Jon Lester became "The Man" this year with a 16-6 record.  Pedroia or Youkilis might be the team MVP but no one was more valuable than Lester.  Reuters photo.

The team played better down the stretch with another solid month in September that saw them clinch the American League Wild Card berth and earn a spot in the post season for the fifth time in the last six seasons. Since the inception of the Wild Card in the mid 1990’s no other team in baseball has earned the wild card berth more than the Boston Red Sox who have made the playoffs in that spot in 1995, 1999, 2003, 2004, 2005 and now in 2008. In their previous 5 appearances as the wild card team they have advanced to the ALCS three times beating Cleveland in 1999, Oakland in 2003 and Anaheim in 2004. They lost as the wild card in 1995 to Cleveland and in 2005 to Chicago.

In September the team went 16-10 to finish the season at 95-67, 28 games above .500. For the month they went 5-4 away from Fenway Park (at Texas 2-1; at Tampa Bay 1-2 and at Toronto 2-1) and finished 39-42 on the road. The season’s final month saw the team finish at Fenway with a 11-6 record at home (Baltimore 3-0; Tampa Bay 1-2; Toronto 3-1; Cleveland 3-1 and New York 1-2) and 56-25 in the friendly confines for the season.

Manager Terry Francona: Managed like he always does making sure players who were hurt or tired got some breaks, the young guys got to play and the team still put forth the effort needed to wrap up the playoff berth. He has done what no Red Sox manager in my lifetime, in fact in generations, has done and that is get the team to the post season 3 consecutive years. Grade: B+

His final grade is a little higher because he had to deal with all the crap that the former left fielder brought the team this season and he handled it well. Overall Season Grade: A-

Starting Nine:

Right Fielder Jacoby Ellsbury: Had a very strong finish to his rookie year hitting .340 over the last month with a .367 OBP and a .521 SLG. He also stole 7 bases in 10 attempts and played some spectacular defense regardless of where he was in the outfield. Grade: A-

Finished up at .280-9-48 with 50 steals in 61 tries with an OBP of .336 and a .394 SLG. I only see him getting better over time. Overall season grade: B

Second Baseman Dustin Pedroia: Hit .326 with 2 HR and 15 RBI had a .393 OBP and a .522 SLG for the month. Very consistent in the field. Grade: A

Finished the year at .326 with 17 HR and 83 RBI a .376 OBP and a .493 SLG and made several outstanding plays in the field. May very well be the AL MVP after winning the AL ROY last season. Grade: A

Designated Hitter David Ortiz: Hit .244-6-23 for the month with a .323 OBP and a .581 SLG. Grade: C

Didn’t have a typical Ortiz year but missed a lot of games with the wrist injury and then it took him a bit to get going upon his return. He also had a slow start to the season. Finished up at .264 with 23 HR and 89 RBI, a .369 OBP and a .507 SLG. Overall season grade: C+

First Baseman Kevin Youkilis: Ever steady, ever solid this guy is the premier first baseman in the AL. He hit .275 with 5 HR and 21 RBI and had a .398 OBP and a .594 SLG. Grade: B+

Finished the season at .312 with 29 HR and 115 RBI with a .390 OBP and a .569 SLG in a career year. Once again was a Gold Glove caliber first baseman and filled in wonderfully at third base as well. Overall season grade: A

Third Baseman Mike Lowell: Missed significant time this month with hip and oblique injuries that limited him to 38 AB’s. Hit .316-3-6 for the month. Grade: B+

His numbers were off from last year but it wasn’t due to effort it was because of injuries as he missed three separate chunks of the season. Finished at .274-17-73 with a .338 OBP and a .461 SLG. Overall season grade: B-

Left Fielder Jason Bay: Hit .260-5-8 for the month as he cooled off a bit from August but his two months as Red Sox were very good hitting nearly .300-9-37. Grade: C

For the year in both Boston and Pittsburgh he finished at .286 with 31 HR and 101 RBI he had a .373 OBP and .522 SLG. Overall season grade: B+

Shortstop Jed Lowrie: Struggled down the stretch hitting just .213 over the final month. He was very good in the field though and looks to have a future. Grade: D+

Recalled for a second time when Julio Lugo went down with an injury in July and was very steady in the field and pretty decent at the plate as he finished at .258 with 2 HR and 46 RBI, a .339 OBP and a .400 SLG. A severe upgrade over Julio Lugo. Overall season grade: C+

Catcher/team captain Jason Varitek: Hit an abysmal .183 with 2 HR and 6 RBI for September. Had a .286 OBP with a .300 SLG. Grade: F

It’s a good thing he calls a good game and handles the staff well. It also helps that there’s a dearth of young catching prospects who are major league ready because he probably would have played himself out of a job with the season he had at the plate in which he hit .220 with 13 HR and 43 RBI. He had a .313 OBP and a .359 SLG. Overall season grade: D

