Who’s to blame for Red Sox mess? Not John Farrell
You can't lose games that you don't play, although it feels like the Red Sox could find a way. Mother Nature showered the reeling Red Sox with some mercy on Monday, a chance to regroup with a rainout against the Minnesota Twins.
You know it's a season gone sideways when a rainout feels like a cause for celebration. It's jarring how the climate around the Sox has changed since they were last home.
There was a lot of sunshine and optimism when they closed out a homestand May 24 by taking two of three from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, winning, 6-1, on a gorgeous Sunday in the Fens suffused with summer's touch and crisp baseball. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts remarked the team could go on a 10-game winning streak after that victory. Some dimwit (raising hand) implored you not to give up on them.
On Monday, it was all doom and gloom for our conquered heroes, who returned after a disastrous 1-6 road trip, punctuated by a gut-punch, 4-3 walkoff loss to the Texas Rangers on Sunday. The weather was a perfect metaphor for the state of the Sox — cold, dreary, and disappointing. A rainout was fitting for a 22-29 last-place team that is rapidly taking on water and hanging its manager out to dry.
The Red Sox already have gotten a pitching coaching fired (Juan Nieves). Now, they've put manager John Farrell in the crosshairs. If any of these guys like playing for Farrell, it's time for more winning streaks and fewer team-turnaround meetings.
A third last-place finish in the American League East in four seasons is unacceptable for a team with the resources and fan fealty of the Red Sox, especially when the division this year is the equivalent of the NFL's mediocre NFC South.
It's nearing time for ownership and upper management to do something drastic to save the season. Only the Oakland A's have a worse record in the AL than the Sox. Boston tied the Miami Marlins for the worst record in baseball in May (10-19). The Sox ranked dead last in the majors in runs (82) last month and the final two games of road trip featured embarrassing miscues and six errors.
The stewards of the Sox have few game-changing options and the most obvious one to shake the clubhouse from its torpor would be to fire the manager they gave a two-year extension (with a club option for 2018) to in February.
It's not fair, but it's easier to change one man than recalibrate a 25-man roster.
Red Sox managers never enjoy the universal job approval and blind faith that a certain football coach in Foxborough gets. Second-guessing a Red Sox manager is like bemoaning Cape Cod traffic — it's a time-honored summer ritual.
Farrell made the right decision Sunday, when he walked Prince Fielder to face pinch-hitter Josh Hamilton. The odds of the paunchy Fielder beating you with a home run were higher than him thundering from first with the winning run.
Baseball isn't like football. While the manager can influence the outcome of games with individual decisions, he can't have the same impact on the outcome of a season as a football coach. A manager can't outscheme his players' performance or disguise their shortcomings in the field or at the plate.
He can't motivate them with roaring oratory for 162 games. His job is to manage personalities and employ strategy — some sabermetrically-inclined teams don't even allow the manager to do that.
We can rhapsodize and reminisce about Morgan Magic in 1988, but that's the exception, not the rule.
It's not Farrell's fault that Hanley Ramirez dawdles like he is picking daisies in left field. It's not Farrell's fault that $72.5 million man Rusney Castillo runs the bases like he is on a Slip 'N Slide. It's not on the manager that David Ortiz is batting .224 with a .382 slugging percentage.
It is his fault that he foolishly proclaimed he had five aces in spring training. The Sox have a 5.05 starters' earned run average, the second worst in baseball.
The Sox have the lowest batting average on balls in play in the major leagues (.269). You could say that's bound to even out, but Fangraphs also has them for the highest percentage of soft contact in the majors (21.1 percent). That's indicative of a lineup that looks better on paper than in the batter's box.
Farrell projects an image of being an NPR manager. He is always even-keeled and cerebral in interviews. He doesn't throw players under the bus. It's hard to see the man that Clay Buchholz said he was fearful of when Farrell was Boston's pitching coach. You can see where Farrell would draw criticism for being too permissive, like he did in Toronto from Omar Vizquel.
It's probably not a coincidence that Farrell's best season as manager, 2013, came with a group of players that was heavily self-motivated.
That World Series-winning Sox team was carrying the torch for the city after the Boston Marathon bombings, had suffered the indignity of a last-place finish in 2012 and had players such as Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli, who were determined to have bounce-back seasons.
This is Farrell's fifth season as major league manager — he spent two seasons in Toronto — and he has finished with a winning record just once (2013), as his detractors are all too happy to recite.
This is not his mess. It's one created by general manager Ben Cherington, who constructed this flawed team, and by a philosophy, espoused by owner John Henry (also the owner of the Globe), that emphasizes the age of a pitcher over his track record or talent level.
But it's a mess that Farrell has to pull the Sox out of and fast or he won't weather the storm.