“When we look back at everything we went through, the thoughts of this team early in the season, it’s just amazing. Obviously very disappointed that we didn’t win this series, but we’re going to look back and we’re going to be very proud of the group, the organization and that we got to be part of this operation on a daily basis.”
These are the takeaways Red Sox manager Alex Cora had following his team’s 4-2 ALCS loss to the Houston Astros, and they couldn’t ring more true.
Yes, the team exceeded expectations. Yes, they reached the ALCS, going as far or farther than the top three Vegas favorites for the World Series in the Dodgers, Yankees and Padres, respectively. Yes, their formerly depleted farm system has been sufficiently replenished, setting themselves up not only for the long term but the short term too. But, that doesn’t mean they should sit on their hands this offseason and try to run it back as is.
All of this “they’ll be great next year” talk from fans is driving me mad. No. You don’t know that at all.
That’s the biggest Yankee mentality I’ve ever heard. For the last 11 or so years, New York fans have been saying that next year is the year, and all they have to show for it is one ALCS appearance. Look at the Celtics, brimming with promise since Isaiah Thomas’ MVP-caliber season, who have failed to reach the NBA finals since 2010.
It’s certainly okay to be happy with Boston’s performance this year, as they crushed any expectation the league had for them. Content is a different story. You don’t build a winning culture by being happy with 3rd or 4th place in the league. This team was six games away from glory, and with the unpredictability of the league, who knows when they’ll be back in that spot. Cora is right to be disappointed with the late struggles of the Red Sox. This was an opportunity that may not come again soon.
Now that this team won 92 games and finished second only to the Rays in their division, a bit of a precedent has been set. The expectations that were there for this club in 2021 are now gone. Despite them outperforming their preseason predictions by a country mile, they now are going to be expected to win another 92 games or more, especially by the notoriously tough Boston media. Doing that will be no easy task. If the organization sits idly by and expects things to go well again, there is a high chance that they will regress.
Even though the Sox took the powerhouse Astros to a Game 6 in the ALCS, the team has a ton of holes. First, they do not have a closer, with the University of Connecticut alum Matt Barnes seemingly falling off the face of the earth after making the All-Star team for the first time in his career. The rest of the pitching staff could use some work as well.
With Hunter Renfroe set to hit free agency, there is a hole at either center field or second base, depending on where Kiké Hernandez fills in. There’s a question as to whether slugger J.D. Martinez will return to the team, and honorary Waltham native Kyle Schwarber’s future with the club is uncertain at the moment.
As good as Boston was down the stretch, they were a very streaky team, starting the season among the top teams in baseball before becoming a .500 ball club after the All-Star Break. They clearly turned on the jets in the postseason, hitting the most home runs in franchise history without making the World Series before sputtering out in the last three games.
Needless to say, there’s a lot of work to be done.
Red Sox ownership has shown tenacity with their approach to the club since taking over in 2001, and thankfully it looks like that trend will continue. Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom has done a fantastic job rebuilding this roster in such a short time after trading generational talent Mookie Betts.
Despite a few late cold streaks (one much longer than the other), the Hernandez and Renfroe signings were pay dirt, as both were wildly team friendly for their consistent production throughout the regular season. Snagging both Adam Ottavino and bullpen MVP Garrett Whitlock from the Yankees were mastermind moves from Bloom.
Unlike his former team, the Tampa Bay Rays, Boston is fortunate enough to have a much larger payroll for him to hand out larger contracts to bigger name players as well as find “Moneyball”-type guys like he’s used to finding for Tampa Bay. With just under a 9.5 million dollar a year contract (given to Barnes at the All-Star Break) the most money Bloom has given out thus far, it will be interesting to see what he can do with some higher AAV deals.
With organization money and an August 2021 MLB article declaring the Red Sox as having the 12th best farm system, Boston is in shape to exceed not only in the present, but the future. However, just having those massive assets is not enough. It’s up to Bloom to continue to build the team in his vision, Cora to continue to get the most out of his players and the players themselves to remain focused on their one goal: to bring home another championship.