Sad, Disappointing Day

There is strong indication that Terry Francona is no longer the Red Sox manager. Based on what I’ve been reading, the Red Sox will announce later today that the decision to part ways was mutual. But the fact is, the Red Sox had a 2-year option on his contract and it was really up to them whether he stayed or not.

It is a sad day because of all Francona did in his 8 years in Boston. First and foremost is to bring 2 World Series Championships to the city, something a long time in the making in case you hadn’t heard. Additionally, Francona seemed skilled at both running a baseball team both from a tactical standpoint and a babysitting standpiont. Boston ain’t an easy place to coach, much like New York, Chicago and Philly, and not any person can take the reigns of a Red Sox team and be successful. The pressure, the omnipresence of the media (TMZ included) makes coaching here difficult and at times probably miserable.

Yet Francona pulled it off. Yes we can all argue with his decision making (like starting Ryan Lavarnway at catcher and batting him 5th on Wednesday), but all in all, he did a very good job and really was quite savvy with the media and insulating his players. He won 744 games in 8 season, posted a .574 winning % and took the Red Sox to the playoffs 5 times.

So off he rides into the arms of the Chicago White Sox and the Red Sox are left looking for a manager.

What is disappointing about Francona’s leaving is what is being said about the 2011 Red Sox. Reports that Francona had “lost” the team and that the players behavior lacked professionalism and was petty.

From John Tomase in today’s Boston Herald: “From pitchers drinking beer during games on their day off (in the clubhouse) to Francona calling a team meeting after a 14-0 victory to address negativity and a lack of cohesion…”

Tomase quoting Francona: “This team I think became challenging at the end. There were some things I was worried about. We were spending too much energy on things that weren’t putting our best foot forward toward winning.”

Wow, Francona nevers calls out a player, let alone the whole team. He must really have been at wits end with this group.

Also from Tomase: “According to multiple sources with knowledge of the meeting, Francona was in part annoyed over complaints about the buses to the ballpark and wanted players to focus their energy more positively.”

This really makes be dislike the current roster, if these things are true.

The Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham outlined some more damning comments from Francona in yesterday’s press conference: “There were some things that did concern me. Teams normally, as the season progresses, there’s events that make you care about each other and with this club, it didn’t always happen as much as I wanted it to. And I was frustrated by that.”

Write’s Abraham, “An observer of the team from Feb to Sept, the Red Sox were a collection of talented individuals who didn’t necessarily seem all that concerned with the guy next to them.” Francona detailed that a bit: “Ultimately you don’t need a team that wants to go out to dinner together. But you need a team that wants to protect each other on the field and be fiercely loyal to each other on the field. That‘s what ultimately is really important. I wanted us to handle things on the field a little bit better than we did. At times, we just didn’t get there and it was very difficult.”

Again, from a manager who never called out a player, these words are telling.

It makes me think back to the days of 25 players, 25 cabs back in the 80s. It goes to show how much time is spent on talent evaluation and so little time spent on personalities and leadership, or perhaps gauging just who is a leader. Even the strongest of leaders needs help and if you don’t have enough players drinking the coolaid, things run amock. All of this makes me really upset at the Red Sox players as a whole, or at least those who were self-centered and so childish as to criticize their bus arrangements.

This is the first shoe to drop and if/when those who couldn’t behave professionally are identified, they will be shipped out. Time for a culture change in the Red Sox clubhouse.

Too bad it means the departure of arguably the most successful Red Sox manager ever.

Back Where We Started

On March 31st, the Yankees took on the Tigers at the Stadium on a cold and wet Opening Day. It was Verlander vs. Sabathia and the Yankees prevailed 6-3.

The Yankees used patience that day against Verlander. He stuck out eight over his six innings of work, but it took him 114 pitches to do it. His only mistake was a pitch that Mark Teixiera deposited into right and he left with the game tied at 3. The Yankees then scored three runs off the Tigers’ bullpen, highlighted by Curtis Granderson hitting a homer off of lefty Phil Coke, a sign of things to come.

