Red Sox

2018 Red Sox' biggest damage was done to doubters

2018 Red Sox' biggest damage was done to doubters

Sometimes you just have to know when to tip your cap and admit you were wrong.

I'm not sure any team has been doubted and questioned more throughout a dominant run more than the 2018 Boston Red Sox. Even a franchise-record 108 regular-season wins couldn't convince the skeptics that maybe, just maybe, this group led by its brilliant first-year manager had enough talent and heart to overcome its flaws.

I was as guilty as anyone in this regard. I questioned Dave Dombrowski's decision to trade for Nathan Eovaldi instead of a proven bullpen arm in Zach Britton. I gave up on Jackie Bradley Jr.'s bat. I didn't think David Price had it in him to beat the Yankees, never mind go on to be a World Series hero. I was wrong. I failed to recognize that although the 2018 Red Sox were far from perfect, the other 29 teams would kill to have their flaws if it meant having that kind of talent.

That's what these World Series champions will be remembered for: Proving everyone wrong. As Price told the press after the series-clinching win, they "hold all the cards now." It's crazy that I'm sitting here writing about this team as if they were ever underdogs, but for whatever reason, that's how it felt. It's pretty silly looking back on it.

Nonetheless, this year's Red Sox team emerged as not only one of the best ever, but also one of the most beloved. I'd argue it's neck and neck with the 2004 champs. The postseason run put a spotlight on a cast of characters you can't help but feel ecstatic for. Here are a few in particular...

STEVE PEARCE
When Dombrowski dealt a minor leaguer and $1.5 million to the Blue Jays for Pearce, it didn't get much attention. Sure, maybe the Red Sox would get something out of him vs. left-handed pitching, but how much of an impact would that really make down the stretch?

Well...how's a World Series MVP impact sound? When the Red Sox offense went cold, it was Pearce who provided the spark. The 35-year-old journeyman went 4-for-12 in the World Series with three timely home runs, eight RBI, and four walks.

Pearce's story makes even sweeter. He was drafted 241st overall by the Pirates in 2005 and played in Pittsburgh until 2012. He also played for the Orioles, Astros, Yankees, Rays, and Blue Jays before becoming a part of the Red Sox family. Four months before becoming World Series MVP, Pearce was in the middle of a rehab stint with the Buffalo Bisons.

DAVID PRICE
Oh boy. Where do we begin with Price?

We can start by saying no one was on the receiving end of more criticism and downright hatred from Boston fans more than the 33-year-old left-hander. Sometimes, it was warranted. Other times, it was a bit over the top. Price certainly didn't do himself any favors with the way he treated the media on occasion, or with how he performed in the postseason prior to the ALCS.

All Red Sox fans really wanted was a postseason redemption story, and man, did Price deliver. He's this Red Sox team's John Lackey. He came up huge in the ALCS, earning the pennant-clinching win over the Astros and it was a total toss-up between him and Pearce for MVP. Personally, I'd have gone with Price for the award.

Another reason I'm happy for Price: He's clearly an amazing teammate.

NATHAN EOVALDI
I liked the move back in July when Dave Dombrowski traded away Jalen Beeks for the flame-throwing right-hander Nathan Eovaldi. I didn't think it was a game-changer, but it certainly didn't hurt to add a veteran arm. I just thought an eighth-inning arm such as Britton might make more sense.

All I can say now is thank God I'm not the Red Sox general manager. Eovaldi became a Sox legend in Game 3 of the World Series despite the final score. I'll never forget his performance, and neither will his teammates.

Eovaldi wasn't just a World Series hero, either. He came up big time and time again throughout the postseason. He may have been the most reliable arm the Sox had. And that's coming off two Tommy John surgeries. The guy was throwing 101 mph after throwing 100 pitches on no days rest. I'm still in awe just thinking about it.

JACKIE BRADLEY JR.
Other than Price and maybe the bullpen, no one shut critics up more than Jackie Bradley Jr. The ALCS MVP only had three hits in that series, but they were the biggest ones. Bradley hit a three-run double with Boston down by two, a grand slam in a two-run game, and then a tying two-run homer. In the World Series, he hit a tying solo HR with two outs in the eighth inning of Game 3.

I've always said if JBJ could hit .250 every season with his defensive ability, I'll shut up about him. Well, I'll gladly change that to "he came up big in the postseason, so I'll shut up about him." He more than made up for not being able to hit a beach ball throughout the regular season.

CRAIG KIMBREL
I couldn't be happier for Craig Kimbrel. Not because he was great in the postseason, he was far from it, but because he overcame so much to get to this point.

Last year, Kimbrel's daughter had a heart issue that required multiple heart surgeries. There's no doubt this had a tremendous impact on him to start the season and probably the entire 2018 campaign.

Following his disastrous ALDS and ALCS appearances, Kimbrel figured things out in the World Series. He was as emotional as anyone after the Red Sox finished the job.

