The Boston Red Sox were beaten by a better team. Tampa Bay won four of six critical September games and were able to recover from that devastating 8-7 loss in Game 5 in which they squandered a 7-0 lead.
The sad thing is, the remarkable comeback gets overshadowed by the series loss.
Give credit to Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon and a team that dramatically came of age after years of futility.
You have to like Maddon. He is humble and showed great respect for the Red Sox and their never-say-die attitude.
The Red Sox showed tremendous resiliency in the wake of injuries and the Manny Ramirez trade to the Dodgers.
What about their future?
It’s intriguing and positive.
With a healthy Josh Beckett, they may have the best top-end rotation in baseball with Beckett, Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Paul Byrd is a resourceful fourth starter although they could possibly upgrade that spot. Tim Wakefield pitched miserably down the stretch and in the playoffs but is still a useful fifth starter.
Catcher and team captain Jason Varitek can become a free agent and he has become an offensive liability. His .220 regular-season average included 122 strikeouts in 423 at-bats. He hit .118 in the playoffs with nine strikeouts in 34 at-bats.
However, do his leadership and his handling of the pitching staff overcome his slow bat?
Remember, teams without leadership underachieve.
As long as he is the only offensive liability in the lineup, he’s worth retaining.
How about the shortstop situation? Is Jed Lowrie ready to replace the disappointing Julio Lugo and is anyone willing to pay Lugo $9 million a year so they can move him?
Lugo hit .268 and drove in 22 runs in 82 games before sustaining a season-ending leg injury. Lowrie hit .258 but knocked in 46 runs in 81 games.
Lugo is a stolen base threat and Lowrie isn’t.
Lowrie played 49 games of errorless ball at short and 45 games of two-error ball at third while Lugo made 16 errors in 81 games at shortstop.
Lugo does have more range.
I’ll take Lowrie. He’s only going to get better.
Can the lineup use another longball threat like Angels first baseman Mark Teixeira, who has averaged 35 homers and 118 RBIs the last five years?
It would mean trading the popular Mike Lowell and moving Kevin Youkilis over to third from first. Lowell has averaged 19 homers and 83 RBIs the past five years.
Lowell is 34 years old, Teixeira is 28.
I’d make the move.
Plus, it would give David Ortiz better pitches to hit ahead of Teixeira in the lineup. Ortiz, bothered by a wrist injury, had an off year (.264-23 homers-89 RBIs), especially in the playoffs (.186-1-5).
Youkilis (.312-29-115) and 2B Dustin Pedroia (.326-17-83, 20 stolen bases) had terrific years and Jason Bay (.293-9-37 in 49 games with Boston, .341-3-9 in the playoffs) was a pleasant surprise. Toss in stolen base leader Jacoby Ellsbury (.280-9-47, 50 steals) and the lineup should be solid and mutifaceted. Ellsbury struggled in the playoffs but he’ll get better.
Coco Crisp hit .417 in the playoffs to lead the Red Sox and plays a great center field as does Ellsbury, who can also play right or left field.
J.D. Drew (.280-19-64) is injury-prone and expendable.
Bullpen help will be required because closer Jonathan Papelbon and setup men Justin Masterson and Hideki Okajima were the only reliable arms at the end.
Barring injury and with a few moves, they should be even better next year.