By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Red Sox were back. After a brief two-year stint occupying the basement of the AL East, they rode baseball’s best offense to winning the eighth AL East crown in franchise history. An 11-game winning streak in September raised expectations for the team from being a fringe playoff team to being a legitimate World Series contender.
But after just three quick games, it’s all over. Kaput. Finito.
While the Indians deserve plenty of credit for outplaying the Red Sox, the fact of the matter is that a number of key players on Boston’s roster failed to show up when it mattered the most. Here, we try to sort out who’s most to blame for the all-too-brief postseason appearance in 2016.
But first, the positives: Andrew Bentintendi, Brock Holt and Hanley Ramirez can feel good about their offensive contributions. Pitching-wise, it’s pretty much Joe Kelly, who faced 11 batters and retired them all. Koji Uehara and Craig Kimbrel ended their season on strong notes, too, albeit in small doses.
And now, the duds.
9. David Ortiz
He’s the most important Red Sox player in franchise history. But his career ended rather quietly.
Ortiz did drive in a run with a line-drive sacrifice fly in Game 3, but he batted just 1-for-9 in the series. He left five men on base, including two in scoring position.
In the end, Ortiz finishes his career with a .289 average, .947 OPS, 17 home runs and 61 RBIs in 85 playoff games, leading the Red Sox to three World Series victories along the way. So this ALDS performance doesn’t change any of that story. It was, simply, a drop in production after a season in which Ortiz led the league in doubles, RBIs and OPS.
He gets a little bit of a break in this ranking because of his postseason resume and also because his teammates were supposed to step up and ensure that he’d end his career on a long postseason run.
8. Xander Bogaerts
The 23-year-old shortstop ended the series on a promising note, going 2-for-4 in Game 3 and sliding safely home on an aggressive base-running play to liven up the Fenway crowd.
But in Games 1 and 2, Bogaerts simply looked lost at the plate, flailing helplessly at breaking balls in the dirt while going 1-for-8 with four strikeouts.
It wasn’t completely surprising, considering Bogaerts ended the season hitting .253 after the All-Star break. It came after he hit .329 prior to the break, making the final average of .294 look like a solid number. But the late-season slide continued right into the postseason, and though it shot to life briefly in Game 3, it was too late.
7. Sandy Leon
Should the Red Sox have been depending much on the catcher who batted .184 in 2015 and has eight career home runs to his name? No, of course not. But Leon raised expectations for himself by hitting .356 with a .967 OPS in his first three full months of the year, from June 7 through Sept. 12. Against all prognostications and explanation, Sandy Leon had made himself an important part of the Boston lineup.
But he ended the year on a dreadful .091 stretch, going just 4-for-44 with just three walks and 15 strikeouts in his final 14 games. That slump continued into the postseason, where he went 1-for-10 with five strikeouts in three games. He looked absolutely helpless on any breaking ball, even if they were a foot inside and/or skipped in the dirt.
He did hit a solo home run in Game 1 to cut the Cleveland lead to just one run in the fifth inning, but he failed to even advance a runner from second with one out in the fifth inning of Game 3, when he struck out. He made solid contact in his penultimate at-bat, which came with a runner on first and one out in the seventh inning, but it went for a lineout to third. The 27-year-old got one more shot in the bottom of the ninth, with the Red Sox trailing by one run, but he watched as a 94 mph fastball at the belt crossed the plate for strike three.
6. Drew Pomeranz
The 27-year-old lefty had the best season of his career overall, but the ending was most definitely his worst. After going 3-5 with a 4.59 ERA with the Red Sox (following an 8-7, 2.47 ERA start to the season with San Diego), Pomeranz lost his spot in the rotation and moved to the bullpen late in the season.
He was asked to put out a fire for Rick Porcello in Game 1, entering with one out and a runner on second base, but he gave up a line drive single to Jason Kipnis that plated the Indians’ fifth run of the night. It turned out to be the game-winning run. The damage would have been worse later, but Mike Napoli’s deep fly ball bounced over the fence, forcing Kipnis to retreat to third on the ground-rule double instead of scoring.
But that was not Pomeranz’s roughest outing of the brief postseason. He retired the Indians in order upon entering Game 3 in the fifth inning, but he started off the sixth by walking Jose Ramirez on five pitches. After a sacrifice bunt, Pomeranz got ahead of Coco Crisp with a 1-2 count before releasing a curveball that hung too high and split the plate in half. It was a pitch that even Coco Crisp could clobber, and that he did.
When it came down, Pomeranz became the pitcher who allowed the hits that allowed the game-winning runs to cross the plate in two of the Red Sox’ three losses.
5. Jackie Bradley Jr.
Jackie Bradley Jr. batted a respectable .267 with an .835 OPS over the course of 156 regular-season games, a promising season for the 26-year-old. After launching his 26th home run of the season on Sept. 20, Bradley snarked with reporters, saying, “Not too shabby for a defensive specialist.”
In the playoffs, he went 1-for-10 with seven strikeouts, going 0-for-2 with two strikeouts with runners in scoring position.
