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What’s Next? Historical Collapses for Boston and Atlanta

Boston Red Sox
September 1: (83-54) Led Wild Card by 9 games
September 29: (90-72) Lost Wild Card by 1 game

LOOKING BACK

After signing free agent prize Carl Crawford and trading three unspectacular prospects for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, the Red Sox spent the offseason being touted as the greatest team in Major League history.

Greatest Team Evahhhh!

Their rotation of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka found themselves labeled as Five Aces, despite serious injury or performance concerns on all but one of them. Hundreds of articles were written about the lineup scoring over 1,000 runs in 2011, despite never accomplishing that feat in over 100 years of existence.

Every single “expert” at ESPN picked them to win the AL East and over half of them picked the Red Sox to win the World Series. But then something funny happened—the season started. Boston opened the season by losing its first six games and ten of its first twelve.

No worries, the media said, it was just an adjustment period for a team with so many new additions. And then for awhile it seemed as though they were right. The Red Sox put together winning streaks of five, seven, five, nine and six and headed into the All Star Break leading the division and with the best record in the American League.

They won eleven of their sixteen games following the All Star Break and entered August with the best record in the American League. They lost two of three to the Yankees at the end of August, but still entered September with the best record in the league and atop their division. A 6-0 win over Texas on August 25 left Boston with a 99.989% chance of making the playoffs. But then everything fell apart.

They lost two of three to Texas and two of three to Toronto. Then they lost six of seven against Tampa Bay and three of four to Baltimore, dropping their playoff chances to 80.0%. But the free fall didn’t stop there as they lost four of their last six games, including the last game of the season which let Tampa Bay roll right on by them.

The greatest team ever ended up with the ninth best overall record in baseball and missed the playoffs. In order to completely collapse, everything needed to go wrong for Boston and it did. The offense disappeared with the exception of a handful of games and the pitching and defense were worse.

Boston went 3-19 in September when the offense scored less than 10 runs and received just four quality starts out of twenty-seven September games. Their team ERA was 5.84 for the month and their starter’s ERA was 7.08. Of the six pitchers who started a game for the Red Sox in September, Tim Wakefield’s ERA of 5.25 was the lowest.

LOOKING FORWARD

Boston has a lot of question marks moving forward. With the game’s second highest payroll, someone is going to have to take the fall for the historic collapse. It could be the general manager Theo Epstein, who despite high media praise, has swung-and-missed on several key free agent signings.

John Lackey still has three years and over $45 million left on his contract and Carl Crawford has six years and $122 million. Previous free agent endeavors JD Drew, Julio Lugo, Edgar Renteria and John Smoltz has flamed out in spectacular fashion.

In addition to big free agent blunders, Epstein has failed to build any semblance of starting pitching depth and the upper levels of Boston’s farm system are severely lacking any impact talent.

It could be the manager, Terry Francona who seemed unable to motivate his players down the stretch. Or it could be the pitching coach who saw his pitchers succumb to injury and poor performance throughout the year.

More time to enjoy the Shire this offseason

Personnel-wise, Boston has the opportunity to shake things up, but not in their rotation. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka are all under contract for 2012. There are no better internal options, and unless they can find someone desperate enough to take Lackey or Dice-K off their hands, the Boston rotation is full. Boston would have to eat a ton of cash to move either guy, and while I’m sure they’d be willing to, I doubt they could find a taker.

Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia will be back manning the right side of the infield, and will provide MVP-caliber offense and defense. The left side of the infield is less certain. Boston can bring Marco Scutaro back on a team option for $6 million and will probably do so. Kevin Youkilis is under contract for 2012, but the team may consider shifting him to the DH role to try and keep him healthy while replacing him at third with Jed Lowrie or from outside the organization.

If the team moves Youkilis to DH full-time, David Ortiz’s time with Boston is probably up. JD Drew’s definitely is. Drew was never as terrible as Boston fans may have thought, but his playing time was sporadic due to his injuries. Boston will probably cut ties with Drew and look to free agency to fill RF after youngsters Josh Reddick failed to impress. Carlos Beltran is the best available RF option, but Boston may choose to go with someone who has a better track record health-wise, like Oakland’s Josh Willingham. Ellsbury and Crawford will return to complete the outfield.

The biggest turnover could happen in the bullpen. Longtime closer Jonathan Papelbon will be a free agent and could jump ship after some unpleasant ends to seasons recently. If he does leave, Daniel Bard is the likely heir to the ninth inning unless Boston chooses to pick from the plethora of closers that will be on the open market.

Next season doesn’t promise to be any easier regardless of how the Red Sox look to plug their holes. The Yankees will undoubtedly hit the offseason with money to spend and word is Toronto will be looking to raise their payroll as well. With the Yankees and Rays already among the games powerhouse franchises, Toronto’s return to respectability would make the game’s best division even better.

