Tag Archives: John Farrell

2015 Postmortem: The Weirdest Red Sox Season in Recent Memory

Red Sox rookie day dress up

We don’t know if 2015 will go down as the weirdest season in Red Sox history. But it has to be up there, all things considered. What began as just another season with a modest amount of promise thanks to some high-profile free agent signings and a core of young, budding stars has ended with an organization undoubtedly in a state of flux.

It’s quaint now to think back to spring training and the early portion of the season.

In April, we all have a few chuckles at the not-so-spry Pablo “Panda” Sandoval and the awkward existence maintained by “outfielder” Hanley Ramirez. Mookie Betts makes a memorable catch in the Opening Day win at Fenway and, briefly, things seem to be on track. The team’s electrifying youth will commingle with dependable veterans to win 90-plus games en route to the postseason. The pitching is bad but it could only get better and eventually more of the hitters will hit…right?

Things get a little more suspect in May. Unfortunate suspicions that we conveniently dismissed in April start to be confirmed.

Kung Fu Foul Ball King Pablo Sandoval is slapped on the wrist for looking at racy Instagram photos while using the bathroom during the middle of a game. (Later in the summer, the Sox forge ahead unironically with “Social Media Day.”) *Speaking of Panda, late in the year Sean McAdam very depressingly sums up how Year 1 wentI’ve lost track of the number of games from which Sandoval has been removed this season for either “dehydration” or “lightheadedness. 

The first few weeks of summer bring no additional heat to the lineup. Offense remains anemic. In related news, Brock Holt is the team’s lone All-Star Game participant.

From there, things get weird.

The Shocking

In August, manager John Farrell announces he has been diagnosed with lymphoma. Torey Lovullo takes over manager duties for the rest of the season.

It is both touching and maddening that in the subsequent two games the team scores a combined 37 runs. You can arbitrarily select any number of week-long stretches when the team didn’t manage to crack the 30-run threshold. In May, the team scored 82 runs in 29 games.

The Not-So-Shocking

Larry Lucchino announces he will step down as CEO of the Boston Red Sox at the end of the season.

Shortly thereafter, the Red Sox oust Ben Cherington by hiring Dave Dombrowski – a move that they wind up announcing during the late innings of a weeknight game at Fenway Park in mid-August. The team is taken aback by Cherington’s unwillingness to accept a lesser role in the front office under Dombrowski’s watch.

The Shocking – Part 2

In a move that stuns fans and media alike, NESN announces in late August that Don Orsillo is done after the 2015 season. He will be replaced by Dave O’Brien next year.

During the following homestand, Dan Shaughnessy – of all people – ‘reports’ that fans trying to bring signs into the ballpark in support of Orsillo were forced to relinquish them before going into the game. The Boston Globe posts this fact on its online edition the evening before and then removes that throwaway tidbit from Shank’s column in the following morning’s print edition. The paper cites weak sourcing (it’s definitely weak something…), but it seems more than plausible that John Henry, rumored to have less affection for Orsillo than foot-out-the-door Lucchino, had an associate make a friendly call into the newsroom that Henry technically owns.

Keeping up with its classy reputation, NESN refuses to air a tribute to Orsillo played on the scoreboard at Fenway Park during the team’s final home game of the season. The following week, news leaks that Orsillo will be heading to San Diego to do TV and radio play-by-play for Padres games.

The Unlucky

Knuckleballer Steven Wright, smack in the midst of what may be his most extensive shot to prove himself as a viable major league starter, goes on the 7-day disabled list after getting hit in the neck by an errant flyball while warming up before a game in Miami.

Statistical Weirdness

– In the final home series of the season against the Orioles, the Red Sox pitching staff puts together three straight shutouts. It’s been more than half a century (1958) since the team has pulled off the feat.

– After proclaiming himself a Cy Young candidate in the offseason, then pitching poorly enough to be removed from the rotation at one point in July, Joe Kelly returns to a starting role in late July to reel off wins in eight straight starts–something that was last achieved in the major leagues by Pedro Martinez in 1999. It was during Kelly’s streak, by the way, that Pedro Martinez was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Red Sox retired his number.

