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Red Sox 2021 report card: Passing grades for a surprising playoff team

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Red Sox 2021 report card: Passing grades for a surprising playoff team

If we told you in March that the Red Sox’ final report card would come out on the last day of October, would you believe us?

Based on preseason projections, probably not. But the Red Sox surprised everyone but themselves in 2021, coming just two wins shy of an American League pennant. They’ll certainly be happy to receive their report card later than expected:

MANAGEMENT

Chaim Bloom, B+

The chief baseball officer made some terrific, under-the-radar moves last winter that paid off and helped the Red Sox surpass and even reset expectations, as they took an A.L. East lead into the trade deadline. But it’s still fair to wonder if he did enough at the deadline to boost a surprisingly good team. They were five games back of the Rays by the time Kyle Schwarber and Chris Sale returned and never really threatened again for the division as they went on a second-half freefall, barely getting into the playoffs before getting hot for an October run. Still, it’s hard to be too critical of the job Bloom did in his second full season in charge after coming two wins short of a World Series berth while setting up the organization well for the future.

Alex Cora, A-

Cora made a seamless transition back into the manager’s seat, squeezing everything seemingly possible out of this roster to knock on the door of a World Series. There was a certain energy and belief the Red Sox had that was missing in 2020, and that can be traced back to Cora and the confidence he exudes in setting up his players for success. Some in-game decisions during the playoffs that didn’t work out dropped his grade a hair, but the Red Sox couldn’t have asked for much more from Cora this year.

POSITIONAL PLAYERS

Christian Vazquez, C+

Vazquez struggled to find consistency on offense, but started to turn it on in September and came up with some timely hits in the playoffs. The catcher continued to be steady behind the plate and helped to get the most out of the pitching staff.

Kevin Plawecki, B+

The backup catcher continued to make the most out of his opportunities, whether it was at the plate or behind it. He slashed .287/.349/.389 with a .737 OPS in 173 plate appearances, and he earned some playoff starts due to his excellent rapport with Nathan Eovaldi. The pitcher had a 3.26 ERA in 21 starts (including playoffs) with Plawecki as his catcher.

Bobby Dalbec, C

Dalbec’s first full season in the majors was a rollercoaster ride. He kept his job as an everyday first baseman despite major offensive struggles in the first half, but the Red Sox’ faith in him was rewarded in the second half, when he slashed .287/.367/.680 with 15 homers and 42 RBI over his final 51 games of the regular season. He only started two games in the playoffs due to the emergence of Schwarber, but the Red Sox will hope Dalbec’s second half will be a springboard.

Kyle Schwarber, A

The Red Sox likely don’t make the playoffs without Schwarber, who was among the best trade deadline acquisitions in baseball. He posted a slash line of .291/.435/.522 with a .957 OPS from his Red Sox debut on Aug. 13 to the end of the regular season, helping keep the team afloat during their COVID-19 outbreak, all while learning a new position on the fly.

Christian Arroyo, B-

Arroyo was good when he played, slashing .262/.324/.445 and playing reliable defense at second base. But the issue was staying on the field. He was on the injured list three times and missed nearly a month after testing positive for COVID-19, all limiting him to just 57 regular season games before he started every game in the playoffs.

Xander Bogaerts, B

The shortstop had a hot start offensively and was named an All-Star for the third time, but went quiet over the second half, hitting just .254 with 10 homers and 31 RBI over the final three months, while missing time after testing positive for COVID-19. He still finished the season with a 5.2 WAR — the second-highest of his career — but left something to be desired based on the standard he has set.

Rafael Devers, A-

Devers was the Red Sox’ most consistent offensive contributor this season, producing 38 homers and 113 RBI in 156 games. He finally started a season strong to become a first-time All-Star, and overcame a slow August to finish strong and help the Sox get into the playoffs. He still has work to do defensively at third base, where he continued to be one of the worst at his position, but Devers continued his ascension as one of the best young stars in baseball.

J.D. Martinez, B

The designated hitter proved his disastrous 2020 was a fluke with a scorching hot April and May, but he looked strangely average for the rest of the season. Beginning June 1, Martinez slashed .265/.322/.484 with 16 homers and 60 RBI over his final 98 games. He still finished with a career-high 42 doubles and his overall numbers are respectable, but he wasn’t quite at the same level as his first two years in Boston.

Alex Verdugo, B

The Red Sox’ MVP in 2020, Verdugo went through some struggles in his first full season in the majors but finished strong at the plate, batting .328 over the final two months and .310 during the playoffs. He was mostly dependable in the outfield, but ran into several mental lapses on the bases.

Kiké Hernández, B+

It didn’t start off great, but Hernández eventually found comfort in the Red Sox’ leadoff spot and in center field. From June 27 to Aug. 26, he slashed .297/.409/.563 with a .972 OPS before his momentum was lost when he tested positive for COVID-19. But he regained his form in the postseason. His spark at the top of the order and consistent play in center made him well worth the money at $7 million.

