After experiencing the most monumental regular-season collapse in 2012, despite prognostications of an eighth World Series title this time last year, the biggest question looming over Yawkey Way is, “What do the 2012 Red Sox need to do to rectify 2011?”
Regardless of last September, the Red Sox have not won a playoff game since losing the 2008 ALCS in Tampa and have not been in the playoffs since being swept by the Angels in 2009.
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In 2012, the road does not look any more promising in terms of a “redemption year,” as the Tigers, Angels, Rangers, and, debatably, Yankees all have improved this offseason. Pending the expansion of the MLB playoffs in 2012, that equation has Boston sitting and watching from their living rooms come October.
Or does it?
This time last year the Red Sox were the American League pennant favorites because of the additions of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, a shut down closer in Jonathan Papelbon, an everyday shortstop in Jed Lowrie and a starting rotation that had “ace pitcher” Josh Beckett in the four hole behind Jon Lester, John Lackey and Clay Buchholz. In fact, the “only question” was unproven catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Flash forward 161 games …
- Buchholz has been on the DL since May.
- Lackey – unsurprisingly – posted a 6.41 ERA to far exceed his 4.40 ERA the year before.
- The only silver lining in a scandalized clubhouse captained by Lester and Beckett is shortstop Marco Scutaro.
- Papelbon is nine innings away from giving up the season-ending run on a base hit that Crawford will not get to in time.
While that game eventually decided the American League wild card, the Red Sox were the best team in the American League and still leading the division by half a game going into September.
There is no difference between the team that was the best in baseball for the better part of last summer and the team that is due to report to Fort Meyers in the coming days.
This year’s questions are exactly the same as last year. Who will earn the starting job at shortstop? Last year, it was Lowrie or Scutaro; this year, it’s Mike Aviles, Nick Punto, or Jose Iglesias. How will the back end of the rotation hold up? Last year, it was questions about Daisuke Matsuzaka, Lackey, Beckett and their abilities to bounce back from a collectively poor 2010; this year it’s how will Daniel Bard fare in the transition from reliever to starter, and who will fill the fifth spot in the rotation?
This is why GM Ben Cherington’s minimalist approach to the offseason, which has been criticized and scrutinized by Boston fans and media alike, was the only necessary maneuver in order to potentially right the ship in 2012 and get the Red Sox back in the hunt for a World Series title and the elusive playoff win.
That said, will the Boston Red Sox emerge victorious at the end of October? Probably not. The Detroit Tigers seem to be the preseason favorites for that distinction, but, then again, so were the 2011 Red Sox.