From Big Papi and Hanley to Dombrowski and Farrell, many contributed to success
By Richard Justice
The Boston Red Sox were widely favored to win the American League East in 2016, so this latest division championship isn't exactly a stunner. Besides, what is that they say about the joy being in the journey?
Once the Red Sox got rolling, they were close to unstoppable. In the past six weeks, they've had the best record (31-14), best offense (5.8 runs per game) and best bullpen (2.64 ERA) in the Majors.
No AL team will enter the postseason feeling better about its chances. Top to bottom, the Red Sox are expertly constructed and smartly managed; a nearly perfect blend of youth and experience.
Nevertheless, it wasn't exactly the ride Red Sox fans expected, and isn't that the fun part?
1. John Farrell is still the Red Sox manager. Guess what? He's very good at his job.
Almost no one on earth has had a better past 12 months. At this time last season, Farrell was undergoing cancer treatment, locked in a fight way bigger than baseball.
And there was Farrell's job security. The Red Sox had finished last in the AL East in back-to-back seasons, and Farrell had a new boss in president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski -- a boss who didn't hire him.
Dombrowski was impressed with Farrell from Day 1, and now Farrell might end up winning the AL Manager of the Year Award. That's not the ultimate prize he's hoping for this fall, but it would be significant.
Red Sox managers never really have job security. That's the nature of the beast in a city in which every game matters.
Never mind that Farrell is a model for every other manager in terms of communication, running a game and getting the best from his players. He has proven again how good he is at his job. Yes, Farrell has better players, but that's always part of the equation.
2. Hanley Ramirez was a reborn baseball player in 2016.
One of the first things Dombrowski did upon arriving at Fenway Park was to reach out to Ramirez, whom he'd known since their days together with the Marlins. Dombrowski talked to Ramirez as an old friend, and as someone who trusted him to get in shape and to buy into a move to first base.
At 32, Ramirez re-established himself as a solid offensive player, delivering 28 doubles, 29 home runs and an .865 OPS. He made baseball's deepest, best lineup even deeper while playing very solidly at first base.
3. How did Boston's bullpen become the best in baseball?
This was Dombrowski's job one. Boston's bullpen had been one of baseball's worst in 2015, posting a 4.24 ERA. This year, that number is down to 3.57. And in the final two months of this season, there has been none better.
4. David Ortiz sure knows how to say goodbye.
There has never been a farewell tour like this one. Who throws one of his greatest seasons on the board and then walks away? Ortiz insists that's what he'll, do despite a season in which he has hit 37 home runs and leads the AL in doubles (48), slugging (.623) and OPS (1.023).
5. The kids are all right.
When the Red Sox won the World Series in 2013, their plan was to transition their top young players onto the Major League roster. Turns out, those young guys still had some growing to do.
This season, they arrived. Bogaerts, Bradley and Betts were all members of the AL All-Star team. Rookie outfielder Andrew Benintendi has batted .309 in 30 games since making his Major League debut on Aug. 2. Sandy Leon, a 27-year-old purchased from the Nationals in 2015, emerged as one of the best offensive catchers in the game.
6. Dustin Pedroia remains the heart and soul of the Red Sox, and he's one of the best players they've ever had.
Pedroia was healthy for the first time since 2013, and he re-established himself, hitting .319 with an .829 OPS. When the Red Sox got hot, he led the way, batting .375 and getting on base better than 40 percent of the time.
Considering that Pedroia is 33 and that he has played the game so hard, it was easy to wonder if his best years were behind him. They were not.
7. Good thing Clay Buchholz wasn't released, huh?
Just when the Red Sox surely were considering whether the time had come to pull the plug once and for all on Buchholz's Boston career, he pitched some of the best baseball of his career.
Buchholz has delivered three solid September starts, and before that, he had a nice stretch out of the bullpen. He's pitched well enough to earn a spot in Farrell's postseason rotation, but he could end up being valuable out of the 'pen as well.
8. Think Rick Porcello had a good season? It was better than that.
Porcello's 22-4 record jumps off the page, but leading the Majors in wins tells only part of the story. The Red Sox have won 16 of his past 19 starts, and since July 29, he has averaged 7 2/3 innings per turn while allowing three earned runs or fewer in 12 straight starts.
9. David Price struggled. And then he got hot.
Whether it was the pressure to live up to a new contract or another change of scenery, Price began his Red Sox career by struggling like he'd seldom struggled before.
In his first 21 starts, Price had a 4.51 ERA -- this from someone with a career 3.09 ERA at the beginning of the season. His return to his previous form since then coincides with the Boston's division championship run. In 12 starts before Wednesday, Price had pitched at least seven innings on eight occastions and allowed three or fewer runs 10 times.
10. Finally, a tip of the hat to Dombrowski.
Dombrowski inherited talent thanks to the work of his two Boston predecessors --Theo Epstein and Ben Cherington. But his work in reshaping the bullpen and getting a good season from Ramirez has been critically important. Also, he did not replace Farrell. Rather, Dombrowski watched Farrell work and became convinced he was the right man for the job. Dombrowski's poise, leadership and decision-making should not be underestimated in getting the Red Sox back into the postseason.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.