Thursday, October 31, 2013

World Series Day After

I want to write some more about the World Series - having had a day of sober reflection, you know...

This year had an odd sense of of inevitability about it. I remember the first week of the season, playing the Yankees - thinking about how well everything seemed to have worked out. The team got off to a fast start - playing well in the field, getting good starting pitching, and just murdering people out of the bullpen. You could see they were loaded - Uehara and Tazawa were the first guys out of the pen, and were shutting people down - the guys pitching the end of games, Hanrahan, later Bailey, looked just as good. They looked invincible. But Hanrahan got hurt; then Bailey got hurt; then Andrew Miller (lefty specialist) got hurt - and the guys pitching the 6th and 7th started pitching the 8th and 9th and they barely missed a beat. And got infinitely better when Uehara took over closing full time.

It reminds you how much of this year was, really, luck - especially the macro scale kind of luck. They had plenty of the game to game luck, walk off wins and the like, but their real good fortune came in the fact that they were able to basically play the year with the team they expected to have. I've mentioned before - my doubts about the team came from the fact they were assembling too many guys in their early (or late) 30s, who'd had an injury here or there, and could be about ready to start to decline - Napoli and Victorino and Uehara all fit that bill, as do Ortiz, even Lester and Buchholz, going on last year's performance. All of them with a very good track record - but so many of them with questions. And basically, they all stayed healthy, got healthy (Lackey), performed as expected. That hasn't happened for a few years - the Sox in the 2010s have had a run of pretty awful luck, to tell the truth. Young guys getting hurt - Beckett in 2010, Buchholz in 2011, Ellsbury in 10 and 12, Pedroia and Youk in 2010, Crawford in 2011 - formerly reliable older players breaking down - Lackey, Beckett, etc., Wake and Tek reaching the end of the road, crazy people in positions of importance (Alfredo Aceves, closer? Bobby Valentine, manager??) This year made up for that - the good players with health or age concerns all stayed healthy and performed...

The big exception was the bullpen - but that serves to illustrate the nature of this luck - it's luck the organization made, as much as you can make your own luck. They managed to lose 2 closers and a top setup guy for the year, and not really miss a beat - because they had assembled a very deep pool of arms to choose from. They had Bailey, with hopes he could come back; they acquired Hanrahan (though I imagine they wished they'd had Malancon back...) and signed Uehara; they had a deep pool of options on the roster - Tazawa, Miller, Breslow, Morales - and had rebuilt the farm system to the point of producing real talent. And it paid off. They were right - they had enough depth to survive losing half their bullpen. A big part of it was, frankly, last year's debacle - the one good thing that came from that was the development of Tazawa and Miller - Miller finally found his niche last year; Tazawa came back from Tommy John surgery, and turned into an excellent reliever. Across the board, the team tried to do that - collect players - build depth everywhere, to make sure they had good players on the field, and more good players to cover injuries.

Though in the end - without Lester and Lackey doing what they did (and Buchholz, for the half season he was healthy), without Ortiz healthy, Pedroia being Pedroia and Ellsbury coming back, they weren't winning much. The stars came through. The rest of the team came through. Most of them stayed healthy and were able to deliver what they were there to do. It's been a beautiful thing.

And it's worth reflecting on what an impressive post-season they put together. The pitching, specifically. They went up against some of the scariest pitching you can imagine - Cy Young award winners, past and present, super-rookies, hard throwers, pitchers - and they out-pitched the lot of them. True, the Sox have a great offense, but the Tigers and Cards score runs - but not against the Red Sox. The starters shut them down, mostly; the bullpen might have been even better. Other than Craig Breslow (who had been quite superb in the first two rounds, but apparently missed a payment on his contract with Satan for the world series), they gave up almost nothing. Meanwhile - the Red Sox faced the win leaders in the AL and NL, twice each - and won all 4. Beat the last 2 Cy Young award winners in the American League. Basically, outpitching them, in every one of those games (except maybe the first Scherzer start - Jim Leyland did help the Sox immeasurably...) It was a dominant performance, that just got better in the world series.

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