– It is reasonable to assume that Kelly’s streak of success will serve as the most remarkable and unexpected of the season. Surely, no one else will put together a Pedro-esque stretch. But of course, in September Rich Hill returns to the team  and starts getting the ball, reeling off three straight 10-strikeout performances. He allows three earned runs in his first 23 innings as a starter since 2009. It is the first time since 1900 a pitcher debuts in September and strikes out 10 batters in three straight games.

The Uncomfortable

In September, David Ortiz hits career home run No. 500 and later reveals via The Players Tribune that he dreams of becoming a porn star. It’s probably for the best that these types of revelations slip through the cracks with little fanfare with the season now five-plus months old and football season is under way.

Runner up: Hanley Ramirez’s left field.

The Shitshow Red Sox Alum

Curt Schilling signs on to host the first ever sleepover at Fenway Park, part of an Airbnb promotion. This is bad enough on its own, but unfortunately there’s much more.

The week prior to the scheduled sleepover on September 2, he is taken off Little League World Series coverage on ESPN for posting images on his Facebook page of Adolf Hitler while talking about Muslim extremists. It is arguable if this chain of events involving the once proud Sox alum is even the most discussed of the year. In the spring, he fought off social media bullies in the name of defending his daughter. This is all a roundabout way of saying Curt Schilling should stay off the goddamn Internet for a while. Schilling is eventually relieved of his sleepover appearance duties.

The Shitshow Red Sox Alum, Runner Up

Jonathan Papelbon. Another former Boston postseason hero further disgraces himself by trying to choke out Bryce Harper, his new teammate on the Nationals and MVP candidate, doesn’t run out a pop-up.

Papelbon and Harper

Media Think Piece

The best piece of investigative reporting related to the Red Sox shows up in the dead zone of late summer in the form of a ridiculously long Grantland.com feature detailing the rise and fall of the low level drug dealers who managed to capitalize the most on the Yankees Suck T-shirt craze circa 1998-2004. The story discusses at length its backdrop–the formerly seedy Fenway/Landsdowne neighborhood, where it was especially fitting that a rogue vulgar T-shirt business could thrive.

Grantland Yankees Suck

It is an especially interesting read, particularly in light of the numerous residential developments and high-end dining establishments that have gentrified the area during the last 15 years. The transformation has been aided in large part by the Red Sox’s ownership and their business ventures and revitalization efforts aimed at keeping the crowds flowing into Fenway.

It only makes sense then, in this season of weirdness, that there is a shooting outside the Fenway ticket office during Labor Day weekend.

 

Steve Horgan Lives…

Mookie Betts’ shutout-saving catch to preserve Rich Hill’s complete game win in the second-to-last game of the season at Fenway Park offers the symbolic hope Red Sox fans need to last the winter. Betts’ highlight reel catches – going toward the bullpen on Opening Day and going into the bullpen in the Fenway Finale – bookend the team’s home schedule and are perfectly suitable takeaway images for the season.

For those in need of something a little more heavy-handed, though, observe the photo below from Sons of Sam Horn’s soxhop411:

Steve Horgan redux Mookie Betts catch

Better days are ahead…

This Week in Boston Baseballing, October 18 – 24

The Red Sox finished off the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS on Saturday night. Shane Victorino was the hero as he hit a grand slam to seal the series in six games. The 2013 World Series got off to a swimming start for the Sox at Fenway Park on Wednesday night thanks to timely hitting by Mike Napoli, a shutdown start by Jon Lester and shoddy defense from the Cardinals infield. Will Leitch probably summed it up best on Sports on Earth by saying “You half expected Jeff Suppan to pinch-run.”

It was Boston’s turn to bumblefuck away the ballgame in Game 2 last night. The key gaffe and goat status belongs to reliever Craig Breslow. Unfortunately, Sox fans will have a hard time erasing this disturbing image from their heads until around 8:07 p.m. Saturday night.

Just hold the fucking ball, Breslow!

Just hold the fucking ball, Breslow!

Sequentiality and the 2013 World Series
Game 2 last night came down to the “sequencing” argument that analysts have talked about quite a bit lately when explaining St. Louis’ success this season. The whole concept may seem overstated and simplistic. But last night’s game served as an important case in point that when pivotal moments occur for a given team is as important as how many pivotal moments occur.

Starters John Lackey and Michael Wacha were essentially equals in their effectiveness. Lackey gave up two extra hits but Wacha walked two extra batters while giving up two extra base hits – a double and a homer. Lackey’s only extra bagger allowed was a leadoff triple. However, while Boston’s bottom-line offensive production was arguably better than St. Louis’ overall, it was bunched into the first six innings. Red Sox hitters were shut down by the Cardinals’ fantastic tandem of young relievers, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal. The Cards made their opportunities count – mainly by accumulating most of their success late in Lackey’s outing and, unfortunately for Breslow, immediately upon the Boston starter’s exit.

As Gordon Edes writes, St. Louis forced the issue at the perfect moment and it paid off:

Opponents stole one base in four attempts against Breslow this season; they doubled that total Thursday night when pinch-runner Pete Kozma and Jon Jay executed a double steal, even though Kozma all but telegraphed their intentions a couple of pitches earlier. They were helped when Saltalamacchia didn’t grab the ball cleanly from behind the plate.

Call it a triumph of advance scouting, the Cardinals apparently detecting something that suggested success if they tried running on Breslow.

Breslow was clearly shaken and the action likely contributed to his untimely throwing error. Boston, by contrast, was in a lesser position to capitalize on second baseman Matt Carpenter’s error in the 8th inning with Martinez bringing his A-game last night. That Ortiz’s homer came with a man on base was a stroke of good fortune. But faced with going down 2-0 heading home for Game 3, St. Louis simply created its own luck more effectively.

David Ortiz Homers in Second Straight World Series Game
Big Papi put on a perfect swing to drive a pitch on the outer half of the plate over the left-field wall. What else is there to say about this guy?

Ortiz HR Game 2

The Jonny Gomes vs. Daniel Nava Debate Continues
John Farrell cited “momentum” in explaining his decision to start Jonny Gomes in the first two games of the World Series. Gomes did little to vindicate Farrell aside from making a nice diving catch early in Game 1. Going into the series the manager’s loyalty to Gomes over Daniel Nava was already looking curious. As Dave Cameron pointed out on ESPN:

Gomes can’t even claim the hot hand advantage, as he has hit just .200/.259/.280 in the postseason, not a huge surprise considering he’s being asked to face elite right-handed pitchers, a role he’s just not made for. Gomes might be an intense personality whose energy sparks his teammates, but he can yell from the dugouts steps and inspire his teammates by encouraging them between innings.

Meanwhile, Nava likely dispelled any notion that perhaps he’s banged up by hitting a pinch-hit double Wednesday night. Unless something changes, it sounds like Nava is finally going to get his chance to start in Game 3. It would be nice to see Farrell give Nava the same leeway as he gave Gomes. But, unfortunately, it wouldn’t be a surprise if its Gomes again starting in Game 4 if Nava goes hitless on Saturday.

Clay Buchholz Gets Pushed to Game 4
With Boston clinging to hopes he can eek out one more effective start this year, the right-hander’s injury-plagued 2013 looks to be catching up with him. The Red Sox are likely to have a short leash on Buchholz Sunday night even if he shows early effectiveness. Meanwhile, St. Louis has yet to announce its starter, making Game 4 look like it has the potential to have an ugly start and turn into a dreaded “bullpen game.”

Koji Threw Three Curveballs All Season
A parting thought: FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan noted an interesting outlier pitch in Koji Uehara’s repertoire this season. The Sox reliever threw only three pitches all season that could be classified as curveballs.

