To watch the Boston Red Sox this month, it to be reminded of all the reasons that the team was seen as being “cursed” for most of the 20th Century.
No matter what this team does, they seem to be able to find a way to lose.
They’re 4-6 this month. That’s not a total collapse, but consider for a moment that this team has a lot of talent.
The Red Sox were a last place team in 2014 and 2015. A quick look at those rosters reveals a number of legitimate reasons for the team’s struggles.
In 2014 the veterans who had carried the team to their unlikely 2013 World Series title started to decline. The young talent that has stared on the current roster, was not yet ready for prime time. The starting rotation was top-heavy with Jon Lester and John Lackey both performing well, but there wasn’t much backing them up and the bullpen was not nearly as effective as the 2013 version was.
In 2015 the line up was improved, but it wasn’t good. Add in some absolutely abysmal pitching and a last place finish makes sense.
This year’s team won’t be finishing in last place, but their performance as of late has been for the most part unacceptable.
They’ve got a current Cy Young contender in Rick Porcello and former Cy Young winner in David Price. Neither player was an All-Star this year, but that’s okay because they’ve got two other starting pitchers who were All-Stars one month ago. Drew Pomeranz and Steven Wright. Wright is dinged up and that’s forced the team to bring Clay Buchholz back to the mound for Saturday’s start, but up until this week, Wright had been one of the most consistent and durable starters in the league.
That can’t be said for Thursday night’s tough-luck starter Eduardo Rodriguez, but that doesn’t change the fact that Rodriguez has turned a corner. He’s pitching far better than he did when he first returned from a knee-injury suffered in spring training that kept him sidelined until late May.
So the starting pitching isn’t great, but it is by no means bad, in fact in a year where offense has outperformed expectations throughout the sport, the Red Sox starting pitching is or should be more than adequate.
The bullpen isn’t bad either, or at least it shouldn’t be that bad. Even with the loss of veteran closer Koji Uehara the team still has two major league closers they can call upon on any given night. Neither Brad Ziegler or Craig Kimbrel can carry a bullpen on their own. One would think that a combo of the two, plus recently acquired lefty Fernando Abad and hard-throwing Matt Barnes would be able to form a fairly reliable bullpen.
That’s not the case though. The team keeps losing games they should win. They’re not supposed to win every game, but when they’re leading a mediocre Yankees team 2-1, at home, in the 8th inning, they probably shouldn’t end up losing 4-2.
If that type of painful close loss were an outlier then Thursday wouldn’t be so tough to deal with. Instead it comes less than 24 hours after the Red Sox were beating that same mediocre Yankees team 4-1 in the 7th inning, before losing 9-4. Yep, the Yankees spent the final two innings of the game outscoring the Red Sox 8-0.
Is this manager John Farrell’s fault? It certainly isn’t all his fault. Friday morning, ESPN.com’s Scott Lauber accurately pointed out that there’s plenty of blame to go around. After all, John Farrell doesn’t throw the pitches, field the batted balls, or swing the bats. A manager only has so much control over the outcome on the diamond.
That’s certainly worth considering, the flip side of course is that rather than hold Farrell accountable for making some reasonable baseball decisions, that ended up blowing up in his face, it might be worth considering that there might be a mood, a cohesiveness, an atmosphere..perhaps a somewhat intangible aspect of managing a team that John Farrell struggles with?
There’s no new-fangled stat model to support this, but consider former Red Sox manager Terry Francona for a moment. Francona had his critics to be sure, and there were times his decisions were puzzling or frustrating, but more often than not Francona’s teams performed pretty well, and in spite of some memorably tough losses, the Francona era will be one of the few Red Sox eras marked my memorable close wins and big wins as opposed to painful and maddening losses.
This Red Sox team has no problem winning games in which everything clicks for them. They’re really quite formidable when they score a ton of runs or when one of their starting pitchers is able to dominate for nearly a whole game, and oh yea, when the bullpen doesn’t implode.
The issues are when those things don’t happen, when the stars don’t align this team struggles to turn lemons into lemonade
The real issue here, and there’s nothing inherently fair about this, is that this team just hired a new general manager and a new president of baseball operations. They’re not about to uproot a recently replanted front office.
The roster is chock full of very promising young players. Regardless of this year’s final results, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Eduardo Rodriguez, Andrew Benintendi and company aren’t going anywhere. You can’t fire the players, and in the Red Sox case, there’s very little reason to.
So it comes down to John Farrell and that means that the final two months of this season will probably determine his job status for 2017.
Let’s be clear here, Farrell is not Bobby Valentine. Unless it has been kept completely out of public view (something that seems impossible in this day and age) there’s no team mutiny on the horizon and the players generally like Farrell.
This is a results based business. The Red Sox have more than enough talent to at a bare minimum claim an American League wild card spot. There’s a strong case to be made that they should win the AL East. If that doesn’t happen then the odds are strong that John Farrell won’t be back in 2017.
This very talented team has less than two months to start winning close games and securing a playoff spot, if not then the John Farrell era is almost certain to be over.