Days later, we still can’t believe it happened. The Red Sox had a nine game lead in September and for some reason, it’s now October 3rd, and they are no longer on the diamond. You would think with the American League’s highest scoring offense and aces Josh Beckett and Jon Lester headlining the rotation that there would be no chance that they could blow such a big lead. With a dominant combination in Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon closing things down in the late innings and Alfredo Aceves working the middle innings, there would be no chance that they could blow it. If that isn’t enough, seven of their last ten games were played against the lowly Orioles.
But for some reason, players don’t get reprimanded, it’s usually the manager. Terry Francona and the Red Sox mutually parted a couple of days after the collapse was complete. I can see why Tito would want to leave: he’s been in Boston since 2004 and since then he’s done it all, including breaking a 86 year old curse. But still a job in such a big media market has to be overwhelming and it has to take a toll on you after all these years. People close to the ex-skipper said that in the final days of this season said that he just looked worn out.
But is it really Francona’s fault? I understand that part of a manager’s job is to keep his troops fresh and ready to play, which certainly wasn’t the case in the winding weeks of this campaign. But was he dealt a tough hand?
The answer is yes. First of all, the seemingly impossible happened. The injury bug hit almost everyone. Clay Buchholz hit the shelf with a back issue that kept him out for a few months including September, Josh Beckett missed a start down the stretch, and worst of all Kevin Youkilis had a hernia problem that kept him out for the collapse. As much publicity as Dustin Pedroia and his grittiness get, Youkilis is the straw that stirs the Boston offense drink and all he could to is watch from the dug out.
There is more than just the injuries though. Theo Epstein has spent a lot of money on free agents in the past two off-season, specifically on two players and neither did anything all year except hurt the team. Lackey pitched to a 6.60 ERA for the season and seemingly spent more time showing up his teammates when they didn’t make a play then trying to make adjustments. He’s been a big disappointment and as we turn to the third year of his contract and as he gets deeper into his thirties, a come back seems very unlikely.
With Carl Crawford there’s at least a little hope. The explosive left fielder was signed to a 8 year/$142 million mega deal last off-season and was only worth 0.4 of fWAR in 2011. He started off the season hitting in the third slot, but was quickly dropped after a very tough start. He wound up having a sub-.300 OBP and played a sub-par left field. The question at age 29 is whether he is going to bounce back and even if he does, he and Boston have lost one of his prime years.
I also think Theo Epstein deserves a good deal of the blame. He went into the season with Andrew Miller and farmhand Kyle Weiland as his starting pitching depth and Bobby Jenks being one of his key pieces. Not so shockingly, Jenks got hurt and the rest of the pen couldn’t do anything. Matt Albers was effective, but came back down to earth which left Alfredo Aceves, Daniel Bard , and Jonathan Papelbon as the only trusted arms.
Maybe it was because the quality of his arms were very good, but Epstein didn’t prepare for injuries happening to his staff. Brian Cashman, the Yankees general manager, did, however. Throughout the season, he had Bartolo Colon, Kevin Millwood, Carlos Silva, Brian Gordon, and a few Triple-A arms waiting if need be. Of course the Yanks rotation stayed healthier which is something that can be chalked up to luck, but if it hadn’t, Cashman was ready.
I don’t necessarily think Francona should get the blame for this collapse and although, he didn’t get fired, it was pretty clear that Boston didn’t want him back. Maybe they just wanted a change or maybe they didn’t like the energy level of the team in the last two weeks of the season. Both of those reasons are respectable, but I’m still surprised he’s gone because it’s going to be tough to find someone who was this good for this job.