As the regular season winds down, 22 teams are facing an offseason filled with golf rounds and hot-stove strategery.
Meanwhile, the fans of those squads are looking at the prospect of spending the winter without the warmth of a postseason appearance. In an attempt to bring some closure between franchise and follower, we're asking a blogger from each team to write a cathartic missive to their disappointing 2010 lineups.
Up next is Red from Surviving Grady. He pulled his groin while writing this post, but was luckily able to finish before heading back to Boston for further tests.
Dear Boston Red Sox,
OK, so you're out of the playoffs. For just the second time since 2003.
And I'm fine with that. After all, I grew up following some truly wretched Red Sox teams in the '80s and '90s. As a guy who was brought up to believe the Sox would never win it all, and who's had his dreams crushed by the likes of Bill Buckner, Dave Stewart, Aaron Boone(notes) and Grady Little —amongst others — the past few years have been an embarrassment of riches.
But somehow, we both knew this year was going to end like this, didn't we?
Honestly, I wasn't expecting much from you this season. Before a single pitch had been thrown, you were writing off 2010, calling it a "bridge year." Honestly, I had no idea what the hell you meant by that, but I assumed it wouldn't end with my drunken, naked ass being thrown in a cop car during a World Series victory parade. Again.
The "not going anywhere" vibe was especially apparent after the season started rolling and the players started dropping like flies. First you lost Jacoby Ellsbury(notes) and Mike Cameron(notes) to the DL. Then Josh Beckett(notes). Then Dustin Pedroia(notes), the elfin prince of whiskey and mayhem and the de facto team sparkplug. Then Jason Varitek(notes). Then Victor Martinez(notes). Then Clay Buchholz(notes). By the time we learned that Kevin Youkilis(notes) was injured, too, it seemed like a sick joke. Needless to say, I didn't go out of my way to free up my schedule for any "quality time" with you in October.
Still, you kept it real. Kept it interesting. And kept grinding it out despite being plugged up with replacement parts, rookies and part-timers. Remarkably, you were still playing games that mattered with less than a week to go in the regular season — and with Bill Hall(notes) as an everyday player, no less! In fact, after taking the first two games of that last series in Yankee Stadium, you actually had me convinced that we could work this whole messy thing out.
But I should have known better.
The Good Times: First, nobody has died (yet). That's always a good thing.
Second, amidst the revolving door of rookies and acquisitions used to fill the gaps from injuries, we got some pretty cool stories. Darnell McDonald(notes) had a pinch-hit home run in his first at bat as a Red Sox, only to be outdone a couple months later by Daniel Nava(notes), who hit a grand slam on the first pitch of his first major league at-bat. Remember how you used to smile whenever you heard the name "Darnell McDonald"? Seems like a long, long time ago, doesn't it? Because it was.
And then there was David Ortiz(notes), thisclose to being voted off the island in May, roaring back to a slight semblance of his former self to lead the team in home runs, tie for the lead in RBIs and rank among the team's top five in OBP. I'll forever give the guy a mulligan for his 2004 heroics, but it was nice to actually cheer for him without fear of getting shivved.
You got solid contributions from Adrian Beltre(notes) (and don't think I didn't find it ironic that the guy who doesn't wear a cup was one of the few guys who didn't get injured this season). He also gave you a potent bat to help fill the void left by Youk, leading the team in hits and total bases. I wouldn't mind another year of Beltre in Boston, and hopefully you're working on that. I also hope you're working on that three-way pillow fight with Heidi Watney and Leeann Tweeden. It is my birthday, after all.
I didn't expect that much from Clay Buchholz this season, but I have to give props: The guy rose to the occasion when John Lackey(notes), Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka(notes) starting spinning their wheels. Honestly, if the guy had a crappy season, the fact that he's hopping into bed each night with one of the briefcase girls from "Deal or No Deal" would render me incapable of showing any sympathy. So thank God he kicked ass.
