TAMPA, Fla. – With the Lightning on a run to a Stanley Cup, pretty much no one is paying attention to the Rays in these parts. Especially since the local nine has been on a West Coast trip all week. But the Rays will eventually get notice if they stay in the AL East race, especially since the Blue Jays and Red Sox are woefully underachieving.
The situation in Boston is reaching a critical point, with the Red Sox last in the division and owning the third-worst record in the AL. Owner John Henry spoke to the media last week and made it clear he supports manager John Farrell and General Manager Ben Cherington – but he also clearly questioned bringing in big-money free agents and not more pitching.
The media in Boston is descending upon the Sox. Veteran Globe baseball columnist Nick Cafardo used three one-word sentences to describe the team’s efforts on the field and off after Thursday’s ugly 8-4 loss to the Twins at Fenway: “Pathetic. Gruesome. Incompetent.”
The Red Sox are pretty much a fraud. The 2013 World Series title looks more and more like a perfect alignment of the planets, with players using the deep motivation of the Marathon bombings to work through the grind of a season and win one for the heartbroken Olde Towne.
It was one of the great stories of recent baseball history but it’s pretty much been all there has been to cheer about lately in Beantown.
The Sox late-season collapse in 2011 was followed by their last-place disaster under Bobby Valentine in 2012. Farrell righted the ship in ‘13, then watched the team slip from 97 wins to 71 and back to last place in ‘14. It’s more of the same this year. In the last six seasons, in fact, the only year the Red Sox won a postseason series was in 2013.
Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez have been poor offensively and worse defensively. David Ortiz is struggling to hit .220. Ramirez has simply not taken to playing left field in front of the Green Monster and blew off the media after Thursday’s game. That’s simply not done in Boston. Farrell has had small-group meetings with the three of them and other veterans like Dustin Pedroia and Mike Napoli.
Nothing has worked for a team that entered the weekend batting .244 and holding a collective 4.34 earned-run average. The Sox are 20th in MLB in batting average, 24th in runs and 27th in team ERA.
“There’s a philosophical question of how difficult it is to predict future performance of pitchers versus hitters and some people believe it’s easier to predict how hitters are going to do,” Henry told Boston reporters. “But in this case, when we were trying to address our weaknesses that’s really what we were doing. That’s really what we were doing in bringing in two middle-of-the-order players. We were trying to address what we saw as a real weakness in our offense last year.
“Did we spend too much on offense and not enough on pitching? With hindsight you could perhaps say that, but we don’t have enough offense as far as I’m concerned. I don’t remember seeing our offense look this badly maybe ever since we’ve been involved.”
Sandoval entered the weekend batting .239 with just five home runs and a .658 OPS. Ramirez (.268 with team highs of 12 homers and 29 RBIs) has been much better at the plate but a trainwreck in the outfield.
Sandoval, remember, was a beloved winner in San Francisco who took Boston’s money, $95 million of it over five years. It may be a case of a player leaving a great fit and going somewhere that’s not. Ramirez got four years and $88 million and hasn’t really won much of anything, winning just one postseason series in his career.
“We’ve gone after hitters in the last year or two that aren’t necessarily the most patient,” Henry said. “You can’t really call Pablo a guy who’s waiting for a particular pitch in general. We think, in this day and age, that’s the kind of hitter we want to mix. You still have to get on base, you still have to look for your pitch.
“Offense is not what it used to be in baseball,” Henry added. “The way you win games in 2003 is different from the way you win games in 2015. And we have to make those adjustments as an organization.”
That sure sounds like a we-should-have-kept-Jon Lester speech. And the why-did-we-trade-John Lackey speech.
The Red Sox have already fired pitching coach Juan Nieves and Farrell brought in former Bisons and Indians pitching guru Carl Willis, who had some initial impact. But he’s now seeing the same sort of trouble spots from the likes of Clay Buchholz, Wade Miley, Rick Porcello and Joe Kelly.
For his part, Henry wasn’t passing blame. He said Cherington’s decisions were approved by him.
“I think we’ve been on the same wavelength, so you have to blame ownership as much as you can blame the general manager,” Henry said. “We have a certain philosophy. We’ve talked a lot about adjusting that philosophy. I’m not sure it’s just the players that need to make adjustments. In fact, I’m sure about that.
“There are adjustments we need to make as an organization. Ben will make those adjustments, and he’ll lead that process. I think he and his people are the right people to do that.”
Magic May for Kipnis
How good was Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis in May? The AL’s Player of the Month batted .429 but that hardly tells the story.
Kipnis became just the third player in MLB history with more than 50 hits and at least 30 runs in May. Hall of Famers Ty Cobb (1921) and Al Simmons (1925) were the others. Kipnis’ 51 hits were the most in May by a Cleveland player since 1914 and he reached base 72 times, the most by an Indian since Hall of Famer Earl Averill reached 74 times in July of 1934.
Speaking of the Indians, they benefitted from a blown replay review Tuesday in Kansas City at the MLB war room in New York. Jose Ramirez was ruled safe on the back end of a double play in the eighth inning and the Tribe eventually scored its winning run in that frame. Still, Kansas City manager Ned Yost said it was just a one-time blip in the use of replay.
“I love it. I think it’s a great system,” Yost said. “There are going to be mistakes made just like everything else. Things are going to happen ... mistakes are made. But the system is great. Yeah, they got a call wrong – admit it, apologize for it and move on. That’s what I do when I make a mistake.”
No flipping out
Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he will put the kibosh on any more antics from outfielder Junior Lake, who prompted a brief bench-clearing incident when he took a long time around the bases and even shushed the Marlins dugout as he rounded third on a home run Wednesday night in Miami.
“I don’t want us to take a page out of ‘Major League’ and flamboyantly flip a bat after a long home run,” Maddon told reporters after the game. “I don’t want that at all. That has nothing to do with us ascending. I would even like to use this moment for our minor league guys, that it doesn’t play. For our kids watching, it doesn’t play. Don’t do that; that’s not cool. It’s very, very much not cool. If you’re watching the game back home in Chicago tonight, don’t do that.”
Tough times in Syracuse
In the International League, the Syracuse Chiefs suffered their franchise-record 12th loss in a row Friday night as they gave up eight runs in the 11th inning of a 10-2 defeat to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. It was Syracuse’s 19th loss in 20 games and dropped the Chiefs to 17-38, easily the worst record in Triple-A.
It’s a far cry from last year, when the Washington affiliate had the best record in Triple-A and made the playoffs for the first time since getting swept by the Bisons in 1998. The Chiefs are on pace for just 47 wins, their fewest since winning only 33 in 1920.
The Chiefs enter the weekend last in the IL in attendance at 3,129 per game after finishing last in 2014 at 3,743. Aside from a few key promotional dates, a terrible team doesn’t bode well at the turnstiles for the summer.