BOSTON (CBS) — With 75 percent of the season in the books, it’s been remarkably clear for quite some time that the 2014 Red Sox just don’t have it. Defining what “it” means is a difficult endeavor, but it’s been easy to see that the magic from the 2013 championship season faded rapidly this year.
Tuesday night’s loss to the Angels was just the latest reminder. Koji Uehara, who last year was untouchable, allowed back-to-back doubles in the ninth inning and lost the game, dropping the Red Sox to 56-69 on the year.
The Sox are currently on pace to win 73 games, dangerously close to the 69-93 record from the infamous Bobby Valentine year — a Red Sox season which was the worst in decades.
Clearly, things are bad, and with Patriots season starting up and Bruins training camp just on the horizon, there may be a pull drawing many fans away from watching these Red Sox struggle. Yet unlike the hopeless Valentine year, the 2014 team actually provides a few reasons to tune in every night. (OK, fine, not every night. Some nights.)
5. Spoiler Alert
With no October baseball on the docket in Boston this year, the Red Sox’ only impact on the postseason will come from their ability to disrupt the playoff race by winning some games they’re not supposed to win. Or perhaps they’ll lose some games to one team, which will in turn totally ruin everything for another team.
Mind you, the Yankees remain contenders for the second AL wild card, and the Bombers have six games left against Boston. You never know — that “Farewell, Jeter” day at Fenway on the last day of the season could be a de facto playoff game. Maybe the Red Sox could sign Pedro Martinez to a one-day contract and ask him to buzz Jeter up and in one last time. You know, for history.
4. David Ortiz‘s Continued Ascent
From whining about his contract situation to complaining about official scoring decisions to always wanting more “respect,” the longest-tenured member of the Red Sox has certainly gotten on the nerves of some folks in Boston. While Ortiz will always have his quirks, there’s no doubt that his presence is often taken for granted in this city.
Consider that Ortiz’s home run on Tuesday night was the 460th of his career, which ranks him at No. 35 among all-time home run leaders. He’ll pass Jose Canseco with three more dingers, and if he can hit six more before season’s end, he’ll pass Dave Winfield.
At this point, you’ve seen David Ortiz step to the plate more than 7,000 times in a Red Sox uniform. But he won’t be playing forever, and despite his average and OBP being down, he leads all of MLB in RBIs and he’s still mashing the baseball. Enjoy it while you still can.
Look, nobody knows whether Yoenis Cespedes’ tenure in a Red Sox uniform will last just a couple of months or whether this is the start of a gloriously long relationship, but right now that doesn’t matter much. This guy is simply exciting.
He heads to the plate and hacks away, wasting little time and swinging for the downs as often as his body allows. He makes 300-foot throws with the precision of Greg Maddux and the power of Roger Clemens. He operates at full speed and full speed only.
Yeah, his OBP stinks, but in a lost season like this year, you should be thankful to have someone like Cespedes, who digs in and just tries to go deep. Working a walk just doesn’t put the keisters in the seats.
2. The Defense Of Christian Vazquez
It would be a slight oversell to describe Christian Vazquez as being in the mold of Ivan Rodriguez … but only slightly. The 23-year-old Puerto Rican backstop has lived up to the hype and then some, and he’s become a treat to watch behind the dish on a regular basis.
As a receiver, Vazquez has already proven to be one of the best in baseball — and if you want to gain a deeper appreciation of his work, check out this excellent story from FanGraphs. He’s also thrown out six of 14 possible base stealers, good enough for a 42.8 caught stealing percentage. That’s better than the 41.4 percentage of Brian McCann, who leads all qualified catchers in MLB. Vazquez also has a cannon to go with some incredible athleticism.
It’s hard to recall a young catcher who’s been so much fun to watch.
1. How Low Will They Go?
OK, so this may be the worst possible reason to watch the Red Sox … but it’s also kind of the best. Will this year’s team actually finish worse than the Bobby V-led squad from 2012? After the team went from worst to first last year, it looked like the woebegone days of last place would be a thing of the past, a mere blip on an otherwise successful stretch of baseball since the turn of the century.
Yet here they are, coming down the home stretch with nothing to play for. A bunch of infielders are manning the massive outfield at Fenway. Their “ace” is about as consistent as the plot development of “Sharknado 2.” They’re basically looking at the next month-plus as an open tryout period for a number of positions, so winning won’t exactly be easy for John Farrell’s club.
Farrell himself has something on the line too, as his record as a major league manager is currently just a few games above .500. He won a World Series, but having a sub-.500 record, regardless of the circumstances, is never where a manager wants to be.
For the Red Sox to finish 2014 with a better record than 2012, they’ll have to go 14-23. It’s hardly an impossible dream, but it’s not hard to picture this team finish worse. It just might come down to the wire.
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