Mike from Attleboro: Once similar, Sox can kick Heat comparison

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Mike from Attleboro: Once similar, Sox can kick Heat comparison

Last night, while one of the most fundamentally detestable sellouts in the history of sports finally won the championship that pundits have claimed was his destiny, Daniel Nava continued to defy the experts and remain one of the best stories in sports. And the dichotomy between the two made it clear to me how the Red Sox went astray this season.

If youre like me, seeing player born collusion rewarded with a boat loads of cash and a title in the NBA is more than enough to turn you off to the sport for quite a while. Almost everything about LeBron James and the Miami Heats creation and title run is repugnant and in opposition to what I value in sports. Entitlement, petulance, self-promotion, fraudulence, and arrogance are all tenants of the NBA and especially the Heat. These attributes overshadow any athletic excellence and clouds their achievements, no matter how great.

Conversely, Daniel Nava coming through in the crunch time for the game winning hit embodies everything that makes watching sports great. This is a guy who shouldnt be on this team let alone in the Major Leagues. Hes the consummate underdog. He was cut from teams repeatedly, never got drafted and ultimately had his contract purchased for one dollar by the Red Sox. Thats about 99,999,999 less than LeBron James got for his first promotional agreement with Nike. Always doubted and counted out and yet somehow he not only perseveres but achieves a level of success most thought was unattainable. Navas accomplishments seem like a hardball version of Rudy and who doesnt love that scrappy little hobbit?

And then it hit me. Going into this season, the Red Sox had more in common with the Miami Heat than they did with the underdogs that make sports so enjoyable. Going into last season, the Red Sox were widely touted as not only one of the best teams in baseball, but one of the best teams ever! And much like the Heat last season, after slow starts, it looked like they would live up to the billing. How wrong we were. In the time since the Sox went belly up last September, this team has been a pack of selfish, bitchy, unlikable All-Stars who were far superior at making excuses than they were at making the playoffs.

In baseball, you need 25 players to not only function as a team, but to buy in to that concept to contend for a title. There are no isolation plays and clear outs. All Star ball players cant depend on reputation calls from officials and actually have to perform on their own merits. Given the make up for the team going into this season and their attitudes, the front office needed to change more than just the Manager to make this team successful.

But as luck would have it, the injuries this team has suffered were a reasonable facsimile for the moves that should have been made this winter. Injuries to Kevin Youkillis, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford have allowed Will Middlebrooks, Nava, Cody Ross and Mike Aviles to not only see the field, but overachieve and rise to prominence. In addition, young players that this team was counting on like Jarod Saltalamacchia, Felix Dubront and now Ryan Kalish are beginning to contribute. And in doing so, they are giving this team the likability that escaped the previous star laden line up.

Last nights win was a prime example of this as Salty, Middlebrooks, Aviles, Kalish and Nava all came up clutch, with gritty play and timely hitting. It was the teams biggest win of the season and it uncovered a blueprint for the Red Soxs future: A team that isnt expected to win it all by just showing up, but a team that might win more than you think by showing up every night.

Soon the injuries will heal and GM Ben Cherington is going to have to make his own decision. Does he hold on to toxic, selfish stars, content to keep counting an attendance streak that makes the NBA seem legitimate? Or does he move forward with the kind of youth and talent that will once again capture the hearts and minds of the fans in this town. Unlike Miami, in Boston, we want to root for a team that sells out on the field, not a team that fields a roster of sellouts.

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

BOSTON -- Every year it seems like there are major issues or question marks to start spring training where the answers are up in the air.

In 2015, the Red Sox lacked an ace, had Hanley Ramirez moving to left field and Pablo Sandoval coming to town.

In 2016, Ramirez was moving back to the infield, but at a new position, and his bat was in question. Sandoval was coming off a year where he couldn’t hit his weight (he hit .245 and he last weighed in at 255 pounds). How would the starting rotation look after David Price?

This year, there seem to be three questions, but in a way, they’ve already been answered.

How will the Red Sox make up for David Ortiz’s absence?

Well, for one, the Red Sox have three Cy Young-caliber starting pitchers (Price, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello) in their rotation.

And two, Hanley Ramirez is coming off a career year with his highest career output in RBI (111) and second-highest home run total (30). And while Mitch Moreland isn’t the greatest hitter, he’s good for 20 or more home runs. Plus, it seems he’s holding a spot for a certain Red Sox prospect who’s bouncing back well from an injury.

 

Will Sandoval earn the starting third base job back?

The weight loss is a good sign, not only for the physical reasons, but it shows he’s mentally committed to being better.

However, that doesn’t guarantee he gets his job back.

“I’m not going to say [third base] resolved itself,” John Farrell told CSNNE.com, “but you know Panda’s done a very good job of committing to get himself in better shape and we’re looking forward to seeing that play to in spring training.”

Even if Panda can’t put it all together, Farrell told reporters before Thursday’s BBWAA dinner, both Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge would be competing for the job as well.

Holt as plan B -- in the infield? Who wouldn’t take that?

Who’s going to start at catcher?

Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart each have their pros an cons.

Leon did it all last year, but went from hitting .383 in his first 39 games to .242 in his last 39.

Vazquez has Ivan Rodriguez-esque abilities behind the plate, but couldn’t keep the staff under control last year and cannot hit.

Swihart, who turns 25 April 3, is the youngest of the three, has the most potential at the plate, but is far and away the worst of the three defensively at the most important defensive position -- excluding pitcher -- on the field.

They all have their drawbacks, but they’ve all shown at some point why they can be the Red Sox starting catcher in the present and future.

Everywhere else, the Red Sox seem to be in a comfortable position as pitchers and catchers reporting to camp draws ever nearer.

“I think the fact that we’ve got veteran players that have done a great job in staying healthy [and] young players that are getting more establishing in their return, we’re in a pretty good place in terms of the overall status of our position player group,” Farrell told CSNNE.com.

And it seems some players are confident in the team’s options as they ready for camp.

“We’re looking good in a lot of areas,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts told CSNNE.com. “Especially the pitching staff, [since] we just got Chris Sale one of the best in the game.”

“Pablo’s definitely going to bounce back, especially with the weight he’s lost."

Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

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Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

BOSTON -- “I didn’t feel that love after I made a pitching change in the sixth inning,” Terry Francona said after a 45-second standing ovation from Boston fans upon receiving the MLB Manager of the Year award from the BBWAA Thursday.

It’s without question the love for Francona runs deep in the city. Why wouldn’t it? He was the leader in breaking the 86-year old curse, and wound up winning another World Series title for Boston three years later.

Actually, he was more of a co-leader, working alongside the same person who won the MLB Executive of the Year honors from the BBWAA for 2016.

Theo Epstein -- who received an ovation 17 seconds shorter than Francona, but who’s counting -- reminisced about the Red Sox ownership group that took a chance on a young kid who wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate to take over as GM of a team, but now that’s helped him build the Chicago Cubs into a winning franchise and establish a great working environment.

This October marks 13 years since the ’04 championship, 10 years since ’07 and six years since the pair left Boston. Without question they’ve left their mark on the city and forever changed Red Sox baseball.

And while the fans showed their undying gratitude for Francona with an ovation almost as long as his acceptance speech, the Indians manager recognized the favor the current Red Sox brass has done for him.

“I’d like to thank Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox for getting Chris Sale the hell out of the Central Division,” Francona said.