This one was published in The Forecaster last week.
The 2011 Boston Red Sox, on paper, were one of the strongest teams in recent memory, loaded with dominant starting pitching, relentless offensive firepower, prodigious speed, and solid defense at key positions. While the team found its kryptonite in a lack of pitching depth, Clay Buchholz was solid in following up on his 2010 breakout, posting a 3.48 ERA in 82 2/3 innings when he hit the disabled list on June 16 with a stress fracture in his back.
The rest of this piece re-imagines the Red Sox’ fortunes in an alternate reality in which Buchholz remains healthy throughout the 2011 season.
June 21, 2011 – The Red Sox won their third straight today, defeating the Padres 4-2 on the strength of Clay Buchholz’s third consecutive solid outing. At 45-28, Boston holds a two-game lead over New York in the East.
September 1, 2011 – The Red Sox opened up a commanding lead in the division today, completing a three-game series with the rival Yankees with a second straight win. Boston now leads New York by 3.5 games, with the nearest Wild Card contender, Tampa Bay, 12 games back, essentially assuring the Red Sox of a berth in the playoffs.
September 28, 2011- Boston completed their September slide with a loss to the Orioles when Robert Andino singled off Jonathan Papelbon in the bottom of the ninth inning, sending the Red Sox to their 17thloss in 26 games. Boston finished the season two games behind division-winning New York and just four games ahead of the hard-charging Rays. Boston’s starting rotation faded down the stretch, but they will bring three solid starters into the playoffs in Josh Beckett (13-7, 2.89 ERA), Clay Buchholz (11-7, 3.32 ERA), and Jon Lester (15-9, 3.37 ERA).
October 6, 2011- Boston’s 2011 season came to an end tonight as it dropped Game Five of a thrilling series with the Texas Rangers, 6-4. Josh Beckett couldn’t hold the 3-1 lead the team handed him early, yielding a three-run home run to Adrian Beltre in the bottom of the seventh inning. CJ Wilson was strong for Texas, holding the powerful Red Sox to three runs in seven innings of work. Texas will face the Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship Series.
April 4, 2012 – The Red Sox opened the 2012 season with a 3-2 win over the Tigers in 10 innings tonight. Jon Lester threw six solid innings for the Red Sox, with Daniel Bard chipping in two hitless innings in relief, striking out three. Adrian Gonzalez delivered an RBI double in the 10th off Al Alburquerque, scoring reigning MVP Jacoby Ellsbury. Red Sox manager Terry Francona praised Bard’s outing. “With (former closer Jonathan) Papelbon gone, Danny’s gonna have to be the man night in and night out this year. He’s off to a good start.”
July 8, 2012 – The Red Sox lost their final game before the All-Star break today, dropping a 7-3 decision to the first-place Yankees. At 47-39, Boston sits 4.5 games behind New York. While Boston’s offense has been solid, with Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez thriving in their second year in New England, the pitching has been spotty, with Josh Beckett 2-6 with an ERA near 6 and Aaron Cook and Alfredo Aceves struggling to fill the fifth spot in the rotation.
October 3, 2012 – Boston lost the final game of the 2012 season to the Yankees today, dropping to 86-76, six games behind New York in the division race. Contemporaneously, the Angels won their 90th game of the season, nosing out the Baltimore Orioles for the second Wild Card spot and likely clinching the AL MVP award for rookie sensation Mike Trout, who hit his 31st home run and stole his 50thbase in the Angels’ win.
November 1, 2012 – A day after the Angels’ dramatic win over the Giants in Game Seven of the World Series, Francona announced that he would not return to the club in 2013, citing a desire to try his hand at broadcasting. Francona exits after nine years and 1,387 wins with Boston, exactly 600 short of Joe Cronin’s team record. Boston has also expressed interest in trading starter Josh Beckett after a disappointing season in which he won just six games with a 5.23 ERA. “A bag of balls would be an attractive offer,” Francona confirmed. Reliever Daniel Bard, who saved 40 games with a 1.55 ERA in 2012, has expressed interest in starting in 2013.
April 1, 2013 – Manny Acta’s first game at the helm of the Boston Red Sox ended victoriously today, with Jon Lester leading the way to an 8-2 win over the Yankees. Left fielder Carl Crawford tripled and scored two runs for Boston, while prize acquisition Josh Hamilton went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts for New York.
June 18, 2013 – Boston completed a three-game sweep of the last-place Orioles tonight, roughing up starter Miguel Gonzalez on route to a 9-3 win. Adrian Gonzalez homered twice for the Red Sox, who also got two hits from right fielder Daniel Nava in his Major League debut. Baltimore manager Bobby Valentine was unimpressed with his club’s effort. “There’s a lot of talent on this roster, but no heart. (Adam) Jones is lazy, (Nick) Markakis is old, and (Wilson) Betemit doesn’t put in enough time in the weight room. I’m almost tempted to call up that Machado kid from Triple A.”
July 14, 2013 – Boston lost another extra-inning test tonight in Oakland, closing the first half of their season having lost seven of nine. After another solid start from Daniel Bard (8-3, 3.10 ERA), the bullpen was again central to the disappointment, as newly-acquired reliever Matt Thornton walked two and gave up a walk-off RBI single to Josh Donaldson.
Boston dropped a half game behind Tampa Bay and a full game behind division-leader Toronto, which got yet another shutout today, this time from Brandon Morrow. Toronto’s league-best pitching staff has blossomed under the tutelage of former Boston pitching coach John Farrell. With three teams tightly packed in the division race, anything can happen in the second half.