Bobby Valentine #25 of the Boston Red Sox leaves the field to the sound of booing after he removed Franklin Morales #46 of the Boston Red Sox in the 8th inning against Texas Rangers at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
You're busy, I'm busy, so let's get to it. The Red Sox are a mess. Suffice it to say the team has had close to every type of self-inflicted wound possible twelve games into a 162 game season.
So let's be proactive. How do we fix it? Well first, before we can fix anything, we have to figure out what's wrong. No, I'm sorry, "everything" isn't an acceptable answer. We have to be more specific. Let's try to identify a few different areas of concern.
Despite injuries to Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury, the Red Sox are in the upper half of teams in terms of runs scored. The distribution of runs has been less than ideal with many coming in just three games, but mostly the team has performed well on this front. Add back a healthy Crawford and Ellsbury and this is the powerful offense we were expecting during the off season. I don't see this as a problem though more offense never hurts.
The Pitching Staff
The Red Sox have given up the most runs in baseball (74) by a pretty large margin. Of course they're only twelve games into the season so "a fairly large margin" is actually eight.
Also it could be instructive to look at the identity of the second-to-last team in runs allowed which would be Tampa. Yes, the Rays who many including myself thought would have the best pitching staff in baseball are, so far, one of the worst.That should provide some hope on two levels: 1) the Rays stink too. Yay. 2) It's still early. We all look at 4-8 and barf a bit in our mouths, but 4-8 happens. The trick is whether the team plays some 8-4 and 10-2 ball to counter it. The chances are good they will unless they all fall apart right now. Which brings us to...
This topic has been beat to death recently. That doesn't mean we can't talk about the manager it just means you have to bring something else to the table and friends, I don't have anything. I haven't liked much about the way Valentine has organized the lineup or dealt with the pitching staff so far. But it's only twelve games. Really. It's only twelve.
So those are the candidates. Let's move on to some solutions.
We'll knock the whole manager thing out right now. Valentine is staying. No matter who he puts at the top of the lineup or how long he leaves Lester or Bard out there to rot on the branch, the front office is invested in this guy. No, he wouldn't have been my first choice and I'm guessing not yours either, but he's not getting fired two weeks into the season and he's sure as hell not quitting. So we can put that one to bed right now. Next.
The Pitching Staff
They just sent Mark Melancon down to Triple A and recalled Junichi Tazawa to take his place. Tazawa should be alright though the same could have been said of Melancon. This team has some talent in the pen but it's not overwhelming talent, and so it has to be deployed correctly and there will be some breakdowns even if it is. The pen isn't bad though. There is going to be some turnover (as always) and adding Tazawa, hopefully a healthy and productive Rich Hill, and eventually Andrew Bailey will all make it a much more productive group of pitchers.
The problem with all of that is it can't happen right now. So Valentine is going to have to do a better job of putting them in positions to succeed. I'd argue that using a bullpen by committee is the way to go. I know that isn't a popular phrase, but if you look at the strengths of the pitchers, one of their common strengths is flexibility. Alfredo Aceves isn't a closer, indeed his best role involves throwing more than one inning at a time. Same could be said of the rest of the pen.
If they're going to use a traditional closer they need to identify someone who is relatively steady and easily replaceable if things go wrong. Franklin Morales and Matt Albers both spring to mind. Installing them as the closer would allow the Sox to deploy Aceves, Padilla, and whomever else they have back there based on match ups and the opportunity of the individual game.
Ultimately, the solution to this one is going to be changing personnel around the edges (Tazawa et al.), waiting for the injured players to return and maybe making some additions closer to the trade deadline.
As for the rotation, the team is going to have to hope their best starters pitch like it more often than they don't. Beyond that, there just isn't much to be done now. But by mid-season there may be. Aaron Cook could be ready to go in the relatively near future and Daisuke Matsuzaka may make his return somewhere near the All Star break. The problem is that, at least right now, the Red Sox best starters are the guys who you'd think would be replaced in the rotation in Bard and Doubront, but fortunately that's a problem for another time. No need to solve it as it may not exist by the time we'd need an answer. For now, more potentially good pitchers equals good.
The way to get the most production out of the lineup is to put the best players in as often as possible and then set the lineup up so that the best players are hitting the most frequently. Through twelve games Bobby Valentine has not done either particularly well. He's given more plate appearances to Mike Aviles than anyone else by hitting him lead off and that one time Nick Punto was written atop the lineup card will forever be burned into my retina. That and he's sat Kevin Youkilis for no good reason in favor of Nick Punto. Hopefully he's in contact with Ben Cherington about those things.
Still, even after those silly lineups, the Red Sox can hit. They have the talent now to be an above average offensive ballclub and that's with the near Triple A outfield they're running out there now. The goal should be to get and stay healthy. Beyond that, put your best guys up top and let 'er rip.
Look, Valentine... I know. I know. But it is what it is and even if you hate him and/or the way he's handled things so far, he's a manager. He's just not that important. Far more important to this team is the pitching staff. The talent they have needs rise to the top, especially in the rotation. Guys like Beckett, Lester, and Buchholz have no business getting their butts kicked with this frequency. They have to pull it together or this team is going nowhere. Fortunately they have the track record where it isn't hard to see them pitch better.
The pen is a different problem. Two years ago the Red Sox had signed three closers in Bard, Jonathan Papelbon and Bobby Jenks. Paps left, Bard is rotationing it up and Jenks has had nothing but health problems seemingly from the moment he put pen to paper on the contract. The Sox went out and got two guys to step into that big hole in Melancon and Bailey. Well, one of them is hurt and the other is ridiculously ineffective. Such is baseball such is life. Not much the Red Sox can do at this point of the year other than what they are doing. Send Melancon down to rebuild his confidence and keep him away from a major league game so he can't do any more damage. Hope he fixes whatever ails him and soon. Hope Bailey comes back soon. Bring up the semi-promising roster fodder in Triple A and give them a shot. It can't be much worse.
The Red Sox aren't this bad. They may not be as good as I and many other analysts thought they'd be but then again they may be. I can't stress this enough: it's only twelve games. We just don't know yet. There is lots and lots and lots of time left to improve or make this a hideous mess from which we'll all want to extract ourselves. The point is, there is hope. There are ways to get better. Valentine can learn on the job. The Sox can add a few arms to the pen while some other guys get better and get healthy. The lineup can get healthy and stay healthy.
There are things that can be done, but mostly, the path to a better record involves the starters simply pitching better. The best part about that is it can happen right now.