August 16, 2012

On Baseball: Blame Bobby, but real trouble is the pitching

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

It is Bobby Valentine's fault.

Related headlines

No, wait, put the blame on Ben Cherington.

Larry Lucchino? John Henry?

Someone's got to take the fall. We need new blood. Ownership has already thrown former manager Terry Francona under the bus, and Theo Epstein is enjoying his honeymoon at Wrigley Field.

The Red Sox are losing more games than winning. The Yankees are running away with the division title and Boston looks like it will be baseball-free in October.

Who can fans throw their verbal stones at?

The current target appears to be Valentine, especially after Tuesday's story on the Yahoo website, citing anonymous sources (of course) about a group of players, including Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia, meeting with Red Sox ownership in late July. Some reportedly stated that they no longer wanted to play for Valentine.

Gonzalez, Pedroia and owner John Henry have all refuted the story, saying there was a meeting -- apparently an annual event -- but that the story's details are inaccurate.

There have been other stories, of course. ESPN's Buster Olney called the Red Sox clubhouse atmosphere "toxic."

Catcher Kelly Shoppach, traded Tuesday to the Mets, said Wednesday to the New York press that "there is a disconnect in communication between the players through the upper management."

A disconnect. Is that the cause? The Red Sox can't catch the contenders because of a disconnect?

Hooey.

The Boston Red Sox can't compete -- or get on that "run" that Valentine keeps expecting any minute now -- because of basic tenets of baseball.

The fastballs are missing their mark. The curveballs are hanging. The change-ups are bouncing in the dirt.

In other words, pitching.

On paper, Boston features a threesome of pitchers that should be envied -- Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz.

But Beckett (5-10, 5.19 ERA) and Lester (6-10, 5.20) are a disappointment, with only Buchholz (10-3, 4.24) coming through.

Combined they are 21-23 with a 4.88 ERA.

Valentine could be universally loved by his players. He is not going to win with numbers like that from his top three starters.

And did we mention that Boston has been playing without injured slugger David Ortiz?

When Francona ran the team, he had both Ortiz and Manny Ramirez (a man-child who generated his share of dysfunction).

And at times, Francona had pitching.

When the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, Boston had five healthy pitchers all season, led by Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez and Tim Wakefield. They combined for a 40-25 record and 3.96 ERA.

The 2007 World Series champions featured Schilling, Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka (a combined 44-27, 3.85 ERA).

When Boston came within one game of reaching the 2008 World Series, it had Lester, Beckett and Matsuzaka (46-19, 3.37).

This team should be better.

Epstein receives his share of criticism for bad free-agent deals and horrid long-term contracts. But Epstein, like everyone else, knows pitching success is a cornerstone to winning. From 2007 to 2011, he locked up Matsuzaka, Beckett, Lester, John Lackey and Buchholz. That should have been a dynamic rotation.

Matsuzaka has faded away. Lackey was ineffective before he underwent Tommy John surgery, lost for this season.

We've already noted the other failings, although Buchholz is looking dominant.

But failure has more consequences than just lost games. There is drama.

After last year's season-ending collapse, the story of Beckett, Lester and Lackey drinking beer and eating chicken in the clubhouse during games became a tale repeated over and over in the media. Sure, it may have been a sign of Francona's too-loose style of managing, but it was hardly the cause for defeat.

To replace Francona, ownership went with Valentine, an intriguing man who sometimes says things he shouldn't (like when he questioned the mental approach of a dedicated player like Kevin Youkilis).

Anyone can see there are issues. To quote Shoppach, there does appear to be a disconnect. Valentine was not able to pick his entire coaching staff. Cherington does not yield the influence of Epstein. Hard to say who is running the show.

But who cares? If Beckett keeps getting shelled and Lester continues his good-bad outings, it doesn't matter if everyone is holding hands during pregame meetings.

Bad pitching equals a losing team.

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at:

kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: ClearTheBases

 

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