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Red Sox reverse course a year after World Series title

Ortiz terrific again, but injuries, inconsistency lead Boston to fifth-place finish

BOSTON -- Fresh off the glory of going worst to first, the Red Sox encountered disaster en route to an anemic title defense, doing the exact opposite in 2014.

First to worst isn't nearly as enjoyable. For the second time in three years, Fenway Park served as the host of a last-place team in the American League East.

"It certainly isn't what we anticipated, and yet there's no denying exactly where we are," said manager John Farrell. "We've gone through a lot of change. We encountered some things that we didn't expect. Prior to the Trade Deadline, it felt like we had pitching that was deep and talented, but the offensive inconsistencies -- there were greater peaks and valleys than we anticipated coming at the start of the year."

So bad was the offense that general manager Ben Cherington felt he had no choice but to dip into his pitching inventory, dealing ace Jon Lester and No. 2 starter John Lackey for two bats (Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig) and one arm (Joe Kelly).

And by the time late August rolled around, the Red Sox made a $72.5 million investment in Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo, hoping his bat, glove and legs can play a significant role going forward.

If 2013 was defined by magical moments, the summer of '14 will be remembered for an utter lack of offense.

"The thing that always will jump off the page at me was the gap between our on-base [percentage] and our runs scored," said Farrell. "Whether that then entails younger guys in RBI situations, or whether that takes into account that our lineup could be managed a little bit more effectively by the opposition or we had RBI situations that we didn't cash in on. As we went through the season, everyone was aware of it. Everyone was aware of the inconsistencies with runners in scoring position. That became a point of frustration for all of us."

Record: 71-91, fifth place in the AL East

Defining moment: Following a 14-1 romp over the Blue Jays on July 21, the Red Sox had won eight out of nine and finally seemed ready to get back into contention. Then, they proceeded to lose eight of the next nine, forcing Cherington to essentially pull the plug on the season by trading Lester, Lackey and lefty relief ace Andrew Miller.

What went right: Mookie Betts looked ready to be a solid Major Leaguer by season's end, showing consistency in the leadoff spot and in the outfield ... Xander Bogaerts finished strong with the bat after a maddeningly inconsistent season ... David Ortiz remained an elite slugger, even at the age of 38 ... Young catcher Christian Vazquez emerged into a run-stopper on defense ... Brock Holt turned into Mr. Versatility, playing seven positions for Farrell.

What went wrong: The offense was largely unproductive from start to finish ... Jackie Bradley Jr. and Will Middlebrooks were unable to get anything going at the plate, leaving the Red Sox to question whether they can fit in to the club's future plans ... Shane Victorino never got healthy and underwent back surgery in August ... Dustin Pedroia re-injured his surgically repaired left hand on a takeout slide during the home opener, and it plagued him all season. He wound up having season-ending surgery in September ... Closer Koji Uehara endured a late-season slump, creating at least some dilemma on whether the club should re-sign him for next season ... Mike Napoli was another player who grinded through a barrage of injuries and didn't hit with the production he hoped ... Bogaerts was productive early and late, but far too quiet for the meat of the season.

Biggest surprise: Holt went from not making the team in Spring Training to becoming one of the team's most consistent two-way players. Look for Holt to play a role again in 2015, be it as a utility man or the starting third baseman.

Hitter of the Year: Ortiz. What more can you say about the star slugger? For the eighth time in his Red Sox career, Ortiz produced a 30-homer, 100-RBI season, establishing a new team record. Once Cespedes came on board, Ortiz became even more dangerous, because pitchers were no longer free to work around him.

Pitcher of the Year: Uehara. Despite a late-season slump, the righty was the most dominant pitcher the Red Sox had for the bulk of the season. Lester was on course to be the club's top pitcher, but he was dealt to the A's on July 31.

Rookie of the Year: Holt. Perhaps he was a victim of late-season fatigue, as his batting average dropped quite a bit. But until suffering a concussion in early September, Holt was a steady presence and the consummate grinder.

Ian Browne is a reporter for Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne.
Read More: Boston Red Sox, Joe Kelly, John Lackey, Andrew Miller, Yoenis Cespedes, Jackie Bradley Jr., Shane Victorino, Mookie Betts, Mike Napoli, Rusney Castillo, Brock Holt, Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, Koji Uehara, Will Middlebrooks, Christian Vazquez, Allen Craig, David Ortiz