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
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.
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.