|Braves, Red Sox polar opposites following 2011 collapses||| Print ||
Written by Jim Mancari (Contact & Archive) on October 09, 2012
The Braves held a 9 1/2-game lead on the San Francisco Giants in the NL wild card race on Aug. 26 and a 10 1/2-game lead on the Cardinals, the eventual wild card and World Series winner. Baseball Prospectus calculated a 98.99 percent chance of the Braves making the playoffs on that date.
Photo by Keith Allison, used under creative commons license.
On Sept. 4, 2011, the Red Sox held a nine-game lead in the AL wild card race over the Tampa Bay Rays with 24 games left to play. Baseball Prospectus’ playoff percentage for the Sox was 99.78 percent.
However, the epic September swoons rival the worst collapses in the history of the game. It seemed inevitable that both teams would retool significantly in the offseason to avoid the embarrassment of the previous season.
Boston addressed its needs in several ways, starting with replacing manager Terry Francona with Bobby Valentine. The team also brought in Kelly Shoppach, Matt Albers, Andrew Bailey, Mark Melancon and Cody Ross as role players to add to its strong core.
Despite the collapse, the Red Sox were picked as a potential playoff team for 2012, especially with the expansion of the wild card. The talent level was there, so it would just be a matter of properly meshing.
The Braves meanwhile added backup shortstop Jack Wilson, and that’s really it for player transactions during the offseason. With NL East teams like the Washington Nationals and Miami Marlins getting stronger and the always-dangerous Philadelphia Phillies, the Braves were picked to finish in the middle of the pack at best.
But of course in baseball, a team on paper is only as good as they are playing the games. It’s amazing how different the 2012 seasons of the Red Sox and Braves played out. The Red Sox were basically non-factors in the AL, while the Braves earned one of the NL wild card spots.
Things just didn’t work out in Boston, which led to the turmoil surrounding the Kevin Youkilis trade, the blockbuster late-August deal and now Valentine’s firing.
However, the Braves proved that last season’s collapse was uncharacteristic. With mostly the same team, Atlanta relied on its strong pitching, which was the staple of the franchise during the streak of 14 straight NL East division titles.
The bullpen, led by Cy Young candidate closer Craig Kimbrel, proved to be the difference. If a starter worked into the sixth inning, the game was pretty much over once in the hands of Eric O’Flaherty, Johnny Venters, Luis Avilan and Kimbrel.
Great output from starters Kris Medlen (10-1, 1.57 ERA) and Tim Hudson (16-7, 3.62 ERA) anchored a consistent starting staff. Offensively, a memorable last season from Chipper Jones (.285 batting average) and strong performances from Michael Bourn, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman earned the Braves a trip back to the playoffs.
Compared to the Braves, the Red Sox had nothing going for them. The newcomers in the bullpen were either ineffective or injured most of the season, and the starting staff of Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront was very shaky.
While Boston’s roster looks completely different from Opening Day as they prepare to hit the golf course, the Braves stuck with their guns, and it paid off in a postseason appearance.