One year ago, the Red Sox were wrapping up the best regular season in franchise history. A few weeks later they notched their 119th win and took home their fourth World Series trophy in 15 years. We can point to a multitude of reasons as to why the Sox weren’t able to come close to duplicating that run in 2019, and they all begin with complacency from the front office and the manager.
There were no significant changes to the roster last winter, and no desire to turn the page from 2018. The plan was roll out the same team minus a couple significant pieces, and expect the same (or even better) results:
“They’re never satisfied,” Alex Cora told reporters back in January. “If you start looking at some of the players we have… I do feel we’re going to be better, we’re going to be better. And hopefully we have some good luck in October. You guys might write this somewhere, I don’t care. If you thought last year was special, wait till this year.”
Talking about October before the season starts, as if its a guarantee that they’ll be back in the postseason, was mistake number one. Implying that they’ll win more than 119 games was downright reckless. Just try to picture Bill Belichick or Tom Brady looking ahead to January football games in June. The Patriots don’t only turn the page after a championship season, they burn the book. Here’s what Brady had to say about starting a new year in an interview with Willie McGinnest over the offseason:
“I always say it’s like climbing a mountain. Every time you climb the mountain, the next year you start right at the bottom with everyone else and you have a new group of people – a new group of climbers. You have different tools you can use, and everyone starts at the same place.”
The Red Sox did not treat the start of 2019 with the attitude that they were at the bottom of the mountain with the rest of Major League Baseball. Cora was still mentally on a duckboat and Dave Dombrowski refused to see any potential issues with the pitching staff, so he did nothing. As a direct result, he was fired a few weeks ago.
Of course it wasn’t all bad. The most notable positives for Boston this year were Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Eduardo Rodriguez, Christian Vazquez, Brandon Workman, and JD Martinez. Those are the six guys on the roster who actually met or exceeded expectations. Devers became the second youngest player in MLB history to finish a year with 30 home runs, 50 doubles, and 200 hits, only trailing 21 year-old Alex Rodriguez in 1996. Bogaerts, Vazquez, E-Rod, and Workman all had the best seasons of their careers thus far, and Martinez once again lived up to the hype that he’s created for himself over the last few years by hitting .304 and leading the team with 36 dingers. We all know that Mookie Betts took a step back from his MVP season, but he was still productive enough. Offense was never the issue for this team.
The glaring weakness was every single pitcher aside from Rodriguez and Workman, which brings us back to the conscious decision to neglect the needs in both the starting rotation and the bullpen. Despite their historic record, the 2018 Red Sox did have some issues with relief pitching. Those issues were masked in the postseason when guys like Nathan Eovaldi, Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes, and Ryan Brasier emptied the tank and pitched some of the best innings of their respective careers. Losing Kelly and Craig Kimbrel, not replacing them, and then expecting those other three guys to be able to duplicate those performances was pure ignorance. Combine that with the severe underachievement of Chris Sale, David Price, and Rick Porcello, and this Sox team never really stood a chance.
So here we are again. Just like two of his predecessors in Terry Francona and John Farrell, Alex Cora was able to strike gold in his inaugural campaign as Boston’s manager. And just like Francona in 2005 and Farrell in 2014, he followed that up by winning zero playoff games the next season. It’s amazing how many disappointing finishes the Sox have managed to fit in the last 15 years despite winning four titles. Cora talked last offseason about wanting to meet up with Belichick to ask questions about how to defend a title, but the meeting never happened. Now might be a good time to revisit that idea. Meanwhile, we need ourselves a GM who will actually do his job this winter. The championships have been fun, but it’s time for this franchise to start winning more consistently. No years off.