Why the Red Sox imploded

Team Infidel

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Seeing red

Can Sawx be fixed? Here's where they went wrong

Like most gory horror flicks, the Boston Massacre has its sequel, even if it was 28 years in the making. The New York Yankees' five-game sweep of the Red Sox at Fenway Park stands in the long term, like its 1978 prequel, as an unforgettable part of baseball history. In the short term it suffices as a repudiation of the 2006 team architecture as planned by the Red Sox' front office.

First, the history. Just try to find a run of five games in which the Red Sox embarrassed themselves more than they did last weekend. Let me help. Take every game the Red Sox have ever played in Boston, look for five consecutive games they lost at home, and then look at the most runs they surrendered while going 0-5. Here's the worst of it in franchise history.

You're left with the third-worst home spanking in history, and the worst if you limit the five games to a single opponent.

Where did the Red Sox go wrong? Obviously, their pitching was woefully inadequate. They used seven pitchers who either are rookies or were off the roster even before the series ended, and an eighth who was cut by the Royals this year.

The Red Sox, having let center fielder Johnny Damon and pitchers Derek Lowe and Pedro Martinez walk in recent years, pride themselves on a sustainable farm system they believe can keep the team competitive on a yearly basis for the long and short term. The team's credo is to field a renewable contender: a team that wins between 90-95 games per year -- more if everything magically breaks just right -- which is good enough to keep Fenway Park full. The Red Sox don't believe in blowing out the budget to seize the chance for one big year at the expense of falling back into 80s-wins mediocrity for a year or two.

The second half of this season, though, has been a worst-case scenario. When injuries hit (catcher and team captain Jason Varitek, pitchers Tim Wakefield, Matt Clement and Keith Foulke, right fielder Trot Nixon, etc.), Boston asked too much of its young players on the field while protecting them from quick-fix trades off it. It's an approach that is admirable because of its commitment to patience, but it's an approach that left the team undermanned against the Yankees, a team on which the depth of its veteran talent is exceeded only by the depth of the club's pockets. The series against New York exposed not only the flaw in the plan, but also a series of miscalculations by the front office.

Here is the breakdown of where the Red Sox went wrong, and whether or not the problems are fixable:

1.Coco Crisp. Boston let Damon leave (thanks to a below-market bid) knowing full well they coveted Crisp. Crisp, they believed, was a Damon in the making, maybe even better. They whiffed on that evaluation. Sure, Crisp, 26, still has time to blossom, but the Red Sox now know he is not an impact player, not a premium center fielder and not a leadoff hitter who grinds out at-bats. Crisp went 1 for 19 against New York, including nine plate appearances that ended after one or two pitches. (He saw an average of 3.1 pitchers per plate appearance in the series.)
Fixable? Probably not. The odds that Crisp is playing center field next year for the Red Sox are less than 50 percent. It looks a lot like the way Boston lusted for Edgar Renteria while letting Orlando Cabrera take a hike; a few months into the 2005 season the Red Sox could not wait to dump Renteria.


2.Bronson ArroyoforWily Mo Pena. Boston so loved its inventory of pitchers that it traded a reliable starter to Cincinnati for a project of an outfielder. The flaw in the thinking was that the staff would stay healthy and that the rookies could help reinforce the staff in a pennant race. Pena, with his awesome power, has a big upside. But his strike-zone discipline is poor and he appears ill-equipped to defend the tricky and large right field expanse at Fenway Park. With visions of Pena, 24, replacing Nixon for years to come, the front office had no interest in assuming all of the contract of Bobby Abreu from Philadelphia, letting him and the necessary but intriguing tariff, pitcher Cory Lidle, both slide to the Yankees. Both Abreu and Lidle were key players in sweeping Boston over the weekend and have -- when considered with the injury to Varitek -- provided the tipping point to the AL East race.
Fixable? Maybe Pena is the next Sammy Sosa. Maybe not. He's still not that close to being considered an every-day corner outfielder for a championship team.

3.Josh Beckett. Beckett is to Boston what Jeff Weaver was to the Yankees: the ace that never was. The Sox traded for Beckett and signed him to a $10 million-a-year extension to ride shotgun with Curt Schilling as the team's aces. Beckett's arm makes him a valuable commodity in a game in which premium arms don't become available as they did in the pre-revenue-sharing days. The attraction was understandable. But Beckett's head isn't ace-quality. He looked like a raw high school pitcher on Saturday, paying no attention to runners -- even the slowest Yankees stole bases without throws -- and continuing to get his fat fastball smacked around.

One of Beckett's teammates recently suggested to him to mix in two-seam sinking fastballs and more breaking balls to counteract the power hitters in the AL who feast on four-seam fastballs, regardless of velocity. "It's the same thing every time: fastball, wham! fastball, wham!'' the teammate said. "Look at all the home runs he gives up."

After Saturday's nine-run, nine-walk debacle, the teammate said, "Same old story. Nothing different."

Fixable? Sure, but Beckett has to overcome what he referred to himself as his "stupid stubbornness." The league is eating him alive, and he's shown little adaptability.

4. Terry Francona. Normally an astute manager with a very difficult job, considering all the help he gets running the team in baseball-mad Boston, Francona did not have a good weekend. His worst move was going to the mound undecided in the series' most critical juncture: a 5-5 game on Saturday in the sixth with a tired, struggling Beckett in a two-out, bases-loaded jam and Alex Rodriguez at the plate.

"I didn't want him to give up a run if he was out of gas,'' Francona said.
So, channeling Grady Little, Francona asked Beckett how he felt, a terrible, passive move by a manager. Beckett, who was gassed, said like any pitcher that he had enough left to get Rodriguez. He didn't. He walked him on four pitches.

On Sunday, Francona brought in his closer, Jonathan Papelbon, with the bases loaded and no outs -- after he trusted recent minor leaguer Javier Lopez to get an out -- and could not come out of it with a win after heaping so much stress on the rookie.

Fixable? Yes, but not unless Francona gets some veterans back healthy. His bullpen options are so bad right now that every pitching move is fraught with danger.

5. The lineup. These aren't your older brother's Red Sox. Mike Lowell is wearing down into an easy out. (Extra-base hits by month: 13, 18, 5, 15, 1.) Javy Lopez looks done (.256 OBP this month). Crisp doesn't scare anybody.

Fixable? Varitek will help, and any offense with sluggers David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez must be respected. But as Ortiz said, "Somebody has to stop the other team's offense. Not only [the Yankees], but every team we face. It doesn't matter how hard you fight when you can't stop them."

6. Playing uphill. Six-and-a-half games back with 38 games to play (New York has 39) is a brutally tough mathematical problem. Say the Yankees go 20-19 (hard to believe it won't be better; they have 20 games left against the Mariners, Royals, Orioles and Devil Rays). Boston would need to play .684 baseball (26-12) just to force a one-game playoff with New York.

Fixable? That's asking way too much of a pitching staff that, because of youth and injuries, looks gassed even before it gets to September. The Red Sox should root for the Twins, Tigers and White Sox to keep beating up on one another to keep the winning AL wild-card number in the low 90s. And long term, the Red Sox, who built their future foundation on twentysomethings Pena, Crisp, Beckett, Papelbon, rookies Craig Hansen and Jon Lester and second base prospect Dustin Pedroia, have to hope their personnel evaluation improves.
Unfortunately for long suffering Red Sox fans this is dejavu all over again. Maybe the ghosts were just on vacation in '04? It looks like "they're baaack!".