Center Fielder Coco Crisp: Hit .375 in the final month with a .444 OBP and a .469 SLG while stealing 5 bases in 8 chances. Grade: A-

For a guy who wasn’t supposed to be here after spring training he had a good year and actually got 361 AB’s he finished at .287-7-41 with a .344 OBP and a .407 SLG and stole 20 bases in 27 chances plus once again was brilliant defensively. Overall season grade: B

The Bench:

Right Fielder J.D. Drew: Only had 4 AB’s in September. Grade: Incomplete

He started the season missing the first three games with a bad back and ended it missing about 6 weeks with it again. In between though there were times Drew was the man, especially in June when he carried this team after Ortiz went down with his hand injury. He finished the year .280-19-64 with a .408 OBP and a .519 SLG in 368 AB’s. If you project his power numbers out to another 130 AB’s you’d be looking at 25+ HR and about 85-90 RBI. Overall season grade: B+

Outfielder/First Baseman Mark Kotsay: Waiver wire trade deadline acquistion from Atlanta and performed fairly well in his short time here filling in at first base and in right field because of injuries. Hit only .206 for the month with 8 RBI but supplied good defense in the outfielder. Grade: C-

Overall season grade: C

Short Stop Julio Lugo: Missed the entire month on the DL. Grade: n/a

Missed the entire second half of the season and his first half was nothing to write home about as he hit .268 with 1 HR and 22 RBI and had a .355 OBP and a .330 SLG. If this is what $9.25 million a year gets you someone is stealing money. Overall season grade: D-.

First Baseman Sean Casey: Hit .206 with 0 HR and 5 RBI in limited time. Had the worst month of the season in the September. Grade: C-

Finished the year at .322-0-17 with a .381 OBP and a .392 SLG. Was a great pickup and I hope he stays in 2009. Overall season grade: B+

Catcher Kevin Cash: has been very good as Tim Wakefield’s personal catcher. Hit .190 with 1 HR and 4 RBI in September. Grade: D

Overall he hit .225 with 3 HR and 15 RBI has a .357 OBP and a .333 SLG. The team needs more from this spot on the roster. I’d like to see a backup catcher who hits for a better average and with more power who could be a pinch hitting threat late in the games. Overall season grade: D

Infielder Alex Cora: hit .250 in 36 at bats in September with Lowell being out most of the month and as a late game defensive replacement. Grade: C+

Finished at .270-0-9 with .371 OBP and .349 SLG. Very solid in the field and does all the little things right and has been a valuable asset. May come down to a choice between him and Julio Lugo as the utility guy next season. Overall season grade: B-

Catcher David Ross: Late season call up after being signed as a free agent in August. Was 1 for 8 in limited action: Grade: Incomplete

Overall season grade: Incomplete

Catcher George Kottaras: Late season call up who was able to get his first major league hit. Was 1 for 5 in three games. Grade: Incomplete

I am not sure he is the catching future of the Boston Red Sox but the sample size is just way too small. Overall season grade: Incomplete

First Baseman Jeff Bailey: Hit .292 in September over 24 AB’s with 1 HR and 2 RBI currently the best advanced power threat in the system as other players are a few years away. Grade: C+

Late season call up finished the year at .280 2 HR and 6 RBI with a .390 OBP and a .460 SLG. Overall season grade: C+

Infielder Gil Velazquez: Was 1 for 8 in four games in a late season call up. Grade: Incomplete

Overall season grade: Incomplete

Outfielder Chris Carter: Late season call up finished the year at .333-0-3 in limited action. Grade: C

Overall season grade: C

Outfielder Jonathan Van Every: Late season call up hit .231 with 5 RBI in the month and his single in the 10th inning produced a walk off win in the final game of the year. Grade: C-

Overall season grade: C-

The Pitching Staff:
The Starters:

Josh Beckett: After returning from the DL he went 1-1 with a 2.16 ERA in 4 starts with a WHIP under 1.00. Grade: B+

Finished the season at 12-10 with a 4.03 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. Was very un-Beckett like at times, struggled with back and elbow issues and now an olblique and I’m sure if you asked him to grade his year he’d say an F. Overall season grade: C

Daisuke Matsuzaka: Was 2-1 with a 3.33 ERA for the month in 5 starts. Walked 14 hitters while striking out 30 in 27 IP. Grade: B-

Finished 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP. He needs to pitch more innings, cut down on his walks and the tightrope act he lives and dies by but he had a very good season. When he decides to bear down and throw he is unhittable. Overall season grade: B+

Jon Lester: You want to talk about clutch? How is 4-1 with a 2.14 ERA down the stretch pitching more innings than he has ever pitched before and winning games that the team badly needed a win in. That is clutch and that is Jon Lester’s new middle name. Grade: A