Defensively, he threw wildly to home plate in the second inning of Game 1, allowing Cleveland to score an early tying run. And though no outfield assist should ever be assumed, he missed on what looked like two very good chances and a third that might have had a prayer as well.
4. Dustin Pedroia
You might be sensing a theme with all of these offensive players. In the case of Pedroia, he had himself a phenomenal season, with his best batting average since his MVP season of 2008 and his best OPS since his age 27 season. He consistently set the table for the high-flying Boston offense with his .376 on-base percentage, and his defense remained stellar as usual.
In this three-game set, however, he went 2-for-12. He did walk twice, including a free pass earned with two outs in the bottom of the ninth in Game 3, but he also struck out five times.
Considering some of the younger players like Betts, Benintendi and Bogaerts might have been looking for a veteran like Pedroia to set the tone for the offense, Pedroia just never could get going. He did double in his first at-bat to kick off the series, coming around to score the first run of Game 1, but he then went 0-for-his-next-9, striking out four times.
With just 73 strikeouts in 698 plate appearances in the regular season, Pedroia was among the toughest players in baseball to strike out. But he went from one strikeout every 9.6 plate appearances in the regular season to one strikeout every 2.8 appearances in the ALDS.
His defense — aside from a rare error on a routine double-play ball late in Game 2 — remained steady and played a major role in the Red Sox remaining competitive in Game 3. But the bat just wasn’t there.
(He also loses points for twice losing his mind while arguing with umpires — first base umpire Phil Cuzzi in Game 1 on a check swing call, and home plate umpire Tony Randazzo for a called strike three in Game 3 — for calls on which Pedroia was very clearly in the wrong. There’s something to be said about keeping one’s composure in the heat of a playoff game, especially when arguing a pitch that was very clearly a strike.)
3. David Price
Realistically, one could make an argument (if one were so inclined) that it wouldn’t have mattered if Price had gone eight innings and given up just one run, because the Boston offense didn’t score a run and thus would have lost anyway. But to say that would be to overlook the deflating feeling in a dugout when the team’s $30 million purported ace makes his playoff debut in a Red Sox uniform and lays an egg.
That’s what Price did. He managed to get just 10 outs, allowing six hits and five runs (all earned) in his 3.1 innings of work. It was an utterly disappointing showing but altogether unsurprising, considering his postseason history upon signing with the club was immediately examined and scrutinized. (Price made matters worse by reminding reporters after the game that he does have two postseason wins as a reliever. He cared not to further discuss his teams’ 0-9 records in postseason games that he’s started.)
The bottom line with Price is this: He was brought in on a record $217 million contract to be better than he was in 2016, when he ranked 18th in the AL in ERA and 20th in WAR before authoring a postseason dud. It could and should be better in 2017, but if it’s not, the pitchforks will start popping up in the Fenway crowd each time Price takes the mound.
2. Mookie Betts
Ultimately, the AL MVP Award should belong to Mike Trout. (Their batting averages are almost identical, but Trout’s .441 OBP is 78 points higher than Betts’, and Trout’s .991 OPS is 94 points higher than Betts’.) But that’s an argument for another day.
Fact is, Betts established himself this season as the most important hitter in baseball’s most potent offense. His performance necessitated a move from the leadoff spot to the heart of the order, and he performed there too, posting a .903 OPS and driving in 27 runs in 36 games as the team’s cleanup hitter.
In the playoffs, he batted third, protected in the order by David Ortiz. He went 2-for-10.
With two on and nobody out in the first inning of the series, he struck out. In the first inning of Game 2, he grounded into an inning-ending double play. Later in the eighth inning, with runners on the corners and two outs, he grounded out to shortstop.
In fairness, he did fare well against Andrew Miller, drawing a walk in Game 1 and hitting a double in the sixth inning of Game 3. He also came around to score the Red Sox’ third run in the eighth inning after reaching base on a fielder’s choice when he hit a rocket to third base that was impressively handled by Cleveland third baseman Jose Ramirez.
He wasn’t a complete no-show, but in the playoffs, teams tend to lean on their best players. Betts didn’t live up to the MVP standard.
1. Rick Porcello
David Price may cash the biggest paychecks, but Rick Porcello isn’t exactly rubbing nickels together with his $20 million salary this year. And certainly, the way he pitched throughout the 2016 season as a legitimate Cy Young contender made him the right choice for John Farrell to select as the team’s Game 1 starter.
But Rick did not get it done. He was not the pitcher in October that he was from April through September, as he allowed three home runs and lasted just 4.1 innings. One of those home runs was surrendered to Roberto Perez, who hit just three home runs all season long.
As it turned out, the Red Sox plated their highest playoff run total in the game started by their best pitcher, but it wasn’t enough to earn a Game 1 victory.
Not once in Porcello’s 33 starts did he fail to make it through five innings, just twice did he allow a trio of home runs in the same game, and heading into the playoffs, he hadn’t allowed five runs in a single start since June 2. He did all three in his one postseason start, getting the Red Sox’ playoff run started on the wrong foot.
He picked an awful time to make his worst start of the year.