The beginning of the Red Sox season was hardly a smooth ride for anybody. Bobby Valentine faced the brunt of the criticism as the Sox suffered through yet another poor April. Some of the damage was self-inflicted. A couple of times, he left starters in too long. The Kevin Youkilis situation was a debacle. When an unpopular manager who is already being serenaded with “We Want Tito,” chants is seen to be calling out a popular veteran, that is a fight he has no chance of winning.
The main cause of the club’s poor start was the horrendous starting pitching. When your rotation is dead last in the league, John McGraw or Tony LaRussa can’t win with that. Bobby V’s outsized persona and healthy ego made him a convenient target for the fans’ anger. Josh Beckett probably did his manager a bit of a favor with his golf outing by giving the lethargic Sox a new poster boy.
That the starting pitching is finally turning in quality starts probably would have happened at some point anyway. Where Bobby V does deserve credit is in sorting out the Red Sox bullpen. At the beginning of the year, the club had no defined roles, which was seen as a problem. Six weeks in, the roles are a little more defined, but Bobby V is still doing a lot of mixing and matching late in games and it has been working.
Terry Francona, who had more of a paint-by-numbers approach where there was a closer, a set eight-inning guy, seventh-inning guy, and lefty specialist, likely would not have been able to get as much out of this set of relievers as Valentine has.
Bobby V has also done an excellent job mixing and matching in the outfield. With Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford injured, Valentine has done well to get as much out of the outfield as he has. Cody Ross is essentially Kevin Millar, but with average speed and defense in the outfield corners. Marlon Byrd is an average major league centerfielder. Ryan Sweeney is a disappointing former prospect who is a good fielder and gets on base, but has 5 o’clock power that has never translated during games. Darnell McDonald is a useful bench player who can’t hit right handed pitching. Daniel Nava has a sweet swing and good approach at the plate, but has little power and is a poor defender. Replacement level players like Jason Repko and Nate Spears have also seen time in the outfield.
That the club has gotten production out of these guys is a credit to the manager. This team is starting to resemble the turn-of-the-century Mets. That team had a few all stars like Mike Piazza, Edgardo Alfonso, Al Leiter and Mike Hampton, while the rest of the roster had lots of moving parts that Valentine did well to get the most out of.
As the Red Sox get healthier, they will look more like the 2011 Red Sox, as several star players come back into the lineup. The manager deserves credit for keeping the team close in the meantime. While the Sox are in last at the moment, they are only two games under .500 and have a positive run differential. They are also only two games behind the Yankees and five-and-a-half games behind the Rays. The division is still in play, and for that, the manager deserves some credit.