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Big Papi, youth shine in Red Sox disappointing 2015

BOSTON -- The Red Sox went into 2015 hoping for another worst-to-first turnaround like the one that stunned and thrilled everyone in '13. This time, though, it wasn't meant to be -- in fact, it never even came close to happening. The Red Sox produced another last-place finish in the American League East, their third in the last four seasons.

That type of bottom line leads to change. On Aug. 18, veteran executive Dave Dombrowski was hired as president of baseball operations and Ben Cherington declined the invitation to stay on as general manager.

:: 2015 Year in Review | 2016 Outlook ::

The most positive development of the season was the emergence of homegrown talent. But there were plenty of other aspects that didn't go nearly as well, such as Hanley Ramirez's adjustment to left field and Pablo Sandoval's transition to Boston.

Ramirez never looked comfortable in the outfield, and nagging injuries helped lead to a big dip in production after April. Sandoval went into short spurts of productivity but could never sustain anything. Sandoval's defense was surprisingly inconsistent, and he didn't play after Sept. 20 because of pneumonia.

Manager John Farrell's season also ended early with the revelation on Aug. 14 he had stage 1 non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Fortunately, a PT-Scan in mid-October revealed that Farrell was cancer free, and he's back on the job and ready for 2016.

Here's a look back at the top storylines from a year that had no shortage of twists and turns.

5. No ace, big problem
Clay Buchholz tried to loosen up his fellow starting pitchers in Spring Training by bringing in T-shirts for each of them that said "He's the Ace." The idea was that the person who took the ball each night could be considered the ace, even if the Red Sox didn't truly have one. The gesture was spawned by constant scrutiny from the general public that not having a true No. 1 starter would haunt the Red Sox.

The general public wound up being right. Not having a bona fide ace haunted the Red Sox all season. Cherington hoped one would emerge, but it never happened. Buchholz got hot for a while, but a right elbow injury ended his season in July. Rick Porcello signed a big, new contract (four years, $82.5 million) before even throwing his first pitch for the Red Sox, and he struggled to live up to it. Only when Boston fell out of contention did the righty start to look like the tough sinkerballer he was in Detroit.

Joe Kelly predicted back in January that he could win the AL's Cy Young Award. Even if the comment was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, there was little humor in the fact that Kelly's performance landed him back in Triple-A by June. Kelly did return and got red hot in August, and the club hopes he is now ready to put it together for a full season. Lefty Wade Miley logged 193 2/3 innings, but also posted a career-high ERA of 4.46. He was traded to the Mariners in December. Justin Masterson's return to Boston initially looked like a feel-good story, but the lanky righty struggled from the start and was released by August.

4. The lost road trip
When the Yankees came to Fenway Park on July 10, the Red Sox finally seemed to be generating some momentum and were 5 1/2 games back in the AL East. That night, Buchholz hurt his elbow and didn't pitch again. At the All-Star break, the Sox were 6 1/2 back -- but the club's worst road trip in recent memory immediately followed. Boston was swept in four games in Anaheim and finished the 0-7 journey losing three in a row in Houston. By the time the Red Sox got back to Fenway, they were 12 games back and pretty much had to play out the string from there.

3. The kids can play
By August, Boston's homegrown crop of young talent all started to excel at once, making the club fun to watch despite the lack of a pennant race. Mookie Betts turned into a force in every aspect of his game. Blake Swihart, thrown into the fire due to injuries to Christian Vazquez and Ryan Hanigan, played like the team's catcher of the future. Lefty Eduardo Rodriguez looked like an ace at times in his rookie year. Jackie Bradley Jr. continued to make jaw-dropping plays in the outfield, and hit .446 with seven homers in a sizzling stretch between Aug. 9 and Sept. 7.

2. Ortiz clocks No. 500
David Ortiz showed up to work on June 11 hitting .219 with six homers and 21 RBIs. At that point, even the most eternal optimist couldn't have imagined he would reach No. 500 before season's end.

But Ortiz got so very hot for the rest of the season, clocking his milestone homer on Sept. 12 at Tropicana Field with three weeks left in the season. Big Papi finished the year with 37 homers, and 503 for his career. On Nov. 18 -- Ortiz's 40th birthday -- the lefty slugger announced that 2016 will be his last season in the Majors. Ortiz would like to go out with a fourth World Series ring.

1. Dombrowski makes his mark
Dombrowski's first Hot Stove season in Boston is one that might be remembered for a long time. On Nov. 13, he struck with his first major trade with the Red Sox, sending four prospects to the Padres for lights-out closer Craig Kimbrel. Three weeks later, Dombrowski made sure the Red Sox will have an ace for a long time, signing free agent David Price to a seven-year, $217-million pact. The free-agent signing of outfielder Chris Young (who mauls lefties) and the trade of Miley to Seattle for reliever Carson Smith and swingman Roenis Elias deepened the club.

Ian Browne is a reporter for Read his blog, Brownie Points, follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and listen to his podcast.
Read More: Boston Red Sox, Craig Kimbrel, David Price, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Blake Swihart, David Ortiz, Eduardo Rodriguez