Red Sox clinch Wild Card in rollercoaster season
After an underperforming 2019 campaign, the 2019-2020 offseason drama that unfolded with Manager Alex Cora that lead to his dismissal; a completely lifeless 60-game shortened season performance, it seemed that the Red Sox were heading into a direction that the rebuild was on and the team was slowly going to be dismantled and we would start to see the Red Sox be like the Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates and a handful of others, lose 90-100+ games annually for draft positioning and loading up the farm system.
Here comes the 2020-21 offseason, that saw the Red Sox bring back Alex Cora as the field manager, sign and acquire some role players to fill big holes with the team, all in the hope that the team would still remain competitive to an extent while they rebuilt the farm system. Safe to say that the plan worked flawlessly in 2021. The Red Sox now have the 12th best minor league system after being in the bottom part of the league for roughly four seasons after Dave Dombrowski nearly gutted the entire minor league teams of the Red Sox in order to win title in a three-year plan, which worked also.
After hitting the reset button, the farm system has started to come back to life and the big league club still had enough talent to compete. However, no one expected the Red Sox win 90+ games and and qualify for the postseason. Especially after multiple bad stretches from this baseball team. It all started after the Sox got swept by the Baltimore Orioles, who went on to lose 110 games this season. Other low moments was seeing the Red Sox do very little at the trade deadline to help improve the team, which at the time the Red Sox were leading the AL East by a game 1.5, ended up being the last time the Red Sox would be in first place for the remainder of the year. An absolutely abysmal month of August which saw the Red Sox lose game after game, series after series, and their playoff chances looked bleak. September rolls around and a couple things, A) they started to play a little bit better, B) they were still struggling to find consistency.
Coming off the heels of being swept by the Yankees at Fenway Park in the second to last weekend, and losing two out three to the lowly Orioles, entering the final series of the weekend the Red Sox chances of making the playoffs were under 30%, maybe even less. Though getting three wins against the lowly Nationals proved to be difficult, the Red Sox were able to pull off the sweep, and clinch the 1st Wild Card spot in the American League.
First off, whoever scheduled an American League team to play the final series of the season in a National League ballpark where the pitchers have to bat deserves to hit over the head. The World Series is one thing, but the final series of the regular season where said AL team needs to win in order to make the playoffs? Like really, can we not see this happen to any other AL team in future years? Yes Red Sox fans, even the Yankees have to be included in AL teams you don't want to see end the year in an NL park, whether that team is in the playoffs or not.
Back to the Red Sox, this team certainly didn't make anything easy from late July straight through the end of the season. The first three in a half months of the season, the Red Sox led the majors with 26 come back from behind wins prior to the all-star break and nicknamed themselves "The comeback kids". The first half of the season was phenomenal for this ball club. They were a top of the AL East, sent five players to the All-Star Game in Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts; J.D. Martinez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Matt Barnes. This team over exceeding expectations and the expectations on this team within the clubhouse grew.
After the trade deadline, things went down hill severely. Barnes struggled to find any consistency, Martinez and Bogaerts' bats went silent for long stretches of time. Nasty Nate even struggled certain nights, but wasn't enough to throw him completely off his game. Then late-august, early-September the Red Sox ran into COVID related issues, at one point the Red Sox had 14 players on the COVID IL that featured Xander, Barnes and couple other key bullpen guys. However, the Red Sox were able to find a way through it and finally got healthy enough down the stretch.
There were more bright spots this season which really came as a surprise but also were lock down guys from start to finish. Garrett Whitlock, a guys the Red Sox took via the Rule 5 Draft from the Yankees, proved to be a big piece out of the bullpen. When the Red Sox needed a little bit of length in order to save some guys in a tight game, Whitlock was called upon and he did not disappoint. Adam Ottavino, another player acquired from Yankees, was also huge on many occasions this season. Barnes unavailable whether it was because of work load or this stint on the covid IL, Ottavino was able to keep the back end of the bullpen afloat and still give Cora options. Hunter Renfroe was quietly the best free agent acquisition. Having a carer year in Boston, lead the majors in defensive outfield assists and coming up clutch in key situations. Renfore has become a fan favorite. Christian Arroyo for a vast majority of this season was a key guys, again coming up clutch multiple times to help the Red Sox win ballgames early and often. hasn't been the same since a combination of injuries and COVID but was still big piece. Let's not forget Kike Hernandez, he would get on base, spark rally, played anywhere on the infield and would be able to play the outfield as well, Hernandez brought an energy to this team that was severely lacking in the 2019 and 2020 teams.
After all the ups and down of the season, we have finally reached the 2021 Postseason where the Red Sox are present and accounted for. However, it's not going to get easier. Under the current playoff format, this is the first time that the Red Sox are playing in the Wild card Game. Since the fifth playoff team was added in 2012, the Red Sox have made the playoffs four times all as division winners. So the Red Sox aren't used to the pressure that comes to a one-game playoff. The Yankees on the other hand are familiar with this game. They have played in this game three other times and have been the home team each of the three times.
Although this is a one-game playoff and every pitch means so so much, you have to appreciate that it's a classic rivalry going at it for a chance to have a date with the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Division Series.
The 2021 AL Wild Card Game between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sx will be played tomorrow night at Fenway Park with first pitch slated for 8:08pm. Broadcasted through ESPN, but can hear the local call of the game on 93.7 WEEI FM. The Yankees will send ace Gerrit Cole to the mound against de facto Red Sox ace Nathan Eovaldi.
It's only one game, but its playoff baseball nonetheless!