Boston will need to make some smart free agent decisions this offseason while hoping that some of their dead wood can bounce back from atrocious seasons. It’s tough to be successful when your highest paid players put up some of the worst numbers in the game.

Atlanta Braves
September 1: (81-56) Led Wild Card by 8.5 games
September 29: (89-73) Lost Wild Card by 1 game

LOOKING BACK

When play began on September 2, the Braves held a comfortable 9 game lead in the loss column for the NL Wild Card over the Cardinals and the Giants. The Braves were sitting pretty, with a playoff probability of well over 90%. Everything was going right for Atlanta—the starting pitching was strong, the back end of the bullpen was superb and the hitters were finally starting to show signs of life. Dan Uggla was fresh off a 33-game hitting streak and Chipper Jones was healthy and regaining his stroke.

But just around the time when Atlanta playoff tickets went on sale, disaster hit. Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens, two of the Braves top three starters went down with injuries. The offense up and disappeared, with four regulars hitting under .250 and no one with over 60 AB hit over .271 in the month of September. The enormous workload of relief duo of Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters finally caught up to them and fastballs down and on the corners started leaking back over the middle of the plate.

The Braves lost 18 of their final 26 games, including their last five contests. They were swept by the Cardinals in mid-September and went 0-6 against Philadelphia. September produced the Braves highest ERA of any month of the season, and their lowest OPS. Seventeen of their last twenty-six games were against teams with losing records, but the Braves managed just an 8-9 record in those games.

LOOKING FORWARD

What does the near future look like for Atlanta? There shouldn’t be too much roster turnover, as many of the Braves core players are under team control for 2012. Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla will undoubtedly return to the right side of the infield and Brian McCann and Chipper Jones are under contract for 2012. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez is the only infielder without a contract for next season, so the Braves may look to bring in a replacement with more offensive upside.

Dan Uggla hopes 2012 is a little kinder than 2011

Jason Heyward (pre-arbitration), Martin Prado and Michael Bourn (both arbitration eligible) should make up the outfield next season and the prospective OF class doesn’t have a clear-cut upgrade available apart from Carlos Beltran.

The rotation and bullpen should stay mostly the same with the returns of Hanson and Jurrjens. Both Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe are in the final years of their contracts and the Braves could look to unload one or both. Hudson should be fairly easy to deal if they choose to do so, but Atlanta would have to kick in a lot of money for anyone to take Derek Lowe off their hands. The Braves have Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor and Randall Delgado to fill out the rotation and to act as starting pitching depth.

The bullpen should see the normal amount of turnover with the top guys staying locked into their roles and guys like Scott Linebrink and George Sherrill should be replaced either by similar veteran arms or from within the system.

The Braves will return pretty much the same team that missed the wild card by one game this year, but their path to the playoffs might be significantly more difficult. Washington is finally seeing some returns from their high draft picks and finished the 2011 season just one game under .500. I wouldn’t count them as a lock to finish worse than Atlanta next season. The Marlins will move into a new stadium and a new name (Miami Marlins) and the new revenues that come with those. There have been rumors of the Marlins spending that money and I wouldn’t be surprised if they take a shot (however remote) at Albert Pujols. Certainly they’ll be in on the top pitchers (CJ Wilson) and they always have plenty of young homegrown talent.

With the division’s toughest inter-league schedule and the improvements of the rest of the NL East, the Braves will have a more daunting task awaiting them in 2012, without a whole lot of room for outside improvement. Atlanta will once again have to rely on the continued development of its young players and hope to keep its key rotation pieces healthy for a full season.

Realistically, the only major change the Braves could make is to their coaching staff, which despite the collapse seems unlikely. Fredi Gonzalez is a poor manager, but will certainly won’t be let go after just one season.

You Stay Classy, Dustin Pedroia

The Boston Red Sox, despite being heavily favored, were swept out of the American League Division Series by the Angels this past weekend. Boston scored one run combined over the first two games of the series, and then proceeded to blow a 6-2 lead over the final two innings of the series-clinching Game 3.

Dustin Pedroia took the loss in stride like a man, by blaming the loss on Boston’s inability to get big hits and the similar inability to put Anaheim’s betters away late in games.

Oh wait a minute. No he didn’t.

Instead, Pedroia decided to rip the Boston grounds-crew for the problems that the Red Sox ran into in Boston for Game 3.

In the eighth inning, with runners on first and second, and one out, the slow-footed Kendry Morales hit a hard grounder toward the hole between first and second.

Pedroia hustled to his left, but the ball bounced up on him. He could only knock it down and throw Morales out at first. Both runners then scored on Juan Rivera’s single.

