2017 Red Sox: No Papi but plenty of pop

Jack Lamabe

Jack Lamabe, who pitched for the Red Sox from 1963-65, came back to pitch against them with the Cardinals in the 1967 World Series. Lamabe pitched for two seasons for the University of Vermont (he was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame), was signed and cut by the Phillies and then signed by the Pirates, who brought him to the majors. Lamabe was 3-1 with a 2.88 ERA and two saves in 78 innings out of the Pirates’ bullpen in 1962, and was the other player in the trade that brought Dick Stuart to the Red Sox. Lamabe was very good in ’63 — 7-4 with a 3.15 ERA in 151.1 innings with just two starts — but as mostly a starter in 1964, was 9-13 with a 5.89 ERA. When he started poorly in 1965, the Red Sox traded him to Houston, and Lamabe pitched for the Astros, White Sox and the Mets before the Cardinals dealt for him in 1967 after Bob Gibson broke his leg. Lamabe helped fortify the Cardinals’ bullpen: he won three games, saved four and had a 2.83 ERA in 28 games. In the World Series, Lamabe pitched in all three games the Cardinals lost, tagged with the loss in Game 6 when he gave up the first two of four straight hits which broke a 4-4 tie in the seventh. Lamabe pitched one more season in 1968 before retiring to coach professionally and also in college at Jacksonville and LSU. He died in 2007 at 71. Career totals: 33-41, 4.24 ERA, 7 complete games, 16 saves, 711 innings, 753 hits, 238 walks, 434 strikeouts, 85 ERA+, 3.59 FIP, .736 OPS against, 0.2 WAR (1.8 in ’63), 1 home run hit as a batter (against the Yankees in a ’63 Red Sox win).

Up next: In NASCAR they say there’s an easy way to get a small fortune: start with a large fortune. That’s how the Red Sox have come upon their good farm system — they started with a great one. The Red Sox still have three of the top 43 prospects, as ranked by Baseball America, and that’s after Dave Dombrowski traded Yoan Moncada, Anderson Espinoza and Michael Kopech, 2, 21 and 32 respectively on this year’s list of the top 100. None of those is first baseman Sam Travis, the Red Sox’s second-round pick in 2014. Travis was on his way to a career-high in homers last year — that’s not saying much, since it stands at 9 — hitting six in his first 47 games before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Travis might start the season in AAA which isn’t a bad thing. As the old saying goes: You don’t want to be the guy who replaces David Ortiz, you want to be the guy who replaces the guy who replaced Ortiz.

What he said: “Well, I think we’re fine. Some guys have to step up is what it comes down to. You go through these type of things in any particular year. I’ve done it every year in my career.” Dave Dombrowski on the news reliever Tyler Thornburg would start the season on the DL. What he meant: “He’ll be every bit as good as Carson Smith was last year (Smith pitched 2.2 innings).”

Outlook: In its baseball preview edition, Sports Illustrated has opposing scouts analyze each team. “Boy this is a good outfield!”, exclamation point no doubt for emphasis, said some anonymous scout about the Red Sox. And, said the scout, he  likes “everything” about Mookie Betts, a contrarian take if there ever was one on last year’s MVP runner-up.

There’s some insight for you, worth whatever the newsstand price is these days.

The Red Sox have a good outfield, the best in baseball, and a good infield, if Pablo Sandoval can discipline himself at the plate and the postgame meal line, and good starting pitching, if you don’t mind four lefties every five days in Fenway Park, Steven Wright’s health excepting.

The Sox have finished first or last the previous five seasons, a trend that could continue this year, even without David Ortiz, whose final season was one of his best (Ortiz’s 162 OPS+ was 21 points above his career average and third best of his career; his 5.1 WAR was the fourth-best of his career. In traditional stats, his 48 doubles were his second-best season; his 38 homers, 127 RBIs and 1.021 OPS fourth-best. We should all be so productive in our final year at our jobs).

The Red Sox won 93 games last year, though none in the postseason, and scored 878 runs, the most in baseball.

That wasn’t good enough for Dombrowski, who traded for Chris Sale, which gives the Red Sox a potential rotation Bernie Sanders would love: four lefties and an outcast righty, who just happened to win last year’s Cy Young.

Thirty-four years ago the Red Sox started three left-handers — John Tudor, Bruce Hurst and Bob Ojeda — and won 78 games. That might not have been the lefties’ fault: the Red Sox’s second-most frequently used reliever, Mark Clear, was clearly incompetent, with a 6.28 ERA in 96 innings, and their third-most frequently used reliever, Doug Bird, was even worse, with a 6.65 ERA.

Typical of the early-80’s Red Sox, Clear returned in 1984, but Tudor did not (on the bright side, neither did Bird). Tudor was sent to Pittsburgh and then the Cardinals, for whom he won 21 games and nearly the Cy Young with 10 shutouts in 1985, and a year later Ojeda went to the Mets, for whom he helped win a World Series … against the Red Sox.

Dombrowski opted to keep his lefties, move perennial disappointment Clay Buchholz and add Sale to David Price, Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez.

Nobody knows how four lefties in the rotation at Fenway will do for the same reason no one knew how a reality-show host would do as president: no one had thought to try it until now.

The Red Sox might be saved by injury — Price will start the season on the DL, which will allow Wright, an All-Star last season who injured his shoulder pinch-running for Ortiz, time to reclaim his position.

Farrell this spring called Wright’s injury “an unfortunate situation that cost him pretty much the remainder of the year,” and that he’d make the same move again. Farrell’s lucky it didn’t cost him his job; Red Sox fans are lucky it probably won’t happen again because Ortiz won’t need to be run for. If only stubbornness was a virtue.

Price’s injury will hurt, but the Sox’s greater potential undoing is the bullpen, where their eighth-inning pitcher is a player to be named later. Koji Uehara is gone, and Thornburg, who was to replace him, is filling the role instead of Carson Smith as major offseason acquisition on the disabled list. Smith is still hurt, and not expected back before June.

This leaves the Red Sox with their starters, Craig Kimbrel in the ninth and some combination of Matt Barnes, Robbie Ross, Heath Hembree, Fernando Abad and Robby Scott in between. There’s also Joe Kelly, who’s been tried in almost every conceivable role on the staff, and failed at all of them. What’s one more?

Until Smith and/or Thornburg return, if they do, expect a lot of high-scoring games and lots of late-inning lead changes at Fenway.

Team song: Ev’ry time we say goodbye

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