“When a forest grows too wild, a purging fire is inevitable and natural.”
-Ra’s al Ghul

The 2022 Boston Red Sox are terminally ill.

This has not been a prolonged illness beginning with mild symptoms that have gradually worsened as the months creep by. They did suffer a long, nagging flu that left them shuffling back-and-forth from the bed to the toilet for the first six weeks of the season, occasionally puking and crapping all over themselves.

But they made a full recovery from that. On May 10th, they regained their strength, stopped calling in sick, and showed up to the ballpark every day full of piss and vinegar for four weeks. The result of that turnaround was a 19-8 record that reasserted themselves as a solid team in the thick of the American League Wild Card race.

That’s when the first symptoms of the supervirus that has put them into the ICU began to manifest. And just like a virus, the ailments that plagued the Red Sox seemed to be wildly contagious.

Patient Zero was Kike Hernandez, who hit the 15-day IL on June 8th with a hip injury. Hernandez had struggled all season to that point, but was a huge cog of the 2021 team and probably the most productive player in the entire MLB playoffs. I was fully expecting a complete rebound from him, and had foreseen him to be at the forefront of what I considered the inevitable 2022 Red Sox playoff run. Now, there’s a very real possibility that he won’t play again this season. 

Garrett Whitlock, who may have been bitten by the same plague monkey as Kike, went down two days later with the same injury. Two days after that, Nathan Eovaldi succumbed to a back strain. In a matter of four days, the Red Sox leadoff hitter, “ace” starting pitcher, and number four starting pitcher (who also happened to be the best relief pitcher on the team) were on the shelf.

Yet despite all of it, the Red Sox refused to cool down. From June 8th through June 26th, the Sox went 13-4, culminating with a seven game win streak that included sweeps of the Tigers and Guardians. Boston held the top spot in the Wild Card picture, and stormed into Toronto determined to win their first series of the season against an AL East team.

By that point, however, the virus had already begun to spread. Solid, grinding performances (aside from the short bullpen) in two of the three games in Toronto resulted in only one win, and by the time the Red Sox arrived in Chicago to play the Cubs on Fourth of July weekend, the sniffles and sneezes from the Red Sox had transitioned to a burning fever.

The bullpen’s lackluster performance, which had even continued throughout the 32-12 hot streak, reared its ugly head once again in Wrigley, as did the lack of consistent production from everyone in the middle of the order not named Rafael Devers. A 6-5 bullpen meltdown and a hard luck 3-1 defeat resulted in Boston’s second consecutive series loss.

Worse yet, Michael Wacha, the Red Sox’ number three starting pitcher, was added to the pain train with an injury that was horrifying in its vagary.

“Heavy arm” sounds  more like the name of a metal band than an injury, and it’s the last diagnosis you ever want to hear for the man who had been your team’s most consistent starting pitcher for the first three months of the season. The virus had claimed its fourth Red Sox impact player just in time for a stretch of 17 consecutive games against the three toughest opponents in their division.

Clearly, the virus I’m talking about is metaphorical in nature, and I don’t mean to downplay the significance of a real virus, particularly during this time in history. But when you consider the rapid manner in which the injury bug suddenly spread throughout the team, tearing this Red Sox season asunder in the blink of an eye, the comparison does feel apt.

Every significant disease has a name that sends chills up the spines of the individuals who have lived with and/or witnessed the carnage that it causes. I’m naming the sickness that took out the 2022 Red Sox season the Klubola virus.

Corey Kluber is no stranger to injuries. He was on track to a Hall of Fame career until his body began to fail him, turning him from a perennial Cy Young candidate into a journeyman with occasional flashes of brilliance. In fact, the image above is the last time he celebrated anything on a baseball diamond last year. The strain of his first career no-hitter was too much for his body to bear, and it ended his season. However, on July 12, 2022, Kluber was dishing out the pain rather than feeling it. While the injury bug had already invaded the Red Sox weeks before they got to Tampa Bay, exposure to Kluber was the tipping point that turned their locker room into Dr. Fauci’s worst nightmare. 

Halfway through that Tuesday night game, things were looking onwards and upwards for the Red Sox.

