After going from last place to ALCS, Red Sox optimistic
By JIMMY GOLEN
BOSTON (AP) Rebuilding plans for the Boston Red Sox are ahead of schedule.
Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom said Monday that going from last place in 2020 to within six wins of a championship shows the organization is back on the track that led to four World Series titles since 2004.
Just as importantly, the team didn't sell out its future to get there.
"Even if we went all the way and won the whole thing, we wanted to come out of it feeling like this could be the start of something," Bloom told reporters three days after the Houston Astros eliminated Boston in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series.
"We fell six wins short of that ultimate goal," Bloom said. "But I think in terms of this being the start of something, in terms of us feeling like we have a bunch of guys who joined this group who are ready to help us win going forward, I think we're there."
After finishing 24-36 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the Red Sox earned a wild card this year and beat the rival Yankees in a one-game playoff. Boston then eliminated the AL East champion Rays 3-1 in the Division Series.
The Red Sox took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven ALCS and were six outs from setting up a potential Game 5 clincher at home before falling apart in every facet. After going up 2-1 in the first inning of Game 4, Boston was outscored 22-1, managing just nine hits and committing four errors in the next 26 innings.
But after two seasons in Boston - his first that wasn't upended by the COVID-19 outbreak - Bloom thinks he has in place a core that can compete every year.
The strength of the team is the left side of the infield, with Rafael Devers at third base and Xander Bogaerts at shortstop. Bogaerts can opt out of his contract after next season, and Devers is two years from free agency.
"Both of them are cornerstone players for us," Bloom said. "They are guys that you want here as long as you can."
Former utilityman Kike Hernandez also emerged as a steady and productive center fielder, piling up a major league-leading 20 postseason hits while hitting five homers and batting .408.
"No secret in this room: When we signed him, we didn't see him being our everyday center fielder down the stretch," Bloom said. "But that ended up being our best team. And because of the different things he can do, it worked out for us."
Trade-deadline acquisition Kyle Schwarber - who is eligible for free agency - turned into one of the best midseason pickups in baseball, hitting seven homers in 41 games for Boston and then three more in the playoffs, including a Game 3 grand slam. With J.D. Martinez already entrenched at designated hitter, Schwarber learned to play first base - a position he had played only nine times before in his career.
"We played some of our best baseball in that alignment, and that was with Kyle learning the position on the fly," Bloom said. "And I think we saw him get better as time went on."
One weakness for the Red Sox in the playoffs was a thin pitching rotation that forced manager Alex Cora to rely heavily on a bullpen that was also uneven.
Next year's staff will again rely on Nathan Eovaldi and Eduardo Rodriguez, with the hope that Chris Sale will continue his comeback from Tommy John surgery that kept him out until mid-August. Tanner Houck, Nick Pivetta and Garrett Whitlock also could find spots in the rotation.
The Red Sox are trying to figure out what went wrong with erstwhile closer Matt Barnes, who made the AL All-Star team but blew six saves in 30 opportunities and had a 10.17 ERA from Aug. 7 on.
"Matt Barnes is very important to our program, to what we're trying to accomplish, and he's still a really good pitcher. We know that obviously he didn't end up the way we wanted to," manager Alex Cora said. "I hate to guarantee things, but I know he'll be very important to what we're trying to accomplish."
Also on Monday, Bloom said Devers does not need surgery for right elbow inflammation that bothered him throughout the postseason.
"We did some imaging during and nothing concerning was found," Bloom said. "It's something that rest should do a lot to help."
The team also said first base coach Tom Goodwin won't be back but the rest of the coaching staff is expected to return. Goodwin was unvaccinated, which meant he couldn't be on the field during the playoffs and he was replaced by quality control coach Ramon Vazquez.
Bloom said it was a baseball decision.
"His vaccination status had nothing to do with this," he said.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports
Updated October 25, 2021