The REAL Reason the Red Sox turned it around. (Hint, it wasn’t their beards.)

AP Photo/Winslow Townson

AP Photo/Winslow Townson

As a Boston Red Sox fan, I am still buzzing. The beginning of theisoff season did not come with the prerequisite sadness when you get to see highlight videos of your team winning the who enchilada over and over and knowing that the entire winter your team will be hailed as the champs.

I love this Red Sox team.

I love this Red Sox team more than any team in their history with the exception of the 2004 squad.

No offense to the 2007 World Champions, but the out of the blue nature of this title, coming off the horrible collapse of 2011 and the spirit crushing 2012 Bobby Valentine debacle makes this a more special team.

But moving forward, if anyone wants to recreate the Red Sox turn around, it is best not to be distracted by the narrative and the feel good elements.

Some writers, including the great Kevin Kernan of the New York Post, are writing about the need for acquiring players of high character who are obsessed with winning.

There are no shortage of articles describing how John Farrell is such a breath of fresh air over the tense clubhouse of Bobby Valentine.

And the Red Sox collapse of 2011 seemed to be the worst possible product placement for fried chicken and beer in history.

Photo: Jessica Rinaldi - Reuters

Photo: Jessica Rinaldi – Reuters

People pointed to the blockbuster salary dump with the Dodgers as the starting point of the comeback. And there was the emotion at Fenway in the wake of the Marathon bombing as the Boston Strong rallying cry seemed to propel the Red Sox and the city from Big Papi’s F- bomb right through the final out of the World Series.

It is true there emotional factors that made the 2013 Red Sox uplifting to everyone but the most bitter Yankee fan and disappointed Cardinals fan.

But many teams have collapses, hire the wrong manager and sign fun loving guys who want to win.

Sure Jonny Gomes said on the first day of spring training “We’re one day closer to a parade.” But how is that different than someone getting spooked that a horoscope came true once after being inaccurate 1,000 days in a row?

I am guessing that every single team has at least one overly zealous player who declares this season to be the year they win it all. Every team down a bunch of games in a playoff series has one who thinks they are coming back.

We remember Jonny Gomes and Kevin Millar’s 2004 prediction because they came true. Does anyone remember Lou Piniella guaranteeing the 2001 Mariners were going to return to Seattle to play Game 6 of the ALCS?

Of course you don’t because they didn’t!

There is a much more tangible and a lot less romantic reason why the Red Sox turned it around so quickly. It is the same reason why the Red Sox finally toppled the Curse in 2004.

Drum roll:

Their pitching was better.

Down the stretch in 2011, what was the issue? Ignore the chicken and the beer. What was the culprit? Their starting pitching was dreadful in September when they collapsed. They finished the season losing 20 of their final 27 games.

Jon Lester gave them barely 5 innings a start and pitched to a 5.40 ERA in September.

John Lackey was having a historically horrible season and gave the Red Sox only 23 2/3 innings over his final 5 starts, about 4 2/3 per start. He finished the month with a 9.13 ERA.

Josh Beckett couldn’t give the Red Sox 6 innings per start as he finished September with a 5.48 ERA. Tim Wakefield barely gave them 5 innings a start in September, posting a .525 ERA. Erik BEdard averaged 4 innings a start to a 5.25 ERA. Rookie Kyle Weiland started three games in September and didn’t survive the fifth in any of them.

Clay Buchholz was on the disabled list and didn’t pitch in September.

With a starting rotation forcing the bullpen to throw 4 or 5 innings every night, it was no wonder that Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard and company were exhausted by the end of the year.

In 2012, in the tense Bobby Valentine clubhouse, the awful pitching of the previous September continued.

Lester and Buchholz stayed relatively healthy, making 33 and 29 starts respectively. But Lester’s 4.82 ERA and Buchholz’s 4.56 mark showed they were not exactly pitching like All Stars.

Young Felix Doubront had some bright spots but saw his ERA balloon to 4.86 over 29 starts.

Before being dealt to the Dodgers, Beckett made 21 starts to a 5.23 ERA. John Lackey missed the entire season.

Reliever Daniel Bard was inexplicably put into the rotation where he finished with a 6.22 ERA. Aaron Cook and Daisuke Matsuzaka combined for 29 starts and a 6.51 ERA.

With Papelbon gone and Bard ruining his career as a starter, the closer was Alfredo Aceves, who somehow saved 25 games but was brutal with a 5.36 ERA in a short relief role.

How much of the brutal pitching staff was the fault of Bobby Valentine and how he handled it? I am not sure, but I do know that even a cloned John McGraw couldn’t manage a winning season with a staff that thin.



John Farrell arrived in 2013. The one time pitching coach for the Red Sox saw a turn in the fortune regarding the arms.

Lousy 2011 and mediocre 2012 Jon Lester was replaced by solid reliable Lester in 2013.

