Red Sox didn't find the right answers in 2015
Red Sox didn't find the right answers in 2015
At the start of the 2015 baseball season, back on April, we identified four storylines to watch over the course of the Red Sox season. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, we revisit them to see how they played out.
1) Can they win if no ace emerges?
Um, no -- as it turns out.
Regardless of who you identified as the likely No. 1 -- Clay Buchholz? Rick Porcello? -- the Red Sox starting rotation was a disaster in the first half, though it improved markedly after the All-Star break.
For the season, Red Sox starters ranked 13th among the 15 A.L. clubs in ERA (4.39) and 24th overall in MLB.
Porcello pitched poorly from the start, carrying an ERA over 6.00 into July. He pitched far better in the final six weeks of the season, but still finished with an ERA of 4.92, far from ace-like.
Buchholz, too, began poorly, but experienced a big turnaround in May and was, indeed, pitching like a true No. 1. But, as has often happened with Buchholz, he got injured and didn't pitch past July 10.
Others emerged. Joe Kelly had a terrific eight-game stretch after his exile to the minors and Eduardo Rodriguez showed the potential to be a future front-of-the-rotation.
The Red Sox' issues were deep enough that perhaps not even strong, healthy seasons from Buchholz and Porcello would have sent them to the postseason. But it's not hard to imagine the Red Sox being .500 or better in September had that happened, and that alone would have had them in contention for a wild-card spot.
2) Can they win if Koji Uehara fails to approach his 2014 form? Can they restructure the bullpen with personnel on hand if he doesn't?
Uehara did his part -- for a while.
He fashioned a 2.23 ERA, converted 23-of-26 save opportunities and had a WHIP of 0.917 -- all well above average for a closer.
He wasn't as dominant as he was in 2013 -- when he had an otherworldly 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings and went weeks without allowing an earned run -- but then, who was?
Uehara wasn't the issue. The rest of the bullpen, however, most assuredly was.
Set-up man extraordinaire Junoichi Tazawa hit a wall in August, burned out from the workload of the last three seasons. He briefly took over as closer when Uehara went out with a broken wrist, but that plan tanked. Worse, when Tazawa went back to his usual eighth-inning role, he failed there, too.
The Sox were left picking up discards from other organizations -- Jean Machi, Ryan Cook -- and some unproven young pitchers (Noe Ramirez, Heath Hembree, Jonathan Aro) in an attempt to get through the season. It wasn't pretty.
Again, perhaps if Uehara stayed healthy and others remained in their customary roles, the Sox could have won a few more games. But not enough to change their fate.
3) Will the outfield logjam become an on and off-field problem if it's not fixed?
Yes, the outfield was a bit of a first-half issue, in the same way that taking on water was somewhat problematic for the Titanic.
Actually, "outfield'' is a little too generic. Let's get more specific. See: Ramirez, Hanley.
Ramirez was a complete, total, unmitigated disaster in the outfield. Is that definitive enough? He was ranked by some defensive metrics as the worst defender in the game. And not just in the outfield -- at any position.
Shane Victorino wasn't on that same level, but he was hardly part of the solution, either. Victorino was continually nicked up with injuries and when he played, underperformed.
By late July, Victorino was shipped out, and a month or so later, so was Ramirez -- though not permanently.
New director of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski spent about 10 days watching Ramirez fumble around in the outfield before calling a halt to the experiment. In Ramirez's absence, the Sox played the trio of Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rusney Castillo almost exclusively and the impact was obvious and immediate.
Suddenly, balls that Ramirez couldn't -- or wouldn't -- get to were being caught, or at least cut off. Hits turned into outs, which bolstered the pitchers' confidence while lowering their ERAs.
By the end of the year, the Sox had settled on the same three as their Outfield of the Future, even if they haven't definitively said who will be playing where.
But it was a painful process getting there, and the resulting poor play - twinned with the sub-par work of the starters in the first three months -- combinied to torpedo the season.
4) Despite his recent contract extension, will pressure mount on John Farrell if the team struggles in the early going.
This, too, was prescient.
Yup, the team "struggle(d) in the early going,'' all right. And, yup, the pressure mounted on Farrell.
Some fans called for his firing, though others were insistent that GM Ben Cherington should be the one to blame.
By the third week of August, neither was on the job, but for reasons no one could have foreseen.
While Cherington resigned after ownership went behind his back to hire Dombrowski, Farrell shockingly revealed that he was battling lymphoma on Aug. 14 and would miss the remainder of the season as he took a medical leave of absence.
The Red Sox had begun playing better halfway through the season under Farrell, but were still 14 games under .500 when he took his leave.
Under interim manager Torey Lovullo, and soon, with Hanley Ramirez mercifully removed from left field, the Sox played their best baseball in the final six weeks, finishing 28-20 in the last 48 games.
That revival, in turn, resulted in some wanting Lovullo to replace his mentor for next season. Instead, last Sunday, Dombrowski announced that Farrell would return, and so would Lovullo as his bench coach.
That was the fair thing to do, and also the most sound. Farrell shouldn't lose his job while fighting cancer, and the Red Sox are now protected by retaining Lovullo, too.
If the Sox start slowly again next season, there will be no safety net and Lovullo will be waiting in the wings.
In that sense, Farrell -- contract extension or not -- will begin next year the same way he did this past April: On the hot seat.