Detroit is probably the worst first round opponent the Yankees could face. They have Verlander and he is going to pitch Games 1+5 now, but I am sure that would change if Detroit faced elimination in Game 4. Doug Fister, who has a 1.79 ERA since coming to Detroit, gets the ball in Game 2. Max Scherzer 4.43 ERA overall but 3.80 at home goes in Game 3. And for now, Rick Porcello is listed as the Game 4 starter.

Their bullpen will be the key to the series. They have impressive ERA’s, but they walk way too many hitters. Al Alburqueque has blown away hitters (13.9 K’s per 9) but also walked the ballpark (6 BB’s per 9). Their closer, Jose Valverde has been good, but he walks 4.2. Walks are going to kill Detroit because the Yankees will be happy to take them, they led the AL this year in that category.

And I think that is what proves to be Detroit’s undoing. I could see them wining tonight (bold prediction I know) but that bullpen is going to hurt them. I’m taking the Yankees in 4.

I’ll be up at the Stadium for tonight’s affair and will try and will post about it tomorrow.

Meltdown

2 years in a row.

The Red Sox, despite pockets as deep as Wilt Chamberlain (he wore pants with massive pockets, trust me), are again also-rans.

It looked so good, the Red Sox up 3-2, the Rays down 7-0. Well, the Red Sox closer gave up 2 in the 9th and the Rays somehow, stunningly, stormed back to win 8-7. No doubt about it, the better team won. The Red Sox are good, but have turned into a sloppy, overpriced, hack of a team.

There will be significant fallout as a result of this collapse. Job security for Theo Epstein and Terry Francona is an issue. I think Papelbon wrote his ticket out of town (and perhaps his mega payday he has always wanted). Wow, so many issues up in the air. Let’s take some time to watch other teams compete in the postseason while we digest this flop.

As a fan, it is so very disappointing to see the team you route for essentially piss away what could have been a rewarding season. I hope ownership takes a good long look and employs their various tools to figure out what went wrong and to never let it happen again.

My quick take is that Theo Epstein hasn’t learned the Dan Duquette lesson that “not all baseball players can play in Boston.” Evidence of this can be seen with Carl Crawford, John Lackey, JD Drew, Edgar Renteria, Bobby Jenks, Daisuke Mastuzaka. Perhaps not all GM’s can play in this town.

More later.

Congratulations to the Rays, they deserved this playoff spot.

And Now The Playoffs

I think I just watched about the greatest span of baseball I have ever seen and I am a little bit disappointed that I won’t see more tomorrow. From Tampa to Baltimore to Atlanta to Houston, we had an amazing night. I’m not sure you could have scripted it better as a baseball fan.

Now we have the playoffs ahead of us. The Yankees are going to play the Tigers which means Justin Verlander and his incredible stuff in two games of the ALDS. And, Doug Fister has made 10 starts since being traded to Detroit and has a 1.79 ERA in them. Detroit will be a very tough opponent, perhaps a tougher one than what the Yankees may face in the ALCS.

After the game, Joe Girardi announced that Freddy Garcia is going to start Game 3 and AJ Burnett is headed to the bullpen. We know Hughes is already in the pen, so this must mean Bartolo Colon’s season is done barring injury. I say that because the only reason to put AJ in the bullpen for the ALDS is if you are considering him for an ALCS start. Otherwise, why waste the roster spot?

Think about it, with Hughes on the roster, you have long relief locked up. Add in guys like Wade and Ayala, who I assume make it, and you should be able to handle almost anything. What situation arises that you need AJ for? (I shudder to think)

I don’t get it, but we will delve into all of it later today.

A Brief Reset

10:55pm- Here’s what we know.

The Rays are gritty, gutty and whatever other overused adjective you want to apply. From 7-0 to 7-6 to the final strike and now a tie game. I imagine Scott Proctor, the Yankees ELEVENTH pitcher of the night will finish things up. Sorry about that Boston.

Red Sox game is scheduled to resume at 11pm with Boston ahead 3-2 in the 7th.

Texas won, so Detroit is coming to New York Friday (gulp) with the Tampa/Boston winner playing Texas.

The Cardinals won so the Braves must win. They are tied in the 12th inning right now.