I've saved the best for last. And the best, of course, is Jon Lester(notes). While all eyes were on the newly signed Lackey and the returning-from-injury Beckett, Lester quietly and effectively solidified his standing as the ace of the Red Sox's pitching staff. Nobody does it with more class and grit and it's amazing to think that at 26, he's really just coming into his prime.
The Bad Times: Look, let's get this all out in the open. It was the injuries that did us in this year. Neither the Yanks nor the Rays ran away with this thing, and if you'd only had a Youk or Pedroia to turn to in a tight game, who knows how many more wins you'd have been able to snag.
Of course, the situation wasn't helped by a couple of arms we needed more from.
In April, Josh Beckett got the four-year contract extension he'd been angling for. A month later, he was on the DL, only to come back in late July to embark on a seriously mediocre half-season. My 2010 Josh Beckett highlight, in fact, has nothing to do with his pitching and everything to do with that angry snarl he put on when he went after Shelly Duncan during a bench-clearer with the Indians on Aug. 3. I thought that would be the spark to re-ignite his killer instincts. I was wrong.
Speaking of mediocre, the ROI on John Lackey turned out to be 13 wins, 11 losses and a 4.47 ERA. Disappointing, but not unsurprising. At least he'll only be around for another four years.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Papelbon(notes) continued to prove one of the most confounding and frustrating guys on the team. This was the dude who celebrated the 2007 World Series victory by doffing his pants and dancing with a Bud Light box on his head. Now he's all serious, all fastballs and anything but a sure thing whenever he steps to the mound. He's not quite Heathcliff Slocumb, but he's getting close; Paps notched the highest ERA of his career in 2010 (4.02 ... so far) while blowing eight saves and generally sending us all running for the Pepcid every time he took the ball. If you see any future for us in 2011, babe, you've got to do something about this kid.
It's Not All You: Actually, it might be. The AL East is one of the toughest divisions in baseball, but you don't do yourself any favors when you split the season series with the Orioles.
Shape Up or Ship Out: I know we can wash the bitter taste of 2010 from our mouths and get back on track in 2011. But you have to want to make it work. No more talk of "bridge years" or "run prevention" or any of that crazy stuff that got us fighting in the past. I'll also need your promise on a couple things:
First, keep everybody healthy. This is key. If your plan has to include kevlar suits, all-fiber diets and/or encasing every member of the starting lineup in carbonite between games, I'm down with it. Just make it happen.
Next, try to re-sign Victor Martinez. In fact, V-Mart should be chained to a radiator in the Fenway basement until he's locked in. Unless you're ready to kick-start the Saltalamacchia era in 2011.
Third, do what you can to sweet talk Adrian Gonzalez(notes) from the Padres. Yes, it'll probably mean squeezing into that tight black number and prancing around for Jed Hoyer's pleasure, but trust me — it'll be worth it. Let A-Gone set up camp at first and flip Youk back to third. While you're at it, make a run for Carl Crawford(notes). Because a Crawford-Ellsbury (yeah, that's right, I'm betting he's coming back)-Ryan Kalish(notes) outfield would make me happy some day.
If we can't get some Gonzo, then we'll need to sweet-talk Beltre into sticking around. And I'll assume you've already decided to pencil the Mighty Ortiz in for another season. He's a legend in this city and one of the few guys who actually remained healthy in 2010. You don't let Big Papi walk.
Fourth, build a time machine. Find 2007 Josh Beckett and bring him back with you. In absence of a time machine, track down Superman and make him do that flying-around-the-world-to-reverse-time thing so you can walk away from the table before ever signing John Lackey. And if you want to erase Daisuke from our collective memory banks, that's fine, too.
Lastly, I want you to know that no matter what happens, I'll always be here for you. Even if you get fat. Even if you miss out on Gonzalez. Even if you end up with Timmy Wakefield in the starting rotation.
Together, we made it through that dead-last finish in '92, Clemens threatening Terry Cooney, "Closer By Committee" and Dante Bichette. It'll take far, far more than a missed trip to the playoffs to tear us apart.
You have my word.
See you next April,
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Follow Red on Twitter — @survivinggrady
Read Big League Stew's previous Dear John letters here.