Tag:Terry Francona
Posted on: March 2, 2012 4:52 pm
 

Expanded playoffs, and what might have been

The other day, Terry Francona was saying that if the new double-wild-card playoff system had been in effect last year, he'd still be managing the Red Sox.

That may well be true. Not only that, but if the new system had been in effect the last two years, Francona's Red Sox would be on a five-year streak of making the playoffs, and would have missed out on October just once in his eight seasons in charge.

A few other what-might-have-beens:

-- The team that would have benefited the most if baseball had gone to two wild cards instead of one in 1995: The Giants. They would have made it to the play-in game in 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2009, which means they would have been in the postseason nine of the last 15 years, rather than just five.

-- The play-in game would have featured two teams from the same division a little less than a third of the time, but it would have given us an all-AL East matchup three times in the last four years. It would have been Yankees-Red Sox in both 2008 and 2010. Had that happened, would anyone have been claiming that the rivalry needed rejuvenating?

-- The second wild card wouldn't have saved the collapsing 2007 Mets, but the 2008 team would have had at least one more game.

-- The Phillies' string of consecutive postseason appearances would now be at seven years, rather than five. The Phillies would have been in the play-in game in both 2005 (against the Astros) and 2006 (against the Dodgers).

-- The Blue Jays, who haven't been to the postseason since their back-to-back titles in 1992 and 1993, would have made it in 1998. And the Expos, who didn't make it to the postseason after 1981, would have been there in 1996. But even expanded playoffs wouldn't have helped the Pirates (still no playoff appearances since 1992) or the Royals (none since 1985).


Posted on: September 30, 2011 8:28 pm
 

Francona could end up with White Sox

Now that Terry Francona is gone from the Red Sox, will he end up as Ozzie Guillen's successor with the White Sox?

There are plenty of good reasons to believe he could, along with one or two reasons to believe that it won't happen.

Reason No. 1: Francona once worked for the White Sox, and has remained a favorite with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. Maybe not as big a favorite as Tony La Russa, but a favorite, all the same.

Reason No. 2: Francona is close with Don Cooper, the pitching coach who just got an extension in Chicago. According to sources, Cooper is pushing for Francona to be the next manager.

Reason No. 3: Francona remains close with Buddy Bell, who has increasing power in the White Sox organization. Francona worked on Bell's coaching staff years ago with the Tigers. There were early suggestions that Bell could succeed Guillen, but according to sources Bell isn't interested in returning to the dugout at this time.

So why wouldn't it happen?

Well, the White Sox have been sending out signals that they are more likely to go for a younger manager. Also, some White Sox people believe that Reinsdorf doesn't want to spend big on a manager, unless it's La Russa (and maybe not even then). The contract options that the Red Sox turned down Friday were worth $4.5 million each.

Francona isn't likely to come cheap, and he could well have other options. Maybe the Cubs, maybe even the Nationals (although Davey Johnson is expected back there).

But don't be surprised if he ends up with the White Sox.

Category: MLB
Posted on: September 30, 2011 12:15 pm
Edited on: September 30, 2011 5:42 pm
 

True to himself, Francona moves on from Sox

As the season collapsed around him, Terry Francona kept his cool.

In fact, as the greatest collapse ever played out, Francona seemed to be at peace. He wasn't accepting failure, but he seemed fully accepting of what that failure could mean for him.

General manager Theo Epstein could be heard in the stands openly questioning some of his manager's in-game moves, according to sources. But Francona never was heard complaining that Epstein handed him a flawed roster.

Francona wasn't comfortable with his team, although the extent of his discomfort didn't come out until the season was over. But he was always comfortable with himself.

He'll walk away from Boston now, with the team announcing Friday that it has declined his two-year option for 2012-13. But he'll walk away at peace.

"I've got to be true to myself, and what I believe in," Francona said the other day.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, Francona said he had told ownership that "they may need a different voice to lead the team."

The breakup is no great surprise. Collapses take their toll, and even if Epstein was being honest Thursday when he said the organization wasn't "blaming" Francona, it's the losing that led to this.

Maybe it's even the right thing for the Red Sox, as good a manager as Francona has been and as much as he has won. Maybe the players had become too comfortable with his style.

"If I come in and overthrow the [postgame food] spread, that's not me," he said. "I don't want [the players] to know I'm going through it with them."

It worked, like no Red Sox manager's style had worked in years. Francona won two World Series in Boston, and years from now that will dominate his legacy, much more than this year's collapse.

