Last year, it was a 2-11 start. This year, it’s 5-10. Let me tell you, from a fan’s perspective, it looks pretty damn similar. Yet for all the yelling about a depleted roster and Bobby Valentine being a laughable replacement for Terry Francona, the team is actually off to a better start this year. The question now is simple – there’s no more fried chicken, there’s no more funneling in the clubhouse. So where did things go awry?
I’ll start with Valentine, the man tasked with righting the ship. Unfortunately I was with some Yankee-humpers at Fenway this past Saturday – yes, the now infamous 16-9 game – the one that saw the Red Sox take a 9-1 lead, only to have the Yankees reel off 15 un-answered runs in the later innings. Now, I’m the first to admit that Bobby Valentine didn’t pitch the 7th or 8th inning – the bullpen did. But after the traumatic loss, it was Bobby Valentine who was looking much like a third base coach giving signals as he tugged on his ears, rubbed his teeth, and chewed his nails while stating that the team had reached rock bottom; rock bottom a whole 14 games into the season. Terry Francona could be storming the beach in Normandy and he wouldn’t consider it rock bottom – he’d try to battle back. Valentine appears to me to be sorely lacking in one regard – leadership.
He’s terrible with the media, he seems unintelligent, and he’s lost his clubhouse this early into a young season. In my eyes, and I know I’m quick to the trigger, but Bobby Valentine needs to go. The Red Sox need to begin their search for a new manager, as it’s apparent to me that Bobby Valentine is not comfortable under the Fenway lights. Yet for all this Bobby bashing, I’m also the first to admit what has become a common argument in Boston over the last week or so – it’s not all his fault. Regardless of who was given the reigns to the Red Sox this past offseason, it’s very likely that this team would be struggling.
To me, this speaks volumes about the real problem with the Boston Red Sox – President and CEO Larry Lucchino. Lucchino has developed something of a mob boss aura, as if he sits in his suite overlooking the park and rules over the team while puffing on a cigar. I don’t know the inner workings of the Red Sox ownership or front office, so I won’t pretend to – but that said, there’s been a lot written and said about Lucchino throwing his weight around. It seems as though the departures of Theo Epstein and Terry Francona and the appointments of Ben Cherington and Bobby Valentine had a lot to do with Lucchino, who apparently feels as though he can trump the opinions of the baseball people around him. Whether he’s been heavily involved in specific player negotiations I don’t know, but it seems as though his influence is largely responsible for the new clubhouse culture that is now permeating the Red Sox organization; a culture of losing despite having enormous talent.
It’s sounds very much like scapegoating, blaming any team’s performance on an executive – I hear that. But I think Lucchino’s role has been significant in creating the present situation, and I think his shoulders are owed much more of the blame that Bobby Valentine’s. All of this said, it seems unlikely that Lucchino or Valentine will go anywhere, so we’re left with a team that needs to hold it together and salvage what they can of this season until help comes – and the good news is help is on the way.
The real weak point of the Red Sox is the bullpen, and Andrew Bailey and Daisuke Matsuzaka will be returning to the pitching staff at some point not soon enough. As for the offense, it should be bolstered plenty by the return of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford. Better yet, there have been unexpected bright spots in Red Sox lineup – David Ortiz is hitting .441, Ryan Sweeney is hitting .400, Cody Ross is hitting home runs, and Felix Doubront is pitching like Boston’s 2011 Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
Too many will forget that after starting 2-11 last year, the Red Sox won 81 or their next 120 games – far and away the best record in baseball over that period. I’ll acknowledge that this is a team in turmoil – but I think they’re only a new manager and a pitcher away from being a true contender.