Looks like Milwaukee will earn the #2 seed in the NL.

If you like baseball, get to a TV or computer, this is amazing!

And BL and I are chatting away in the comments, feel free to join.

WWJD?

I am curious to see exactly “What Will Joe Do” tonight. Barring the return of Brian Gordon from Japan, we know that none of the eight pitchers who made a start for the Yankees this year will make one tonight. We also know that apart from Logan, Ayala and Hughes, the regular bullpen guys are not going to pitch. My guess is we see Betances make his first big league start. He would be on a strict pitch count, but he is probably the only guy down in the bullpen who you could expect to get you to the 4th or 5th inning right now.

I also want to see what Girardi does with the lineup. I imagine we will see the regular lineup tonight, but at some point those guys are going to be sent to the bench. When that happens probably has something to do with the score of the game, but I wouldn’t expect to see any of the regulars in the later innings. So, we may start out with a lineup that looks like this:

Jeter
Granderson
Teixeira
A-Rod
Cano
Swisher
Montero
Jones
Martin

And end with one that looks like this

Nunez
Golson
Posada
Chavez
Pena
Dickerson
Montero
Jones
Romine

So, if you are a Red Sox fan, you better hope the Yankees score early and often because the Yankee closer tonight is probably Luis Ayala and the lineup isn’t going to look very good in the late innings.

It’s going to make for a weird night of baseball, here are a few things I will be watching for league-wide in no particular order.

Will the Cardinals have to make another huge comeback against Houston? Lost in the stories of the Braves collapse is how bad the lowly Astros have made St. Louis look this week. Houston may have lost 105 games this year, but they are making the Cardinals work. Monday they jumped out to a 4-0 lead and then won in extras. Last night they had a 5-0 lead and lost it. Either way, kudos to the Astros.

On the flip side, do the Braves have anything left? They are at home, playing a Phillies team that has nothing on the line and not getting the job done. Last night they got demolished. If they fall behind again tonight, it could get ugly.

Will the Red Sox really trade for Bruce Chen? I don’t ever recall a trade made for a player who could only start one game and that game isn’t even a certainty.
Can the Tigers win and the Rangers lose? That’s what the Yankees need to have happen tonight to avoid Detroit in the first round. But, it is probably worth noting that the two best teams in the AL since September 1st are Detroit and Texas. Pick your poison.

The MLB.TV app let’s you watch four games at once. I will be taking full advantage of that tonight.

Not Our Problem

There seems to be some hand-wringing over the way Joe Girardi managed last night’s game. The thinking is that the Yankees could have knocked the Red Sox out of the playoffs with a win last night and therefore, Girardi should have gone to some of his better players in key spots. For example, pinch hitting for Romine or not using Scott Proctor. My question is, what happens if Girardi uses A-Rod as a pinch hitter last night and he hurts himself? The answer is that everyone would be killing him.

The fact is, the Yankees have only one thing to play for right now and that is having a healthy roster when the playoffs start Friday. Barring a miracle, the AL Wild Card is going to come out of the AL East which means the Yankees won’t even face the winner unless they advance to the second round of the playoffs. That means it is simply not worth worrying about at this point. They have wrapped up the AL East and homefield in the ALCS (if they make it) now it is time to focus on health.

So, I would fully expect Girardi to dial it way back for the regular lineup. Tonight’s lineup is a combo of regulars and bench players and I would expect Girardi to make it all bench players by the end of the game. I would expect someone like Brackman to start the game Wednesday and I wouldn’t expect to see any of the key bullpen guys more than once this series.

Some will argue that it is unfair to the game for Girardi to play less than his best at this point. I would argue the opposite. The Yankees have earned the chance to throttle back before the playoffs. They earned it by being the best team in the AL over 159 games. What happens in the wild card is up to Tampa and Boston, it’s time for the Yankees to focus on Friday.

Backing Their Way In

The Red Sox terrible play in September reminds many, me included, of the 2000 Yankees. The Yanks went 13-18 in Sept/Oct and actually went 3-15 in their last 18 games. Their lead shrunk to 2.5 games, but they got into the playoffs. Oh yeah, they went on to win the World Series. This fact has been a hot topic around here the past few days.