Two costly runs that Pedroia knows would not have scored if he fielded the grounder cleanly.

“It took a bad hop,” Pedroia said. “Our infield (stinks). It’s the worst in the game.”

“I’m not lying about that. That is true. I think about those things. That stuff upsets me,” Pedroia said. “My job is to take 1,000 groundballs a day. Other guys’ job is to get the field perfect so we can play baseball.”

I guess Pedroia had already fielded his 1,000 groundball-quota before Morales’ innocent grounder in the eighth inning and was therefore unable to field the 1,001st one cleanly.

There’s no mention in his little hissy fit that the Angels’ second baseman, Howie Kendrick, had no problem fielding his position on the worst infield in the game. It’s good to know that in order for Pedroia to perform as he’s paid to do, every possible aspect needs to be perfect.

In his next contract, I think it may be beneficial for Pedroia to work in clauses that prohibit him from playing if the weather isn’t to his liking, if the infield grass isn’t properly watered or if the opposing team isn’t setting the ball up on a tee for him.

A bad hop (which happen regardless of infield quality) didn’t lose the series for the Red Sox. They were heartily outplayed over the course of three games in every aspect. Boston’s supposed pitching advantage didn’t show as Jon Lester and Josh Beckett were unable to deliver lockdown performances they’ve had in the past.

The Boston offense, outside a Victor Martinez RBI single was non-existent for the first two games. And Boston’s unhittable playoff closer, Jonathan Papelbon was touched up for three runs on four hits and a pair of walks in an inning of work. Pedroia didn’t do much to cure Boston’s offensive doldrums, collecting a single and a double in twelve at-bats. He drove in a pair of runs and scored one during Boston’s three consecutive losses.

So the Angels, who outworked, outhustled and all-around outplayed the overconfident Boston club will move on to take on the Yankees in this week’s American League Championship Series.

Boston’s Reaction to Mark Teixeira

I’m unbelievably happy that the Yankees sneaked Mark Teixeira out from Boston’s Christmas Tree. Words can’t properly describe my excitement. I love the fact that my team is willing to take the money the make and invest it back in the on-the-field product.

Boston fans however, aren’t so enthralled by what the Yankees and Mark Teixeira have just done. After I settled down a little, I moved from reading constant Teixeira-to-New York coverage to reading comments on The Boston Globe’s online article about New York’s Teixeira signing. And needless to say, it’s entertaining. A week ago, and as recently as this morning, Boston fans across the country were praising Mark Teixeira as the second coming of Ted Williams.

And now this afternoon, he’s the second most hated person in the history of the world. Ahead of Hitler, but sitting just behind Alex Rodriguez. I collected some comments from Boston fans and thought I’d give my own opinion on them.

Typical Yankee BS…..hope he chokes on the extra cash. Reminds me of the Giambi signing, we all remember how that turned out.

Maybe a little bit, but Jason Giambi was one of the biggest beneficiaries from the Steroid Era. Mark Teixeira has put together his career entirely on talent, and unlike Giambi, is a superb defender. I guess just because two first basemen both get on base at a high clip and sign large contracts with the Yankees, that automatically makes them the same.

It’s time that a salary cap has to come in baseball. Even if it means that baseball falters and a new league has to start up. Nobody can compete with a team that has a bottomless pit of money.

So .. the best thing for baseball would be to create a salary cap, even if it makes the league collapse? Oh, and don’t let a team’s perceived financial limitations fool you. Every major league baseball owner has nearly unlimited funds, they just choose how much they’re willing to allocate for their team’s payroll.

There must be a plan. here is what i think it is:
Let Tek go… lay the prospects (Lowrie plus a pitcher) on Florida for Hanley. Press on.

Ah .. I see. John Henry passed on Mark Teixeira because he’s planning on trading Jed Lowrie (a backup infielder) and a pitcher to Florida for Hanley Ramirez. Unless that pitcher is Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson, Florida laughs as they tell Henry they’re sending him the phone bill. Press on!

CC Sabathia = Jose Contraras

AJ Burnett = Carl Pavano

Mark Teixeira = Jason Giambi

Jose Contreras was a Cuban defect, unproven in America. CC Sabathia is a workhorse Cy Young winner. CC Sabathia is also quite a bit younger than Contreras and doesn’t have to deal with language barriers.

AJ Burnett and Carl Pavano both came to the Yankees with significant injury problems, but Carl Pavano’s stuff and AJ Burnett’s stuff don’t even begin to compare. Pavano had one good season in a pitcher’s park and a pitcher’s league before cashing in. AJ Burnett has arguably the nastiest pure stuff in all of baseball and has shown extended success in the toughest of divisions in baseball.

