leverage middle reliever.

Guardians (90-69, No. 3 AL seed) — It’s all about Terry Francona, who is soldiering on through myriad health problems, but also into his sixth postseason with Cleveland — one more than he made as Red Sox manager — despite the youngest roster (and third-lowest payroll) in the majors.

“He’s as energized, engaged and enthused as he’s ever been,” team president Chris Antonetti, a UMass grad, told The Athletic.

The biggest break of their season came when José Ramírez chose Cleveland over cashing in, the largest extension in franchise history still millions less than the slugger could’ve gotten on the open market. Around him has blossomed a roster of youth free of expectations that speeds around the diamond — infield hits, stolen bases, and going first-to-third.

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All while the bullpen has morphed into one of baseball’s strongest in the second half, behind a rotation sporting 2020 Cy Young winner Shane Bieber and Cal Quantrill (who will always ring my brain as the son of early-’90s Sox phenom-in-waiting, Paul.)

Since the start of August, they’re 37-20, 10 games better than the rest of an admittedly weak AL Central bunch.

Phillies (86-73, likely third NL wild card) — They haven’t technically ended what became the longest playoff drought in the majors when Seattle clinched, but they need just one victory or one Milwaukee loss to get in.

Quite the turnaround from firing Joe Girardi after a 22-29 start, boss Dave Dombrowski’s team playing a half-season of .640 baseball despite big-money Bryce Harper not being among even their top-five most productive players.

Kyle Schwarber isn’t either, at least by WAR, but his 44 home runs — a career best, and most in the non-Aaron Judge category — include 17 that put the Phillies into the lead. They won 10 of those games, including Sunday, which is no small thing when you’re going to make the playoffs by a small handful of nights.

Waltham must be buzzing.

Houston's Christian Vázquez talks to relief pitcher Rafael Montero
Christian Vázquez has continued to draw praise for his defense and pitcher management in Houston, but his offense has taken a step back. – Kevin M. Cox/Associated Press

The reaches

Astros (104-55, top AL seed) — The deadline trade of Christian Vázquez to Houston was both surreal given the Sox were in Houston at the time, and the point that the fissures between team and Chaim Bloom really began to draw wide attention.

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Two things you may have missed since: Vázquez’s ostensible replacement, Reese McGuire, has acquitted himself quite well (.889 OPS, 5 of 12 throwing out potential base stealers). And Vázquez has been underwhelming with the Astros, with just a .561 OPS and 22 starts at catcher to Martín Maldonado’s 31 since the deal.

While offensive production of backstops is overrated, that’s a big part of why Houston wanted Vázquez. He had a .759 OPS with the Red Sox, while the Astros were and still are the worst offensive team catcher in the majors. (Vázquez has been better the last few weeks, and Houston did give him a start at designated hitter on Sept. 28.)

(Quick shout-out here to Jeremy Peña, the University of Maine product who’s held down shortstop in the first year after Carlos Correa’s departure.)

Blue Jays (90-69, top AL wild card) — Toronto may drag the Red Sox right into October like a twig in your car’s undercarriage after beating them 16 times head-to-head in 2022. It’s one of those numbers I keep staring at like it’s a Magic Eye sailboat.

Seeing Jackie Bradley Jr. among the celebrants after the Blue Jays clinched felt a bit strange, as he’s actually been less productive offensively there (.532 OPS in 37 games) than he was here (.578 in 91). Of course, they’ve only given him 19 starts across seven weeks, a sign that the Jays were under no illusions what they were getting after Boston released him.

Quite the concept, that.

Mets (98-61, top NL wild card) — Go figure: New York gets bought by a venture capitalist, and the team consolidates its usual season-long train of woe into one weekend. Such a paradigm shift!

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The sweep by Atlanta (in which they beat Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, and Chris Bassitt in succession) all but assures the Mets of not just needing to play a wild-card series, but should they advance, a Division Series against the best-in-the-majors Dodgers. Woof.

Adam Ottavino did his job at least, throwing a clean seventh on Saturday. The former Red Sox setup man ranks among the top pitchers in baseball this year in a slew of advanced metrics while more than cutting his walk rate in half from 2021 — to its lowest point since 2016.

His 2.11 ERA is more than two runs better in similar usage.

Yankees (97-61, No. 2 AL seed) — Andrew Benintendi’s All-Star play in Kansas City promptly hit the skids upon his deadline trade, as the outfielder barely hit .200 without a homer in his first three weeks with New York. Then, not long after he began producing for a lineup suddenly in desperate need of offense, Benintendi went on the injured list a month ago Sunday with right wrist inflammation.

That turned out to be a broken hamate bone, which required surgery. He swung a bat this weekend, but isn’t expected back unless the Yankees reach the AL Championship Series.

At least we’ve got Anthony Rizzo, who never actually reached the majors with the Red Sox but who you can probably Mandela Effect yourself into believing did with a little effort.

Padres (87-72, second NL wild card) — Don Orsillo won’t be calling San Diego in the postseason, but getting occasional tastes of his interactions with color man Mudcat Grant is to remember the days of Orsillo with Jerry Remy, as the Red Sox were a franchise finally starting to catch that perpetually brighter future.

And then there’s . . .

Braves (100-59, No. 2 NL seed) — Hey, they are Boston’s “natural rival” from back when that was a determining factor in interleague opposition. Don’t act like you don’t have fond memories of going see those shiny satin uniforms on Babcock Street in the post-war glory years.

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If nothing else, Atlanta is a franchise that’s made it a priority to lock up its young talent (Ronald Acuña Jr., Austin Riley, Michael Harris II) for an extended run. Imagine that!

Rays (86-73, third AL wild card) — The Kimbrel trade worked out well enough for the Red Sox that I don’t think anyone out there is pining for Manuel Margot, even if he has become a solid piece of the Tampa outfield picture. (And we’re 12 years removed from Kevin Cash’s last Red Sox plate appearance.)

Mariners (87-71, second AL wild card) — I’d like to think Boston’s long pining for success makes us perpetually drawn to teams like Seattle, which ended its two-decade playoff drought in grand style on Friday night.

If you watched that Mariners postgame for long enough, you’d have come across the still-gleaming smile of Mike Cameron, whose time with the Red Sox came after his Gold Glove heyday and in the 2010-11 dark period.

Cardinals (92-67, No. 3 NL seed) — You are forgiven for forgetting that assistant coach Willie McGee not only played for the Red Sox, but did so in the playoffs, getting four at-bats (and an RBI!) in the 1995 Division Series sweep to Cleveland. Especially if, like me, you think of McGee and the Red Sox only in terms of former GM Lou Gorman’s “where would we play him” crack.

Also, if you read this far, congrats on being one of the only people on the planet to think about an old Cardinals player today and not have it be either Albert Pujols, Adam Wainwright, or Yadier Molina.

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