"Why the Red Sox (sigh…) Suck": One Exile's Boston Baseball Update

[[From my outpost of exile in New York City.]]

So, sure, the Mets might have won in 20, but how did those last few days of Boston sports furor feel? Sox, Celts, Bruins (see also: bears), oh my!

[[Open Note to Mets’ Team Leadership Forum: if you continue to pie-in-the-face every rookie (cough Ike cough Davis) who comes along to save your ass in a big spot, the kid — and by extension your whole organization — is going to carry the Mets-to-Yankees little bro-to-big bro inferiority complex onwards FOR-EV-VOR.]]

WHY THE RED SOX SUCK:

..And why luck and time are the only things likely to fix it.

Look, this one is simple. Theo Epstein might not exactly be the “boy genius” he’s periodically made out to be, but he’s clearly not lacking in the kind of necessary foresight that nets championships — two in five years, the former which was 86 years of futility in the making. So what are the factors that led to the Sox fielding a team that cannot: (a) pitch well enough to get to their still-retooling his mechanics/repertoire fireman; (b) beat up on good pitching and/or wear down good pitching enough to beat up on it; and (c) run, catch, and throw the ball well enough defensively to justify the $170M tag attached to their salaries?

Truth is, the explanation for all above points is frighteningly, depressingly, straightforward.

In 2004, the Sox won with a bizarre hybrid team which combined all of the best attributes of the new (see: sabermetrics), the old (see: veterans with big game experiences and gamer mentalities), and the status quo of the day (see: career-extending steroids). Starting with a roster of underachieving veterans with something left to prove and/or add to their resume (Damon, Pedro, Schilling, D-Lowe, Wakefield, Orlando Cabrera, Dave Roberts, Tek), a slew of overlooked OBP-type dudes (Millar, Mueller, Ortiz, Trot “no lefties, please” Nixon) and one folk-hero/act of God (Manny-being-unfuckingbelievable) the 2004 Red Sox rattled and hummed and blugdened their way to a championship from August-on (with one, auspicious, three game hiccup en route).

Any and all could have been benefiting from the use of curse-kicking steroids. But like any ballplayer from 1890-2005, that goes without saying…

But 2004 has got nothing to do with what is wrong with the 2010 BoSox. In fact, not even the miserable and immediately-forgotten 2006 campaign has much to do with what ails the team I love at the moment. No sir, those teams — half assembled by Dan Duquette — bear virtually no resemblance to not only the present Sox, but also, the championship team of 2007 and the one that was one game 7 away from competing for the 2008 title.

In 2007, Theo wasn’t making a souffle of mixed and matched DHs and overpaid roid ragers…he was fiedling a team of his own design (even despite the 2005 winter sabatical). The 2007 Red Sox never dominated or intimidated, they just won: consistently, inconsipicuously, and methodically. They were no more than marginally a better of a club than any other club the Sox have fielded 2003, they just did two things right. They (1) took advantage of an underachieving season on the part of their primary rivals, and (2), got lucky in what Billy Beane and advanced stat egotists, err, eggheads refer to as the “postseason crapshoot.” Don’t believe me? They played the freaking Rockies in the series. That Colorado team came into the World Series riding something like a 200-game winning streak to end the season. That streak passed into the faint refrains of history the moment they took the field at Fenway. The Rockies never led in the series. Crapshoot decided.

Anywho. Theo one a world series in only two tries. By the time he finished his third season, he was bored. He was bummed out. Dream realized, mystery evaporated. He was staring up at the dreary treadmill of the rest of his life. And what was worse, is he couldn’t have even been sure HE was the one responsible for that the team that changed franchise history. After all, he had to share the credit with Duquette and the roids, right? Unacceptable.

So he quit, he wandered, and he returned like Bruce Wayne from Chez Raz-al-Gul to set the record straight. HE was going to have full draft/trade/roster control from then on. HE was. Don’t like it, Francona? Then, I dunno, have another stroke or knee surgery or whatever you do in your spare time, I guess. Don’t like it Lucchino? Go build another ballpark in yet another city where nobody cares about baseball. From that moment on, the franchise was Theo “build me an underground lair in the old bowling alley” Epstein and the organization would reflect his new, jaded and boring values. Gone was the young playboy who played guitar with Arroyo, the one who lived vicariously through his infielders’ beards, the one who had enough of a sense of humor to appreciate the greatest righthander that the Red Sox had EVER had, and the one who actually condescended to wear an actual baseball cap on occasion like the rest of us.

In his place came, like a rawhide Athena sprouting from Bill James’ forehead, some kind of mutant half-zombie, half-corporate baseball CEO. He was going to win HIS way. His way — and I challenge anyone in 2004 to have seen this coming — was to win through a player development revolution (see also: reams of beige, indoctrinated, hits-for-average-but-not-for-power Red Sox youth) and “smart” free agent signings (see also: paying more for a guy on the market than having just signed the one already on your roster who you let go to diastrous results last year, or as I like to call it, “goodbye Johnny Damon, hello JD Drew”).

The Epstein model seeks to project and purchase 90-96 wins a year by valuing the consistent over the spectacular. It mostly works.

