September 30, 2011

On Baseball: Yes, Sox fan, some clues were there

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

On Monday, Aug. 29, the Boston Red Sox enjoyed a second straight day off.

Theo Epstein
click image to enlarge

Theo Epstein, the general manager of the Boston Red Sox, built a team that appeared to be one of the best in baseball. But looking closely, signs of the September collapse could be seen all along.

The Associated Press

The Red Sox were coming off a doubleheader sweep of Oakland on Saturday (before Hurricane Irene arrived Sunday) and sat comfortably with an 82-51 record, the second-best mark in baseball, behind only the Philadelphia Phillies.

Boston led the New York Yankees by 1 1/2 games and the Tampa Bay Rays by nine.

All was good.

You know the rest of the story. Boston finished August with a loss and a win, then suffered a September free-fall with a 7-20 record. The Red Sox dropped out of first place in the AL East, then lost the wild-card playoff spot to Tampa Bay on the last day.

The players who talked in spring training of winning 100 games barely got to 90.

You can blame it on September but the Red Sox showed flaws earlier. Yet who worried when Boston was zip, zip, zipping along?

Here are some dates to look at:

• March 31: Felix Doubront was placed on the disabled list because of a sore elbow. It was the first of several nagging injuries that kept Doubront from developing this year. He was expected to help spell the rotation, which certainly was needed.

• April 8: Left-handed reliever Denny Reyes was designated for assignment. Boston went into spring training looking for a left-handed reliever it could count on. The search never ended, although Franklin Morales got better in the end.

• April 15: Bobby Jenks gave up four runs in one-third of an inning and Boston lost to Toronto 7-6, dropping to 2-10. With such a bad start, Boston demonstrated its talent can disappear for long stretches.

• April 23: Pawtucket outfielder Ryan Kalish landed on the disabled list with a shoulder muscle tear. Kalish later suffered a neck muscle injury and never really came back. While Josh Reddick fared well in Boston, having Kalish available would have helped.

• May 5: Jenks and reliever Dan Wheeler both hit the disabled list. Jenks and his $6 million salary never got going (19 appearances). Wheeler, a $3 million free agent, did come back but rarely was used in meaningful games.

• May 14: Doubront, back in Pawtucket, landed back on the DL with a groin injury.

• May 16: John Lackey joined the DL (right elbow strain). He should have stayed there. At times he looked like he would battle through his difficulties, but his 6.41 ERA was only matched by his classless behavior on and off the field.

• May 17: Minor league left-hander Kris Johnson was released. Big deal, you say? Johnson's release was a sign of Boston's lack of pitching depth at the higher levels. Johnson was a supplemental draft pick (39th overall) in 2006. He didn't work out. Nor did first-rounder Craig Hansen (2005). The Red Sox also lost three coveted pitchers -- two supplemental-round picks and a second-rounder -- to Cleveland in the Victor Martinez trade in 2009. Justin Masterson was 12-10 with the Indians with a 3.21 ERA. Nick Hagadone reached the majors this year and Bryan Price was stellar in Double-A.

• May 18: Daisuke Matsuzaka hit the DL, eventually requiring Tommy John surgery. He was a disappointment for sure, but the Red Sox could have used the pitching depth.

• May 19: Hideki Okajima was designated for assignment as Boston gave up on another left-handed reliever.

• June 1: Rich Hill left a game clutching his left arm. Still another left-handed reliever gone (and Hill had a 0.00 ERA in nine games).

• June 18: Clay Buchholz hit the DL and Andrew Miller was called up. Buchholz's back soreness turned into a stress fracture that ended his season. He was 6-3 with a 3.48 ERA. Miller could have used more time figuring out his control issues in Pawtucket. Instead he looked good at times, then horrible.

• June 30: Mike Cameron was designated for assignment. In the second season of a two-year, $15.5 million contract, Cameron was batting .149.

• July 10: Kyle Weiland was called up to make a major league start. A closer in college and projected to be a major league reliever, Weiland was needed in the rotation, so he was rushed up. In seven appearances (five starts), Weiland went 0-3 with a 7.66 ERA.

• July 31: The Red Sox traded three mid-level prospects (Tim Federowicz, Stephen Fife and Chih-Hsien Chiang) in a deal to land left-handed starter Erik Bedard. Because of ankle and oblique issues, Bedard made only eight starts, averaging fewer than five innings per, and recorded a 1-2 record and 4.03 ERA. Other pitchers were available near the trade deadline, including Bedard's teammate, Doug Fister, who was traded to Detroit. Fister went 8-1 (1.79) in 10 starts with the Tigers.

• Aug. 18: Kevin Youkilis went on the disabled list with bursitis in his hip and a sports hernia. He came back briefly in September but wasn't the same (6 for 36). Boston missed Youkilis' grinding at-bats and clutch hitting (.301 with runners on base).

• Sept. 28: Left fielder Carl Crawford couldn't come up with a catch on a sinking fly ball as Baltimore recorded a walk-off RBI single that would lead to the end of Boston's postseason hopes. Crawford's fielding issues only accented a difficult first year with Boston. After batting .307 last year with Tampa Bay, with 19 home runs and 47 stolen bases, Crawford hit .255 with 11 homers and 18 stolen bases.

There are certainly other factors to consider. Set-up man Daniel Bard had a terrible finish (10.45 ERA in his last 10 appearances). Ace starters Josh Beckett and Jon Lester went a combined 1-5 in their last eight starts.

Yes, it would have been nice to have Beckett and Lester come through like they are expected to. And pitching was the biggest reason for Boston's collapse.

But once the cracks began to appear, Boston didn't have the depth to climb out.

What would have happened if Buchholz stayed healthy? If Doubront was ready to pitch from the first day? If more minor leaguers developed, or if even Justin Masterson was still with Boston?

But none of that happened. Boston fans learned the hard lesson that splashy free agent signings and gargantuan payrolls guarantee nothing but high expectations.

This looked like such a good team at the end of August. But then came adversity. The Red Sox couldn't handle it and now they're spectators as October nears.

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

kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: ClearTheBases

 

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