Thursday, September 29, 2011
Red Sox Epic Collapse Must Have Consequences
The Red Sox gave Adrian Gonzalez 154 million reasons to smile this year.
Yes, the Red Sox had well-documented pitching problems this season.
Going into the season's final game in Baltimore, the Boston rotation had a September ERA of 7.26 — the highest starter's ERA in any month in the HISTORY of the Boston Red Sox.
Jon Lester's quality start in game 162 was a genuine rarity in this lamentable month. Red Sox starters made only five quality starts in 27 games in September.
Even the usually reliable set-up man Daniel Bard had a 10.64 ERA in September, exemplifying this team's collapse.
The poor performances and outright failures all culminated in a September winning percentage of .259, the worst for any Red Sox team since August of 1964.
The Red Sox clubs of the 1960s were largely awful, providing some perspective on just how historically dreadful this particular team was in September.
The Red Sox went 7-20 during the month, their most September losses since the 1952 club also dropped 20 games. This year's team lost 16 of their final 21 games. It was disgusting to watch.
The Red Sox ineptitude was historic by any measure.
They had a nine-game wild card lead on September 3, before their unravelling and epic collapse. No baseball team in history has ever blown a bigger lead in the final month of the season.
This Red Sox team became historic for all the wrong reasons.
Their despicable play wasn't an anomaly. Remember, this is the same team that started the season 0-6 and 2-10. They showed their true colors way back in April.
From the beginning, this was a team with no heart.
After sweeping a doubleheader from the Athletics on August 27, the Red Sox went more than a month without winning a game on consecutive days. That's just pathetic.
When the Sox were winning, from May through August, they did so by out-slugging their opponents. But the Sox had just two wins in September in which they didn't score eight or more runs.
This was a feast or famine ball club.
The Sox were 76-1 when leading after eight innings this year. The one loss was not only the last of the season, but the worst of the season.
However, the Sox rallied for victory just two times when trailing after the seventh inning. That's a sign of a team with no character.
Underneath all the star power — all the fire power — this team was weak. It was gutless. It had no heart.
The $160 million Red Sox finished in third place for the second straight season. This was a club marked by hubris, arrogance and complacency.
A serious lack of leadership ultimately led to the Red Sox' demise. They were a team that made things look easy for most of the season and — the first two weeks of April aside — never faced any adversity until September.
When the going got tough, the Sox never got it going. And even then, the only real enemy was themselves.
Outside of Dustin Pedroia, there was no sign of passion, no drive, no desire, no fire and no ferocity on this club. It was a team without a pulse.
The Red Sox' two biggest offseason acquisitions, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, displayed the same countenance whether they were hitting a two-run homer or into an inning-ending double play.
Jason Varitek was still the team's captain in 2011. But, at 39-years of age, Varitek was reduced to the role of part-time player, appearing in just 68 games this season.
Factor in that Varitek batted just .221/.300/.423, with 11 homers and 36 RBI this year, and you can see that the captain no longer leads by example.
No one ever questioned Varitek's heart, desire, or preparation. And even now, only a fool would. But it's clear that Varitek's playing days are over and that he is no longer a suitable captain for this team. It's time to pass the torch.
For all of his strengths, Kevin Youkilis is not a leader. Yes, Youk displays passion, but it's usually when arguing with an umpire after a strike out.
That aside, Youkilis has broken down in consecutive seasons and did not play down the stretch in either year.
Once you get past that group of everyday players in the lineup, you're left with a leadership vacuum.
Whether he will ever become one or not, Jacoby Ellsbury is not presently a leader. He is as laid back as they come.
Ellsbury gives the media the most trite, canned answers, as if he studied them in an old baseball quote book. He doesn't speak from the heart and doesn't seem to be a guy who can light a fire under his teammates.
His incredible season notwithstanding, Ellsbury does not appear to have the stuff of a leader.
Carl Crawford was an outright bust this year. There was not one facet of his game that can give this team or its fans even a glimmer of hope that he will eventually live up to his massive $142 million contract.
Even Crawford's speed was neutralized this season; he stole just 18 bases while playing in 130 games. This is a guy who swiped at least 40 bases in seven seasons, and at least 50 in five of them. Perhaps it was a consequence of his horrendous .289 OBP, which ranked 137th out of 145 qualifiers in the majors.
