The End of an Improbable Run for the Red Sox

The season is over for the Boston Red Sox, much later than nearly everyone predicted. An unreal, improbable deep postseason run was bonus baseball in a year following an absolute dud of a season in 2020. There are a lot of things to reflect on at this moment: defensive woes, offensive bi-polar production, a play here or there in the ALCS, but the thing that hurts the worst? This team never had a chance, but made us all believe a championship was possible.

Coming into the season, everyone expected a rebound for the Red Sox who were coming off of a 24-36 shortened-season last place finish in the AL East season. The general consensus was a .500 season was likely, somewhere around the 80-82 win threshold, missing a spot in the postseason. After an absolutely torrid first half of the season, expectations began to shift, but then reality hit and the Red Sox came back to earth. They needed every bit of 162 games to sneak into the postseason and and win their 92nd regular season game.

The playoffs began with a huge win over the New York Yankees in the AL Wild Card at Fenway Park and it felt like that was a big accomplishment regardless of what came of the ALDS against the 100-win Tampa Bay Rays. After a tough first game offensively, the production began and the Red Sox won 3-straight games to send the Rays packing. Shockingly, the Red Sox were one of 4 teams still remaining in the postseason. Once again the Red Sox offense wasn’t good enough in a game one, but turned it on for games 2 and 3. Once the Red Sox won game 3, it felt like this team had a special quality and was peaking at the right time. The mentality was to win the next two at home and never have to return to Texas, but obviously that didn’t happen.

We all believed that despite the up-and-down season and the struggles offensively in the final week of the season when everything was hanging in the balance, in October this team could beat anyone. At times, they showed us that their offense was all-powerful and could hit anyone, at any time and then other times they made opposing pitchers look like Cy Young winners. We built ourselves up to believe that this team had an x-factor and was a runaway train barreling down the tracks with nothing that could stop the momentum. Just when we felt the magic and believed, this team showed us exactly what we saw down the stretch of the regular season: inconsistency and an inability to put anyone away. It was never gone, just took a short break.

This team was never good enough to win a championship, but I certainly believed they could and I know I’m not alone. The pitching staff was held together with glue and duct tape and Cora was able to squeeze every last ounce out of each person on the roster to even get to an ALCS game 6. This may be one of the greatest managerial performances of the last decade, but it will be overshadowed by not making the World Series. Alex Cora did what he could with the roster he had, and it wasn’t enough, but it was damn close.

The future is certainly bright in Boston. Several young players made significant contributions to this team and will only continue to improve next year and beyond. In 2022 the Red Sox will have one of their strongest rotations in a long time if everything shakes out as expected and the rookie arms continue to improve. The offense needs to fill a few holes and gain greater depth on the bench, but overall is pretty close to being great without much work. The defense needs to be a huge priority this offseason, because they handed opponents run after run this season with bad plays and errors.

There will be a lot of commentary this offseason on this team, some positive and some negative (and a lot of it from me), but despite feeling the hurt of a tough series loss, I wouldn’t trade this improbable run for anything. Just 114 days until pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers.

A Wild Finish Sets Up a Rivalry Grudge Match

Everyone take a breath. No really, it’s ok the breathe now. That was one of the wildest final few days of the regular season I’ve ever seen in the MLB and the every-team-starts-at-3pm-on-the-final-day-of-the-season was intense and absolutely amazing. Going into game 162 there were a half-dozen scenarios involving the 4 teams fighting for the 2 AL Wild Card spots, including a potential for a 4-way tie. As the games began, all Red Sox needed to host the AL Wild Card game was a W, but the anxiety increased for Red Sox fans pretty quickly.

With the 4 games that impacted the AL Wild Card all happening simultaneously, there was no time to sit back and relax. I was watching the Red Sox at Nationals and checking in on Rays at Yankees, Orioles at Blue Jays, and Angels at Mariners. Thankfully, for my sanity not for the wild card race, the Blue Jays jumped all over the Orioles early making that a game I didn’t have to keep checking. As time ticks on, the Rays and Yankees are still scoreless and Chris Sale is, well, not Chris Sale-ing, my anxiety level rose. Once Sale walked in a run and was pulled in the 3rd inning, doom and gloom began to overtake me. The Red Sox were guaranteed a game 163, but no one wanted it to be a tie-breaker game.

Once Garrett Richards gave up the 2-run double to retiring catcher Alex Avila, I thought that was it. It was 5-1 Nationals and I was figuring out my schedule for a potential tie-breaker game on Monday and running through all the potential scenarios once again. As the game progressed, my anxiety grew even higher the longer the Rays and Yankees remained scoreless. The Red Sox got one back in the 6th, then down 3 in the 7th, three straight singles makes in 5-3 and Alex Verdugo has one of the biggest hits of the season with a 2-run double to tie the game. For those who are keeping track, the Red Sox and Nationals are tied 5-5 and the Rays and Yankees are tied 0-0, both in the very late innings.

