Thirteen Boston Red Sox resolutions
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In honor of the new year and a clean slate for the Boston Red Sox, here are 13 New Year’s resolutions for their 2013 season:
1. Avoid a slow start
The Red Sox have failed to make the playoffs three years running, and their sluggish starts are partially to blame. In 2010, Boston began the season 4-9 and had a losing record in April. The following year, the “Greatest Team Ever” folded under its burdensome expectations, dropped its first six games and got off to a 2-10 start. Looking back, the most frustrating aspect of that spring slump was losing three games by one run, when winning just one would have nullified Boston’s September meltdown. Last year brought more of the same when the BoSox stumbled out of the gate under new skipper Bobby Valentine, opening the year 4-10 en route to a 93-loss season. The Sox should strive to start strong this year so they don’t have to dig themselves out of a hole and play catch-up in the early going. Those games in April matter just as much as the ones in September.
2. Calm clubhouse
The days of Boston being a tight-knit band of brothers spearheaded by character guys like Johnny Damon and Kevin Millar feel like distant memories now. Starting with the beer and fried chicken-fueled collapse two Septembers ago, the organization has deteriorated into a perpetual state of internal chaos and controversy. Much of the turmoil can be blamed on Bobby V, who often found himself in the eye of the storm with his Alex Rodriguez-esque knack for calling attention to himself. The big-mouthed skipper was supposed to light a fire under a ballclub that had grown too entitled and complacent at the end of Terry Francona‘s tenure, but instead, he rubbed his players and coaches the wrong way and quickly lost control of the clubhouse. Camaraderie was non-existent, and his team became so fractured that Buster Olney described Boston’s lack of chemistry as “toxic.” Thankfully, ownership wasted no time terminating Valentine and finding a suitable replacement in former Blue Jays manager John Farrell. There’s going to be a totally different atmosphere this year because the players are comfortable with the former Red Sox pitching coach. They respect him and listen to him. It also helps that the front office made a conscious effort to bring in positive clubhouse presences such as Jonny Gomes, David Ross and Ryan Dempster.
3. Good health
The main culprit for Boston’s recent inability to make the playoffs is a series of injuries to its stars. In 2010, Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Cameron and Josh Beckett all missed considerable time. The following year Youk, Marco Scutaro, Carl Crawford, J.D. Drew, Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Bobby Jenks were sidelined, forcing Francona to start Andrew Miller and Kyle Weiland during the most important games of the season. But last year, the Red Sox resembled the walking wounded as injuries reached epidemic proportions. Bobby V used 31 different position players (including a dozen outfielders by my count) and 25 pitchers throughout the course of the season. The snakebitten Sox could have fielded an All-Star team with the amount of talent collecting dust on their disabled list: Pedroia, Ellsbury, Crawford, Youkilis, Ortiz Lackey, Dice-K, Beckett, Buchholz, Andrew Bailey, Will Middlebrooks and Ryan Sweeney, to name a few. The Red Sox lost more days to the DL last year than all but two teams, the Padres and the Yankees. Pedroia was the only position player to appear in 140 games, and Lester was the only pitcher to start at least 30 games. Injuries are part of the game and afflict every team to varying degrees, but Boston’s been particularly unlucky of late. Hopefully, 2013 does not bring more misfortune to its key players.
4. Be more patient
Last year, the Red Sox deviated from their tried-and-true hitting approach of working the count, grinding out at-bats and drawing walks. In 2011, they were the top-scoring team in baseball when they had the best OBP in the majors and walked more than every team except the New York Yankees. Last year, they scored 141 fewer runs and were outscored by eight teams. Injuries contributed to the offensive decline, but it didn’t help that Boston slipped to 10th among American League teams in OBP and, get this, ranked second to last in walks. Not just in the AL, but in the entire MLB. Only the Kansas City Royals, the youngest team in baseball, worked fewer walks. David Ortiz was the only one to draw more than 50 free passes in 2012, but the year before, five players drew at least that many. New hitting coach Greg Colbrunn needs to preach patience to Middlebrooks and Jarrod Saltalamacchia as he helps the lineup return to its disciplined ways.
5. Get something out of John Lackey
Lackey’s been a massive bust since signing a five-year, $82 million contract with Boston prior to the 2010 season. Since leaving Los Angeles, he has a 5.26 ERA, 1.50 WHIP and -0.6 bWAR. After missing all of 2012 recovering from Tommy John sugery, Lackey needs to bounce back and start earning his paycheck. Nobody knows what to expect from the 34-year-old former Angels ace, but he must find a way to contribute this year and be a quality fourth or fifth starter behind Lester, Buchholz and Dempster.
6. Fix Daniel Bard
The flamethrowing reliever was a dominant setup man for Jonathan Papelbon before the team converted him into a starting pitcher. The experiment was a disaster. Control problems plagued Bard from the start, and he pitched so poorly that Boston demoted him to triple-A in early June. He continued to struggle with Pawtucket and never regained his confidence or command. When he returned to the big club near the end of the season, he got bombed to the tune of an 18.69 ERA coming out of the bullpen. Like Lackey, he needs to be an asset, not a liability. Bailey will set up Joel Hanrahan, but Bard could regain his eighth-inning role at some point since Bailey’s an injury waiting to happen. I fear he’ll become the next Joba Chamberlain, who has never been the same since the Yankees did the same thing to him.
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