Suddenly, it doesn't seem all that bad. Bad? Yes. But not as bad as we once thought it would be.
If you go by the premise that the Red Sox were never going to win the World Series, where things landed heading into the regular season's final day must be palatable for Chaim Bloom and Co. Who knew? After 36 losses in 59 games and a string of pitchers who carry a collective 5.66 ERA, the odds of finishing sight optimism seemed slim.
But along came Tanner Houck (and a few others), and the end-of-September narrative has changed.
Houck represented perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle when it came to actually feeling there was something good to come out of this season, giving up just one earned run over his first 17 innings. The punctuation for the introduction came Saturday night when he fanned double-digits for just the second time in his professional career (10) while holding the playoff-bound Braves to just a run over six innings in the Red Sox' 8-2 win.
Better yet: Houck is heading down to his new home in Florida carrying the kind of out-of-ordinary admiration usually reserved for baseball's no-doubt-about-it prospects.
“He is nasty,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We haven’t seen him before. His ball moves a lot. He has a funky delivery that he kind of crossfires at you. He was effectively wild, but his stuff was live. He really did a really good job.”
“Well, [chief baseball officer] Chaim [Bloom] and I just talked, and I think that it’s still a short sample, but it’s against three good teams,” said Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke. “We feel pretty good that this guy can do this against the best hitters in the game, so I think it’s really encouraging when you’re looking at trying to fill in spots for a starting rotation and then you see that from a young guy. Chaim’s got a smile on his face right now, so you know it’s pretty good.”
Despite his first-round pick status, Houck always represented somewhat of a wild card when it came to becoming a piece of the rotation's foundation.
His career minor league ERA sat at 4.08, and just more than a year ago it appeared the Red Sox were viewing him more as a reliever than starter. There wasn't overwhelming optimism that Houck could consistently get left-handed hitters out, having tried various approaches throughout his pro career.
But as we sit here the 24-year-old is a shining example of how player development can work. The most recent result against the second-best offensive club in the majors was a testament to that. So was his 2020 resume against those pesky lefty hitters, who managed just two hits in 18 at-bats against Houck.
There is still a long way to go for both the pitcher and his team heading into 2021. That's understood.
But stock should be taken of where Bloom has landed.
- Bobby Dalbec has gotten a chance to prove himself at the major league level, owning a .980 OPS and eight hone runs in 22 games after his 449-foot home run Saturday night.
- Christian Arroyo has presented the image of a possible starting second baseman.
- There has been the introduction of both Houck and Nick Pivetta.
- Alex Verdugo has proven to be a potential future All-Star.
- The catching situation seems settled with two legitimate offensive threats in Christian Vazquez (.283 batting average, .801 OPS) and Kevin Plawecki (.342, .849).
- All of a sudden they have ended up with a farm system that has some hope. Here are Bloom's acquisitions sitting on MLB.com's Red Sox' Top 30: Jeter Downs (1), Blaze Jordan (15), Jeisson Rosario (16), Connor Wong (19), Hudson Potts (20), Connor Seabold (23), Jacob Wallace (24).
- They reset the luxury tax threshold, allowing to spend all that Mookie Money.
- And, finally, there is the optimism that has leaked out of the alternate site in Pawtucket watching the likes of Jarren Duran, Jay Groome and Bryan Mata exhibit better-than-average impressions against almost-big-league-level talent.
- Oh, and there's that draft pick that awaits in 2021.
Make no mistake about it, this was one of the painful seasons in Red Sox history. But look at it this way: 1. They had all the aforementioned turns-for-the-better, 2. It was only two months long, and 3. When you wake up Monday it will be over.
Tanner Houck finished 2020 with a 3-0 record, 1 run allowed and 21 Ks in 17 innings across 3 starts.