I can not say enough about Jon Lester. This 24 year old stepped up and showed the baseball world what the Red Sox have always seen. He was finally healthy for a full year and it showed. He was better than Beckett, better than Matsuzaka and many times you had to wonder where this team would have been without him. If you start with his no-hitter on May 19th he finished 14-4, he pitched less than 5 innings only 1 time and 7 or more innings 15 times in his last 23 starts. Pedroia or Youkilis might be the team MVP because they play everyday but you could say Lester was more valuable, finishing 16-6 with a 3.21 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP. Grade: A

Tim Wakefield: had a couple good months in the middle but ended with a rough September going 2-2 with a 6.65 ERA in 5 starts. Grade F

Finished the year at 11-12 with a 4.13 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP. Was up and down all year round, battled some shoulder injuries and you have to wonder how much longer he will go. Grade: C-

Bartolo Colon: Made a start late in the month and wasn’t very good got mad when the team wanted to put him in the bullpen and he left and was suspended. Grade: F

Overall he gave them 4 wins and in the middle of the year before he got hurt he was pretty good when they really needed someone. Overall season grade: C-

Paul Byrd: 2-1 with a 4.85 ERA in five September starts as he helped the team get to the post season. Seems to be a great team guy and a solidifying force in the clubhouse and on the mound. Gives up too many HRs but that’s because he is always around the strike zone. Grade: C

After being acquired in August made 8 starts for the club going 4-2 with an ERA around 4.00. Solid fifth starter. Finished the season 11-12 with a 4.60 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP Overall season grade: C-

The Bullpen:
Jonathan Papelbon:
His final month saw him go 0-1 with 7 saves in 8 chances and a 5.58 ERA. He made 11 appearances pitching 11.1 innings and allowed two or more runs three times. The final outing was a meaningless game but he still allowed 3 ER which you don’t want to see. If that last game carried meaning the grade would be lower. Grade: D-

With the exception of the final month where he had 3 rough outings he was very good again going 5-4 with 41 saves in 46 chances a 2.34 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP. Grade: B+

Hideki Okajima: Had a very good month as he was 0-0 with a 1.13 ERA in 8 IP allowing just 3 hits and 2 walks while striking out 14. Grade: A

Finished the season 3-2 with a 2.61 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP. His biggest concern was all the inherited runners he allowed to score but he cut way back on that in the second half. Everyone says he was better last year but the final numbers are virtually the same with the exception of the IR he allowed to score. Overall season grade: B-

Mike Timlin: After two months of making head way he fell back again and finished September 0-1 with 9.39 ERA in 7.2 IP. Grade F

Finished the year 4-4 with a 5.66 ERA and a 1.62 WHIP. Was absolutely brutal and this is the end of the road. It’s time for Timlin to pack it in. Overall season grade: F

David Aardsma: Spent part of the month on the DL and when he came back he was awful and looks to have pitched himself out of a playoff roster spot and possibly out of Boston in 2009. For the month he was 1-0 with a 15.88 ERA in 5.2 innings over 5 appearances in which he got lit up in three of them. Grade: F

Finished 4-2 with 1 blown save and 4 holds a 5.55 ERA and a 1.73 WHIP. After a decent start he just imploded in August and September. Overall Season Grade: D+

Javier Lopez: Made 12 September appearances and pitched 9 innings and allowed zero, yes zero, runs. In fact he hasn’t allowed a run over his last 15 appearances dating back to August 20th. Grade: A

He was the surprise of the bullpen in my eyes. He had a fantastic year 2-0 with a 2.43 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP. Overall season grade: B+

Manny DelCarmen: Which MDC did we get in September? We got the good Manny he was 1-0 with a save, a hold and a 0.59 ERA. In 11 appearances he threw 15.2 IP and allowed 1 earned run, 6 hits and 5 walks while striking out 15. Gotta give it to him. Grade: A

Overall he finished 1-2 with 2 saves in 5 tries and 18 holds with a 3.27 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP. He struck out 72 in 74.1 IP while walking 38. Overall season grade: B-

Justin Masterson: Pitched 12.2 innings over 10 appearances and was 2-1 with a 2.13 ERA in the final month. Became the badly needed bridge to Papelbon. Grade: B+

Since coming back and reporting to the bullpen “Rusty and his Bugs Bunny curve” only allowed 9 ER in 34.1 IP while striking out 29 and walking only 12. Finished 6-5 with a 3.16 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP as he helped solidify the bullpen in front of Papelbon. Overall season grade: B

Chris Smith: Was 0-0 with a 11.74 ERA in 6 appearances in September which he pitched 7.2 innings. Grade: F

After a decent start in his first two recalls quickly went down the tubes after the third recall in late August and finished 1-0 with a 7.85 ERA in 18.1 IP. Overall season grade: F

Devern Hansack: Late season call up who saw action in four games three of which were blow outs and the fourth was meaningless, was 1-0 with a 4.05 ERA. Grade: C

Overall season grade: C

David Pauley: Late season recall who got into 5 games including one start in which he didn’t last long and was 0-1 with a 12.38 ERA. Grade: F

Overall season grade: F