Crawford, a Gold Glove winner in 2010, looked barely competent in the outfield at times this season. That was best symbolized when he missed two sliding catch attempts in the season's waning days, the last of which being the final play of the Red Sox' season.
What's perhaps most concerning about Crawford is that he is so stunningly passive. Like JD Drew before him, nothing seems to faze Crawford. Such apparent indifference does not go over well in Boston — especially not from $142 million players.
Crawford epitomizes the organization's regrettable penchant for handing out huge free agent contracts that don't pay off.
The Red Sox have spent about $340 million on payroll over the past two seasons, and they don't even have a playoff appearance to show for it, much less a win.
Even Adrian Gonzalez, who led the team with 213 hits, a .338 average and 117 RBI, faded down the stretch.
Gonzalez's average, OBP and slugging all declined after the All Star break, and September was one of his weakest months in nearly every statistical category this season.
Gonzalez already had a troubling history of playing on a team that faded down the stretch, en route to an epic choke.
Last year, his Padres were 76-49 on August 26 — the best record in the NL. With 37 games to go, they were 6 1/2 games ahead of the Giants. Yet, San Diego ultimately lost the division lead and watched their playoff hopes go up in smoke.
Down the stretch, the Padres succumbed to a 10-game losing streak that was the club's worst since 1994.
So, the Red Sox collapse this season was nothing new to Gonzalez. Despite these consecutive failings, the star player took no responsibility for any of it. Instead, Gonzalez blamed the 'big man in the sky'.
When asked to describe the Red Sox epic choke, Gonzalez responded this way:
"I'm a firm believer that God has a plan and it wasn't his plan for us to move forward."
So now you know; God is not a Red Sox fan. But he is, however, a Yankees fan, a Rays fan and even an Orioles fan.
When a reporter asked, "Is there anything that you can put your finger on that didn't work out at all?", Gonzalez nonchalantly replied, "God didn't have it in the cards for us."
It was a pathetic response. Gonzalez looked and sounded completely unfazed about his team's stunning loss and the horrible end to their season. Gonzalez took zero responsibility as he dispassionately chatted with the assembled media in the locker room after the game.
"It didn't happen," said Gonzalez, cooly. "You know, next year we'll come out and do a better job — you know — when we have that lead."
Ho hum. No worries.
Gonzalez is gutless. He has no heart. He is apathetic. He exemplifies everything that is wrong with the Red Sox; a lack of passion, fire and accountability.
There will be consequences. There must be consequences. This epic collapse cannot be viewed as anything less than completely unacceptable.
Theo Epstein should be front and center in the blame game. He gave Terry Francona this team of softies — this roster of underachieving millionaires. Most of them displayed disinterest and apathy. They had no spirit.
The Red Sox players are all too comfortable with their seven, eight and nine-figure contracts, their bling and their fancy cars. They believe their own hype. They love the cameras, the microphones, the endorsements, the attention and the adulation.
However, they've forgotten that they're supposed to work for all of it. They're supposed to earn it.
That needs to be changed. Soft players need to be jettisoned. In their place, the Red Sox need some players with heart, guts and determination. In short, they need more guys like Dustin Pedroia.
The Sox need to feel the hunger again. Winning, and the big contracts that came with it, has made them soft.
Big changes are in order, which is just what this team needs. However, the Red Sox are stuck with the rather bloated contracts of some major under-achievers.
Three years remain on John Lackey's deal and six more on Crawford's. Both players' problems, and their salaries, are not secrets. It will be very hard to move either player.
Lackey's 6.41 ERA, 1.62 WHIP and .308 opponents' batting average were last among pitchers with at least 160 innings.
Lackey is a cancer. He personifies this team's lack of accountability and responsibility. The thought of him returning next year is an awful one.
If you're looking for good news, or a glimmer of hope, JD Drew's contract has officially expired.
Who will replace him? At this point, it's pretty clear that it won't be Josh Reddick. That's one safe bet as this offseason begins.
No matter who it is, throwing money at their problems has not led to success in the Theo Epstein era. The Red Sox have not been able to buy themselves a Word Series Championship.
John Henry's money has not been well spent.
He cannot be happy about that.
No one's job should be safe.