But he hasn’t thrown it once since July. Even though, in that third time, the curve worked. Maybe Uehara came to realize a curve wouldn’t be necessary. Maybe he still didn’t trust it, recalling the first two experiences. Or maybe Uehara’s still sitting on this, just waiting to flash it again in the World Series when the stakes are at their highest. Last year, Sergio Romo froze Miguel Cabrera with an elevated fastball. Might this be the year that Uehara freezes Carlos Beltran with a two-strike curve? I wouldn’t count on that, because Uehara’s already got his weapons. But you have to wonder about this one, because you know it’s in there somewhere. Odds are that we aren’t going to see it this October. But odds also were that we weren’t going to see it this season.

Enough odd things have already happened in the 2013 World Series that all we can safely say is you just never know…

Baseball Bloggers Alliance Awards Ballot: American League

BBA

Ballots for Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA) awards are due prior to the first pitch of the World Series tomorrow night at Fenway Park. Fulfilling our duty as part of the BBA, here are Fenway Pastoral’s picks for 2013 American League awards.

AL Manager of the Year (Connie Mack Award) – John Farrell
The decision came down to a couple of first-year managers–Terry Francona and John Farrell. It’s been two years since Francona’s exit from Boston and the subsequent smear campaign that some front office members inexplicably deemed to be somehow necessary. It is worth noting that Tito is the most accomplished manager in Red Sox team history. And somehow his success in Cleveland this year may have been his best managing job yet, once the talent level and payroll he was working with in Boston is taken into consideration. Francona deserves all the accolades that comes his way.

If ballots for this award were due prior to the start of the playoffs, Tito would have been the clear-cut selection. By late September, Farrell had already been getting more than his fair share of credit for the job he did turning the Red Sox around from worst to first in the AL East. But postseason games dictate that managers employ their highest level of intelligence and in-game strategy. Unfortunately for Tito, his playoff run ended after a loss in the one-game Wild Card play-in. So far, Farrell has had 10 games over the ALDS and ALCS to show his true skill. And that’s where he wins out. He has been close to unassailable in his deft bullpen usage, lineup changes (i.e. Bogaerts better late than never) and other various play-calls. He is working with a ton of talent on his roster – more than Francona – but in terms of the sheer act of “managing,” what Farrell has shown this October is just too impressive to overlook.

John Farrell ALCS

AL Top Reliever (Goose Gossage Award) – Koji Uehara
Uehara has had one of the best seasons for a relief pitcher in the history of the game. Koji just did not have many peers in other AL bullpens heading into October. After taking over the reigns as closer, Koji took his dominance to a new level. By September, every time Uehara threw the first pitch of a given appearance that the umpire called a ball, there was a feeling of deflation distantly akin to those Pedro Martinez starts after he gave up the first hit of the game. With that out of the way, since we considered October performance in the manager voting, we did the same here. Even if the home run Uehara allowed to Jose Lobaton in Tampa had ultimately helped to cost Boston the ALDS and he never had the opportunity to win ALCS MVP honors, his regular season resume was way too commanding to lose this “crown.”

AL Top Rookie (Willie Mays Award) – Wil Myers
As Red Sox supporters, it’s important for us to note that it wasn’t exactly Fred Lynn in ‘75 or anything…but the Rays outfielder had a pretty solid rookie season.

AL Top Pitcher (Walter Johnson Award) – Max Scherzer
There wasn’t a ton of difference between Felix Hernandez, Anibel Sanchez and Max Scherzer aside from the number of Wins accumulated. Whether you prefer to lean on FIP or noisier statistics like ERA, the case for Sanchez is very strong. Meanwhile, both Sanchez and Scherzer were nearly unhittable during their first starts against Boston in the ALCS before looking significantly less dominant the second time around. We settled on Scherzer based on the 30-plus extra innings he threw during the regular season and the fact that his bullpen made his postseason stats look a lot worse than the reality.

AL Top Player (Stan Musial Award) – Mike Trout
God bless the BBA for its simple terminology here. Nobody is going to parse the definition of “top” as a modifying adjective, right?