Early this preseason, Todd sent out an email asking if anyone wanted to join him in writing a point/counterpoint piece for USA Today’s fantasy magazine. The subject would be the Boston Red Sox and their prospects for success heading into 2012. Todd would argue the case that everything would be fine for the Sox and that the Nation need not worry. My task, after agreeing to the assignment, was to take the other side of the argument and lay out the reasons why I thought the Red Sox would once again be bystanders in October. Needless to say it wasn’t that hard to come up with a long list of lingering questions the team was facing in the wake of 2011’s epic collapse. Still, even though I did predict the Red Sox would miss the playoffs for a third straight year, in no way did I think things would be this bad this early in the year.
There is no need to rehash all of the details of the end of last season, we all remember what happened during the 7-20 September and the fallout that followed. Manager Terry Francona was fired and Theo Epstein moved on to a new challenge in Chicago. New GM Ben Cherington’s first order of business was to hire a new manager and it seemed like he had found his man in former third base coach Dale Sveum. The only problem was the Red Sox never made an offer to Sveum and he decided to follow Epstein, signing on to be the new skipper with the Cubs. John W. Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino seemingly pulled the rug out from under their new GM, and when Bobby Valentine emerged as the leading candidate to become the man to change the culture in the clubhouse and restore order in Beantown, it was clear that ownership wanted a big personality in the role.
When Valentine was finally officially announced as the manager, the various sports networks dusted off the video of Bobby V in the dugout with the fake moustache and countless scribes wrote articles rehashing some of his more colorful exploits from previous stints. While the response to the hire was for the most part positive, the element of risk involved could not be ignored and the overriding theme was however the story ended, things would not be boring. I think this quote from Bob Ryan at the time summed things up perfectly, “Only the terminally naive believe they can hire Bobby Valentine and then live a stress-free life.”
So here we are, four days after Valentine’s seemingly innocuous remarks to an interviewer's question on Sunday created a firestorm in the clubhouse, giving us the first but surely not the last big controversy of the year for Bobby V. The funny thing about this whole thing is that if anything, Youk has always been criticized in the past for being too intense. It seems almost laughable that Bobby V would purposefully call out one of his most respected players so early in the year, but it can’t be denied that Valentine has always been a guy who likes the sound of his own voice. While it’s clear he said what he said, I do think he was clearly surprised that he had kicked the hornet’s nest inadvertently.
Things haven’t gotten any better since as the Sox have lost three straight since Valentine’s comments about Youkilis not being “physically or emotionally into the game.” Dustin Pedroia publically rebuked his manager, Youkilis was equal parts angry and confused, the GM seemingly sided with his player, and the manager was forced to backtrack and try to redefine what he had said. The fans let Valentine have it on Monday, as they booed him lustily as he walked to the mound after leaving Daniel Bard in one batter too long. Tuesday saw the Red Sox obliterated by the Texas Rangers 18-3, with Youkilis striking out in all four of his plate appearances. Yesterday’s loss brought more boos and second guessing, as Valentine stuck with lefty Franklin Morales, and watched two straight right-handed bats put a close game out of reach in the eighth inning.
Today is a much needed off-day for the team, but the spotlight won’t be leaving anytime soon. Tomorrow the New York Yankees arrive for the first time this year to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park. I for one will be watching, because what was going to be a great show to begin with now has become an absolute must-see event for baseball fans. News that Terry Francona has decided to join in the festivities only adds to the spectacle, as he will likely be greeted to one of the biggest cheers of the day, while the man who replaced him will be greeted with boos, jeers and language that would make a sailor blush. I’m sure Bobby V knows they are coming and will receive them with the best smile he can muster, but there is no denying that this is not the buildup he or management was hoping for heading into the big celebration. Still, after all the festivities, a game will be played and the players will get a chance to garner some cheers of their own. There is still plenty of time for the Red Sox to turn things around and prove me wrong.
Quick Hits from around the A.L.
Francisco Liriano is making those who gambled on him yet again question their sanity as he was shelled again in a loss to the Yankees. After a great spring, he’s been terrible in three starts. His latest effort left his ERA at 11.91 with a 2.74 WHIP. It doesn’t get any easier with Tampa Bay on deck.
Justin Morneau’s bat came to life in Yankee Stadium as he blasted three home runs in two games. He even played first base for the first time this year, a significant step in his recovery. He’s still a big risk to stay healthy, but those who took a chance on him finally have something to be encouraged about.
Justin Verlander threw 131 pitches in a complete game win over the Royals on Monday. I don’t care what anyone says that’s just plain crazy in April.
Danny Duffy pitched well in the same game, striking out seven in a losing effort. The pre-season sleeper has taken advantage of his shot and should be picked up in all leagues he is still available in.
Jake Peavy is starting to make a believer out of me after another solid outing against Baltimore yesterday. I actually was even able to pick him up in the Razzball Experts League prior to yesterday’s game where he gave up one run on four hits, struck out eight and walked none.
Jim Johnson picked up his fifth save of the year and is rewarding owners who grabbed him late in drafts. With little competition, he could easily be among the league leaders when all is said and done.