So died the season for the 2011 Boston Red Sox.
It is only fitting the final miscue was made by Carl Crawford. For all of the angst that has been pouring out on the WEEI airwaves and cropping up within the blogosphere, the team had 90 wins when all was said and done. Five more wins over the course of the year would have edged out Tampa Bay.
There’s a hundred different permutations of how five more games could have been victories: more starts from Clay Buchholz, a few more productive outings from Wheeler, Jenks, and Albers, Daniel Bard not having the yips, and not falling out of the gate 2-10 would have done the job. In my completely unqualified opinion, the team doesn’t need to be blown apart beyond recognition. The talent is there. If they only won 70 games, then I would be more easily persuaded that significant roster changes are in order.
Since Andino’s bloop, Manager Terry Francona has either quit or been shown the door (depending on whom you believe). The current Boston media chatter focuses on whether General Manager Theo Epstein may elect to move to the Chicago Cubs. There has also been a minor flap about the pitchers, specifically the starters, drinking in the clubhouse on their scheduled days off.
I initially meant to draw similarities between Crawford’s failure and Aaron Boone’s 2003 ALCS-ending homer off of Tim Wakefield. The more I thought about it, the only connection was the that they were the game-losing plays of their respective seasons. Wakefield has been a valuable member of the pitching staff throughout his Boston career, whether starting, short relief, long relief, closing, mop-up… Crawford has been a pain in the rear of Boston fans throughout his Tampa Bay career, and now continues to annoy and frustrate, albeit now from the home dugout. I was initially surprised and confused by the Crawford signing, and now I hold out hope that over the life of his contract he proves to be great defensively and learns to bunt effectively.
I wish to briefly revisit Francona’s exit. As has been explained elsewhere on the internet, a baseball coach is inherently different from those in the NBA, NHL, or NFL. Baseball is largely a one-on-one contest. A manager may switch pitchers, pinch hit, realign the defenders, pinch run, and that’s about it. Very few baseball managers, if any, call for specific pitch sequences. Thus, the real onus is on the players. Not the GM, who hired the players based on their past experience, but the players. Francona nor Epstein missed that catch. Crawford missed it. The starters could not get to the seventh inning in September more often that not (if at all?).
Now, as far as the rumor of drinking in the clubhouse goes, if it is true, it is highly unprofessional, especially in the later stages of the season. In my fan opinion, it is exciting to see another starter come in from the bullpen in an elimination game. Tim Lincecum, CC Sabathia, and Max Scherzer? The sheer novelty of it, since it isn’t often done, immediately adds drama and excitement to the game. When the Boston bullpen was overburdened as much as it was during September 2011, that final game with Bedard starting absolutely should have featured Lester and Beckett in from the bullpen to get to the ninth. The season is on the line. If they are inebriated, than that must be dealt with.
But for all those seeking answers, sorting out how to restructure the roster so that next year is “the year” again… as far as my understanding goes, the worse your organization fares during the season, the better opportunity you receive in the draft. Assuming your organizational focus shifts to scouting after a few futile years, eventually the cards have been stacked in your favor to have a wave of talent come up through the system together. Boston’s problem has been it’s recent prosperity. I am not sure how the draft is structured, but if the general rule is that the better teams pick farther down in the order, then Boston has not had the chance to get the youngest, most promising talent and instead must either find the young talent that has just hit the majors (which everyone clamors for in trades) or pay dearly for the established veteran in Free Agency (Crawford and Lackey).
When going with the veterans, as the GM may have no other choice given his roster, you run into a problem that hasn’t really been talked about much, at least in the discussions I’ve overheard or read through online. The veterans have nothing left to play for but pride. If a baseball player is going to coast, they’re going to do so when they’ve secured their mountain of money for a set amount of years. If the contracts were set and more incentive based- such as only half the value is assured and the other half is based upon reaching certain performance criteria- then the players, one would assume, would maintain discipline, focus, and motivation to succeed.
Anyway, at least New York is out of it.