Boston Red Sox Remain in Denial Rather Than Addressing Their Problems
I can't stand this anymore.
I just watched Jon Lester give up five runs in the first inning of the Boston Red Sox' third game vs. the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday. I'm wondering why the team won't admit how bad Lester has been this season. Why have I not read more about how Lester is trying to work on the specific problems in his pitching mechanics—about how or why his good pitches have suddenly stopped working?
I think the team should consider having Lester skip a couple of turns in the rotation or even go down to Pawtucket to work on his mechanics.
But in most of the discussion about Lester, Red Sox officials, manager Bobby Valentine and Lester himself have often refused to admit the hard facts about Lester's pitching: His pitches that used to be effective are simply not working anymore.
His cut fastball, one of his best pitches over the past few years, has become ineffective, and, in fact, hit hard in recent games. His curveball has recently lacked bite and failed as an "out" pitch the way it used to be. His fastball has lost velocity. His control has become poor during many games.
I think Lester's attitude should have attracted more scrutiny from the Red Sox too. Lester's outlook and demeanor during and after games has been troubling. He's often grown discouraged and distracted during games. Often his dissatisfaction with umpires' calls has thrown him off.
After games, he's been a whiner much of the time, complaining about a variety of things but not talking much about why his pitches aren't working and what he's going to do about it.
My view: The Red Sox' reaction to Lester's struggles exemplifies a very large problem on the part of upper management. I refer mainly to General Manager Ben Cherington and CEO Larry Lucchino.
The team, in a number of instances, seems to refuse to face facts.
Consider these examples:
1. Cherington, in a recent interview with Tony Massarotti on "The Baseball Reporters" on 98.5 The Sports Hub, said he thought if the team stayed healthy, they could, essentially, compete with any team in baseball.
While he said the team would explore the potential for deals at the trading deadline, he felt they were in a strong position with its existing players. From spring training until now, Cherington is not seeing how limited his team's talent is. He'll have to improve in this area to be a good GM.
2. Lucchino, Cherington and Valentine all basically denied the team had experienced serious problems in the clubhouse under Valetnine's leadership.
Yes, they found little phrases to acknowledge that things perhaps were not perfect, but they chose not to confront the fact that something bad had prompted players or coaches to tell a handful of well-known baseball writers the team had serious chemistry problems.
Wouldn't it be refreshing to hear Cherington admit the team had tried to fight through some clubhouse issues rather than hearing the contrasting pictures painted by management vs. these media reports?
3. The team won't admit its handling of pitchers needs enormous improvement in general. For unexplained reasons, Valentine got himself an "assistant pitching coach," Randy Nieman, to help out, and it wasn't clear what he did with pitching coach Bob McClure.
What has McClure done all year to help this staff? We don't know, and one reason is that McClure rarely speaks to the press or public. Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston reported that McClure at times has told Valentine "little of what was said on the mound" when he goes out to talk to pitchers.
He doesn't even visit pitchers on the mound much. I never hear McClure discuss what's wrong with Beckett, Lester or anyone else on the team. It's as if the Red Sox are afraid of upsetting their sensitive pitchers.
All I know is when John Farrell was the pitching coach here, he often did talk about what he felt his different pitchers needed to work on. Farrell was unafraid to speak bluntly to his pitchers. He was a leader. God, is Farrell missed these days!
4. Cherington, Lucchino and Valentine have not stood up to the players and asserted themselves—even when players' remarks or actions warrant a response.
Sometime in the past year, management got in the bad habit of entitling the Red Sox players, and it has gotten out of control now. When David Ortiz went into several rants this year, and, more than once, made reference to his disappointment in playing under a one-year contract, whey couldn't someone remind Ortiz to keep his whining to himself and realize just how good a situation he's had the past few years?
Instead, we always observe silence when Ortiz or any player goes "over the top."
5. Edes reported that bullpen coach Gary Tuck has only minimal communication with Valentine and sometimes walks by the manager. No one issued any response to this reporting.
Sounds to me like an unacceptable situation.
6. The team's communication about players' injuries has been often puzzling or poor. Valentine repeatedly indicates he has limited details on the injury status of players.
Why can't that circumstance be improved? The manager should know exactly what's going on—and, from various accounts, this problem involves other people and factors besides Valentine.
7. Cherington and Lucchino continue to talk like their team's hitting is much better than it is. Yes, the Red Sox have been among MLB leaders in "runs scored," but it's been well-documented by now that they rack up run totals in wins vs. mediocre teams. Their bats often go silent against good teams like the New York Yankees.
This Sox team lacks "contact hitters" who can hit good pitchers. It lacks enough clutch hitters. Seems Ortiz, and occasionally, Cody Ross, are the only "money hitters."
8. Cherington and Valentine are in denial about how good their bullpen is.
Yes, the bullpen performed well in the first half—given its limited talent. In fact, Valentine pieced things together very well to help make pitchers like Vicente Padilla and Scott Atchison do their best and look better than they are.
Yet, Alfredo Aceves, after a number of good outings, has fallen back to earth and performed badly a number of times. He is not a good closer. He should be moved back to his old role.
My overall sense of the 2012 Red Sox is that until Cherington and Lucchino can face facts and confront problems much better, they'll make their team face uphill battles more than necessary.
It's not a coincidence that the team displayed the same kind of denial last August and September as the team began a remarkable collapse. It's time to wake up and start rebuilding the team for the future instead of pretending this 2012 team has a chance against teams like the Texas Rangers or Yankees.
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