The Worst Of The 2011 Boston Red Sox

Last week, we focused on the bright side.

But now is the opportunity to wallow in the misery that was the 2011 season. Consider this Baseball Festivus: time for the airing of the grievances portion with the worst moments of 2011. Feats of strength begin on Opening Day.

The purpose is not to stir up the negative emotions you have been in therapy for since September. The focus is on one final cathartic release of negativity, a eulogy of sorts, for the 2011 season and it's aftermath.

With Opening Day just 58 days away, let the anger out and let the healing begin.

April

The Red Sox were going to win the World Series. At least that was the prediction before the season started. After all, they signed Adrian Gonzalez. And Carl Crawford. And the pitching rotation was healthy. All signs pointed to destruction and devastation of any team that could potentially stand in their way.

Oh, how wrong that prediction felt in April.

The Red Sox lost on Opening Day to the Texas Rangers 9-5. Jon Lester had a mediocre start, giving up five runs in as many innings, and the Daniel Bard implosion of the 8th inning (giving up four runs) was an ugly way to start. And the games that followed were increasingly harder to watch as the Red Sox were swept in Texas, then swept by the Cleveland Indians.

The six game losing streak on the road to start the season was the worst start for the Red Sox since before World War II and the offense's failure to launch, coupled with pitching meltdowns, made for a miserable month of baseball. The Red Sox finished April 11-15, their second worst month of the season behind September.

2011: The Year of the Elbow Injury

Daisuke Matsuzaka

2010 was a rough season for Daisuke Matsuzaka, and the start of 2011 was different. In his first two starts, Matsuzaka looked uncomfortable and lacked confidence. Matsuzaka lasted just two innings in his second start, in which he gave up seven runs to the Tampa Bay Rays in a 16-5 loss.

But Matsuzaka was able to string together two quality starts and stellar performances, with a 7.0IP, 1H, 0ER start against the Toronto Blue Jays and a 8.0IP, 1H, 0ER start against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. However, on April 29th against the Seattle Mariners, Matsuzaka was pulled after five innings with elbow soreness.

To his credit Matsuzaka tried to pitch through the discomfort. But on May 16th against the Baltimore Orioles, Matsuzaka walked seven batters and gave up five hits in just 4.1 innings. His fastball was never above 88 mph, which was a serious concern. Not surprisingly, following that start Matsuzaka was placed on the disabled list and was later diagnosed with a tear in the ulnar collateral ligament. Matsuzaka underwent Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery on June 10th. Sidelined for the rest of the season, Matsuzaka will be lucky to return to the rotation by June of 2012.

Rich Hill

On June 1st against the Chicago White Sox, Rich Hill threw just seven pitches before leaving the game with elbow discomfort. The loss of Hill is often overshadowed by injured starters last season, but Hill had emerged as an integral member of the bullpen. In nine appearances, Hill pitched eight scoreless innings out of the bullpen, allowing just three hits, striking out 12 and walking just three. A shoulder injury sidelined Hill in 2009 as well, but his reinvented side-arm delivery seemed to be working. Unfortunately, it's hard to know what might have been: Hill underwent Tommy John surgery in June, ending his season.

John Lackey

Perhaps no player had a more frustrating season than John Lackey.

2011 marked a point in Lackey's career where is personal life unraveled publicly and his performance on the mound left many scratching their heads as he struggled. Early in the season, Lackey experienced tightness in his throwing elbow, but MRIs did not show anything conclusive. Though the Red Sox decided it would be best to address Lackey's elbow conservatively with rehab starts. For a portion of the season, especially July and August, Lackey pitched better. Once the season ended, Lackey underwent more testing and it became evident that his elbow injury was more serious than originally anticipated and he would also need Tommy John surgery in the off-season. It is expected that Lackey will miss all of the 2012 as he recovers.

Kevin Youkilis

Not only was there an epidemic of elbow injuries, Kevin Youkilis' struggle with injury continued. In 2010, Youkilis played in only 102 games as he dealt with a right-thumb and groin injury. His struggles continued in 2011 with a litany of injuries.

In 2012, Youkilis spent time on the disabled list for the following reasons:

  • Illness
  • Stomach illness
  • Sore back
  • Hand injury
  • Right hamstring tightness
  • Back stiffness
  • Sports hernia

Youkilis played in 120 games and is expected to be ready for the 2012 season, after two seasons of injuries his health remains a concern.

J.D. Drew

J.D. Drew's left shoulder injury came at a bad time for the Red Sox as well. Drew played just 82 games last season missing part of July, August, and September. Though Drew's performance this season was lackluster as he struggled with injury, he did return to the Red Sox lineup for the last three games of the season as the Red Sox fought for playoff contention.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of Drew's injury is the anti-climatic way his tenure in Boston ended. Drew enters 2012 as a free agent, although it seems unlikely he will sign with another team before spring training. While Drew's lack of emotion and contract are often criticized, he has been an integral piece of the Red Sox lineup since 2007.

September

The Red Sox entered September in first place, after beating the Yankees 9-5 on August 31st. Even after losing to the Rangers in the first two games on September, the Red Sox still had a nine-game lead over Tampa Bay for the Wild Card, with roughly a 99.6 percent chance of making the playoffs.

