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Springtime Storylines: Does anyone remember that the Boston Red Sox were really good last year?

Apr 2, 2012, 3:30 PM EDT

Bobby Valentine Reuters Reuters

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: The Boston Red Sox.

The Big Question: Does anyone remember that the Red Sox were actually, you know, good last year? 

When alien archaeologists come to visit the ruins of our planet — and if they are wise and decide to study the game we extinct humans called “baseball” —  they will likely conclude that the 2011 Red Sox were an abject failure, done in by a manager and general manager not worthy of their jobs and of indifferent players who consumed food that was bad for them.

They’ll think that because that’s the legacy we have left thanks to our obsession with an unfortunate late-season collapse and a couple of articles in which people with the Red Sox organization thought it appropriate to air the sort of dirty laundry that many teams have but so few teams ever share. But the Red Sox were and are more than a team who choked on beer and chicken and then fired the most successful manager and general manager the team has ever known.

They were, for most of the year, the best team in the AL. And they have almost all of the parts that helped them get that way back and much healthier than they were last season. They have Gonzalez and Youkilis and Pedroia and Ellsbury and Ortiz and a pitching staff that, while not ideal, could easily be the staff of a World Series winning team.  They lost their closer. That’s the big loss. And to hear some people tell it, the Red Sox are a mess.

Know what? They’re not a mess. They went and created more drama for themselves than they needed to by firing Terry Francona and bringing in Bobby Valentine — a move that unnecessarily accentuated those late season foibles rather than defuse them — but they are not the sort of disaster area some people like to pretend they are.  Oh, yes, your beer and chicken joke is funny. Laugh? I thought I’d DIE!

I ain’t having it, though. The Red Sox will win a lot of baseball games this year. Maybe by the time Mother’s Day rolls around and they’re doing just fine, thank you, more people will remember that they’re pretty damn good.

So what else is going on?

  • Here’s my thing on Valentine: he seems like a bigger problem than he really is. He gets a lot of headlines and causes a lot of perceived controversy because he is one of those guys who is smart enough to see that empty cliches are not a meaningful form of communication, but not smart enough to realize that there’s a reason why managers use all of those empty cliches. Something will happen and Valentine will make the big mistake of saying something informative and interesting regarding his thoughts on the matter. And then he’ll suffer the lot that those people who try to say informative and interesting things often suffer.  I don’t think, however, that that sort of thing will hurt an otherwise talented team.
  • The rotation has obviously been shaken up. Assuming Josh Beckett’s thumb is OK, the Sox are looking at a rotation of Lester, Beckett, Buchholz, Bard and some combination of Alfedo Aceves and Felix Dubront. Bard may be the key man here. If he transitions successfully — and he has looked pretty sharp this spring — it could be a very good rotation.  If not, the Sox may be taking a second run at Roy Oswalt or someone.
  • For as good as the lineup is, there is a decent chance that David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury will regress some. At the same time the Sox have to expect that Carl Crawford — once healthy — will look a lot more like the Tampa Bay version of Crawford than the Boston version they’ve seen thus far.
  • Jonathan Papelbon is gone, and that will probably hurt more than a lot of people are saying. Papelbon had a really good year last year but did so very quietly. I wouldn’t have paid him what Philly ended up paying him, but he’s probably underrated now, and Andrew Bailey will be a step back, though certainly not a critical one.

So how are they gonna do?

Very well. They should challenge for the division and/or the wild card. And if they do win the division, they’ll probably end up giving Valentine the manager of the year award, all the while forgetting that, hey, this was basically the same team as last year, only a freak skid didn’t happen to them.

  1. spudchukar - Apr 2, 2012 at 3:39 PM

    Sorry Craig, but in my book they are still a mess, and I happen to believe they have improved at closer.

    • HL - Apr 2, 2012 at 3:56 PM

      They are a mess. If they were “really good last year”, they would have at least won the division, and perhaps, perhaps, at least played in the ALCS. They did neither, so therefore, the Red Sox were not “really good last year”.

      It’s like Mariners fans boasting about their 116-win season in 2001. It doesn’t mean squat if you don’t have a World Series ring to back it up.

      • crispybasil - Apr 2, 2012 at 4:30 PM

        Judging by the number of games they won and the number of runs they scored, which I would say are rather important metrics, they were really good.

      • Reflex - Apr 2, 2012 at 5:37 PM

        Statistically playoffs are a crapshoot. Lots of inferior teams have ended up WS champs. It does not mean they weren’t inferior teams who won the end of season lottery.

    • drewsylvania - Apr 2, 2012 at 4:32 PM

      They’re kind of a mess, but their lineup isn’t, and they haven’t improved at closer.

  2. brewcrewfan54 - Apr 2, 2012 at 3:41 PM

    I remember them being good last year. Its just funner talking about beer and fried chicken and how big a jerk know it all Bobby V is.

  3. yankeesfanlen - Apr 2, 2012 at 3:43 PM

    It’s a pain that the Sox are so good vs. Yankees, particularly before the ASG. As far as I’m concerned, the controversy has run it’s course and the Sox should be competitors.
    However I am not a member of the Bobby V. fan club and don’t think he’s right for the job with his funny, funky, finky, flaky methods.