Hunter Renfroe, B+

Bloom’s best signing of the winter, Renfroe proved to be a bargain at $3 million as the Red Sox’ everyday right fielder as he hit 31 homers and a career-high 96 RBI. He racked up highlight reel throws from right field, tying the A.L. lead with 16 outfield assists, but he was often a bit too wild and led all right fielders with 12 errors. Still, his play in 2021 was a net positive and the Sox needed it.

PITCHERS

Nathan Eovaldi, A

Eovaldi finally stayed healthy to make 32 starts, his most since 2014, and he was the Red Sox’ unquestioned ace, as he finished with a 3.75 ERA and career-high 195 strikeouts in 182 1/3 innings in his first All-Star season. Simply put, the Red Sox wouldn’t have sniffed the playoffs without him.

Chris Sale, B

Sale certainly gave the Sox a boost in his return from Tommy John surgery, but to an extent. After making easy work of inferior competition, he ran into some struggles toward the end of the regular season and playoffs, somewhat expected after he missed two years. Overall, he submitted a 4.01 ERA in 12 starts (including playoffs).

Eduardo Rodriguez, B-

Given what he was coming back from after missing the 2020 season due to myocarditis, Rodriguez’s season was satisfactory. He probably was never going to reach the level of his breakout 2019, but the Red Sox will take his 31 starts, 157 2/3 innings and 4.74 ERA even if he was largely inconsistent. But he delivered some big moments in October to help make up for it.

Nick Pivetta, B

It seemed like his performances were always either great or bad, but Pivetta ultimately gave the Sox a nice boost at the back of their rotation this season, which included some dominant starts, and even gave them some huge innings out of the bullpen in October.

Tanner Houck, B-

It was an uneven 2021 for Tanner Houck, who went back-and-forth between Boston and Worcester for much of the season before finding a role at the back end of the Red Sox’ rotation, even if he was seemingly pulled early in every start. But whether he was starting or coming out of the bullpen, Houck showed even more promise as one of the Sox’ best young pitchers.

Garrett Richards, C-

Richards had an adventurous first season with the Red Sox, to put it one way, beginning the year as a $10 million starter and finishing it in the bullpen. It didn’t work out for him as a starter, especially after he struggled to adjust to MLB’s new rules prohibiting use of certain substances, but the Red Sox may have not made the playoffs without his innings out of the ‘pen, where he had a 3.42 ERA in 18 appearances.

Garrett Whitlock, A

Whitlock proved to be an absolute revelation after being selected in last year’s Rule 5 draft and became undoubtedly the Red Sox’ best relief pitcher as a rookie, posting a 1.96 ERA in 73 1/3 innings.

Martin Perez, D

The lefty was the Red Sox’ best starter for a stretch during the first half, but it eventually fell apart for him. Perez was demoted to the bullpen in early August, and wasn’t much better in that role.

Darwinzon Hernandez, C-

Hernandez missed August due to an injury and returned to pitch important innings during the stretch run, but he ultimately wasn’t reliable enough. He was consistently wild, with a 17% walk rate and 1.50 WHIP for the season.

Hirokazu Sawamura, B-

The Japanese veteran was up and down, but given it was his first career season playing in the United States, he more than held his own with a 3.06 ERA in 53 innings out of the bullpen. His fastball and splitter proved to play at this level.

Josh Taylor, B-

Taylor set a Red Sox record with 26 consecutive scoreless appearances by a lefty and was mostly solid with a 3.40 ERA and 60 strikeouts over 47 2/3 innings, albeit with a higher-than-average 1.43 WHIP.

Hansel Robles, B-

Acquired at the deadline, Robles surprisingly became a vital piece of the bullpen during the stretch run, finishing the regular season with 15 consecutive scoreless appearances. He had a rough postseason, but he was still a positive contributor.

Adam Ottavino, C+

It seemed to always be a rollercoaster ride with Ottavino on the mound. The veteran couldn’t find much consistency with a 4.21 ERA in 62 innings, and in 17 save opportunities, he blew six of them.

Matt Barnes, D

What happened to Barnes is the great mystery of the 2021 Red Sox season. He dominated in the first half, and earned his first All-Star nod and a contract extension. But it completely flipped in the second half. After a miserable August (13.50 ERA in 11 appearances) and testing positive for COVID-19, Barnes never regained his form and ultimately pitched his way off the playoff roster.

Incomplete: Marwin Gonzalez, Franchy Cordero, Danny Santana, Jarren Duran, Jonathan Arauz, Jose Iglesias, Travis Shaw, Phillips Valdez, Ryan Brasier, Yacksel Rios, Brandon Workman, Austin Davis.

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‘Scream’ scares off ‘Spider-Man’ with $30.6M debut

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‘Scream’ scares off ‘Spider-Man’ with $30.6M debut

NEW YORK — After a month at no. 1, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” has finally been overtaken at the box office. Paramount Pictures’ “Scream” reboot debuted with $30.6 million in ticket sales over the weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday.

“Scream,” a self-described “requel” that is both the fifth film in the franchise and a reboot introducing a new, younger cast, led all releases over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. Paramount forecasts that it will total $35 million including Monday’s grosses. “Scream,” which cost about $24 million to make, added another $18 million in 50 international markets.

