I’ve been a baseball fan my whole life and October is always my favorite month thanks to the emotion of the playoffs. Most of the Boston Red Sox fans I know are rooting for the Toronto Blue Jays or the Chicago Cubs, and how couldn’t they? Toronto is basically a home run derby squad and it seems that the Cubs are going to stop being the lovable losers of baseball, just like the Red Sox did 11 years ago. Personally, I can’t root for any other team if the Red Sox aren’t playing so most of the times I just sit in my couch or go to a bar and enjoy the whole show. However, I felt something special after Jose Bautista‘s home run in the Blue Jays/Rangers game; that moment reminded me of how the Red Sox used to be.
At the beginning of the season, the Red Sox were favorites to win the division and maybe the World Series and well, we all know how that turned out. The Yankees began to take over the AL East and it wasn’t crazy to think that they were going to win the division, until the Blue Jays came out of nowhere and now they’re about to start Game 1 of the ALCS. How did this whole thing happen if Toronto and Boston were in similar situations entering this season? Actually on May 28th, the Red Sox had a better record (22-26) than the Blue Jays (22-27). What can the Red Sox learn from their division rival?
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1. Be stubborn if the player is worth it.
Jason Mastrodonato from the Boston Herald reported earlier this year that before signing Pablo Sandoval, the Red Sox called the A’s asking for Josh Donaldson. Oakland told Boston that the third baseman wasn’t available and three days after the Red Sox officially signed Sandoval, Donaldson was traded to the Blue Jays. Sandoval had a career-worst year in every category and posted a -2.0 WAR, while Donaldson had the best year of his career beating personal records in home runs (41) and RBI (122) while posting a 8.7 WAR. We do not know which players Oakland would have asked for in case they agreed to a trade so we can’t blame Cherington on this one, but it’s fair to say that the Red Sox wouldn’t have ended the season with a 78-84 record if Donaldson was with the team.
2. Pitching is the name of the game.
Both teams started the season without a proven ace. Toronto named Drew Hutchison as their Opening Day starter, making him the youngest Opening Day starter in franchise history, while the Red Sox had Clay Buchholz doing his Opening Day debut. Neither one of them were proven pitchers, but both teams decided to roll with it and see how things would turn out for the rest of the season. Their respective rotations were also a mess, but one team is in the playoffs and the other one ended in last place. With Marcus Stroman scheduled to miss the rest of the 2015 season and an aging veteran rotation with rookies adapting to the Major Leagues, Toronto wasn’t supposed to have this spectacular year but they managed to turn their pitching around; which actually leads us to the next point.
3. The trade deadline REALLY matters.
Besides getting rid of Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino, the Red Sox didn’t do anything impactful at the trade deadline. On a personal note, I do think that they had the right players to make a big move without losing Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Eduardo Rodriguez, Dustin Pedroia and the whole bunch of names we don’t want to hear involved in trade rumors during this offseason. If Carl Crawford was traded to LA, every single contract is tradeable. The team was not in a right place at the time, but they were able to fix it but decided not to. In the other hand, Toronto acquired Troy Tulowtizki, David Price, Mark Lowe and Ben Revere who are now key pieces in the team’s push for a World Series title. Price won 9 of 11 games started for the Blue Jays and provided a leadership role in the clubhouse, something that most of the AL East teams needed at times.
4. Momentum and chemistry.
The last-place Red Sox and first-place Yankees faced each other on July 10th, the weekend before the All-Star break. Boston was coming off a 7-3 record over the last 10 games and with only 6.5 games below first place, a sweep was more than needed for the team to get back in playoff contention. However, they lost two out of three games against them, then lost five straight games after the All-Star break and the recent dominant Clay Buchholz was injured in the first game of the series and missed the rest of the season after that. The Red Sox were never that close of first place during the season and well, here we are now. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays overcame every single slump they were in, specially while facing the Yankees.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not rooting for the Blue Jays or have any interest in doing so but we used to be them. This team is mixed with veterans and rookies, something that has been a constant in the last three Red Sox World Series wins.