    • bigharold - Apr 3, 2012 at 12:26 AM

      “They were, for most of the year, the best team in the AL.”

      I’m not sure Valentine was the best choice either but I think he has potential, .. to either make the RS really good or really BAD.

      I keep reminding myself that last year the RS were the consensus choice to win the AL East last season and work their way to the WS to face the pitching of the Philllies. I didn’t think a helluva a lot about that last year nor do I think they might be a dismal failure this year. Do the RS have holes, .. absolutely but the have players too.

      I do wish the RS have a decent year lest the faithful on either side start to lose interest.

      You can’t have a rivalry with if there are two evenly matched opponents. The last couple of years the RS aren’t holding up their end of the deal.

  4. thinman61 - Apr 2, 2012 at 3:47 PM

    Good analysis, Craig. I’d add that the Sox will get more production out of RF in 2012 than they did last year, and that the drop-off from Marco Scutaro to Mike Aviles at SS won’t be as large as many fear. If Buchholz remains healthy, and Bard proves at least somewhat effective (more so than last year’s versions of John Lackey, Kyle Weiland, and the Ghost of Tim Wakefield, at least) then the Sox easily could challenge for the division and/or wild card.

  5. rooney24 - Apr 2, 2012 at 3:47 PM

    Lost in the poor finish (5-15 in last 20) and the beer & chicken was the fact that they started the season 2-10. At the opposite ends of the season, they were 7-25. In between, they were 83-47, which would winning at a percentage that would equal 103 wins in a full season. So, yeah, they were a really good team most of the season, but not when they really needed to be.

  6. steviep23 - Apr 2, 2012 at 3:52 PM

    In the month of September they were one of the worst.

  7. chrisdtx - Apr 2, 2012 at 3:55 PM

    I think you’re still suffering from jet lag, Craig. A 6.57 ERA and 16 walks in 24 IP does not fit the definition of “sharp”. Unless you’re talking about the other Bard – he’s always sharp.

    • proudlycanadian - Apr 2, 2012 at 4:33 PM

      Bard and Dubront are 40% of the rotation. The Red Sox will not win 90 games this season.

  8. dowhatifeellike - Apr 2, 2012 at 3:56 PM

    I have a hard time buying it when they missed the playoffs and finished third in their division. When a team is inconsistent like that it usually means they are playing above their heads when they’re hot.

  9. phukyouk - Apr 2, 2012 at 3:59 PM

    I apologize if my math is bit screwy but, while they were the best team in baseball from May-Aug, they were the Worst team in baseball in April and September. if you break that down into % then they were Awesome 64% of the time and just awful the other 36%. that’s about a C avg i think. if you break it down they were the best team in baseball at one point but on the overall picture they were not even close.

    • soxfan1966 - Apr 2, 2012 at 4:39 PM

      In Major League Baseball, being awesome 64% of the time translates into a 103 game winning season — pretty good in my book, and much better than a “C” average.

      No, the Sox didn’t make the playoffs, but they still won 90 games. Unfortunately, that’s not enough in the American League East. Still, it was pretty close when you consider they were in contention up into the final day of the season.

      But I agree with Calcaterra’s thesis here — the drama is magnified because the uniforms say “BOSTON” on the front and due to the hype assigned to the team last season. This year the expectations will be a bit more realistic and if not more tempered, but the Sox will contend.

  10. Mark - Apr 2, 2012 at 4:07 PM

    The Red Sox were no better in 2010 than they were in 2011. Yes, they lost in streaks, but we can’t just ignore the streaks because it’s convenient to do so. The starting pitching is fairly vulnerable with Doubront and Bard in the back end. Bailey’s already on the D/L. Youkilis has missed 20-30 games for 2-3 years now, and Ellsbury isn’t hitting like he did last year.

    They got worse in the lineup from Aviles to Scutaro.

    I’m struggling to think of one thing they got better in, because even with Lackey/Dice-K gone the SP isn’t going to be much better.

    If the Sox had one bad streak you could chalk it up to luck. Twice? That shows there are more flaws that many people overlooked heading into 2011, and they’re doing the same for 2012. They’re simply not better than Tampa or NYY.

    • 18thstreet - Apr 2, 2012 at 4:24 PM

      I think the evidence showed that they were terribly out of shape. Sluggish start to the season and fell apart at the end. I don’t think that’s simply about streaks. That’s about (partly) conditioning.

      If they didn’t address THAT problem, it won’t go away.

  11. randygnyc - Apr 2, 2012 at 4:09 PM

    Red sox 2011= most catastrophic team collapse and personal failures in the history of professional baseball.

    • crispybasil - Apr 2, 2012 at 4:24 PM

      We’ll always have 2004.

      • drewsylvania - Apr 2, 2012 at 4:34 PM

        In fact, Yankees fans will always have 2004, too.

