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MLB Playoff Predictions: What the Red Sox Woulda/Coulda/Shoulda Done

Jonathan Papelbon wonders what could have been. (Photo courtesy of CBS Boston)

Despite doing everything they possibly could to throw away their chances at the postseason in the month of September, the Boston Red Sox somehow still found themselves one strike away from at least forcing a one-game play-in against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Then, in the course of three agonizing minutes, two walk-off wins left the Red Sox on the outside looking in. Jonathan Papelbon gave up three straight hits, including the game-winning single to Sox-killer Robert Andino, and then Evan Longoria continued his torrid September (.289/.454/.589) by hitting his second home run against the New York Yankees to give the Rays the wild card. Well, and he ripped my heart out and left me staring blankly at the TV watching ESPN replay all the torturous highlights. But that’s beside the point.

The point is, with the postseason starting Friday, did this Red Sox team have what it takes to make a deep playoff run?

Even if you discount their marmalade-like momentum and wipe their regular season slate clean, the Red Sox would have exited October with a whimper. All across the board, from the starting pitching and the bullpen to the line-up to their opponent, the Red Sox would have fallen short.

Starting Pitching

At one point, I thought the postseason would be when the Red Sox could turn over the two aces up their sleeve. With more off-days built into the schedule, the Red Sox wouldn’t have to rely on the Kyle Weilands, Andrew Millers, and Tim Wakefields to contribute any meaningful innings. A one-two punch of Josh Beckett and Jon Lester would, in theory, give the Red Sox a fighting chance.

Sadly though, Beckett and Lester have not delivered. In each of his last two starts against the Orioles, Beckett surrendered 6 earned runs on 7 hits and gave up 2 home runs. For September, Lester averaged just over 5 innings per start with a 5.40 ERA with a 1.61 WHIP. Neither performed up to his “ace” label or demonstrated the ability to put the team on his back and carry the Red Sox to postseason success. If they can’t deliver in the playoff atmosphere of a tight wild card race, why should anything change five days later?

That doesn’t even begin to address the issue of who would be the third postseason starter for the Red Sox. Erik Bedard? His last two starts against the Orioles added up to a total of six innings. Ouch. In the first, he only gave up one earned run in 2.2 innings, but needed 51 pitches just to get through two outs in the third inning, unable to pitch around some poor fielding behind him. In his most recent outing, Bedard gave up 3 earned runs, a home run, and threw 84 pitches in lasting only 3.1 innings. Not exactly quality postseason material, if you ask me. Or Jim Duquette. Or any Seattle Mariner or Baltimore Oriole fan. Basically, anyone who has heard of baseball would know Bedard would fail.

John Lackey? Let’s boil down his laughable candidacy for the postseason roster into this fun Lackey fact: Did you know that in September he gave up more runs than innings pitched? I’ll wait until you’ve finished laughing. Or crying. Or screaming curses at Theo for the fact that Red Sox fans have to endure another 3 years of John Lackey’s $82.5 million contract and his 6.41 ERA. Can Red Sox Nation hold a vote to force Lackey into retirement? Please?

The Bullpen

Where do I begin? Papelbon may have had a great season overall, pitching lights out the entire year. But he blew two saves against the Orioles, right when it mattered most. His heroic 2.1 inning effort against the Yankees B-team aside, Papelbon looked exhausted at season’s end. I don’t think he could have handled the playoff workload, when closers get thrown out there almost every game, and often for more than the typical 1 inning save.

As for Daniel Bard, words can’t even describe what happened to him. The Red Sox training staff must have replaced his right arm with a Ramen noodle. His velocity was down, he walked 9 batters in 11 September innings, and gave up 11 hits and 13 earned runs.  So much for that 8th inning bridge to Papelbon.

The only other bright spot in the bullpen was Alfredo Aceves. He was a beast, saving poor start after poor start with some incredible long relief. Just like Papelbon, though, Terry Francona decided to see if he could make his arm fall off before the postseason. Aceves pitched four days in row to end the season, tossing 7.1 innings and 83 pitches. How much more would have been left in the tank?

The Line-up

There was the slightest of hopes that maybe the offense could carry the Red Sox to a title. Except offense never translates into postseason wins. Even if it could, this is a line-up that saw Ryan Lavarnway hitting fifth in a must-win game, when he wasn’t fit to start just two games before. That line-up included a $20 million player who was so miserable, he hit out of the #8 spot. Gonzalez inexplicably hit fifth towards season’s end. Even more inexplicably, Jed Lowrie hit clean-up in the second-most important game of the season (In case you’re wondering, he went 0-5 with two strikeouts. Awesome!). If Francona couldn’t even figure out what his best line-up was by the last week of the season, what chance did they have come October?

Don’t Mess with Texas

In the end, the Red Sox would have been matched up against the Texas Rangers. If anyone could slug it out with the Sox, the Rangers would be the team. They led the majors in batting average, were third in runs scored, and second in slugging. The Rangers held the edge in the season series against Boston, 6-4, including 28 dominating runs to win two out of three in the last series at Fenway. Ruh roh!

In the end, I just couldn’t see the Red Sox advancing past the Rangers in the ALDS, let alone holding up the World Series trophy. It didn’t make the fact that they missed the playoffs any easier. It just left me wondering why was I so emotionally invested in a team that could be summed up in three words…

Woulda.  Coulda.  Shoulda.

About Nick Bohlen - @ndbohlen

Nick is an editor and regular contributor for the Patriots, Celtics, and Red Sox sections of SoB. (Despite growing up in Vermont, just a short drive from Canada, hockey never really caught on with him.) Follow him on twitter: @ndbohlen

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