Eovaldi and Whitlock, two of the four most important pitchers on the Red Sox staff, were scheduled to return to the team three days later to close out the first half against the New York Yankees. Chris Sale was on the mound for his first start of the season after making only nine appearances in the past two-and-a-half years. Armed with a slider and change-up that looked every bit as good as they had in his prime, he shutout the Tampa Bay Rays for five innings. He left the game with a 2-0 lead going into the the sixth.

And then, the Red Sox’ T-cell count began to plummet.

Trevor Story, perhaps the best defensive second baseman in baseball (in his first season playing the position), came up to bat moments after making a spectacular diving stop to preserve Sale’s lead. And then, a 3-1 Kluber fastball injected him directly on his throwing hand. Story doubled over in pain, left the game, and I crapped myself.

In the bottom of the sixth, Matt Strahm, likely Boston’s second best relief pitcher this season, was pelted by a line drive that connected with histhrowing wrist. Not only did Strahm collapse to the ground in agony, he illogically picked up the ball, with no chance of retiring the batter, and threw it wide of first. The tying and eventual winning runs crossed the plate, a second Red Sox hand was injured, and the team lost their second straight game to Tampa. For what has to be the first time in MLB history, a hitter and a pitcher on the same team were both drilled and removed from the game by 95+ mph baseballs within a single inning.

Klubola had evolved to the perpetual cough/runny nose/diarrhea stage.

With Story and Strahm added to the parade of crucial Red Sox players on the shelf, the team dropped the next two games to complete a four-game sweep that sent them plummeting below the Rays and Blue Jays in the Wild Card standings. Piss poor defense, awareness, and situational baseball combined with the injuries to create one of the worst four-game displays I’ve seen from a Red Sox team in several years … and that includes the Bobby Valentine experiment.

Bloom favorites Bobby Dalbec (as always) and Franchy Cordero (who had improved until this series) were two of the main culprits. However, Alex Verdugo, another Bloom guy, being picked off third base while representing the tying run with no outs in the eighth inning stands out as the most boneheaded play of the season. You gotta hand it to Verdugo – when he screws up, he always does it big. 

Thank God Nathan Eovaldi was returning for the series in the Bronx. With Eovaldi, Pivetta, and Sale slated to pitch, we were getting a good look at the 1-2-3 pitching combination that would carry us through Boston’s second-half march to the playoffs.

Eovaldi pitched pretty well, especially when you consider that it was his first game in over a month. Despite Tanner Houck’s blown save (on yet another pitcher’s throwing error), the Red Sox still managed to pull out the win Friday night in extra innings. All the Red Sox needed was one more win before the All-Star break to secure their first series victory against an AL East team.

And then we reached the projectile vomiting stage of Klubola.

Nick Pivetta, a man I had christened the ace of the Red Sox back at the onset of the hot streak, had a chance to redeem himself after a horrid start against the Yankees the previous week. He proceeded to get pelted for 7 more runs in 4.1 innings, serving up two more home runs to highway patrolman wannabe Matt Carpenter in the process, running the total number of Pivetta gopher balls to Carpenter in a single week to three. His movement was erratic, and his command was atrocious, leading me to believe that Pivetta may be suffering a case of “heavy arm” similar to what Wacha has experienced. The offense and bullpen gave up from there, and the Red Sox were humiliated to the tune of a 14-1, 3-hit defeat to middling chump Jameson Taillon.

But the weekend wasn’t over yet.

With the chance to reintroduce himself to the greatest rivalry in the history of sports and finally become the front-line starter that we used to know and love, Chris Sale was knocked around in the first inning until Gleyber Torres smashed a rocket right back at his face. Sale luckily got his hand up, but unluckily sacrificed his left pinky finger. That’s right, another Red Sox player’s hand got into the path of a speeding baseball.

The transformation of Sale’s pinky into a frigging parenthesis took the wind out of the sails of every Boston Red Sox player and fan on the planet. Klubola had reached the terminal stage. Every Red Sox organ had been liquified, with blood pouring from the mouth, nostrils, ears, and, of course, hands.

Think about the odds of three plyers on the same team having their hands injured by baseballs in a matter of five days. The odds of that happening are on par with the odds of being struck by lightning, surviving, recovering, and then being struck by lightning again on your way from the hospital to your car. During last year’s August swoon, I wrote that the Red Sox were snake bit. But what happened in the week before the 2022 All-Star Game was like being bitten directly on the balls by a snake and a xenomorph simultaneously.

