Two pitchers who have been there before explain why repeating as World Series champions is so difficult
For as much as Red Sox manager Alex Cora likes to poke fun at the notion, there is clearly a hangover effect for teams that win the World Series. It’s been going on for nearly 20 years now.
Since the Yankees won three championships in a row from 1998-2000, only one World Series champion, the 2008 Phillies, returned to the Fall Classic a year later.
Eight championship teams missed the playoffs the following season with four having a losing record.
The NBA, NFL, and NHL have had repeat champions during that era. So have Division 1 college football and basketball.
What is it about baseball? The Red Sox are the latest team to find the following season a challenging one. As was the case for most of their predecessors, the pitching staff has been the biggest problem.
We asked two experts for answers.
David Cone was with the Yankees from 1995-2000 and played a key role in their back-to-back-to-back championships.
Jake Peavy played for two World Series champions, the 2013 Red Sox and 2014 Giants, who struggled a year later.
He saw the Red Sox fall apart in 2014 and was traded to the Giants. Peavy helped San Francisco to a championship that season, then was part of a team that missed the postseason a year later.
“It’s difficult in the wild-card era and that’s speaking from experience,” Cone said. “I don’t personally know what the Red Sox are going through, but it’s a short offseason and there’s an emotional toll.
“It’s not only getting through and winning, but celebrating a little bit. Then spring training is already here? That’s how I felt for several years. I fell on my face in 2000 after we won in 1999. I wasn’t ready to pitch.”
So Cone wasn’t surprised the Red Sox rotation was 2-11 with a 6.70 earned run average after 19 games.
“The postseason takes a lot out of you,” he said. “Not only physically but emotionally and mentally. It’s a combination of everything. Physically you may feel fine but you’re not locked in; you’re not all there. It becomes harder to be all there.”
What enabled the Yankees to get through it, Cone believes, was a deep rotation.
“We had starters take turns being the No. 1,” he said. “We took turns being the lead dog.”
In 1998, David Wells was the ace with Cone a notch below him. Orlando Hernandez rose to the top in 1999. Then it was Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte in 2000.
The Yankees also had Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera anchoring their bullpen all three seasons.
“I came to appreciate the back end of our bullpen,” Cone said. “It made all the difference. I say that to [former Atlanta Braves starters] John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine all the time. They’d have five rings if they had Mariano.”
The Red Sox tried to counter the effects of the postseason on their pitchers by cutting down on their workload in spring training. They went as far as not allowing the starters to throw to the bases in some defensive drills.
Nate Eovaldi, David Price and Chris Sale pitched in only two games during spring training. Rick Porcello started three. The Red Sox believed they had compensated with minor league games, but the rotation was a mess to start the season.
“The best-laid plans usually don’t work,” Cone said. “Because it’s not about that; it’s about the residual effect. Any counter measures you take are kind of a shot in the dark in my opinion. The damage is already done.
“Resting pitchers can backfire. I’m not sure that’s the case for the Sox. It was a worthwhile effort to try and figure it out. But ultimately it’s the price you pay for winning the Series and it’s worth it.”
Cone is now an analyst with the YES Network and recently wrote a book about his career with Jack Curry. “Full Count. The Education of a Pitcher” comes out on May 14.
Peavy should write a book about his experiences. Now retired at 37, Peavy won the National League Cy Young Award in 2007 and played 15 years in the majors, winning 152 games for four teams.
The Red Sox acquired him from the White Sox on July 30, 2013, then traded him to the Giants a year later.
Peavy was 1-9 with a 4.72 ERA for the 2014 Red Sox. He then played for a 2015 Giants team that was 9-13 in April. San Francisco came back to finish 84-78 but missed the playoffs.
“Playing that extra month takes something out of you for sure. I lived it twice,” Peavy said.
“While you’re playing, everybody else is resting up or already into their workouts. Once the season starts, you’re behind everybody else. Plus every team is coming at you with everything they have. It’s tough and you have to adjust on the fly.”
