The Tenth Inning – Week 4 ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>
By Mike Ivcic
If you havenât heard by now, the Boston Red Sox are in a world of turmoil. After an epic collapse last year, the Sox have started off poorly this season, capped off on Saturday when Boston blew a 9-0 lead by allowing two 7-run innings â back-to-back no less â in a 15-9 loss to the hated Yankees. That came one day after New York ruined the 100-year celebration of Fenway Park â which was only fitting considering the Yankees dominance of Boston outside of four days in 2004. The Red Sox have a new manager, a new general manager, and a new policy on alcohol and feathered animals in the clubhouse, but somehow nothing much has changed, which only begs the question â why?
First, let’s start off with separating the collapse in Boston to the collapse in Atlanta â both of which were some of the worst in sports history. The Braves are a young team, save for a couple of older veterans, and a collapse like theirs is more of a learning experience than anything else. Yes, they were playoff participants in 2010, but looking back at the 2011 season it’s pretty evident that, given all of the injuries to their pitching staff and the taxing innings placed on a young bullpen, this was not a team ready for the big stage of October. Thus, the Braves go into the offseason and keep everything intact, believing that their players will learn from the tough end to the 2011 season and use that as fuel for 2012. That’s a good job of analyzing the situation by the Braves front office, and after a tough opening weekend this team has rebounded and actually outplayed a lot of expectations through the first two weeks.
With the exception of the change in GM and manager, Boston followed the same blueprint, except their situation was almost entirely different. The 2011 Red Sox were not a team devoid of experienced players. Kevin Youkilis, Josh Beckett, Jonathan Papelbon, David Ortiz, Tim Wakefield, John Lackey, and Dustin Pedroia all had World Series rings, with most of that collection of players not only winning under the bright lights, but excelling in those pressure situations. This was not a team that needed to “learn how to win,” but rather lacked the chemistry and team unity necessary to overcome equally talented ballclubs in Tampa, Arlington, Detroit, and the Bronx. A new manager for this group is lipstick on a pig, to borrow a common expression, and is only serving to further the divide in an already fractured clubhouse.
As such, the failure to make any significant offseason moves was a fatal mistake leading into the 2012 season. The Red Sox collapse in ’11 can be mostly compared to the Mets of ’07, a team that was one Carlos Beltran swing away from the World Series in 2006 and then blew a 7-game lead with 17 games to play in 2007, including a 4-game lead in the final week. Omar Minaya and Willie Randolph both kept their jobs, and the nucleus of Beltran-Jose Reyes-David Wright-Carlos Delgado all returned. Like the ’11 Red Sox, clubhouse questions lingered, with a number of reports of a rift between the white and Latin American players. Tom Glavine â the one guy with a World Series ring at the time â returned to Atlanta, and Mets fans were treated to Shea Stadium’s version of “Groundhog Day” in 2008. I know this because I watched the last game of the 2008 season (and the last game ever at Shea) in person and I saw a team that really didn’t seem to want to keep playing beyond game 162 â and that was after Jerry Manuel replaced Willie Randolph as manager halfway through the year in another classic Minaya mistake.
Boston is heading right down that same path, and maybe even worse off because they didn’t trade for a top-line starter like the Mets did with Johan Santana prior to 2008, and they’ve also already expended the “fire the manager” card. This simply isn’t a team that’s capable of winning in their current configuration, but because management has committed so much money towards these players, they’re not going to blow up the team without more proof than one bad month. The problem is that “one bad month” is exactly the kind of proof that’s needed to completely overhaul the roster, because any improvements this season â even if they don’t involve a playoff berth â will be used as a sign that the team only needs small tweaks, and not big, massive, sweeping changes.
In a way, the Red Sox are a little like Congress â every once in a while, you just have to get rid of everyone and start over. The Yankees did that after a number of failed seasons in the middle part of the ‘00’s, ultimately letting guys like Mike Mussina and Jason Giambi walk away and keeping just a couple of the core players. Suddenly infusions of youth like Robinson Cano, Phil Hughes, and Brett Gardner turned an overspending spotlight hog into a championship team. The Red Sox used their youth infusion to ride Pedroia, Papelbon, Lester, Buchholz, and Ellsbury to some good seasons, but now need to dump the excess baggage and focus on the ones that still remain in order to compete again. No manager or clubhouse rule is going to make that happen. This is a flawed Boston team, and the faults lie with the players. For Red Sox fans, here’s hoping it doesn’t take another three years for management to figure that out.
Three series to watch this weekâ¦
If the season ended today, the playoff teams would beâ¦
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