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The Lost Decade

By nature I am an optomist. As the Sox season came careening to an end, I wasn't down on their prospects for next year. They had talent on the mound and all over the field. There was only one real threat to making a serious run in 2012: overreacting.

The Sox fell apart because they lost most of their starting pitching in early Sept. and then failed to stop that free fall in the last few weeks. From Aug. 31 to Sept. 16, Josh Beckett pitched 3.2 innings. When he came back, he struggled in 2 of his last 3 starts. That's normal and not alarming if it happens in June.

Jon Lester pitched during that time period but it was evident something wasn't right. He might have been in a slump or tired, but it didn't have to do with drinking with John Lackey. His four straight loses at the end of the season (against Tampa twice, the Yankees, and, of course, Baltimore (fie to thee Baltimore!)) were very disappointing but, again, would not have been alarming had it happened in May rather than at the same time as Beckett was struggling to return to effectiveness.

Prior to this period, Lester and Beckett were legitimate Cy Young candidates. Don't forget that as we pile on. Meanwhile, Clay Buchholz last pitched on June 16 and John Lackey last pitched in 2009 for the California Angels of Anaheim in California of America. Did anyone really expect Kyle Weiland or even Alfredo Aceves to fill that void? Aceves never was and never will be an answer as a starter but he's a revelation as a reliever.

The Sox fell apart and did not make the playoffs because they did not play well enough to make it. They did not play well enough because their starting pitching fell apart. Their starting pitching fell apart because... shit happens and pitching is a complex and unnatural motion done at 90+ miles an hour.

Terry Francona is the best manager in Red Sox history. His failing last year was that he did not turn his team around after it fell off a cliff in early Sept. He does deserve some blame for that. However, this is not football where a manager can game plan is way to a victory here and there. Baseball doesn't work that way.

I wish we as fans and especially the Boston media could accept failure in sports as simply a failure to play better than your opponent. Generally, it's not a moral failing; it's not a lack of leadership; and it's not a single player's fault. The baseball team lost because they did not play as well as the other baseball team on the field.

The Sox did lack a rightfielder and saw a disappointing lack of production from Carl Crawford. That said, Crawford had a bad year and still had the 6th best OPS of any starting leftfielder in the AL. In rightfield, JD Drew had a remarkably bad year (worst OPS of any rightfielder in baseball with at least 250 plate appearances) and Josh Reddick (18th on that list) couldn't adjust to pitchers' adjustment to him - he batted .208 in Aug. That said, with Drew's contract expiring and Reddick (24) and Ryan Kalish (23) both coming to a do or die crossroads in their respective careers, the franchise is at a point where it can bring in someone and open up a competition with the young guys. That's a good place to be.

The franchise's reaction to the collapse was to panic - a panic that reeks of micro-management from the ownership. They have let their manager walk away; they have made stupid comments insinuating they don't stand behind Crawford; allowed Theo Epstein to head to Wrigley; and allowed a whirlwind of rumors to overtake the baseball side of baseball to the point at which Globe reporters are asking Tampa's manager about drinking in the clubhouse and indirectly comparing Jon Lester's possible beer consumption with Oil Can Boyd's.

We have not appreciated enough the steady hand with which Tito guided the Sox. Perhaps more important than anything, his calm demeanor with the media and his steady hand on the lineup card weathered the numerous storms that characterizes baseball in New England. When calls came to bench that tiny rookie second baseman, give up on the skinny righty who flamed out after a no hitter, and to release the team's Dominican DH leader, Tito stuck to his guns and his long-range plan. Good luck finding someone else who can do that as effectively.

I am not a huge fan of Theo. He was a good general manager but he tends to get more credit then he deserves in part because he's young, local and his presence in the front office correlates with our franchise's revival, but he made a number of bad long-term decisions and wasn't part of the Beckett-Lowell trade that led us to World Series #2. That said, letting Theo walk (rather than giving him the club president's job which is what I'm guessing he was waiting for) and letting Tito go in the aftermath of the greatest collapse in baseball history indicates that the team is in fact in chaos and that the answer from on high is that Henry-Lucchino-Warner will grab the reigns tighter. When that happens, you sign Danny Tartabull and you convince yourself that Don Mattingly is a franchise player. Remember?

I hope I'm wrong but I think the Sox are entering a lost decade during which they will lead with their wallets and not a long-term plan. They will get a manager who's brilliant but can't deal with the media or the team personalities. They will drive Peddy to a point at which his head explodes with frustration and they'll sign 32-year old "sure things" to play outfield rather than letting someone like Ryan Kalish grow into the job. It's not looking good.

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