Jason Giambi made his money by investing in steroids and hanging out with Mark McGuire a little too much. Mark Teixeira has an insane work ethic and has had success for three different teams, on talent alone. Jason Giambi always was and is, a one-dimensional player. Teixeira plays both sides of the ball equally well and projects better than Giambi ever did.

Sox have fallen behind Tampa Bay and now NYY. Time for something bold. How about:
Lowell, Bucholz, Del Carmen a pitching prospect and Bay to Texas for Josh Hamilton, Salty and Hank Blalock. Blalock could man 1B until Lars Anderson is ready, Yuk moves to 3B and Josh Hamilton to Left. Personally I think Hamilton is becoming the best player in the game, and IMO a bigger impact bat than Tex. One on par with Manny.

Here’s another brilliant trade proposal from one of Boston’s finest, I’m sure. Lowell is coming off surgery, has a no-trade clause and a burdensome contract, which gives him NO trade value whatsoever. Buchholz’s trade value is very low now, after a disastrous second half last year. Delcarmen is a middle relief pitcher, and they have no trade value either. So unless that pitching prospect is a combination of Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax and in-his-prime Greg Maddux, forget about it.

Buchholz, Bay and a pitching prospect might you Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but that package won’t even initiate conversations for Josh Hamilton. Too many fans assume that their team can get a really good player (or three in this case) for spare parts. They think that they can fool a team into the mindset of “OMG! We’re getting five players for three!!!!”

Josh Hamilton may very well be becoming the best player in the game, he’s certainly in the debate. But that’s just another reason Texas isn’t going to ship him up to Boston for an assortment of broken pieces.

They won with their homegrown talent, not free agents.

True, but I would argue that the Yankees won with the best players, regardless of where they came from. It just so happened that in the late 90s, they produced some very good homegrown players that helped them win championships. But they also had men that did not come up through the farm system.

Look at the Pirates. They seem pretty committed to homegrown players and they’re not exactly a title contender. It’s all in the players you have and the team you assemble, and it doesn’t make an ounce of difference whether those players are ones you drafted, or ones you signed.

You have teams that should be playing in little league and 3-4 that are going to actually compete every year

Good logic, but eight different teams have won World Series since 2000.

Teixeira is a howdy-doody character with the personality of a face cloth.

My face cloth and I have deep and meaningful conversations every morning in the shower.

tex’s #’s and sabathia #’s come mostly for the n.l.

This is a really good one. Sabathia has tossed a grand total of 130.2 of his 1659.1 career innings in the NL, while Mark Teixeira has 589 at bats in the NL as opposed to 2,825 American League at bats. And this same guy also pointed out the fact that “mucina’s” gone .. whoever that is.

And I can’t put my finger on it, talented or not, but Texeira would have bored the crap out of me.

And now he’ll beat the crap out of you.

WE SHOULD ALL STOP GOING TO ALL SOX GAMES !!!! THE MANAGEMENT DONE ABSOLUTELY NOTHING IMPROVE CURRENT TEAM WITH AGING LINEUP !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

CAPITAL LETTERS! LOUD NOISES!

These big name Yankees free agents ring a bell? Giambi, Randy Johnson, Bobby Abreu, A-Rod

Actually, not really. Of the four players listed above, only Jason Giambi was a big name Yankee free agent. The other three arrived in New York via trade.

Good, I don’t nkow how to spel that ahole’s last name neway

Probably because Teixeira is much harder than “know” or “spell”

I wont be surprised if they win 130 games.

I would be.

Santa just pooped in my stocking.

This one really has no bearing one way or the other, but I found it hilarious.

Mark Teixiera’s nipples.

That’s it?

But there are some rational Boston fans out there, as well:

Come on everyone. We all wanted him.

Yeah, you did.

If we got Sabathia, Burnett and Tex we would be dancing in the streets. Instead we are crying in our Sam Adams because once again the Yanks did what they needed to do to get back in the AL East. Don’t blame them for wanting to get better. When we spend money its fiscal responsibility. When the MFY do it its a Mortal Sin. I don’t get it. You cant have it both ways. Quit crying and be happy we have a team that competes EVERY year. We were one game from the World Series last year, we have one of the best farm systems in baseball and a great Front Office.

That’s probably the most accurate explanation I’ve seen from a Boston fan. No one complained when Boston outbids someone for a free agent (JD Drew, Matsuzaka) but when the Yankees do, everyone yells for a salary cap. Every team tries to improve their team, and they do it in the most effective way for them. Some teams develop young players while others spend the money necessary to bring in players that are already developed. The Yankees, and the Red Sox, spend a lot of money to make sure they’ve fielded a competent team.

This is what happens when an organization wins two world series in 90 years and think they have all the answers.