Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Red Sox Will Clean Their Beards With Champagne

The last decade has been full of ups and downs for the Boston Red Sox. There was the blown ALCS to the New York Yankees in 2003, followed a year later by their first World Series championship in 86 years. It would not have been accomplished had they not redeemed themselves by coming back from a 3-0 deficit to the Yankees in the ALCS to advance.

They grabbed another title in 2007, but a playoff bound team collapsed in 2011 and respected manager Terry Francona lost control of the clubhouse (Especially the eating and drinking habits of his pitchers.)

There were the horrible contracts given to Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford that helped to force out boy wonder GM Theo Epstein.  There was the childish behavior of Manny Ramirez and the ornery, expletive filled behavior displayed by one time ace Josh Beckett.  That was topped though by the one and done hire of Bobby Valentine, who alienated himself from most of the team with his behavior and remarks before the regular season was even a week old. Valentine’s squad managed just 69 wins in 2012, but the team was re-born, with some help from the LA Dodgers, when they jettisoned Gonzalez and Crawford and brought in guys like Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino. The result was a worst to first turnaround in the AL East and 97 wins under new manager John Farrell.

The current roster is led, of course, by veteran holdovers Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz, who brought their usual consistency to the plate. It's a team that can rely on just about anyone in the lineup to come through with a big hit at a big time.

You still don’t without pitching, but with Beckett gone, so were the distractions to Lester and Buchholz, who got back to being two of the best young pitchers in baseball.  Veteran Jake Peavy was picked up from Chicago to solidify the rotation at the deadline, Ryan Dempster was free agent signee, and John Lackey bounced back from surgery to have a solid season.

All of it – the talent, some luck, and a never- give-up-attitude are what will lead the Red Sox to their third World Series championship since 2004.

Make no mistake though, it won't be easy. Their opponents, the St. Louis Cardinals, are nothing like the pushovers the Red Sox beat back in 2004. With veteran ace Adam Wainwright and red hot rookie Michael Wacha, the Cardinals have the starting pitching to hang with anyone. A strong bullpen anchored by closer Trevor Rosenthal should do a much better job of closing out games than the Detroit Tigers did in the ALCS.

I do believe in teams of destiny, however, and this Red Sox team is one of them. Whether you watch this series or listen to it on the radio, you will hear about the way the Red Sox grind out at-bats - they led the Major Leagues in pitches seen per at-bat this season. You will hear it so often that it may be prefaced by "I don't want to beat a dead horse, but..."  Most of the championship teams in the last 20 years did the same thing (see Yankees dynasty from 1996-2000.)

Backing up the rotation of Lester, a revived Lackey, Buchholz, Dempster and Peavy has been a solid, clutch bullpen. It was a bullpen that got even better when the pitching of veteran Koji Uehara said “this role is mine!”

The Red Sox dealt for closer Jack Hanrahan prior to the season, but he was felled by surgery and never pitched a regular season game. Often injured Andrew Bailey failed at the role that earned him the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 2009 and then was injured and out for the season as well. Uehara stepped in and stepped up. He is not your typical closer. He doesn't have an upper 90s fastball or a cutter that no one can hit. But he does throw a nasty splitter that has allowed him to strike out 10.4 batters per 9 innings for his career. (He had struck out a career high 12.2 this season).

A very pleasant surprise for Farrell has been the pitching of Journeyman left-hander Craig Breslow.  The eight year veteran was picked up at the 2012 trade deadline for Matt Albers and Scott Podsednik. Not exactly a head turning move. But Breslow, who was on the Sox in 2006, has done a great job on…right-handed hitters. That's no typo; Breslow has held righties to a .581 OPS and has faced more hitters in the right batter's box than he has from the left side. He’s mixed 90-mph two- and four-seam fastballs with a 75-mph cutter and an occasional changeup and slider to keep hitters honest.

There’s also 25-year old rookie right-hander Brandon Workman, who has struck out 10.2 batters per 9 innings in his first year in the bigs. Though he still has some control issues, Farrell does not hesitate to throw Workman into the mix in setting up the bridge to Uehara.

For all of the reasons stated up, that good old word, intangibles, and destiny, the Sox should be popping a cork or two after six games. Then maybe someone can hose them down and shave those beards off.

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