Authored by Andrew Perna - 9th August, 2012 - 12:40 pm
Bobby Valentine stepped into a very tough situation, succeeding a player-friendly manager in Terry Francona in a city that adored him for the two World Series titles he helped bring after a historic championship drought.
In addition to filling those large shoes, Valentine inherited a roster full of flaws. The Red Sox are supremely talented and their payroll reflects their past success and star-power, but they have too many character flaws to string together enough wins to compete with the rival Yankees in the American League East.
As we have come to expect, they are hitting well (.268/.326/.439), but the pitching has been so poor that not even the second-highest run total in baseball can keep the Red Sox above water. The pitching staff has a poor ERA (4.35, 24th) and their starters have not been able to remain on the mound long enough for Valentine to set up the bullpen properly.
David Ortiz (currently injured) is having his best season since 2007 -- hitting .316/.414/.609 with 23 home runs in 89 games -- and the offense is finally close to some semblance of health, but they cannot keep the opposing team from scoring just as frequently.
Boston entered action on Thursday at 55-57, but with a +32 run differential.
Plain and simple, the Red Sox will not turn things around, this season or next, unless Jon Lester and Josh Beckett return to form (or are shipped out). Lester has lasted six innings in just 11 of his 23 starts, posting a 5.36 ERA and allowing an eye-popping 18 home runs. He actually has a negative WAR (-0.8) and has allowed 155 hits in 141 innings.
Beckett has struggled and been a malcontent. In 19 starts, the right-hander is 5-9 with a 4.97 ERA and just 86 strikeouts in 116 innings. It is very hard to quantify what a player means to the locker room, but his body language (never that good) has been deplorable recently. His latest start, against the Rangers on Wednesday, was one of his worst. The Fenway faithful showered him with boos as he nonchalantly walked off the mound and towards the dugout.
This is the exactly why Valentine is not the problem in Boston.
Ben Cherington is in his first season as general manager, but this is not his first year with the Red Sox. He knew of the inherent problems in the clubhouse and on the field when he took over for Theo Epstein, but has failed to correct them on at least two occasions.
He could have moved Beckett this past winter for whatever he could get, but the overpowering belief was that the veteran would turn things around and help the Red Sox right a sinking ship. Instead, his value plummeted in the first half of the season and Cherington could not find a taker for him as the trade deadline approached. In my opinion, he should have accepted peanuts (even foam ones) in return, but in reality he may not have even been offered that given the negativity surrounding Beckett in nearly all facets.
John Lackey is another piece that should have been moved, but because of an injury that cost him the 2012 season, that became impossible.
The prevailing belief in Boston, and I subscribe to it wholeheartedly, is that without Beckett and/or Lackey in the picture, Lester would come around and once again become the pitcher that won 65 games over four seasons while striking out around 200 batters and posting a low-3.00 ERA.
Management and ownership came out in support of Valentine this week, something that should not have been necessary. This team has the talent to grab at least a Wild Card berth and, if anything, Cherington is the one who should be sitting on the hot seat. Moves should have been made, but the first-year GM has shown a hesitant trigger finger.
Here is the craziest part of it all: The sky has almost literally been falling in Boston this season, but the Red Sox are not out of the playoff picture. While they trail the Yankees by 10 games for the division lead, they are just 5.5 games back for one of the two Wild Card spots. Of their remaining games, 24 are against teams ahead of them in the standings (Baltimore, Los Angeles, Oakland and Tampa Bay).
They still control their own destiny despite all the turmoil.