LONGSHOTS: Injuries or missed opportunities the story of Sox 2010 season?
By†Dave Long email@example.com
The topic on the TV was what will the season be about after the story of the Red Sox 2010 season is written ó injuries or the missed opportunities due to under-achieving from some big-money guys?
Itís hard to argue injuries havenít been a big factor. When the biggest hit Dustin Pedroia in late June they had just made up nine games on Tampa Bay in five weeks, he was on a hellacious tear with a three-homer game the day before, and they were rolling. Then he went down, and Victor Martinez, Jason Varitek and Clay Buchholz soon followed to join five others on the DL at the same time! And then when they started to get healthy Kevin Youkilis went down for the year and Jacoby Ellsbury may join him after going to the DL for the third time since being barreled over by a runaway truck named Adrian Beltre in game five.
I wonít dispute any of that ó but did you know that since the Yanks and Red Sox faced each in other in mid-May the Sox have won exactly one game less than New York? Some would say that if they hadnít gotten steamrolled by the injuries they might have shot past the Yanks to take command of the AL East. But to some degree that takes away from the work of Darnell McDonald, Bill Hall, Jeremy Hermida (until he got run over by Beltre), Daniel Nava et al., whoíve done a nice job plugging the dike to help the ship stay afloat.
And thereís also the last road trip, where they were 5-5 against the Yanks, Blue Jays and Rangers. Sounds OK, but with the Yanks 5-5 and the D-Rays 4-6 in the same span and stars like Jonathan Papelbon and Josh Beckett key figures in two blown games and another should-have-been-a-win, itís really a major opportunity blown that injuries had nothing to do with. And since this is Red Sox Nation, many are eager to assign blame with the usual snap judgments or accept the excuse of injuries. But itís a bit more complex than that, so hereís my take on the role all played to date.
Jonathan Papelbon: After blowing his league-leading sixth save vs. Toronto, heís number one on the Nationís hit list. Iíve been saying for two years heís not the same guy after losing command of and confidence in a second pitch. But he hadnít given up a run in five previous games and just one in his last 10 prior to Thursdayís implosion. He also had two big saves vs. the Yanks and another in Toronto to start the series. You can dicker as to whether Tito should have yanked John Lackey after the homer to start the ninth (I would have) but not as to whether he was the guy to bring it. He just didnít pitch well ó and that happens sometimes.
Make Daniel Bard the Closer: People say you canít do it now ó I say WHY not? Joe Torre just did it in L.A. But what difference will flipping him to the ninth make if Pap isnít any better in the eighth inning? The problem is not when he pitches, itís consistency. So if the trouble continues for him, all a switch will mean is theyíll lose an inning earlier. And by the way, who was it who saved Bardís behind after he loaded the bases vs. the Yanks in the eighth last Monday? Pap ó who then struck out three in the ninth.
Josh Beckett: Heís got three wins the entire year, thanks to ongoing durability issues, which make signing him to a five-year extension earlier in the year more insane than giving Paul Pierce four years as Danny Ainge just did. He was the starter in two of the three worst losses of the year including blowing an 8-2 lead to Texas on Friday. Simply put, he has not done the job and heís the biggest under-achiever on the team.
John Lackey: He does have 10 wins and the bullpen (or is it Titoís decision-making?) has cost him at least two more. But he got hammered by the Yanks in a big game, has a 4.54 ERA and has given up 176 hits in 151 innings. Thereís been some production but it doesnít match the paycheck.
Middle Relief: Scott Schoeneweis (7.90), Boof Bonser (18.00), Hideki Okijima (5.82), Joe Nelson (9.82) and Ramon Ramirez (4.42) have been out there and Manny Delcarmen, who more was expected from, has regressed since last year. They havenít done the job ó period.
The Manager: My friend Frank (Three TDís) Harlon told me in the grocery story Saturday Iím not being hard enough on Terry Francona, about five minutes after I overheard another guy in the fish section say Titoís been holding it all together. Personally I see a guy saddled with a huge assortment of major injuries that has had non-major-leaguers in key positions all year, personnel management issues like Big Papi early, Mike Lowell all year, Tim Wakefieldís non role and maybe Ellsbury to deal with, an inconsistent closer and a bad group of middle relievers and theyíre still in it. So even if you want to pick on individual things (as I have), the big picture says heís had a pretty good year.
Theo Epstein: I heard J. P. Ricciardi say the other day he thought Theo was having one of his best years. And while he has some nice pick-ups for the bench, was smart enough to keep Wakefield around as the eventually needed rotation insurance policy and he was right about Beltre at third over Mike Lowell, itís more of a mixed bag. For one, while Beltre has been dynamic offensively, he was brought here for defense and his 16 errors lead all third basemen ó but I wonít quibble about that since heís been a major plus. And you canít blame Theo for the injuries ó well, except an old guy like Cameron. And that of course led to the lame-brained idea to move Ellsbury to left, where he got run over by you know ó which as I noted in the spring was fixing something that wasnít broken. But his biggest mistake was spending too much on Lackey, for two reasons. First the obvious ó you mean they couldnít get a guy with a nearly 5 ERA for $10 million per for three years instead of five? And because they spent so much on him,
little was left to get quality guys for the pen. As much as I HATE the way staffs are used now, itís still obvious that if your starters are coming out after seven no matter what (six in Dice-Kís case) you HAVE to have quality coming in in the sixth and seventh. And by spending so much on a fourth starter, they couldnít afford it and have been paying the price all year.
So while injuries are a big part, missed opportunities cost them even more. Thanks to the grit of many, they hung in to stay close enough, and then when the chances were there in August guys who were supposed deliver didnít and it has cost them.
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.