Breaking down who deserves most blame for Red Sox' issues this season

Jim Hackett
August 08, 2019 - 9:02 am
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Larry Lucchino once famously said (paraphrasing), “I’m more concerned with a team's biology than a team's chemistry.”

Listen to your team news NOW.

Personally, I’m concerned with both but when it comes to the state of the 2019 Red Sox, I’d say the teams’ psychology is its biggest problem these days. However, the key word from that sentence above is the word "problem" and this team has plenty of those…

Last Thursday during Dale & Keefe, host Rich Keefe offered a coroner’s report on the 2019 Red Sox, “Time of death… 4 p.m., Wednesday July 31.”

Yep, I’d say that about covers it. When the MLB Trade Deadline limped by and theRed Sox decided to stand pat, their own inaction officially sucked the remaining oxygen out of this corpse of a season. For the remaining hopefuls like yours truly, once the agony of Saturday’s double noggin knocker from the Yankees settled in, that final death nail sealed this teams’ fate.

The 2019 Red Sox, the defending World Series Champions, left to be buried deep in the dirt while the real contenders continue to play onto the postseason fields planted above them.

Cause of death? Self-inflicted and the perpetrators can be found throughout the 2019 Red Sox Media Guide. Front to back. Time for some blame pie and there’s plenty to go around…

The players – 50 percent

Up until the All-Star Break, I would lay most of the blame at the feet of Red Sox president of baseball operations, Dave Dombrowski, but the players rallied hard to take that dubious distinction. Of the core 25-man roster, I count exactly seven who have played up to or above their pre-season expectations. That’s a 72 percent failure rate.

Over-achievers: (5) Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Christian Vazquez, Michael Chavis, Brandon Workman

Achieved to expected level: (2) Eduardo Rodriguez, Brock Holt.

The rest? Disappointing.

The biggest culprits: (9) Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Nathan Eovaldi, Steven Wright, Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Matt Barnes, Ryan Braiser

I’ll give Barnes and Brasier a bit of a pass but the results are disappointing to say the least. The pass is issued because their failure and the collective failure of the bullpen has much more to do with Dombrowski and his cavalier approach to building the relief staff versus the outlandish expectations and roles they were forced to inherit. More on that later.

The greatest failure from the players comes at the feet of the starters. The following research from Boston Sports Info says it all. In the last 20 games, Red Sox starting pitching is 8-12 with a 6.83 ERA and a WHIP of 1.64. My stat? They’re lucky to be 8-12 during that stretch.

Since mouthing off about Dennis Eckersley without any real provocation, Price is 0-4, allowing 20 earned runs for a disgraceful 7.34 ERA. About those cards David, and for the always accountable and straight shooting Sale? His season has been so down that I’ve long since tired of listening to him and that’s one of his best attributes. Time to go back to the lab Chris. Perhaps he should listen to the advice of Red Sox Hall of Famer, Bill “The Spaceman” Lee whom I interviewed on the subject of what ails Sale just last week.

Betts and Benintendi have been fine and have each had their moments, but neither has followed up last years’ performances to the level needed. In fact, the clutch hitting has been basically absent in the biggest games all year, like last weekend in the Bronx. Benintendi had a nice stretch in July with some much needed clutch performances at the plate, but one hot stretch does not make a season. Betts is nowhere close to the MVP player we enjoyed last season and is thus part of the problem this year. The timely hits just haven’t been there for Betts all year and this team has needed that special infusion of clutch performance more than ever. Betts took a step back this season, right when they needed him to step up.

The front office (Dave Dombrowski) - 40 percent:

As I wrote above, Old Dombo was pushing for nearly 100 percent share of the blame pie prior to the All-Star break. However, his starting pitchers pathetic performance during the last month, supplanted his season of neglect. Regardless, Dombrowski’s refusal to address the bullpen from the start of the offseason right up through the Trade Deadline was the initial, core symptom of the virus that has plagued this team all year.

Matt Barnes, Brandon Workman, Ryan Brasier, Marcus Walden, Heath Hembree and all the rest can be productive pitchers in a winning teams’ bullpen, but not when they are asked to anchor it. That however is exactly what Dombrowski forced them to do, when he decided not to get the necessary pieces and rather add the late inning responsibilities to a bunch of middle and short (not late) short inning relievers. Bad read and a bad job by Dombrowski. His approach truly mirrors the crossroads of arrogance, cavalier attitude and neglect. As Dean Werner said in Animal House, “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life son.” Nor is being arrogant, cavalier and negligent. Bad combination.

Dombrowski’s flaccid approach to the Trade Deadline last week, left his team and fan base very unsatisfied to say the least. It was also horribly timed. Though it feels like months ago, just ten days back, the Red Sox were playing in a packed house at Fenway, on the heels of taking five out of seven versus the Yankees and Rays. It felt like momentum was finally behind this Red Sox team. That the flywheel they had been pushing for the last four months was finally beginning to gain speed. Then the clock turned to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, July 31 and all the air left the balloon. What a buzz kill and what a horrible read of the situation.

It’s reminiscent of Lloyd Christmas telling a bus full of sun tan lotion models that there was a town miles back where they could find suitable oil boys to join them on the road. At least Lloyd Christmas was honest, dumb but honest. The same can’t be said for Dombrowski who gave Red Sox Nation the Heisman and then tried to spin it as a positive right in our faces. Please.

He gets 40 percent of the blame pie but his grade for the season is a big, fat D-. The only reason it’s not an F is because he smartly locked up Bogaerts for the long-term in the offseason, which helps him save face. Every other move was questionable at best like acquiring batting practice pitcher Andrew Cashner, but his worst moves were the ones that he didn’t’ get done.

The Manager (Alex Cora) – 10 percent

Dombrowski did Alex Cora no favors this season, giving him an undermanned bullpen in the presence of a starting staff that has underperformed to shocking levels, but Cora isn’t blameless. My biggest beef with Cora is in the wildly flawed tone he set in the offseason. Cora’s refusal to look ahead to 2019 was his fatal flaw. Vanity from 2018 lured him in, grabbed him and never let go and Cora never let go of it. How many times have you heard about how much talent the Red Sox have or comments like ‘we know what this team can do’? Yawn.

One of my favorite phrases is “success leaves clues.” There’s a pretty successful football team located about 30 miles south of Fenway Park whose leader always turns the page, no matter how successful he and his team have been. Cora knew it and refused to follow that approach and the result is what you have seen in this aggravating and frustrating Red Sox season. I like Cora and believe he’s smart enough to learn from this mistake. It’s the kind of mistake that merits a larger slice of the blame pie, but his players performance and the terrible job done by his player personnel leader trumps Cora’s snafu by a mile, hence the 10 percent slice.

The good news is, that after this season’s performance, Cora will be forced to look ahead to 2020. As for me, I already am.

Related: Red Sox will have to finish game with Royals Aug. 22