Epstein looks back, ahead
General manager: 'Our ultimate goal is still ahead of us'
BOSTON -- Sitting in the home team's dugout before Wednesday's game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein reflected on his team's season and their recent history of success, earning a playoff berth for the third consecutive season and sixth time in seven years.
"It's something the organization's very proud of and our ultimate goal is still ahead of us and hasn't been accomplished yet," Epstein said. "But I think you have to take time, even a real small amount of time, when you qualify for the playoffs to look back at the path and how you got there and how difficult it was and recognize it's an accomplishment. And to do it six times out of [seven] years is something the organization is proud of. It's part of our business plan, in essence, is to build a club every year that's more or less a 95-win team and gives us a good chance to get into the postseason, where we can then have a chance to accomplish our ultimate goal of winning a World Series.
"So it's challenging to build good teams. In a vacuum, I think it's challenging to have these type of seasons in the AL East in particular, and so I'm in a unique position where I can see the hundreds of different people who've played a part in making it happen, from the players, management and coaching staff to ownership to our player development people and scouts, and so I'm proud of all of them. You take a small brief amount of time to appreciate that and you move on and work hard to advance scout for the postseason, where we can -- we hope -- do something that's truly noteworthy."
This season was not without its challenges, though, for Epstein and his staff.
"I think baseball is designed to present challenges during the course of the season," he said. "It seems like every year we get to this point and I say something stupid about how much adversity we faced, but the reality is almost every year and almost every team faces some adversity. It's not even real adversity. Real adversity comes in the real world outside of baseball, but this year we faced our challenges. We had some starting pitchers go down and some starting pitchers not perform very well and that turned, I think, what was objectively strength of this club into a weakness and we had to battle through that.
"Our defense was not as good as we had projected it to be and we had to make some adjustments there. And we went through a stretch of time at a crucial period where we didn't hit at all. That happened at the same time as the starting pitching issue came to a head and that put us at -- I think at the time I called it a period of instability, and we came out of it. That was a challenge so the guys deserve a lot of credit for getting through those things."
One of the turning points in the season was the acquisition of Victor Martinez, who has contributed both offensively -- hitting .332 entering Wednesday's game with seven home runs and 36 RBI since coming to Boston, with a career-high 25-game hitting streak -- and defensively, providing flexibility in the lineup serving as catcher, designated hitter and playing first base.
"At the time the offense needed a bit of help and the ability to bring in someone who I consider to be an elite hitter, a guy who could fit right in the three hole, a switch-hitter and hits good pitching was a unique opportunity," said Epstein. "And the fact that he could catch and play first base and fit into our roster construction really well provided contingencies for a couple of different scenarios that could have evolved. He was the right fit at the right time for this club in that respect. And his leadership as well. I mean, obviously, an off the charts human being, and accomplish something which is hard to accomplish, which is he came in seamlessly into a pennant race and provided legitimate leadership at the same time"
Now, Epstein, with manager Terry Francona and their staffs, will prepare for the playoffs. More specifically, playing the Angels in the American League Division Series.
"The way this month has evolved, playing the percentages, it's looked for a while like we were going to play the Angels, so we've had some time to get a head start on planning and thoughts about roster construction and pitching, and most importantly, advanced scouting," Epstein said. "So that process now just continues. We've gotten a head start on it and we'll continue the process of sharing information and doing some analysis, and ultimately getting the information to the players and Tito."
Maureen Mullen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.