Any hope that the All-Star break would help put the wind back into the sails of the Red Sox was killed off quicker than a horny pothead in a slasher movie. To say that the Blue Jays defeated the Red Sox last weekend at Fenway is akin to saying the empire defeated the planet of Alderaan.

A historic 25-8 desecration in front of the home crowd in the first game after the break sealed the deal for me. The Red Sox season is dead. There is no known cure for Klubola. No vaccine, drug cocktail, or adorable monkey can save the 2022 Red Sox season.

It’s time to move on from this core and move forward with Chaim Bloom’s rebuild. Many fans blame Bloom and Bloom alone for this lackluster season, and it’s hard to blame them. This is Boston, where high-profile free agent contracts had become a prerequisite to starting the season under the Epstein, Hoyer/Cherington, and Dombrowski regimes. The Red Sox were in the ALCS in 2021. Why not shell out some dough to get them over the hump?

Derrik addressed that question in detail last week. All that I’ll add to it is that I’m stuck with this team for life. I live and breathe with the Red Sox, so I want them to be good every single year. I’ve seen four championships in the last eighteen years, and three of them were followed by painful rebuilds. I’ve grown tired of the one-and-done days.

Elite free agents want long-term contracts that almost always end up as albatrosses. If the Red Sox have the chance to build a pipeline of good, athletic, versatile players that can potentially fill up the big league roster for years to come, I fully support it.

I firmly believe that Bloom and the Red Sox will spend money, but they won’t rush blindly into it. Bloom will continue to seek short-term contracts for undervalued role players until the Casas – Yorke -Bello – Binelas – Hamilton – Mata class joins the Pivetta – Devers – Story – Whitlock – Crawford – Houck – Verdugo core.  Once the team  identifies the areas of long-term need that cannot be filled from within the organization,, the checkbook will come out (as it already has for Story).

As for the present, Bloom’s plan of competing in 2022 blew up in a matter of one week. This offense is not potent enough to compensate for the constant attrition that the pitching staff has faced since early June. Three seasons of fiscally prudent farm-building and contract-shedding has brought Bloom to this point, with nearly $100 million due to come off the books and no big-money contract obligations after 2022.

JD Martinez has a bad back, nine home runs, and his average has dropped about 60 points since his 18-game hitting streak was snapped. Xander Bogaerts has a bad shoulder, eight home runs, and is in the midst of his annual three-month summer swoon. Nathan Eovaldi, largely revered as the ace of the pitching staff for the last couple years, also has a bad back and has given up nine earned runs in less than three innings on two separate occasions this season. Even with his elite defense, Jackie Bradley Jr.’s WAR is under 1.0 . Christian Vazquez has been one of the best catchers in baseball this year, and his trade value is higher right now than it has been in three years.

The time for the fire sale has come. Everything must go.

If Bogaerts were willing to take $25 million per year for six years or less, I’d love for the captain to remain with the Red Sox. But Scott Boras won’t accept less than $240 million over eight years any more than he’ll accept a commercial flight to the Home Run Derby for Juan Soto. As much as X has meant to the Sox, his mid-season disappearing act is simply not worth the contract he will demand, especially at age 30.

And let’s be real here … there’s only one priority in Boston for a big-money extension this offseason.

Chaim Bloom is saying the right thing publicly; that the Boston Red Sox are laser-focused on reaching the playoffs in 2022. But most of us know better.

This season is a lost cause. The resultant purging fire is not only inevitable and natural, as Ra’s al Ghul says, but it’s a must in order for the Red Sox to take the next step in their evolution from perpetual stacking-and-slashing to developmental machine. 

In fact, I caught up with Bloom yesterday and begged him to ease my mind. I asked him point blank if he had the guts to do what’s necessary … to burn this village in order to save it. Amazingly, he answered openly and honestly, unaware that I was filming our exchange.

 

By Luke

3 thoughts on “The Fire (Sale) Rises”
  1. Great article Luke. Unfortunately, I don’t trust Bloom. Bogaerts as well as Devers have to be signed. I would also keep Vazquez because you need to be strong up the middle. Martinez, Evoldi, Bradley et al can go. I would even get rid of Duran if they can get something. I cut Cordeiro and keep Dalbec only because of his versatility.

  2. […] lackluster offense. His annual summer vacation has become downright infuriating, especially amid the swath of injuries that derailed the team just before the All Star break. His defense improved this season, which […]

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