Friday, September 30, 2011

Crash and Burn, Crimson Hose Department

Well, Terry Francona is gone. I suppose I should offer a post-mortem on the season. I don't know how Francona got to be the scapegoat for their collapse - I believe someone mentioned during their last game that the starters had averaged 4.2 innings a game in September - you aren't going to win doing that. ESPN collects some stats - 7.08 ERA, the worst month ever for their starters - Andrew Miller leading the way with a 11.70 ERA... right. There's a lot of sniping and backbiting going on - Francona complaining about the bums in his clubhouse, which I suppose the team will blame on him - lots of sniffing about conditioning and attitude - but the thing about those awful pitching numbers is that there was nothing surprising about them. The team ran Lackey, Wakefield and Miller out there all summer, and none of them were all that good to start with. Or - especially in Wake's case - they were clearly operating on borrowed time. You could see this coming - once Buchholz got hurt, you could see doom waiting on the horizon. I suspect a big part of the team's downfall was that the team kept winning through June and July - Lackey looked like he'd stabilized a bit; Wake was effective; Miller even had a couple decent starts. I suspect Epstein and company looked at them and thought they'd be okay - the team could slug its way out of any slumps it fell into, they were holding their own, they could tweak here or there, bring in Harden or Bedard and prop up the back of the rotation, and they'd be fine. Oh god.... Watching them - they did seem likely to hit their way to the post-season, and I could imagine Bedard getting hot (though I would hardly have bet anything on it) - but - I can't say I had many illusions about the post-season, by the middle of August. Wake, as is his habit, ran out of gas somewhere around 100-120 innings... Miller lost what little trace of effectiveness he had... Lackey appearances were a nightmare all year - Bedard was Bedard and kept the trainer busy... And so? when Beckett and Lester began to run down, it was over - the bullpen was run into the ground (and always overworked - the back of the rotation wasn't exactly soaking up innings before the collapse.) In the end - they crashed and burned, and frankly - other than the (worn out) bullpen, and the mediocrity from Lester and Beckett - nothing about it seems remotely out of order. The back end of the rotation performed exactly as I expected them to.

The thing is, they had nothing else to go to. They didn't have options in place of letting Wakefield try yet again for that 200th win - other than maybe putting Aceves in the rotation, though I don't know what that would have helped as it is, he threw the second most innings on the team (per that ESPN article.) And that ought to be a hint as to what I think about Francona leaving. The team didn't fail because he lost the clubhouse - the team failed because they had 2 major league starters. Now - Lackey has been good, and probably will be again - if Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon can rise from the dead, why not John Lackey? And Wake was, as usual, pretty good through about 120 innings. But past is past, and in the present, neither was worth a damn. Bedard was sort of okay for a while, but he's pitching with the same arm he's been occasionally pitching with all his career, so the results are predictable. Andrew Miller - may be a worthy project, but not one you put in a game when there's anything on the line. And again I say - none of this should have been surprising. And - something should have been done. And if it wasn't done - I kind of wish the team, or Epstein, would say, we ran out of pitching, we didn't have the arms to contend. Because that's the truth - even if they made the playoffs, they would be easy pickings, as things stand now.

So - I suppose it is obvious what I think they have to do in the post-season: they need to get a reliable starting pitcher. They probably should resign Papelbon and Ortiz - they should find a decent right fielder (better if they can, but that may be easier said than done) - but most of all, they need a proper starting pitcher. I do not think they can afford to assume, or hope, that Buchholz will be healthy (though I expect he will be) and Lackey will remember how to pitch (though I imagine he will, sooner or later). Even if they do - they need more assurance than that. Now - the real problem is that they need to start developing their own arms again - they seem to leave themselves short a few years in a row. They could use Justin Masterson right about now... But that aside - they need to have a lot more in reserve than they had this year.

And finally - losing Tito strikes me as being a very ominous sign. The sox went decades - I mean, decades - without keeping a manager more than 3-4 years at a time - including some very good ones. The job eats them alive, here in Boston, with its rabid sports press and fans and its sometimes - unrealistic management. In the old old days, they tried to do it on the cheap - in this brave new world, they try to spend like the Yankees - but the Yanks have managed to keep a remarkably stable organization over the last 15 years, with obvious results. I don't know. Tito gave them stability in the dugout, on the field - now that he's gone, I suspect they will soon have the managerial revolving doors spinning. They spend a lot of money - they won't have the loyalty and commitment to any new guy they had to him. This is going to become a habit, I fear. I've become a soccer fan in the last couple years and I dread that they will decide to adopt the Chelsea method - pour in the money, run out a new manager every couple years, watch Man U/New York run up 3 championships to every one of yours. Which, to be fair, has plenty of baseball precedent - the Mets, the Dodgers - I suppose it is not surprising that Bobby Valentine and JOe Torre - Mets and Dodger alums - are being touted for this job.

All right - that's enough of that. What about the playoffs, huh? the teams that are in are pretty interesting in themselves....

AL: I say - Tigers are going to beat the Yankees. Yanks are obviously a pretty good team but - Freddy Garcia? Bartolo Colon? Ivan Nova? Course I said the same thing at the beginning of the year and look where that got me... I do think the Tigers are going to win. In Texas? TB has pitching, yes, and a decent team, but Texas is really good - all over the place really good. They are, I think, the real team to beat in the AL - I don't think TB will do it.

NL: Should be the Phils in something like a walk - all that pitching, and some real hitters... the Cards aren't bad, have Pujols plus Berkman and Holliday - I don't know. I don't think they have shut down pitching, and the Phils do, so... The Brewers should beat Arizona, though it wouldn't be impossible for the Snakes to win. Just very unlikely. Then - The Brewers aren't too far off the Phils - offensive punch, very strong rotation, strong bullpen - just that - if the Phillies' pitchers are hot - and they usually are - they won 102 games for a reason.

A lot of neat World Series matchups can be generated by this - Phils over Texas is the most likely I think; Tigers over Brewers would be the most entertaining, I suspect. With the sox out, I find myself without too strong feelings - I rather like quite a few of these teams (Phils, Rangers, Tigers; the Brewers and Rays to some extent) - the Diamondbacks are a fun story. As always, though, I know who to root against - the Damned Yankees and Tony LaRussa. I haven't forgiven him for using 7 pitchers in a meaningless midsummer game I attended in Baltimore in 1994 - the damned idiot had to know the season was only going to run another week! it was 99 degrees of Baltimore heat - and he's running 7 pitchers out there? I will never forgive him.

No comments: