The Boston Red Sox opened the 2012 season on Thursday afternoon in Detroit with as strong a start from ace Jon Lester the club could have asked for. Nonetheless, in the team’s first game after an offseason defined by questionable bullpen decisions, it was “closer” Mark Melancon who was the Sox’ downfall as it dropped the game 3-2 on an Austin Jackson single.
Predictably, the near-48 hours until the team’s second game of the year was filled with pessimism and overreaction that I as a Boston sports fan have come to expect. Mockingly, I sent a friend a text message wishing him a “Happy Panic Day”. The “Sky-is-Falling” mentality that has encompassed poor starts to Boston sports seasons has become increasingly popular as of late – with the Sox start to the 2011 season, coupled with the Boston Bruins poor play out of the gate – and often times it’s laughable.
The Red Sox followed Thursday’s game with losses on Saturday (10-0) and again yesterday. In the latter’s 13-12 loss, the offense was not the problem it was Saturday. It was again the bullpen, along with questionable moves from new Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine. Here the team is, three games into the season, sitting at 0-3 and with alarming issues in the lineup, bullpen, and management of the club. Something must be done.
This is not an overreaction. This is not panic. This is the truth of the matter.
This much is clear – Daniel Bard needs to close. Among the issues throughout the offseason made public, one of the biggest was the disagreement between manager Valentine and the Red Sox front office as to the role Bard should play. A starting pitcher is more valuable to an ownership looking at long-term success, and as such, there idea of Bard going the first 6+ innings of a ballgame has apparently topped Valentine’s wish to have the reliable strikeout specialist closing out close games. What has changed, then, which should sway the decision makers to place Bard back in the bullpen where he belongs? First, Sox “closer” Andrew Bailey appears to be out until the All-Star break with an injury. Was this predictable? Absolutely. Bailey has been known to succumb to injuries throughout his career. It’s the primary reason so many Sox fans were incredibly tepid in their expectations for the bullpen entering this season. A second change from the time the decision to place Bard in the rotation was made is that it is abundantly clear that Mark Melancon does not have the mental makeup to fill in for Bailey in the time needed. In two appearances, he has allowed five hits, four earned runs, and sits at 0-2 on the young season. Confidence is an essential elements of closing a baseball game (as well as playing in Boston entirely), and quite simply, Melancon’s egregious start to the season has not only shaken Red Sox Nation’s confidence in him, but I’d imagine his own as well. The third option here is Alfredo Aceves, who was danced between starter and closer throughout spring training before Valentine announced he would be the “closer” until further notice. In his two appearances this season, the arm so reliable for Boston last year has not recorded an out in allowing four hits and three earned runs. You can’t blame Aceves though, for it is asinine that he be moved around from what he did so well last year – middle-relief and set-up work.
It is so much more than the bullpen that has shaken my confidence in the team’s ability to find success last year, and that is taking into account the awful start to last year’s season preempting a truly incredible May-through-August stretch that saw Boston perform as the best team in baseball. It’s also the decision-making and overall feel to this season. It makes no difference that Nick Punto went 3-for-6 with 3 RBI yesterday; placing him in the leadoff spot was a mistake and never should have happened. Jacoby Ellsbury finished second in American League Most Valuable Player voting last season for a reason – because he’s the most valuable position player in the AL. Valentine moving him out of the leadoff spot in yesterday’s series finale against Detroit after an 0-for-7 start to the 2012 campaign was a panic move in itself, and will only raise questions and concerns. It is well-documented that Ellsbury wants to be a leadoff man; but does his 2-for-6 day yesterday, along with Punto’s strong performance, cast doubts in terms of this team’s best lineup? How can the organization ask fans not to panic when the club is panicking after only two games itself?
Yes, it’s only three games, but this season is quickly slipping into dangerous territory. The truth is that it is not bothering me right now, and the reason is clear: I never allowed myself to emotionally invest in this 2012 edition of the Boston Red Sox. It is too unlikable, too unsteady, and too “seedy” for my liking. Almost all of that stems from the pitching staff, and what became public after the worst end-of-season collapse in baseball history at the end of the 2011 schedule. Without question, as the club eventually turns it around (I hope), I will become as invested in this year’s team as I am every season. Yet, the first three games have only given me more reasons to dislike the Boston Red Sox, with reason reaching the front office and manager, along with some of the players themselves (i.e. Josh Beckett).
Those decision makers need to address what has happened in the first series of the year, and quell the uproar stemming from The Nation at the moment. That action begins with putting Bard back in the closer’s role.
It’s not a panic move. It’s a common sense move.