Injured and unreliable Clay Buchholz was swapped out with All Star Clay Buchholz with a 1.74 ERA over his 16 starts.

The fat, injured and dreadful John Lackey gave way to a lean and reliable Lackey.

And after failed attempts with Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan in the closer role, Koji Uehara locked down the 9th inning and allowed the middle relievers to find their roles.

Without the turnaround in the pitching staff, all the inspiring speeches and beards would have been meaningless. The likes of Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes and Stephen Drew would have been obscure Red Sox on forgotten teams, much like Dante Bichette, Billy Hatcher and Mike Easler were in the past.

Sure the clubhouse energy was better and the mood was terrific. They were winning. The starters were going deep. The relievers were closing out the game. And a lineup devoid of a legit MVP candidate was allowed to score enough runs to win without needing to bludgeon their opponents.

If a team wants to emulate this turnaround, grow all the beards you want and get as many rah rah guys as possible.

Without a turnaround in the pitching staff, they will be forgotten faster than the 1983 Red Sox.




Red Sox fans, it is all on Lester and Beckett

This has been, needless to say, an odd year for the Boston Red Sox.

2012 has been a joyless grind save for a walk off homer here or a winning streak there. Bobby Valentine and the tension he causes has hung over the team from the start. The end of Youkilis’ time in Boston was bitter. David Ortiz is probably winding down his time in Boston and John Lackey will probably remain in Fenway.

Injuries, dumb losses, still no games pitched by Andre Bailey and the fact they are only one game over .500 has given the whole season an aura of being lost.

Yet here the Red Sox sit on July 22 only 2 1/2 games out of a Wild Card spot.

It would take a good week to put them in a playoff position.
Maybe they should make a trade and that will put them over the top!

Slow down.

There are two players that hold the entire fate of the Red Sox season in their hands, or their arms more correctly.

Boston needs Jon Lester and Josh Beckett to pitch like front of the line starters. You know, the thing they are PAID to do. If they have a good August and September, the Red Sox could miraculously make the post season.

And so far the odds of that happening are not good.

Lester has been the definition of mediocre this year. His record is 5-7. His ERA is 4.80. His ERA+ is 90. His strikeout rate is down. Batters are getting more hits off of him, especially in scoring position. He is being taken out of games quicker than before.

Beckett started off well and I begged the team to trade him when he had value.

Since then he has had injuries and seems to be good for five or six innings at best.

They need more than that. Clay Buchholz is too inconsistent, Felix Doubront is a nice number four starter but not an ace and Aaron Cook threw a nice shutout that one time but is a number five.

The Angels, A’s, White Sox and Rays all have good pitching and are contending for the two Wild Card spots. Even Baltimore’s pitching, while sometimes spotty, has been more reliable than the Red Sox.

Think about trying to catch Anaheim or Tampa or the White Sox when they know they can rely on the likes of Jered Weaver, David Price or Jake Peavy while the Red Sox hope Beckett can at least pitch into the seventh.

The Red Sox had their epic collapse in 2011 because they could not rely on Beckett, Lester and Lackey down the stretch. Well there will be no epic comeback in 2012 without Beckett and Lester.

At this point the Red Sox are not asking them to be Cy Young contenders.
Just give the Sox two good months.

Maybe then, there will be hope for this team.

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The real reason Francona changed his mind

Terry Francona, the only manager Red Sox manager to win a World Series for the team in the last 94 years, originally was not going to participate in the Fenway Park 100th anniversary celebration this weekend.

The man who managed the squad that broke The Curse (and won a second title to take the “It was a fluke” ammo away from the enemy) was still hurt from how he was let go and thrown under the bus by the organization after last season.

Well he’s changed his mind.

He’s going to be there.

Some people are assuming he changed his mind because Francona is a classy guy and decided to take the high road.

Others think his former players made the case and got him to cave.

Some conspiracy theorists think that his new employer, ESPN, is making him go.

Nonsense. The reason is quite simple. Francona gets to come back and give the Red Sox the ultimate middle finger.

Think about it.

First of all Francona will get a thunderous ovation from the fans.

But more importantly, Francona can look around and ask Larry Lucchino  some questions, like:

“Hey, how’s it going since I left?”

“How’s team chemistry? Has it improved?”

“Team morale? Has it turned around?”

“Does the club look intense?”

“Are they more disciplined now?”

“Hey, how’s the injuries here now? I bet with the improved conditioning, nobody is on the Disabled List!”

“How does the bullpen look? I know people thought I didn’t handle the pitching staff well. No doubt it is improved.”

“Are the fans happy? Do they like the direction the team is heading in?”

And when Lucchino fumes while not answering, Francona can wave to the fans who will probably be chanting “Tito come back! Tito come back!”

It is the greatest vindication for Francona.
Imagine getting the chance to have 35,000 people tell your former employer that they were wrong.

AND look like you are taking the high road in the process?

It is too delicious for Francona to pass up!
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