JOE KELLY
There are two versions of Joe Kelly: The unhittable one, and the one you hold your breath whenever you see him trotting out to the mound. The unhittable one showed up this postseason.

Kelly's stuff was straight-up filthy. In five World Series appearances, he pitched six scoreless innings with no walks and 10 strikeouts. You literally cannot do better than that.

Kelly is now a free agent and if you're a Red Sox fan, you should want him back regardless of the rollercoaster ride he tends to be. After that unbelievable postseason showing, you'll gladly take the bad with the good.

J.D. MARTINEZ
The "please don't sign J.D." takes from last winter will never get old (mainly the Tony Massarotti ones, but I know there were plenty of other anti-J.D. folks out there)...

Martinez wasn't "amazing" by any means in the postseason, but he absolutely blew away expectations this season. It wasn't just what he did at the plate, it's how he made all of his teammates so much better. His obsession with improving himself was contagious. Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and the rest of the Sox offense will tell you Martinez is like a second hitting coach.

There certainly was skepticism surrounding his signing as big-money free agents have a history of not working out with the Red Sox. Still, make no mistake, this guy is a gamer. He was in Detroit, he was in Arizona, and he is now in Boston.

I tried telling you people this would be the case.

CHRIS SALE
It's fitting to end this list with the man who finished off the World Series-clincher, Chris Sale. We don't need to go too in-depth here, as we all know this Red Sox team doesn't get here without their ace, but his borderline psychotic competitive spirit put him on this list. He clearly wasn't healthy throughout the postseason but he battled through it to deliver when needed most. That alone will make you a beloved figure in Boston.

I'm not going to name the whole team - just a few in particular that resonated with me as I reflect on the Red Sox' fourth World Series title in the past 15 seasons - but the entire group was a pleasure to watch from start to finish. Mookie Betts is by all indicators the A.L. MVP. Xander Bogaerts had an under-the-radar sensational season. Rafael Devers, who just turned 22, was one of team's most clutch postseason hitters. Alex Cora is a genius and a true leader of men. The list goes on.

Who knows what 2019 will bring? The talent will still be here, but baseball is a funny game. There's a chance they could pull a '14 Red Sox and go from first to worst. That's why what this '18 team accomplished should be appreciated and reflected on fondly before it's time to focus on repeating.

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Hindsight 2020: Bobby Valentine's role in Daniel Bard's Red Sox freefall

Hindsight 2020: Bobby Valentine's role in Daniel Bard's Red Sox freefall

There's plenty of blame to heap on Bobby Valentine for the disaster that was the 2012 Red Sox.

He created an atmosphere of paranoia among his coaches, fostered distrust among his players, and allowed a lack of accountability that permeated the organization to start at his door.

It only took the Red Sox one year to clean up his mess, with John Farrell overseeing the Boston Strong World Series that erased the memory of 2012 before it could fester.

That said, Valentine botched the implementation of one decision with truly lasting consequences: the transition of Daniel Bard from reliever to starter, which is today's managerial installment in our Hindsight 2020 series.

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In an alternate universe, Bard is still closing games for the Red Sox as a 34-year-old All-Star entering his 12th season. Instead, he's effectively out of baseball, undone by a mystifying inability to throw strikes that started on Valentine's watch and snowballed into something heartbreaking.

More than 10 years later, it's hard to overstate the impact Bard made when he arrived in 2009 as a flame-throwing reliever, just three years after being selected in the first round of the 2006 draft out of North Carolina.

He struck out 63 in just 49.1 innings as a rookie before making the leap in 2010, posting a 1.93 ERA in 73 appearances and striking out over a batter an inning. He regressed in 2011, posting a 2-9 record and losing four games during the September collapse that hastened the departures of both manager Terry Francona and GM Theo Epstein, opening the door for Valentine.

Before the new skipper even arrived, Bard had already planted the seeds with general manager Ben Cherington. Drafted as a starter, Bard saw a return to the rotation as a chance to make real money. It did not escape his notice that All-Star closer Jonathan Papelbon received $50 million in free agency from the Phillies the same offseason that converted reliever C.J. Wilson cashed in for $75 million with the Angels.

Though dominant eighth-inning arms were invaluable when Bard arrived in 2009, they weren't the showstoppers they are today. Bard's former UNC teammate, Andrew Miller, would help usher in that era a few years later with the Yankees and Indians, and he has been well-compensated for it. His career earnings should top $80 million if the 2020 season is played.

So with that backdrop, it made sense that Bard would want to rejoin the rotation. That the Red Sox would agree wasn't a slam dunk, since he had started his career in horror-show fashion at High-A Lancaster, allowing a staggering 44 baserunners in just 13.1 innings in 2007, exhibiting some of the symptoms that would derail his career five years later — namely an inability to throw strikes.

Those struggles prompted a move to the bullpen, and Bard soared to the majors two years later.

