I've been relatively good about sports entries recently, so I hope my faithful readers will forgive this brief interruption. I have in mind to make to write it with a broader interest in mind, but I am assured that my faithful readers will let me know whether I have succeeded...
As the Sox swirl into their final 40 games of the season, it seems appropriate to ask "what went wrong?" Until the all-start break, the Sox looked like the legitimate leaders in AL East and after they looked terrible. Part of what happened is that the Yankees retooled, got a few injured players back and surged. But I think that the demise can be blamed on 3 key factors, not all of which are clearly fixable.Starting pitching
I think that, when historians look back on this year, they will eventually rate 4 long-term injuries to starting pitchers among the most important causes. David Wells and Mark Clement were the first down. Lenny DiNardo (or LeoNardo, as I like to think of him) followed soon after and Tim Wakefield succumbed in the middle of the season. None of these guys was the ace of the staff, or even number 2. And the rainstorm of injuries (and failed replacements) eventually led to the introduction of promising rookie -- John Lester). But in retrospect they were devestating. Wells returned to the mound as the season was about to be over and demonstrated how integral he would have been in keeping the Sox in the hunt.
How do you avoid pitching injuries? Well two of these guys were over 40 and I'm sure their cumulative injuries played a big role in how fast they could return. I am hoping that the Sox surging youth movement will play some role in mitigating the impact from injuries.Tired/Inexperienced Relief Staff
I want to be clear here, I give Boston's coach, Terry Francona, full marks for playing the hand he was dealt creatively. He bulked up the bullpen and tried out tons of theories, none of which panned out. In the end, the injuries to the starting pitchers (and the disappointing season of Josh Beckett, for whom we are still waiting) meant that these guys had to pick up lots of innings. More than a typical relief staff. The Sox added a few pitchers to improve the staff, but middle relief is hit or miss -- these are often guys who either didn't make it as a starter or didn't make it as a closer.
The most frequent other option is youngsters on the way up, and Boston stocked their bullpen with plenty of those: Papelbon, Delcarmen, Hansen, Lopez, Snyder, Breslow and El Presidente, Van Buren. None of them (except Papelbon and maybe Breslowe) truly impressed, but all of them showed grit and promise. The problem with youth is that it is, at best, inconsistent.
How do you fix that? Experience. I solemnly hope that the Sox will hold onto many of these guys for next year. You wouldn't want the average age of your bullpen to be under 25, but you have to think that these guys have potential.Getting runners home
This wasn't as much of a problem in the first half of the season, but in the second half, it seemed like bases loaded meant end of inning. Maybe it was the injuries to Varitek and Nixon (hey, how many ex-Presidents does this team have? Another post for another day). Maybe it was that the large bullpen meant small bench and tired staff. Either way, the hits stopped coming and at the most opportune times. In the last month, the team hit close to .290, but more like .210 with runners in scoring position.
If the starting pitching gets more innings next year, we can keep a smaller bullpen, more benchplayers and give these guys more days off.
"Your theory may be crazy, but it's not crazy enough to be true." -Neils Bohr
9,000 leaden steps today. Thbbbbbt.