The Boston Red Sox received a fantastic start from David Price, but the newest member of the bullpen blew the save. Brandon Magee places the blame squarely on the shoulders of the team’s manager, John Farrell.
As the Boston Red Sox pulled yet another defeat from the jaws of victory early Wednesday morning in Seattle, Red Sox Nation stayed up pondering the unanswerable. Why can’t Price just be perfect? Why did Abad throw such a bad pitch to Cano? Is Andrew Benintendi really old enough to be playing Major League Baseball? While these questions are obvious, another question lurks in the minds of many. Do the problems with the Red Sox lie with one man? Did manager John Farrell make another series of critical mistakes that doomed the Red Sox to another loss?
The answer to the quandary is an unequivocal, yes. Perhaps a deeper look into the eighth inning will highlight just how Farrell put the Sox in a position to lose a crucial game that should not have been lost.
The Red Sox entered the bottom of the pivotal frame with a four-run lead. David Price had continued his excellent pitching from his previous start, holding the Mariners off the board in his first seven innings of action, allowing just two singles and a double while striking out five. Entering the eighth, he had thrown under 90 pitches. There were several reasons to believe his dominance could continue.
However, there were also reasons to be cautious. The southpaw had thrown 109 pitches in sultry Anaheim in his previous start. Moreover, he was struck on the knee by a line drive from Luis Sardinas in the sixth inning. Additionally, the strikeout artist had gone eight batters without ringing anyone up. Having the bullpen – which was well-rested thanks to the strong starting pitching of Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez the previous two nights – ready for immediate action would be a prudent action. Four run leads can be easily washed away.
The first batter of the eighth, Mike Zunino – who had struck out in 11 of his 12 career at-bats against Price – laced the first pitch he saw over the left field wall. All of a sudden, it was a three run game.
It is a commonly held belief that the on-field job of the manager is secondary to the work done behind the scenes. Keeping the players in the clubhouse engaged and content. Making sure problems from the outside world do not interfere with the day-to-day grind. That the flaws that we see from our watching of the game can be overcome by the preparation of the team by the manager behind closed doors.
To a large extent, that assessment is correct. The modern, major-league roster – with a 12-deep pitching staff and only13 regular everyday players for nine daily starting spots – makes the task of setting a lineup into little more than plug-and-play. Sure, there are decisions to be made to give the starters a day of rest or to give a minor injury a day to heal. However, there is not a winning argument to be made that managers – on a daily basis – make much difference to the offensive direction of the club.
Two pitches after Zunino homered, Leonys Martin lofted a single into center. On the very next pitch by Price, Luis Sardinas laced a ground ball into right. Suddenly, the Mariners had two on and the tying run coming to the plate.
But, just as the modern four-man bench limits offensive innovation, the seven-man bullpen allows the manager to tinker to his heart’s content. We have seen how Kansas City in the past few years – and the Yankees this season – have used their bullpens to shut down the opposition. With a hydra of Betances, Miller, and Chapman waiting in the bullpen, Yankees’ starters merely needed to go six solid innings for the Bombers to be nearly assured of victory before the trade deadline.
Yet, time and again, John Farrell throws caution to the wind as his starters implode. As the rains came on July 1, a completely ineffective Steven Wright was left to give up four straight hits, ending with a grand slam by C.J. Cron as a five-run advantage was pared to one. While the Red Sox were able to escape with a win against the Angels that day, it wasn’t as if the skipper was unaware of Wright’s issues with a wet grip. After all, the same thing happened on May 13 against the Houston Astros.
Sometimes the mistake comes early in the game. Drew Pomeranz held an eight-run advantage in his first start for the Red Sox on July 20. The newly acquired lefty – on two weeks rest – had held the Giants at bay in the first three frames, but the visitors pounced on him in the fourth. A walk, a line drive single, a home run, another line drive single, another home run, and two infield singles left Pomeranz dazed and confused, and headed for the showers. But should it have taken seven straight batters reaching base before the portsider was finally excused from his duties for the day?
After the two singles, a coaching visit finally occurred. Matt Barnes and Fernando Abad were quickly loosening in an attempt to save the game. But, the visit ended with Price still on the mound. The starter battled Guillermo Heredia to a 2-2 count before losing the at-bat when Heredia laced his first career hit to right, scoring Martin to make it 4-2. Finally Farrell acted, removing the pummelled Price for Barnes, who was able to strike out Seth Smith. Farrell then came back out to bring in Fernando Abad to face off against the dangerous Robinson Cano. While Abad was able to garner a pair of strikes against Cano, Robby got the last laugh, launching a three-run shot to right-center and putting the Seattlelites ahead for good. Abad was able to get the next two hitters out, but the damage was done. Fireballer Edwin Diaz came in and struck out the side in the ninth, and the Sox had another brutal loss on their record.
Was there failure on the part of David Price and Fernando Abad? Sure, they were unable to execute the pitches the way they would have liked. But David had pitched brilliantly for seven innings and Fernando came into a bad situation – one where failure could not be considered an uncommon occurrence. However, it all could have been avoided by a quicker reaction from John Farrell.
Is there any guarantee that a quicker hook gives the Red Sox a victory? Of course not. But the Price of the eighth inning was clearly a different pitcher than the Price of the first seven innings. He gave up three hits in four pitches after giving up only three in his first 90 pitches. If he had been pulled after the third hit, perhaps Barnes could have induced a double play from Heredia before striking out Smith. That would have left Robinson Cano leading off the ninth with nobody on base. Or, even if Barnes had come in and struck out Heredia and Smith, his home run would have only tied the game.
These are just two of many possibilities. Barnes could have been just as ineffective against Heredia and the scenario would not have changed one whit. It may have been simply fate that the Red Sox were going to lose the game in excruciating fashion and there was nothing anyone, let alone John Farrell, could have done.
But fate is just another scapegoat that keeps Farrell from facing the flames. Farrell may well be a fine communicator and a fantastic clubhouse companion, but his managerial acumen fails him time and again when it comes to something that should be his bread and butter, the pitchers. When the Red Sox fail down the stretch this season, perhaps the organizational braintrust will finally end the folly of Farrell’s managerial tenure.
Brandon Magee is our minor league expert; he has written about minor league travel, ranking prospects, a first round draft pick, and the MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt.