Last year, there were people who actually offered the opinion that the Boston Red Sox were the best team ever assembled.
That might have been a bit much. After all, there were those 1927 Yankees. And those “Big Red Machines” of the 1970s and even some of those Bronx Bomber teams of the late 1990s.
However, even if there are other teams who might want to contest this claim, you cannot deny that a team that wins 108 games and sweeps through the postseason losing only three games is pretty darn good.
But if sports has taught us anything, it’s taught us that each year is different. Success in one season doesn’t automatically transfer itself. The 2016 Chicago Cubs rolled through the National League and ended up winning the World Series. A year later, they had to put on a second-half push just to make the playoffs.
The question is why? Why should a team that rolled over everyone en route to one of baseball history’s most dominating performances struggle just to get out of its own way with essentially the same talent?
Where does one begin?
First, the urgency is not there. Last year was Alex Cora’s first as manager. The Red Sox had come off two seasons where they were world-beaters from April through September and then stumblebums in October. They lost in the first round to the Cleveland Indians in 2016, never winning a game; and then managed to win only once against the Houston Astros.
At the same time, David Price didn’t exactly light it up in 2017, got into an ugly feud with broadcaster Dennis Eckersley, and ended up being a reliever in the postseason. He had a lot of pride to win back personally.
These guys were primed to win. They were loaded with intensity and urgency, bursted out of the gate, and never looked back.
Along the way, they pulled out some ridiculous wins. Every time … every time … they needed a big hit, someone delivered. Pinch hitters came off the bench and hit home runs. Rookie relief pitchers held the fort until Craig Kimbrel could come in for the save. Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez had career years. Xander Bogaerts became a budding star (you can take the word “budding” off that description now). Jackie Bradley actually hit the ball, and Andrew Benintendi continued his upward trajectory.
It was a lineup with no automatic outs. Pitchers rarely got through that lineup three times without being dinged, and more often than not, they were deluged.
Sunday night’s loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers is a pretty good microcosm for the season. Price underachieved (which is the magic word for the entire stable of starters) and they couldn’t do a thing until the eighth inning, when they tied the game at 4-4.
Then, despite numerous opportunities to walk off with a win, they couldn’t. To top it all off, Bradley leads off the 11th with a double and manager Alex Cora doesn’t call for a sacrifice, and JBJ gets himself thrown out at third on a ground ball. That is horrible, dumb baseball, and it’s something the Red Sox really weren’t guilty of last season.
The Red Sox won these games last year. They’re losing them this year.
Betts is mired in the .200s, almost a hundred points less than last year. Benintendi has been average at best. Bradley is back to being the JBJ we all know and love.
The Red Sox have had uncertainty at first and second base all season. Automatic outs pop up at the most inopportune times.
The rotation last year was a machine. Rare were the nights that Chris Sale-Rick Porcello and Price didn’t give them at least seven innings. Even Eduardo Rodriguez chipped in nicely and when they got Nathan Eovaldi, they had five pitchers on their game.
Until Kimbrel broke down toward the end of the season, the bullpen was as efficient as the starting rotation. There was no way they could lose … and rarely did.
Now? Rare are the days that Porcello-Sale-Price go seven innings. Right now, Rodriguez is their best bet. The bullpen is overtaxed, which is why all those kids who looked so great last year are getting pounded on a nightly basis.
I’m not Dave Drombowski, but I’d say that the biggest failure of this year’s team are the so-called “Big Three” who have been anything but. Lord knows why this has happened, but until it’s fixed this team will be listening to the playoffs just like the rest of us come October.