Red Sox 2009 Season: Success or Failure?
Success. The Red Sox won 95 games yet again under GM Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona, despite the revolving door of pitchers this year (at least 26) and an ultra competitive AL East division featuring the Yankees, the machine known as Roy Halladay and the defending 2008 AL champion Rays of Tampa Bay. While some players regressed or had mixed results (Josh Beckett, Jason Varitek, Manny Delcarmen, Tim Wakefield, Dice-K, and David Ortiz), many others remained consistent (Hideki Okajima, Sox savior and my pick for team MVP Victor Martinez, Jon Lester, Kevin Youkilis, Mike Lowell, and Dustin Pedroia) or raised their game to new levels (Jacoby Ellsbury, AL MVP candidate Jason Bay, and Clay Buchholz).
Two young right-handers truly excelled quicker than expected in 2009 and became crucial players in Bostonâ€™s playoff run: starter Clay Buchholz and 100-mph fireballer Daniel Bard. After a lousy 2008, Buchholz matured as a pitcher and dominated the minors early in 2009 but didnâ€™t get the chance to pitch again for Boston until the second half when Wakefield hit the DL. And once there, he stayed for good. The young righty went 7-4 in 16 starts, kept his ERA under 4.00 for most of them and as a result, Terry Francona rewarded him with a playoff start (over Dice-K) and he succeeded, even if the team did not.
Bard (2-2, 3.65 ERA) too had a commendable debut regular season, punching out 63 batters in 49 innings. In the sixth inning of Game 3 of the ALDS, he fearlessly got Buchholz out of his bases loaded and no outs trouble by allowing only one of those inherited runners to score via a Juan Rivera DP to make it a 5-2 game. Sox fans should be excited to see more of these two highly touted young arms next year.
Speaking of exciting, perhaps no player on the Sox is more fun to watch nor more important as a table setter for the Sox offense than Jacoby Ellsbury. Though his OBP and walk totals werenâ€™t where Francona wanted them for a leadoff hitter early on, by the end of the season he not only got his OBP above .350 for good but became a .300 hitter and permanent leadoff hitter. Oh, and the exciting part? His gold glove caliber defense and 70 SBs in â€™09 (including home plate on Andy Pettitte in May), a new club record. Now if he can add more power to his repertoire in 2010, he could be the next Johnny Damon.