Then, the pressure grew to new heights when Aaron Judge had the softest walkoff hit I’ve ever seen (bunts not withstanding) to give the Yankees a 1-0 victory. The Red Sox’s chances of hosting the wild card game were slipping, but there was still time. Eduardo Rodriguez shutdown the Nationals in the bottom of the 8th and then the Red Sox get their chance to bat in the top of the 9th with the heart of the lineup scheduled to bat (2-3-4). Kyle Schwarber led it off with a ground ball to the shifted 2nd baseman on the outfield grass and he couldn’t play it cleanly so the Red Sox have some life for Xander Bogaerts. Unfortunately X-man continued his awful stretch with a K, bringing Rafael Devers up to bat.

Devers swung at the first pitch splitter and missed, then watched 2 more splitters to move the count to 2-and-1. The Nationals pitcher Kyle Finnegan then made a critical error, throwing Raffy a 4th straight splitter on the inside part of the plate and Devers crushed it. A 447-foot HR to give the Red Sox their first lead of the game and put them in a position to host the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday night. In the all-hands-on-deck game 162, starter Nick Pivetta came in to close the game out in the bottom of the 9th and retired the Nationals in order, including an impressive strikeout of Juan Soto to end the game.

It wasn’t easy, but nothing has been since June. This team was one of the best in baseball for the first 3-months of the season but has struggled and had to fight and claw for everything since that point. The fact they needed 162 games to get into the postseason is hard to swallow, but if you compare that to the pre-season expectations for this team, the postseason is an accomplishment to celebrate. The Red Sox officially finish the year 92-70, which is a great record in any situation. Before the season, Sports Illustrated predicted the Red Sox would finish 80-82 this season, 17 games behind the Yankees and 4th place in the AL East and the betting over/under on wins for the Red Sox was 80.5.

I know this team almost collapsed and may bow out of the playoffs before getting into a series, but big picture, this has been a successful season for the Boston Red Sox to this point. It’s really hard to see that when watching day-in and day-out, but to be as competitive as they have been in a division stacked with 4 playoff-worthy teams. The Red Sox played nearly 1/3 of their games (57) against the Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, and Toronto Blue Jays, all 90+ win teams and 2 of the 3 are in the postseason and 1 missed the postseason by a single game. The Red Sox won the season series with the Yankees and Blue Jays, albeit by 1 game, but it’s why they are hosting the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday.

There is a lot to unpack about the 2021 season for the Red Sox and thankfully there is an offseason for that, but for now, I’m just looking forward to a single-elimination game between two storied rivals at America’s Most Beloved Ballpark on Tuesday night at 8:08pm EST.

The Most Important Series of the Season

With just a few short weeks left in the 2021 MLB regular season, the Red Sox are confronted with the most important 3-game set of the year against their vaunted rival. The next 3 days will go a long way in determining the 2 AL Wild Card spots and has the potential to begin to either resurrect or bury the New York Yankees. The drama will be high and the atmosphere will be electric. What else could you ask for from the Red Sox and Yankees at Fenway Park in September?

Going into this series the Red Sox have taken care of business against inferior opponents with a 7-game win streak. They have built a 2-game cushion over the New York Yankees in the Wild Card with the Toronto Blue Jays lingering just 0.5 games behind the Yankees with the results of their contest with the Minnesota Twins on Thursday night still not decided. The lead for the Red Sox puts them in the driver’s seat entering this series. If they can win at least 1 of 3 it will allow the Red Sox to at least stay tied for a Wild Card spot with an easy final 6 games.

Obviously, the Red Sox want more than just 1 win. Taking 2 out of 3 puts a 3-game gap between the two teams, which drops the Yankees odds of making the playoffs and greatly increases the Red Sox odds. A sweep of the Yankees would be absolutely devastating for the pinstripes, putting them 5 games back of the Red Sox with 6 to play, all but guaranteeing a playoff spot for the Red Sox and putting even more pressure on the Yankees series up in Toronto immediately following their Fenway Park set. Depending on how the Blue Jays perform against the Twins, a sweep could come close to ending the Yankees season.

There is clearly a flip-side of the sweep, if the Yankees were to pull out the brooms against the Red Sox. It would put the Yankees 1 game ahead with 6 to play, but as mentioned above, the Yankees still have to go to Toronto for 3 games and then play the AL East leaders Tampa Bay Rays for 3. This is an absolute gauntlet for the Yankees and if they ultimately make the playoffs, it will be because they beat the best to get there, but they have a serious uphill climb beginning Friday. You know the Red Sox are fully aware of their position and are playing this series to bury the Yankees and get closer to, or even clinch, a playoff berth.

Stock your fridge, grab some snacks, get a comfy place on the couch, and collect every good luck charm you have, because the next three days are going to be crucial and intense.