If we could stop having relievers with this look on their face, it'd be a good start. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
The Red Sox didn't get a chance to seek some form of vengeance for Saturday's humiliation at the hands of the Yankees, as a serious rainstorm led to a postponement of the final game of the series. Ultimately, this may have been a good thing, a day off could be useful for the Sox as they try to regroup. If nothing else, it certainly can't hurt.
Boston, as you may have noticed, is 4-10 right now, second-worst in the AL. (Thanks for being there, Royals.) They started their season with 14 games against Detroit, Texas, Tampa Bay, Toronto, and New York, all (with the exception of Toronto) playoff teams from last year. Going in, I think we all acknowledged the likelihood that the Sox would come out of that stretch with a losing record, but to be 4-10, and in particular this 4-10, is a bit stunning.
Tonight, the Sox play Minnesota, to kick off a 22-game stretch against Minny, Chicago, Oakland, Baltimore, Kansas City, Cleveland, and Seattle. None of these teams is considered a serious contender, and none of them is on the same level talent-wise as Boston. It's the perfect opportunity to get on a nice roll and back above .500. On the other hand, if they can't pile up wins against this bunch, it's probably time to start seriously thinking toward 2013. Hopefully it doesn't come to that. Of course, at least a few of the storylines surrounding the Sox are making me seriously consider finding a different way to spend my evenings for the rest of the summer.
As Ben covered last night, the Red Sox have decided to skip Daniel Bard's spot in the rotation. Bard would have pitched last night's game against the Yankees, but with the rainout, Boston will let Jon Lester go on normal rest against Minnesota tonight. Now, it's not particularly unusual, especially early in the season, to skip the fifth starter in order to keep the top guys on their normal schedule. What is unusual is that Bobby Valentine has said Bard will be available out of the pen before his next start on Friday. This is very likely a one-time move, a relatively meaningless shuffle to keep the rotation on a four-day schedule and ensure that the bullpen has the extra depth if it needs it. But it's hard not to see the ghost of Joba Chamberlain's elbow here.
The Yankees famously stuck Joba in the pen when he first came up, and he thrived in his role as Mariano Rivera's setup man. The following season, they decided to stretch him out, feeling that his arsenal and build made him a perfect fit for the rotation. But he struggled a bit early, and more significantly the Yankee bullpen fell to bits, so back to relieving he went. They proceeded to do this will-he-start-or-relieve dance all year, and ultimately he wound up first losing his command, and eventually getting hurt repeatedly. It's hard to remember, but Joba was the top Yankee pitching prospect for a very long while, and now he's on the shelf and likely trade bait for someone willing to gamble.
Pitchers, like the rest of us, need to know what their job is. Mostly for pitchers it's about knowing what workout regimen to stick with, but there's also an element of comfort. If Bobby Valentine wants Bard in the pen, he should just put him there and be done with it. I still think Bard has proven worthy of a rotation slot, but if my choice is between a stud reliever and a maybe-swingman who doesn't know in any given week what his job is, I'll take the reliever.
Speaking of Bobby Valentine, aren't we all thrilled with the job he's done so far? Awesome stuff, right? No torches or pitchforks anywhere in sight. Bullpen management, lineup construction, not publicly shaming your players... It's just been one triumph after another. But the people calling for his head are forgetting one thing: who's going to replace him? Sure, Bob McClure or Tim Bogar could probably fill in for a few weeks, but the Sox would need a long-term solution, and that might be hard to come by.
Imagine for a moment a professional baseballing coach. We'll call him John Perfectmanager. He played a few years in the bigs, coached in the minors for a while, and is generally seen as one of the top up-and-coming guys in the baseball managing game. He even (get ready to swoon) is a well-known fan of sabermetrics, and occasionally cites xFIP and WPA in his interviews. John Perfectmanager is on the top of a very short list of phone calls Ben Cherington makes after Bobby Valentine is fired following a sweep by the Twins.
If you were John Perfectmanager, would you take the job? On the one hand, it's the Red Sox. The salary's pretty good, you've got guys like Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez anchoring your lineup. On the other hand, consider why you're getting the job. The guy right before you lasted a month before his bosses threw him to the wolves. The guy before that was publicly smeared on his way out the door, in a manner so brutal that it apparently damaged his future job prospects. And that guy had won two championships. Bobby Valentine needs to get better, and quickly. But firing him this early isn't good for anyone.
To wrap up here, it's that glorious time of year again, when the Sox are scuffling, and it's clearly because Fenway Park blares a lousy Neil Diamond tune during the middle of the eighth inning. Diamond's voice, after all, has been proven in lab studies to reduce the speed of fastballs by four miles per hour. Let's get the obvious out of the way. I hate "Sweet Caroline." You hate "Sweet Caroline." It's a terrible song, and I enjoy the "let's all sing the "whoa-oh-oh"s about as much as I enjoy the Wave. Fun story: I actively contemplated murder once because of "Sweet Caroline."
Last September, I was at the next-to-last home game. First time ever on the Green Monster, and it was ruined by Robert "Pure Evil" Andino. After his bases-clearing double off Jonathan Papelbon, I walked down the wall to the restroom. I passed on my way three young boys, probably ten or eleven, each wearing a different team's cap, and as the first few lyrics warbled their way across the park, the lead boy jumped and shouted "They're playing "Sweet Caroline!"" I seriously wanted to punt all three of them onto Landsdowne Street. Because they were happy and I was three shades beyond enraged.
I get it, I do. There's something incredibly aggravating about watching as the Yankees take the lead away, and then the damn Whos sing anyway. But it doesn't make the Red Sox a mockery of a serious franchise. It's not like they've got sausage races, or t-shirt cannons, or Ned Colletti. If singing along to a crap late-sixties tune puts a few extra butts in seats, or makes some fans happy, then keep playing it. If nothing else, it makes the restroom line a lot shorter during the eighth-inning break. And that's something that everyone can be happy about.