Red Sox Games Are Just Starting to Get Important
The Red Sox won’t play another meaningful game all season, but the next seven weeks could be the most crucial stretch the team has had in years.
Admittedly, on the surface, that sounds ridiculous. The Red Sox won a World Series just 22 months ago. It is difficult to imagine any game involving a club skidding to its third last-place finish in four years being more vital to the long-term success of the franchise than winning the first World Series at Fenway Park since 1918.
But as we have seen, that astonishing championship campaign in 2013 was not indicative of things to come. It was not a fluke—teams don’t win 97 regular-season games by accident—but it certainly didn’t trigger the start of another Red Sox golden age.
The team that won in 2013 wasn’t constructed for everlasting success. It was largely comprised of veterans signed to short-term deals and star players—Jacoby Ellsbury and Jon Lester most notably—with contracts that were set to expire within the next year. It was supposed to be a bridge season more so than a championship one.
Former general manager Theo Epstein introduced the concept of a bridge year to Red Sox Nation in December 2009 when he uttered those words to the media at baseball’s annual winter meetings. The organization had a hole at the top of its farm system at the time, and the idea was to sign a bunch of veterans to short-term deals who could bridge the gap between one nucleus and another.
Fast forward to August 2015, and we are finally seeing the end of that bridge. The ride included a lot more bumps—and certainly a lot more Bobby Valentine—than fans had probably imagined, but here we are.
This has been a disastrous season for the Red Sox, but it is not a lost one. A veteran placeholder like Aaron Cook isn’t taking the hill every fifth day while the Sox play out the string. Instead, the Red Sox plan to run out young hurlers such as Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Matt Barnes almost every night over the final two months.
Scott Podsednik isn’t in the outfield, Pedro Ciriaco isn’t at shortstop, and Ryan Lavarnway isn’t behind the plate. Former top prospects Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Blake Swihart are patrolling the field now.
The Red Sox have had one of the highest-rated farm systems in baseball over the last three years. Heading into this season, the esteemed staff at Baseball America ranked it second-best in the game.
We will finally see if these young players whom we have heard so much about can, well, play. The results may not be pretty, as Monday night’s 8-2 loss to Cleveland showed us, but at least key player evaluations are being made on a nightly basis.
Over the next two months, we will probably be able to determine whether the Red Sox are on the cusp of another run akin to what we saw from 2003-2009, or if they will have to go back to the drawing board. If you can manage to hold your nose whenever Hanley Ramirez misplays a ball in left or the Portly Panda Pablo Sandoval meekly grounds out to the right side, this team might even be fun to watch, too.
It won’t compare to witnessing a worst-to-first turnaround, but the results could set the stage for several years of championship contention, rather than fleeting euphoria.