The 2018 Major League Baseball season is over. The Boston Red Sox are World Champions and there is much to learn from the way they constructed their team. Can the Padres recreate that sort of magic with their current roster?
On Sunday night, the Boston Red Sox celebrated in Dodger Stadium after beating Los Angeles 5-1. As a Padres fan, it’s disturbing to watch the big-bucks bully from up north –- the guys that swatted away the home team like an annoying gnat during the regular season — humiliated in the World Series.
Although the Padres will never match either team in payroll or cachet, the front office would be wise to take into account the lessons that can be learned from Boston’s success. It’s no accident that the Red Sox have now won four World Series, beginning in 2004. That 2004 title famously ended the drought that had lasted since 1918. The Padres have only been around since 1969, but have yet to hold the trophy high.
Teams like the Padres that lack the spending ability of the Red Sox, which ranked first in payroll at $230 million, or the Dodgers (third at just under $200 million), have much less margin for error and must be more creative in constructing a team. However, the Houston Astros, last year’s WS Champion, had a payroll of $133 million. Money alone doesn’t make the difference. However, the less wealthy the team, the more nimble the executives must be.
Presently, the Padres have one advantage; a highly rated farm system. Those prospects can help the organization in a variety of ways, most importantly by becoming quality major leaguers. However, they can also be used as trade bait. The World Series demonstrated the importance of pitchers, especially starting pitchers, and many of the Padres’ top prospects are indeed pitchers.
Both WS contenders had their share of homegrown talent on their playoff rosters, including SS Corey Seager (disabled list), 1B Cody Bellinger, OF Joc Pederson, as well as pitchers Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Kenley Jansen, Pedro Baez, and Julio Urias for the Dodgers. Boston’s former prospects include RF Mookie Betts, CF Jackie Bradley Jr., LF Andrew Benintendi, SS Xander Bogaerts, 3B Rafael Devers, C Christian Vazquez, RHP Matt Barns, and C/1B Blake Swihart.
But a contender needs to add players as well, and the Red Sox picked up flame-throwing pitcher Nathan Eovaldi and second baseman Ian Kinsler to improve infield defense at the trade deadline. The month before, in a much more low-profile move, the Red Sox acquired first baseman Steve Pearce from the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Dodgers made a much bigger splash by landing the uber-talented shortstop Manny Machado in a trade with the Baltimore Orioles. In the ultimate irony, the big catch batted .182/.208/.182/.390 and struck out to end the game Monday night. Pearce, the much-traveled journeyman who had played for six other teams, became the World Series MVP, while the hotshot Machado could have been named the goat. Machado not only failed to meet expectations, he also turned what he thought might be a home run into a single, bragged about not hustling, and roughed up infielders with his spikes.
The Red Sox showed the importance of depth and don’t depend on a couple of guys. In this series, the team was operating on all cylinders on both sides of the ball. Instead of sitting back and waiting for the big fly, the Boston batters tried to get the bat on the ball, knowing that anything can happen. They worked the count and had a tenacious two-strike approach.
The series started with Betts audaciously stealing a base off left-hander Kershaw. Benintendi then singled to right, and Betts scored the first run. That play helped set the tone as Boston went on to win the game 8-4. Both Betts and Benintendi play solid defense too, and in Game 2 the latter made a gravity-defying catch in front of the Green Monster.
At crucial positions like catcher, both teams went with defense over offense. After Yasmani Grandal’s two passed balls and two errors in Game 1 of the NLCS against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Dodgers turned to Austin Barnes behind the plate for most games. In the regular season, Barnes batted /.205/.329/.290/.619. Boston’s Christian Vazquez batted .207/.257/.283/.540 in the regular season but started all except Game 1.
While the Red Sox had no glaring weaknesses, the Dodgers’ bullpen let them down multiple times. That shortcoming helped bring the team down in 2017, and, for some reason, the brain trust running the team did very little to address the problem. But management of the bullpen has been a problem as well.
In Game 4, for some inexplicable reason, Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts turned to closer Kenley Jansen (who had thrown two innings and 32 pitches night before) to begin the eighth inning, for a six-out save with the Dodgers still ahead 4-3. The move backfired, with LA losing 9-6. Even the best closers, including Hall-of-Famer Trevor Hoffman, can fail to deliver in those scenarios.
While winning teams need to be strong in all facets of the game, intangibles that can’t be measured matter as well. Coming off a crushing 18-inning marathon, Boston demonstrated a remarkable resilience. Obviously, the team put that seven-plus hour loss in the rearview mirror, and credit for that must go to manager Alex Cora and his coaching staff, along with the players. Cora emphasized the importance of a player’s will as well as his mechanics.
The Dodgers went from Yasiel Puig’s bicep kisses in Game 4 to elimination in what seemed like the blink of an eye. Manager Dave Roberts will take much of the blame, but probably will be back next year. But blame can be shared all around for the Dodgers’ second loss in a row on the biggest stage baseball has to offer.
In the meantime, Cora, who was born in Puerto Rico, has asked for permission to take the World Series Trophy to Puerto Rico. Born on the island, Cora wants to share the trophy with fellow Puerto Ricans still suffering from the effects of Hurricane Maria.