By the time spring training rolled around in 2012, Bard expressed confidence that the transition would work. Valentine wasn't nearly as sold, with stories leaking that he'd return Bard to the bullpen at his first opportunity, and an infamous answer of "could be" just days into the season when asked if Bard might assume the closer's role in the wake of struggles by Mark Melancon and Alfredo Aceves. It's doubtful that stance did much for Bard's confidence as a starter.

"I wouldn't be doing it if I didn't think it was going to work," Bard insisted at the time. "I'm all in. I'm committed to it and they are, too."

Bard opened the season as the fifth starter and seemed to find his groove in late April, limiting the Rays to one run in one start (albeit while walking 7) and then beating the White Sox with seven effective innings of three-run ball.

Then came the June start in Toronto that changed everything. Bard missed the plate so badly, it was scary. He lasted just 1.2 innings after surrendering five runs on only one hit, walking six, drilling two, and sending two fastballs to the backstop. He left Valentine no choice but to yank him before he hurt someone.

Unfortunately, irreparable damage had been done to his career, and Bard seemed to sense it that night.

"I allowed something to happen when I switched roles,'' he said. "I think it's just maybe that we tried to turn me into a starter rather than just take the same pitcher I was out of the pen and move that guy to the rotation, which is probably what we should've done."

Bard disappeared for three months before returning on Aug. 31 in a 20-2 loss to the A's as a reliever. He allowed runs in five of his final six relief appearances. He made just two appearances in 2013 — earning a World Series ring as a result — and hasn't appeared in a big league game since.

He announced his retirement in 2017, but attempted a comeback with the Rockies this spring, allowing seven runs and eight baserunners in just 1.2 innings.

It's entirely possible his career would've ended this way no matter which path he chose — after all, the wheels had already started coming off in 2011, when he posted a 10.64 ERA in September. But even though Valentine isn't to blame for the decision to make Bard a starter, the half-hearted way he implemented it and the mixed messages he sent along the way set the formerly dominant reliever on a path to ruin.

Darwinzon Hernandez: 'I’m ready' to be a starter

Darwinzon Hernandez: 'I’m ready' to be a starter

The Boston Red Sox have serious concerns with their pitching staff. With Chris Sale out for the long haul after undergoing Tommy John surgery, the Red Sox are down to just a few known commodities among their starting rotation.

Eduardo Rodriguez will be the team's ace. Nathan Eovaldi and Martin Perez will follow him in the rotation. But the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation are a bit harder to predict.

Before Sale's surgery and before the MLB shut down operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it seemed like Ryan Weber was the leading candidate to earn a job in the back end of the rotation. If he's the fourth starter, that will leave the Sox with just one hole to fill in the fifth starter slot.

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And one possibility for that role would be Darwinzon Hernandez. The left-hander pitched in 29 games for the Red Sox last season logging a 4.45 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings pitched. Hernandez only made one start for the Sox, but he considers himself to be a starter at the MLB level. 

"Everyone knows I’d love to start. Absolutely," Hernandez said, per Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe. "That is what every pitcher wants and I still feel like I can do it. I enjoyed being a reliever and I’ll do whatever the team asks. The important thing is to be on the team. But, yes, I want to start."

Hernandez was a starter during his time in the minor leagues and has started at least 12 games per season since 2015. The 23-year-old still has a lot of upside and he believes that he's ready to take on a starting job.

"I’m ready. I’ve matured as [a] pitcher,” Hernandez said through a translator. "In the minors, I would just throw but when I got to the majors, they taught me how to pitch and the importance of working hard and locating your pitches, mixing your pitches. I learned how to pitch and not just throw."

Of course, the decision will ultimately come down to Ron Roenicke. And the Sox skipper at least seemed open to Hernandez battling for a starting job before spring training was shut down.

"You have to consider [starting Hernandez]," Roenicke said last month, per Abraham. "He’s still a young pitcher and there’s a lot to work with. I could see us looking at this again and giving him a chance to start."

Hernandez will have some competition for that final spot. The Red Sox did sign Collin McHugh after Sale's setback. The former Houston Astros pitcher could be a starter or bullpen arm, but he'll have to get healthy first. He was battling an elbow injury upon joining the team and it's unclear exactly when he'll return to action.

The team could also choose to use the opener strategy that the Tampa Bay Rays have popularized in recent seasons. Could that involve Hernandez playing that role? Or being the "bulk" guy to take on innings once the opener is done? It's surely possible.

It's tough to know what the Red Sox are going to do with their rotation. They'll likely have to mix and match things if and when the season does begin. But that could be a while away.

For the time being, Roenicke will have more time to think about just how he wants his pitching staff to shake out. And with rosters to be expanded in wake of the pandemic, per Joel Sherman of The New York Post, Roenicke may opt to try a few different solutions before settling on his preferred option.