The 2014 Red Sox contended with internal dissension over the team’s bad-faith effort to sign Jon Lester to a contract extension in spring training.
They were 27-29 on June 1, then lost five in a row. That sparked the decision to trade Lester, Peavy, John Lackey, Andrew Miller and others.
But Peavy feels this Red Sox team will recover.
“Alex knows what they have to do and they have a bunch of veterans in that clubhouse, especially the pitchers,” he said. “They’ll bounce back. I think that no matter what you do, there’s going to be some struggles after you win. But there’s time for them to catch up.”
Both Cone and Peavy mentioned the Sox could have benefited from a few changes to the roster.
“Sometimes a new player adds a different kind of energy in the clubhouse. That can help,” Cone said. “We had the same core group those years we won. But the Yankees made moves, too.
“It’s how the pieces fit together, not what the metrics tell you. I love the metrics but sometimes you need the right fit.”
Said Peavy: “It’s hard to replicate what you did the year before. Every team is different. The same group expects to win the same way they did before. But that’s not how it works.”
END OF AN ERA
These doors should be opening, not closing
Going back at least 60 years, the manager’s office at Fenway Park was in the corner of the clubhouse.
In a sign of how baseball is changing, the Red Sox converted that hallowed office into a “Video Coaching Room” over the winter. There are seven workstations with monitors connected to a series of servers. It’s as sterile as you would imagine but nonetheless useful.
Video coordinator Billy Broadbent needed the space, as did the coaches and players. Preparing for games in this era means spending time in front of a computer looking for advantages.
But it’s unfortunate, too, because Cora’s office is now down a hallway that’s off limits to the media.
Reporters no longer can stick their head in after the game to get some little bit of strategy explained outside of the stilted setting of a televised formal press conference. Or even just to chat for a minute.
Things pop up when you cover a team every day from mid-February to October and informal, off-the-record communication that goes beyond a text message is important. It helps everybody.
Is it a big deal? Not really. But generations of reporters learned a little something from time to time in that corner office and readers were the ones who benefited.
As baseball fights to keep its decreasing share of the media landscape, it would do well to open more doors instead of closing them.
Think that’s not a problem? The Red Sox, who won the World Series last season, had only three Boston media outlets cover their series at Arizona earlier this season and two were at this weekend’s series against the Rays.
A few other observations on the Red Sox:
■ We’re about to learn something about Cora.
He was the general manager of Caguas when the Puerto Rican winter league team won the Caribbean Series in 2017. Cora then put together the team from Puerto Rico that finished second in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
As bench coach of the Houston Astros in 2017, Cora was a valuable part of a World Series champion. Then he managed the Red Sox to 108 victories last season and 11 more in the postseason.
For two years, every baseball team Cora was involved with had great success and he had a major role in making that happen. But he went into this weekend with the worst team in the American League.
Now there are questions from the media about his decisions, complaints from a fan base with notoriously short memories and challenges from his players that have already included a failed drug test and assorted injuries.
Cora handled success well, deflecting credit to the players and his coaches. Now we’ll see how he does in the face of trouble. The Sox haven’t been unlucky; they have been terrible and how Cora reacts will say more about his abilities as a manager than last season’s success did.
Cora was released several times as a player and always found ways to bounce back. He’s also known hard times in his personal life. The guess here is he will find a way to get the Sox going again.
■ Position players can spend up to 20 days in the minor leagues on an injury rehabilitation assignment. The Red Sox do realize this, right?
It remains a mystery why Dustin Pedroia had only a four-day stint with Single A Greenville before he was activated.
Pedroia was on the major league roster from April 9-17 and never played back-to-back days in the field the entire time. Yet Cora and Dave Dombrowski insisted that was part of the plan all along.
“We anticipated that. I think we did an outstanding job of building him back up,” Cora said.
Players have collectively bargained rights to limit their rehab assignments, but three Single A games after what was essentially a year away from the game clearly wasn’t enough for Pedroia.
