It’s time for Red Sox fans to acknowledge the obvious: Even if the Sox somehow stagger into the playoffs, feeding off the bottom-dwelling Baltimore Orioles to fend off the surging Tampa Bay Rays, the team is likely going nowhere.
On Aug. 15, the Red Sox stood atop the American League East with a record of 73-46, nine games ahead of the Rays. On that day, I figured the Sox players could cruise into the playoffs by merely going .500 the rest of the way. Only they haven’t. Over the last 33 games, the Red Sox are 14-19. Many days, if not most, the team looks a good bit worse.
In losing their third game in four days to the Rays today, the Red Sox managed eight hits, half by role players, and never really threatened to climb back into the game. And the team looked bad once again. A ball bounced beneath the glove of left fielder Conor Jackson and off the left field wall for a gift double. Mike Aviles, one of the few players who has been hitting, threw two routine grounders to first past Adrian Gonzalez, one for a Tampa Bay run.
If the Red Sox choke and head home for the winter when the regular season ends, fans and columnists will revive the ghosts of Bucky Dent and Billy Buckner once again, and whispers of the old, inept Red Sox of generations past will float through The Monster seats that (owner John) Henry built. But in truth, the Red Sox were in trouble before the team stopped hitting and fielding the ball, before it dropped six of seven games to the Rays in barely a week.
Take page C7 of today’s Boston Globe, where “the maniacal one” notes the following:
- Carl Crawford has batted .179 against left-handed pitchers this year.
- In September, Red Sox pitchers have the highest earned run average (ERA) in major league baseball (6.56)
- Since the All-Star break, Red Sox pitchers have had 23 quality starts in 58 games.
These numbers, I would argue, are the responsibility of one man only: the no-longer-so-boyish wonder, General Manager Theo Epstein. With the exception of acquiring Gonzalez, who is in his own 0-fer slump when the team most needs him, the man who stole David Ortiz from Minnesota has simply stunk up the Red Sox in his biggest off-season acquisitions the last two years. He has also mortgaged the team’s future.
Oh, I know. If only Clay Buchholz hadn’t gone down with a bad back. Or maybe if only Dice K — he-who-cost-the-Red-Sox-$100-million (for what?) — hadn’t been lost at the season’s start. Or if Kevin Youkilis weren’t suffering with a host of injuries. If only …. But every team has to play through injuries every season. Even the champions. Seen much of Alex Rodriguez for the Yankees lately? How about Jorge Posada? That hasn’t stopped the Yankees, who have lost their share of pitchers this season, too, from cruising to their usual spot atop the American League East. Because the Yanks biggest off-season acquisitions — guys like Mark Texiera and Curtis Granderson and C.C. Sabathia — are competing for the Most Valuable Player award or Cy Young award.
No, the real problem behind the Red Sox’s fading season lies with the acquisition last year of John Lackey (five years for $82.5 million) as the team’s new ace and this year’s acquisitions of Carl Crawford (seven-year contract for $142 million) as the final piece of its nearly unbeatable lineup. Then, to bolster the bullpen, Theo signed longtime Chicago White Sox closer Bobby Jenks for two years, a deal some commentators considered a steal for a mere $12 million.
Sure, Lackey has won 12 games. But he’s also lost 12 and has a horrendous 6.19 ERA. A young starter with an ERA like that would be pitching for Pawtucket. But who is going to eat 80-mil?
Crawford has batted .250. That’s mediocre. But what’s worse is that he has never cracked an on-base percentage of .300, has lost his speed and fields like a guy who is scared of the Monster behind him. Terry Francona rarely bats Crawford higher than seventh in the lineup, hoping if he’s buried somewhere among the Reddicks and McDonalds no one will notice how little he contributes. And his contract makes Lackey’s look like chump change.
Jenks has merely spent the season MIA.
So if the Red Sox swoon ends as a full-fledged fold — and I’d say the odds are something like 8 in 10 the team either misses the playoffs entirely or folds quickly in the first round — don’t blame the ghosts of Fenway past. Blame the “wizard” of Fenway present — Theo Epstein.
For those $230-plus million, he should have built a deeper present and a more promising future. Perhaps, as the rumors have it, he is considering other job offers. And perhaps it is time for him to move on.