      • phukyouk - Apr 2, 2012 at 4:37 PM

        youre hanging on that? you took an epic record away from the 2007 Mets… be proud

      • drewsylvania - Apr 2, 2012 at 4:38 PM

        Oh, go dig up some dirt on Dave Winfield.

      • crispybasil - Apr 2, 2012 at 5:04 PM

        It’s our head-in-the-sand fallback.

    • bozosforall - Apr 3, 2012 at 12:40 AM

      1919 – 2003 Choke
      1978 Choke
      1986 Choke

      Choke, Choke, Choke

      The chokingest team in all of baseball.

      • drewzducks - Apr 3, 2012 at 1:22 AM

        Which of those numerous years did they become the only team in the history of baseball to choke up a 3-0 playoff series lead?

      • homelanddefense - Apr 3, 2012 at 9:16 AM

        bozo, chokingest poster troll in all of sportstalk

  12. illadelphiasphinest - Apr 2, 2012 at 4:16 PM

    Go away Bobby V.

    The MLB and its fans

  13. - Apr 2, 2012 at 5:59 PM

    I noticed that in June the Red Sox have a home & home with the Miami Marlins.

    6 games with Valentine & Guillen together. HBT should be awesome those days.

    • proudlycanadian - Apr 2, 2012 at 6:36 PM

      If neither has been fired by then.

      • cur68 - Apr 2, 2012 at 10:59 PM

        Gator will need viagra just to calm down.

  14. steelymcbeam6 - Apr 2, 2012 at 10:45 PM

    First…@yankeefanlen, as a sox fan i usually hate Yankee fans mostly because most or ignorant incoherent no knowledge loud mouths but I find your comment up there to be unbiased and well thought out so you’re ok in my book. Second… Even with the collapse they still won 94 games last year. Papelbon is not as big of a loss as this article says. Pap has been getting worse and worse the past few years. Mostly because he can only throw one pitch and when that pitch isn’t on he gets light up. Sox will still have an elite offense and a decent rotation. If Lester can cut back on his walks he will be a cy young candidate. Should win 90+ games, may not win the division but should make the playoffs. Go sox!

  15. hushbrother - Apr 2, 2012 at 11:24 PM

    I disagree that they were ever the best team in the AL last year. This was a team that was awfully good at winning games by scores of 10-0 and 11-2, and then losing three in a row while scoring four runs combined. The offense led the league in runs scored thanks to those blowout games, but in reality was very inconsistent. Papi, Ellsbury, Pedroia and Gonzalez all had great seasons; three other spots in the lineup (3b, rf and ss) were probably below average, and two (catcher and lf) were absolute black holes. Speaking of two black holes, that’s what Lackey and Wakefield were in the rotation (each minus-1.2 WAR), and a third spot became another black hole after Buchholz went down.

    This was a team that was never quite right, even during the stretches when it played well. If you watched the team on a daily basis during the season, this was evident even before the September meltdown. The team that was playing so poorly during that last month had existed throughout the season, but had been held in check until that last month. Then it took over the controls and sank the ship.

    • hawksandsawx - Apr 3, 2012 at 11:12 PM

      If you watched the team during the season you saw that they were demolishing teams. Sure the month of September was brutally bad, but that was more due to the duo of Beckett and Lester wearing down from being the only two capable pitchers on the staff for a long time (since Bucholz was injured). You don’t win 90 games with an awful month and say you saw this coming all year. They were the best team in baseball, based on record the only important stat, for a decent part of the year. I see no reason why they don’t win the division this year and seriously contend for a WS.

  16. ndrocks2 - Apr 3, 2012 at 6:53 AM

    Valentine will self destruct and hopefully doesn’t take the team down with him. Problem is he is an *ss that wants everyone to know he is the smartest man in the room, not however smart enough to know when to shut up. It is preseason and how many times has he already been in the news for quotes, man loves to read his clippings. Papelbon will be missed as Bailey is already hurt and simply not as good when healthy.

  17. psousa1 - Apr 4, 2012 at 11:41 AM

    I preface this by saying Terry Francona is the best Sox manager of my lifetime BUT the elephant in the room is he may not have gone about his business in a professional manner. When players are saying they really didn’t do anything in spring training last year was it any wonder why they started off so poorly? Most of the Boston media has contempt for Valentine because they loved Theo Epstein (because he would leak them information) and feel he is the antithesis of Theo because Valentine believes in such radical and crazy ideas like moving a runner over, stealing bases, trying to throw runners our who are trying to score from second and actually swinging the bat if there is a runner in scoring position as opposed to trying to work out a walk with a runner on third and less than 2 outs (so you can better set up the double play for the opposing team – Theo and JD Drew’s favorite strategy). Listen, if Bucholz didn’t get hurt they would have coasted to the division title and we wouldn’t hear any of this but he did and heads had to roll. This offense will still score a lot of runs. Barring injury the top 1-2-3 of the rotation is very good. Dubront is going to be the sox Ivan Nova this year. Lot of experienced guys in the bull pen but they have to come through. The bullpen will be the key. If it doesn’t come through then it is too tough a division to make up ground. If it does they should win the division.

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