Pedroia was 2 for 20 at the plate before he returned to the injured list. He clearly needed more at-bats in the minors. The Sox could have moved him from Greenville to Salem and/or Portland before activating him.
Instead he was rushed back up. When Pedroia tries again, the Sox should give him time to get his swing back and test his knee.
The same was true for Steve Pearce, who returned to the majors out of extended spring training and was 3 for 24 with no extra-base hits and 11 strikeouts in his first seven games.
Managers talk all the time about putting players in a position to succeed. That was not the case for Pedroia and Pearce.
Snell loses fight with table
Let’s welcome Blake Snell to the pantheon of weird baseball injuries.
The Tampa Bay Rays ace fractured the fourth toe on his right foot after losing a fight with a granite table in his bathroom.
According to Snell, he got out of the shower and decided to do a little home redecorating by moving a decorative table that was attached to a 3-foot stand.
“It’s right outside the shower. I was like, ‘I’m moving this; it looks stupid,’ ” Snell told reporters. “I went to move it, I lifted it up and it wasn’t glued to the pole. And the pole came crashing down. Really dumb. That’s what happened.”
Snell is on the injured list and missed his start against the Red Sox on Friday. He was 3-0 with a 1.08 ERA in four starts against the Sox last season.
“I’m hoping to be back as soon as possible. But I’ve never broken a bone in my body, so this is a first,” Snell said.
From Methuen to majors?
Here’s a name to keep in mind: University of Connecticut righthander Jake Wallace. The junior from Methuen had a strong summer with Bourne in the Cape Cod League and this season has been one of the best closers in college baseball.
Wallace allowed one earned run over his first 22 innings with the Huskies and struck out 32 with three walks. Wallace’s fastball is a steady 94-95 m.p.h. and he throws a hard slider. He should land in the first few rounds of the June draft.
Much like Durbin Feltman, whom the Red Sox took out of Texas Christian in the third round last season, Wallace has been used exclusively as a reliever in college.
It’s good to see Arnie Beyeler back in the majors working for the Orioles as their first base coach. Beyeler, 55, was on the Red Sox staff from 2013-15 after spending nine seasons managing in the organization . . . Middleborough High product Sean Newcomb was 12-9 with a 3.90 ERA in 31 games for the Braves last season. But the lefty lasted only three starts this season before being optioned to AAA. “Inconsistent command,” was the evaluation of one scout. “But all the ability is still there.” . . . The oldest player in the minor leagues is 38-year-old Rajai Davis. The New London, Conn., native is playing for Triple A Syracuse in the Mets organization. Davis has played parts of 13 seasons in the majors with seven teams including the Red Sox in 2017. Davis was a 38th-round draft pick in 2001 . . . Jacoby Ellsbury is such a ghost with the Yankees that his locker at Yankee Stadium was given to infielder Gio Urshela. Ellsbury hasn’t played for the Yankees since 2017 because of assorted injuries and is on the 60-day injured list . . . Through Thursday, Reds reliever Michael Lorenzen had played three innings in center field this season, another inning in right field, and has pinch run three times. Lorenzen was 1 for 5 with a walk, an RBI, and two runs scored . . . The Yankees have played “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch since the 2001 terrorist attacks, something the late George Steinbrenner insisted on. But they have replaced the traditional Kate Smith version with an organ rendition after it was revealed Smith sang at least one song with racist lyrics in 1931 . . . Happy 82nd birthday to Gary Peters. The Red Sox traded for the longtime White Sox lefthander before the 1970 season and he was 33-25 with a 4.23 ERA in three seasons for the Red Sox. He also had 19 home runs and 102 RBIs over 807 career at-bats. Boston native Carlos Castillo, who pitched two games for the Sox in 2001, is 44. And infielder Josh Rutledge is 30. He hit .252 over 104 games with the Sox from 2016-17 and is now retired. His wife, Laura, hosts ESPN’s college football kickoff show.