However, the Red Sox finished September with a 7-20 record, the lead over the Rays had disappeared and the Red Sox missed the playoffs in a heartbreaking loss to the Baltimore Orioles in Game 162. The collapse is one of the worst in baseball history, drawing comparions to the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers, the 2007 New York Mets, and many others whose September collapses cost them playoff berths.

And while some call it a collapse, it seemed to be more a series of unfortunate events, especially where the starting rotation was concerned, with a less than ideal starting rotation. Matsuzaka and Buchholz were on the disabled list. John Lackey, who we now know was playing injured, probably should have been on the disabled list. Tim Wakefield continued his quest for Win #200 and kept failing. Andrew Miller had two starts, including a 1.1 IP gem on September 2nd (more on that later). Realistically, the Red Sox had three healthy major league starters: Jon Lester, Erik Bedard, and Josh Beckett.

Looking at the splits, the Red Sox offense was consistent throughout the season and showed no real decline in average, slugging, or on base percentage in September. September did yield less home runs, walks, and stolen bases than other months. The Red Sox were also caught stealing 10 times in September, the most of any month that season. Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Kevin Youkilis were weak spots in the September lineup, but Jacoby Ellsbury, Marco Scutaro, and Adrian Gonzalez continued to get on base and hit for power.

On September 28th, Game 162 of the season, the Red Sox were defeated 4-3 by the Baltimore Orioles with Papelbon on the mound. Months later, we can all see Robert Andino's hit to Carl Crawford and his pitifully miscalculated attempt to catch it. And there's still pain over the loss and the Red Sox season ending without a chance at the playoffs, but the storm that followed the collapse surprised everyone.

Inside the Collapse

In any sport, a string of losses tend to prompt a look at the management.

But Terry Francona, whose leadership brought two World Series Championships back to Boston, seemed to largely escape scrutiny. Sure, there were rumblings and the occasional outburst calling for his head, but in a time when everyone was searching for a scapegoat, Francona did not seem like the head that would roll. But just two days after the season ended, Francona announced he would not be returning as the Red Sox manager in 2011.

Then on October 12, things got much messier. The Boston Globe published "Inside the Collapse," a 2,500 word expose on the 2011 Boston Red Sox. And with just 2,500 words as a catalyst, a series of accusations were exposed in a big way:

  • A General Manager who had a $161 Million dollar payroll, but could not piece together a playoff appearance
  • Ownership so out of touch with the players that they tried to bribe good behavior with yacht-rides and $300 headphones.
  • A group of apathetic pitchers who spent more time in the clubhouse drinking beer, eating fried chicken, and playing video games than being leaders
  • And a manager too consumed with personal struggles (a son in Iraq and a divorce) to manage effectively. Oh, and he might be addicted to pain medication.

And with that article, the landscape of the Red Sox changed.

The starting rotation was ridiculed for being unfocused, unmotivated, and apathetic. There were accusations, public apologies, and speculation that their injuries were caused by lack of conditioning. And while fried chicken and beer seemed like the least of the Red Sox worries in the collapse, every action of the Red Sox orgainzation was put under a microscope and analyzed tirelessly as October turned into a witch-hunt for an explanation as to why the Red Sox didn't make the playoffs.

And while it seemed that the departure of Terry Francona ensured that Theo Epstein would remain the General Manager of the Boston Red Sox, the same day "Inside the Collapse" went to print, Epstein announced he would be leaving the Red Sox for the Chicago Cubs, a decision which seemed so unlikely when his name came up in August when Jim Hendry was fired.

And the ugliness continued. And there were more stories about players' personal lives, Francona's career moves, and Epstein's decision to leave. There was a search for a new manager that was perceived to take too long, with the outcome being the unlikely Bobby Valentine.

In some ways, the off-season collapse was just as bad if not worse than the one that happened on the field. The dynamics of the 2012 season will be much different, with the addition of new management, new players, and hopefully a new attitude.

Honorable Mentions For The Worst

  • Carl Crawford's April Slash Line: .155/.204/.227
  • The Red Sox were shut-out 11 times last season, the most since 1992
  • Bobby Jenks, who signed a 2 year/ $12M deal had only 19 relief appearances before spending the majority of the season on the disabled list
  • May 5th: John Lackey, Scott Atchison, and Rich Hill combine for one of the ugliest pitching performances of the season as the Red Sox lose 11-0 to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
  • July 5th: Down one run, Daniel Bard gives up 3 runs in the 8th inning. Robert Andino has a 3 RBI game. Even though the lead was just blown, the crowd at Fenway still sings Sweet Caroline, much to the chagrin of those actually watching the game.
  • August 26th: Utility player Darnell McDonald makes his 2011 pitching debut in the 9th inning as the Oakland Athletics destroy the Boston Red Sox, 15-5.
  • September 2nd: Andrew Miller goes 1.1 innings, giving up five hits, six earned runs, four walks, and one home run on just 52 pitches. As a side anecdote, I attended this game and have it captured in my scorebook. Easily the worst game I've ever had the (dis)pleasure of witnessing. Red Sox lose, 10-0.
  • September 28th: The Red Sox lose to the Baltimore Orioles in the 9th inning with a walk-off hit by Robert Andino on a botched play by Golden Glove left fielder Carl Crawford. Red Sox miss the playoffs, the season is over and the flood gates for the October aftermath are opened. Red Sox lose, 4-3.
  • Anything that happened in October that had the Red Sox name attached to it. I would advise you NOT to do a google search on this subject.

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