That made for a solid revival for the self-aware slasher franchise.

Rights to the “Scream” films, once a reliable cash cow for Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s Miramax Films, were acquired by Spyglass Media Group, which produced the new film with Paramount. This “Scream,” helmed by Matt Bettinello-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, was the first not directed by Wes Craven, who died in 2015. It features original “Scream” cast members Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette alongside new additions Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega and Jack Quaid.

“All of our traditional measures were indicating a solid opening, but as I kept telling people: We’re still in this thing and it’s very difficult to determine what will actually happen,” said Chris Aronson, distribution chief for Paramount. “Now we’re open, people have seen the movie and we’re off and running. Hopefully this becomes another building block toward building the business back and getting it back to some semblance of normalcy.”

Meanwhile, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” slipped to second place but continued to rise in the record books.

“No Way Home” grossed $20.8 million in its fifth weekend of release. Sony Pictures predicts that with another $5.2 million on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, “No Way Home” will reach a domestic cumulative total of $703.9 million Monday, edging “Black Panther” and moving into fourth place all-time.

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Dolphins’ first-round pick pushed further back by 49ers’ win over Cowboys

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Dolphins’ first-round pick pushed further back by 49ers’ win over Cowboys

The Miami Dolphins didn’t play a wild-card round playoff game, but they still found a way to lose over the weekend.

The Dolphins’ first-round draft pick took another blow with the San Francisco 49ers’ upset win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday evening.

Now, Miami will be selecting No. 25, at best, in the draft’s first round after the 49ers advanced to the divisional round of the postseason.

San Francisco now plays at the NFC’s top-seeded Green Bay Packers. With another upset, the pick that goes to the Dolphins falls to 29. A 49ers loss Sunday would’ve likely given Miami the 22nd pick.

The Dolphins own the 49ers’ selection while the Philadelphia Eagles have Miami’s pick due to the two trades the Dolphins pulled off with the NFC teams last offseason ahead of the 2021 NFL draft. Miami traded back to No. 12 with San Francisco, sending the No. 3 pick, which previously belonged to the Houston Texans, to the 49ers. A move up from 12 to 6, where wide receiver Jaylen Waddle was selected, followed and sent the Dolphins’ 2022 first-rounder to Philadelphia.

In the movement, the Dolphins are now selecting at least 10 spots lower than they would be had they traded the 49ers’ pick to the Eagles instead of their own. The Miami selection going to Philadelphia in the upcoming draft is No. 15. The Dolphins also got a 2023 first-round pick from the 49ers in the deal.

San Francisco offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel, who is one of the Dolphins’ seven candidates being interviewed for their head coaching vacancy, could theoretically play a role in negatively affecting his first draft pick as Miami head coach should he be the choice for the job.

The Dolphins appear more likely than they once were to keep their first-round pick after the Saturday news that the franchise plans to continue working with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

The NFL draft is ordered by first having the 18 non-playoff teams pick in reverse order of record, with lower strength of schedule serving as a tiebreaker. Picks 19-24 are then reserved for the wild-card round losers in reverse order of regular-season record. Picks 25-28 go to divisional round losers and so on until the Super Bowl champion picks 32nd.

Bears interested in Dolphins exec

The Chicago Bears are already seeking interviews with ex-Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland and ex-Dolphins coach Brian Flores for their two vacancies in the respective roles.

Now, they have requested permission to interview current Miami executive Reggie McKenzie for the general manager job, according to The MMQB.

McKenzie has been with the Dolphins as senior personnel executive since 2019 after spending the previous seven seasons (2012-18) as the Oakland Raiders’ general manager. In 2016, McKenzie was named the NFL’s Executive of the Year by Sporting News, The MMQB and the PFWA.

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State Fair reports 2021 operating loss, raises admission rates for 2022

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State Fair reports 2021 operating loss, raises admission rates for 2022

Although Minnesotans had to go without their beloved State Fair in 2020, it returned despite numerous pandemic-related obstacles in 2021 to become one of the best-attended North American events of the year, according to Fair officials.

In spite of the comeback, the Fair reported an operating loss of $1.3 million last year, general manager Jerry Hammer told the governing body of the Great Minnesota Get-Together on Sunday. When the Fair was canceled in 2020, the loss was $16.5 million, he said.

The Minnesota State Agricultural Society, which oversees the state’s end-of-summer ritual, held its the 163rd annual meeting in Bloomington over the weekend.

The 2022 State Fair will take place between Aug. 25 and Sept. 5. The new admission prices will be $17 for those 13-64 years old; people 5-12 and 65 and older will pay $15. Those under 4 are admitted for free. The increased price begins Feb. 1. Discount tickets will be on sale for $13 for all ages until Jan. 31 at mnstatefair.org/tickets.

Despite the operating loss, the 2021 Fair drew 1.3 million attendees, Hammer said, adding that pulling off the fair in 2021 amid the ongoing pandemic was “miraculous.”

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