I’m not suggesting the Red Sox will follow that blueprint, but for Red Sox fans, it’s all we have left as we witness one of the worst stretch runs in history.

The Red Sox are 5-16 in September and are losing to good teams and bad teams, they are equal opportunity losers in September. The pitching staff has posted a 5.98 ERA with enough blame for both starters and relievers.

The wheels aren’t coming off, they came off a while ago.

Fortunately, the Yankees just swept the Tampa Rays allowing the Red Sox to continue to play poorly, but the Red Sox need to now focus on playing badly so the Anaheim Angels can take the Wild Card spot. Come on Red Sox, an epic collapse like this requires that not only your opponents win, but that you lose! It’s a tango baby.

Every member of the baseball side of things in the Red Sox organization can shoulder some responsibility, I cannot put a finger on just why this is happening or how to stop it. Injuries are an easy scapegoat, but no team is healthy this time of year and blowing leads and pitching poorly for such an extended period of time isn’t just a function of injuries.

The greatest worry I have is that this team hasn’t a pulse. I’m not sure of the exact stat, but the Red Sox are 2-58 (ballpark estimate based on what I’ve heard of late) when bdhind from the 7th inning on. Granted most teams are going to lose when behind from the 7th on, but only 2 come from behind wins? Wow.

I can only hope the Red Sox get into the playoffs ass-backward. And once there, start playing baseball again. Things that go down, must go back up, right?

Off to NYC with my family on Saturday to spend time with Peter and his family.

Clincher!

That was a Hollywood ending the Yankees gave us tonight. First, Robertson comes in and escapes another huge jam. Then, Posada comes off the bench and gets the clinching hit. That was awesome.

The Yankees need three more wins or losses by Texas and Detroit to clinch the best record in the AL. I don’t think we will see a regular lineup for a few days and Boston can probably look forward to a chance against some of the “B team” this weekend. The pressure is off and now it is time to get ready for September 30th.

“We’re Not Going To Celebrate”

That quote came from Derek Jeter when he was interviewed after the game this afternoon. The win assures the Yankees of a playoff spot, but not the division crown. Gotta say, I loved hearing that.

The Yankees really have two magic numbers now. They have a magic number of 2 to clinch the division and a magic number of 4 to clinch the best record in the AL. If they win tonight and Boston loses, they wrap up the AL East. In fact, they are now in a position where Boston will have to sweep them this weekend to keep them from winning the AL East.

We probably won’t know who the Yankees play in the first round until the season is almost over. Texas and Detroit are tied and the Yankees will play the one with the worse record, unless Anaheim sneaks into the wild card ahead of Boston and Tampa. The conventional thinking is to avoid Detroit and Verlander who would be very tough in the five game series, but Texas presents plenty of problems as well. The Yankees can’t worry about that, they should just go out and clinch the division and best record in the AL.

They will need to do some pitcher shuffling. CC starts tonight, which means he would take the ball again on Monday. But, the ALDS starts next Friday and he obviously is not going to make the Game 1 start on short rest. So, I imagine the Yankees will have him make and abbreviated start Sunday against Boston. Nova would be scheduled to go Sunday and could be moved to Monday, either way he is in line to start Game 2. Colon starts tomorrow and would be in line for Game 3. The big question is Hughes. He was sent to the doctor today, that may make Freddy Garcia the Game 4 starter by default. (Yup, not including a certain other pitcher in this discussion.)

The other questions that will be answered over the next week are the health of Cervelli and the back of the playoff bullpen. If Cervelli can’t go, it seems like the Yankees will carry Romine as the backup catcher. I think that is a dumb decision. You don’t use a backup catcher in the playoffs unless there is an emergency and Posada or Montero could step in if that were the case. As for the bullpen, we know Rivera, Robertson, Soriano, Logan, Ayala and Wade are probably in. I would assume the Yankees will cut down to 11 pitchers which means the last spot is probably a long guy or another lefty. Valdes looked good today Noesi didn’t. Advantage additional lefty.