Saturday, August 29, 2015

What's Wrong with the Red Sox?

The Red Sox have hit a major rough patch (Baseball Revival Files)
Man, the Red Sox sure know how to ruin a summer.

They keep finding new ways to do it, too. They threw away four great months with a historic collapse in 2011. 2012 was a mess from start to finish. In 2014 they forgot how to hit, and in 2015 they forgot how to pitch.

It’s not just the losing that’s bothersome. It's how poorly the Red Sox have handled losing, the disgraceful manner in which they've lost. They haven't just been bad; they've been embarrassing.

It all started with the fried-chicken and beer fiasco of 2011, which cost Terry Francona--the greatest manager in Red Sox history--his job and prompted Theo Epstein to move on. Then there was Bobby Valentine's brief reign, which felt like the previous September stretched out over six months. In 2013 Boston finally did something right by winning the World Series, only to revert to its losing ways the following year. 2014 saw the Sox trade all their World Series heroes away, and in 2015 they resorted to cleaning out the front office because there was no one left to trade.

Once perennial contenders, Boston has become constant disappointments. It's mind-boggling that the Red Sox have spent more than $1 billion in player salaries over the past six years and have just one postseason berth to show for it. Granted, they made the most of that magical run, but they've also proved it was a fluke by posting the worst record in baseball since.

Somewhere along the line, the former powerhouse seemed to have lost its way. Boston's downfall has been puzzling because the Red Sox have great players, smart management, and one of the most advanced analytics departments in baseball. They're also blessed with one of the sport’s largest payrolls, its best farm system, and a devoted fan base that still fills Fenway park (paying the highest ticket prices to do so) no matter how well the team is doing.

Boston has no excuse. They have all the tools to succeed, and yet they're still one of the worst teams in baseball. Nobody does less with more. They're the misguided kid who graduates from Harvard and takes a job flipping burgers at McDonald's.

Given all its resources and talent, Boston's prolonged stretch of mediocrity is inexcusable. The bad years should be .500 seasons, not last place finishes, especially since the AL East has become so winnable these days. With the Yankees' great core aging out and the Rays unable to afford their top players, the Red Sox were primed to rip off four or five division titles. Instead, they've become cellar-dwellers, missing a golden opportunity to dominate their division.

There's no easy explanation for it, other than that they've just played really poorly. They’ve made mistakes, costly mistakes, on the free agent market, but who hasn’t? They’ve battled injuries, but so does everyone over a 162-game season. A lot of their prospects haven’t panned out, but that’s baseball.
Boston is still searching for answers (The Boston Herald)
This year was supposed to be different. The Sox spent wildly, shelling out roughly $400 million for Rusney Castillo, Yoan Moncada, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, and Rick Porcello. Vegas bought into the hype, declaring them World Series favorites. Another worst-to-first campaign seemed possible, especially after an encouraging spring training and strong start to the season.

Then the losses began piling up, and it didn't take long for things to turn ugly. Pitching coach Juan Nieves was fired after getting barely a month to break in a new rotation, as if it was his fault Boston built a crummy staff. The players quickly soured, losing their temper with the manager, umpires, and with each other.

Pedestrian performances by the rest of the league kept Boston in it through the All-Star Break, until an eight-game losing streak knocked them out of contention. They were once again sellers at the trade deadline, only this time they had nothing to sell.

For once it seemed like the Sox were going to quietly fade away, bottoming out in relative obscurity a la the Rockies, A's, and Phillies.

Instead, August has turned out to be Boston's most eventful month (off-the-field, at least). Larry Lucchino announced he was stepping down at season's end. John Farrell was diagnosed with cancer. Dave Dombrowski came aboard as president of baseball operations, ousting Ben Cherington from his post as general manager. Even Don Orsillo, the team's beloved play-by-play man for 15 years, is out of a job.

Only the Red Sox could create so much controversy while playing out the string, They still have unfinished business to attend to, like finding a new general manager and figuring out how to fix this mockery of a team. Another meaningless month of baseball awaits them, but if one thing's for certain, it's that Boston will keep making headlines between now and season's end.

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