For Bobby Valentine, things couldn’t have started off much worse since he took over the helm as manager of the Boston Red Sox this past offseason.
The Red Sox were 11-11 through April, an abysmal start that included a 1-5 record to open the season. Alfredo Aceves blew two save opportunities in his first four tries to open up his 2012 season. Josh Beckett’s ERA was 4.45 in the first month, Clay Buchholz looked worse and Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury were on the shelf for extended periods of time before Boston fans knew what hit 'em.
Valentine knew what he was getting into when he transitioned from his TV analyst job back into the dugout. He just didn’t know that he would have to make shift the lineup and fill the holes everywhere else left behind by last season’s September collapse.
Since the turn into May, things have changed; most say for the better. Beckett’s performance has since improved, the offense is hitting and the bullpen seems to be under control for the most part. Despite losing their first five games this month, the Red Sox are a respectable 23-24, substantially better now than the overall record will tell you.
So, can April’s ice-cold start really be connected to the fiery and controversial Valentine? Here are three reasons why that’s not the case:
If you go to Vegas, you’ll see juggling acts everywhere. For Valentine, he should be showcased in prime-time at the best spot for the act he’s had to perform. The Red Sox have seven outfielders listed on the disabled list. Valentine imaged balls being tracked down in the outfield by speedster’s Crawford and Ellsbury. Now, he’s forced to play Scott Podsenik, Daniel Nava and Marlon Byrd; not quite the roster he envisioned when he took over. The offense had to be patched together with Kevin Youkilis battling injuries from the onset and Adrian Gonzalez struggling to find his power at the plate.
You can only play the hand you’re dealt. For Valentine, he’s making the best of it. He can be blamed for calling guys out, such as he reportedly did to Youkilis earlier this season. He can be criticized for lineup changes and for whom he chooses to take the mound.
However, he can’t be blamed for how the pitching performed out of the gate, or for how many bodies fell to the DL. He’s making the best of the situation that’s in front of him. So far, he’s steadying the rough seas, hoping that the tide will turn in his favor as the hot days of summer creep closer and closer.
Starters Jon Lester, Buchholz and Beckett all severely struggled in April. Over a combined 15 starts in the first month of the season, the three combined for 59 earned runs. Buchholz gave up five earned runs for three straight starts. The bullpen was atrocious, with Aceves combining for eight runs allowed in his two blown save opportunities in April.
The lone bright start has arguably been 25-year-old lefty Felix Dubront, who is currently sustaining a 3.96 ERA while punching out 53 batters over 50 innings.
Recently, however, Beckett and Lester have turned the corner. Beckett is tossing a respectable 3.75 ERA over 25 innings in May, posting a 21-to-six strikeout-to-walk rate. In his first three starts this month, Lester only allowed five earned runs over 20 innings of work.
Aceves also continues to find his place among the relievers. He’s collected six saves this month, and despite that the fact that that’s only one more than he had in April, he’s doing it much more effectively. He’s posting a 2.30 ERA in May, far better than his abysmal 10.29 ERA the previous month. He striking guys out in the ninth inning (16 in 15.2 innings this month) and solidifying that role at the end of the game.
Stability translates into success, and finally, for the first time all season, the Red Sox are finding the ground beneath them.
If I were to tell you that the Baltimore Orioles would lead the AL East on Memorial Day, you wouldn’t probably be all that surprised. Hot streaks come and go, and eventually, the cream rises to the top. Every dog has its day.
However, if I also told you that on the same day the Orioles lead the division, the New York Yankees and the Red Sox stood fourth and fifth, respectively, you wouldn’t believe it.
Well, that’s exactly what’s happening.
Entering Monday, the Orioles stand at 29-19 with a chance to make real noise this season, their first opportunity in years. Adam Jones and Matt Weiters lead a talented core of players that looked prime to take the next step. Both are 27 and show no signs of slowing down.
The Tampa Bay Rays have been a threat in the division for nearly five years now and are again on the cusp of making the postseason, potentially its fourth time in five seasons. Despite the absence of Evan Longoria in their lineup, the Rays are patching it together as the pitching staff acts as the backbone.
The Toronto Blue Jays have a plethora of talent in the minor leagues, but some key acquisitions are starting to pay off. For the first time since arriving in Toronto in 2009, Edwin Encarnacion is showing the power that most thought he had while with Cincinnati. He’s hit 15 homers while driving in 39 RBIs, posting a .906 OPS, the best by far for his career.
The Yankees and Red Sox have too much talent to miss out. The last time both of them missed the playoffs in the same year was 1993. It’s been nearly 20 years since then, and the trend suggests that the both of them will be in the running for a postseason berth by season’s end.
Valentine can’t help it that the competition around him has stepped up its game. It’s out of his hands. He can only control so many factors. It wasn’t just him that is surprised that the AL East has completely turned over; no one could have expected it.