The 2007 team was consistent when no other legit rival came close. It won when it’s only true mercurial stars, Josh Beckett and Manny Ramirez, accidentally ignited into brilliance in unison during Game 5 of the ALCS and never looked back. Don’t forget, the Sox lose any of games of 5-7 in that series and we are not talking about “boy genius” Epstein any longer, and rather wondering whether or not Epstein has become the AJ Smith of baseball GMs. We should have lost that series.

SO, AGAIN, WHY THE RED SOX SUCK:

The 2010 Red Sox suck because they have not had a single transcendant performer on their roster this April. Look kids, aging centerfielders will get kidney stones, young speedsters will break things by virtue of the fact that they will run into things with regularity, aging sluggers will get older and streakier, set-up men will freeze in the Back Bay spring nights, soft-spoken left fielders will nurse performance-jarring injuries and personal problems without mention for too long, but good teams have top performers to carry teams through these periods. Hopefully, more than one, but at least two. The Yanks added Teixera last year, and suddenly, bang: single poor sod would have to retire both big Tex AND Jeter if he hoped to avoid pitching to A-Rod in the same inning. If that doesn’t curl your toes, then dial your emergency operator right now, because you’re not breathing. Championships are won thus.

The Sox, not having more than any one guy playing on a transcendant level at any time so far this spring, have been inept, and worse, un-fun to watch. You questioning my harsh judgment of an accomplished squad with near $200M payroll. Stop it, I can tell you are. Fine then, let’s go through the list of candidates:

1. Jacoby Ellsbury: too injured at the moment, too easily bated into swinging at balls four, too prone to taking a mistake at the plate or in the field with him to the opposite phase of the game, too obviously still developing his power stroke to mixed results…

2. Pedroia: too unable to do it all alone, too unable to take it all the way the other way, too much the exact player that Epstein reveres in that he will never lose the team a game and even win a few, but just can’t — by virtue of his size or jack-of-trade/master-of-none, talents — to scare opposing pitchers into costly mistakes with any regularity,

3. V-Mart: way-way-way too concerned with his contract status, too unable to figure out why every one of his throws from the crouch sails towards right field, too afraid to NOT be the hero and simply work a walk or poke a single and get on base for Youk and Beltre.

4. Youk: too surrounded by underachievers and scaredy-cats like V-Mart (see above) to prove nigh-in-and-night-out that he has become one of the top-five offensive forces in the American League.

5. Big Papi: too “You’re FIRED” says the Donald.

6. Beltre: too “I would have been a great 7 hitter on the 2003 team” and too clean to carry the team without getting on base at a rate that matches his early season average.

7. Mike Cameron: too “I hope he came with a 30 day guarantee.”

8. JD Drew: too when is JD Drew going to go on one of those streaks when he carries the team for 2 months streaks…

9. Marco Scutaro: too much of a disappointement so far at short (although he is GREAT turning the dp), too “why won’t someone knock me in — I’ve been basically standing-at-or-near second base all season — already?”

*10. Jeremy Hermida/Jason Varitek: too this is way too fucking good to be true…

*11. Mike Lowell: too “Theo can’t look like it was a mistake not to just make me the permanent DH.”

****************

1. Josh Beckett: too no one has any clue why this guy doesn’t win the Cy Young every year and yet, he has stretches where he looks like John Wasdin that stretch for way too long.

2. Jon Lester: too no one has any clue why this guy doesn’t win the Cy Young every year and yet, he has stretches where he looks like John Wasdin that stretch for way too long.

3. John Lackey: too “really good but can’t really do this all by myself, guys, really?” to carry the team for any real length of time.

4. Papelbon: too what the hell is wrong with this guy?

5. Dice-K: too “who are you talking about?”

6. Wake/Bucholtz: too — for very different reasons — I’m still happy to be here.

So basically, if Youk and Drew trade off getting on some 4 times a game and Lester and Beckett trade no-hit bids until the end of May, the Sox have got a gamer’s shot at catching up to the Rays, err Yankees.

To non-Sox fans reading this column, the above gut analysis is exactly why all Boston followers wanted so desperately to pry Adrian Gonzalez from the clutches of anonymity in gorgeous San Diego. A-Gon and Youk would be Ortiz-Manny (’07, not ’04) the redux. (Hell, so would of Teixera and Youk, but that was John Henry’s fault for getting into a pissing match with Scott Boras, not Theo’s.) Every single game — every SINGLE GAME — the Red Sox found themselves trailing, all it would take is for the casual Sox fan and AL reliever to realize that, “holy crap, dude can’t pitch around one to get to the other.” And then V-Mart could have relaxed and practiced his swing in the on deck circle while Papi practiced a jitter bug for the new season of “Dancing with the (washed up) Stars.” And we would have rooted for Papi, too…

Meanwhile, back in a world without a “flash sideways” alternate dreamscape, Jack Sheppard ain’t getting no absolution and the Red Sox ain’t winning games in regulation. Worse, nothing is going to change any time soon. Sure, some walk-off wins and a few celebratory martinis will help take the edge off of the early April jitters, but unless the Sox get A-Rod back from surgery in June have fun holding your breath for them to replicate the Yanks’ 2009 campaign from here on out.

Worst part is, you know I’m not wrong.

Here’s to hoping I’m wrong.

-T*V

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