It didn't work this year, though. Issues with the starting pitching were much more to blame for the collapse than issues in the clubhouse, but Francona admitted at a press conference Thursday that those clubhouse issues existed.

We'll never know how much a different manager could have done to change things. We'll never know if a more disciplined clubhouse would have led to more wins.

We do know that Francona wasn't comfortable with his final Red Sox team. We also know that right to the end, he was comfortable with himself.






Category: MLB
Posted on: September 26, 2011 6:07 pm
 

Francona: Yankees 'can do what they want'

BALTIMORE -- Yes, the Yankees rested regulars Sunday, not playing any of them in both ends of a day-night doubleheader against the Red Sox. But no one who watched the weekend series in the Bronx could say that the Yankees didn't try to win.

Will they do the same the next three nights against the Rays, who enter the final series of the season one game behind Boston in the American League wild-card race?

Yankee manager Joe Girardi's Monday night lineup would suggest that the answer is yes, as Girardi included most of his regulars for the opener of the series.

But no matter how Girardi approaches the series, Red Sox manager Terry Francona said Monday he'll have no complaints.

"They're a professional team," Francona said. "Saying that, they can do what they want. They've played themselves into that position. I wish we were in that position. If they want to rest guys, they can."

Because the Red Sox beat the Yankees in the second game Sunday, Boston can win the wild card without any help from their rivals. But obviously a Yankee win or two against the Rays would make the Red Sox' task a whole lot easier.

"Our goal is to win the three games [against the Orioles]," David Ortiz said.

Ortiz said he talked to Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano on Sunday, and he took heart from what Cano told him.

"He said, 'I don't like days off,' " Ortiz said.

Does Ortiz think the Yankees will play as hard against the Rays as they did against the Red Sox?

"Hopefully," he said. "That's the way it's supposed to be."
Posted on: September 23, 2011 6:19 pm
Edited on: September 23, 2011 7:17 pm
 

Theo: Red Sox aren't a 'soap opera'

NEW YORK -- There's no way the Red Sox should be in this spot.

There's no way they should need to fight this hard to hold off the flawed Rays and the even-more-flawed Angels. There's no way Theo Epstein should be sitting in the Yankee Stadium dugout, denying that he has a "disconnect" with Terry Francona.

"This is not a soap opera," the Red Sox general manager said Friday afternoon, before the scheduled game against the Yankees was rained out.

No, it's not a soap opera. Closer to a disaster movie, if the Red Sox don't hold onto what was a two-game lead over Tampa Bay in the American League wild-card race, heading into the Rays' Friday night home game against the Blue Jays.

And no, the manager isn't the problem. It's hard to believe Francona would lose his job even if the Red Sox miss the playoffs, and harder to explain why he should.

If there's blame to be handed out here, more of it goes to Epstein, the general manager who spent tons of money and yet wasn't able to give his manager enough options for the starting rotation (and no, he shouldn't lose his job, either).

The rotation is the real issue here. The issue is that in a situation where one loss could mean an embarrassing failure, Francona feels he has little choice but to start John Lackey (major-league worst 6.49 ERA) on Sunday against the Yankees (in what will now be a split doubleheader).

"I need to always do what I think is correct, and I feel like that's the right thing to do," Francona said. "I listened to a lot of opinions, and this is how I feel."

Francona basically brushed off talk of any problems with Epstein, which Peter Gammons raised in a Thursday interview on the Dan Patrick show. Epstein said that he and Francona shared a laugh about the report, which suggested that Francona's job could be in jeopardy if the Red Sox miss the playoffs.

"We didn't need to dig any deeper," Epstein said.

The GM pointed out that he still spends plenty of time with his manager, which seems by all accounts to be true. Epstein refused to absolutely commit to picking up the two-year option on Francona's contract, but it still seems extremely likely that the Red Sox will do just that once this season ends (and however it ends).

The bigger issue that both Epstein and Francona face right now is finding a way to get their wounded team into the playoffs. As Epstein pointed out, the Red Sox haven't won back-to-back games this month.

If you go back to Aug. 30, the start of the last Red Sox series against the Yankees, Boston is just 6-17 -- and 1-17 in games in which the Red Sox have scored fewer than nine runs.

But both Francona and Epstein worked hard to counter the notion that the Red Sox are in a downward spiral that can't be stopped, and several Red Sox players repeated the mantra that they're still the team in front, and not the team that's behind.

"I don't think there's a sense of doom or inevitability," Epstein said. "This isn't inevitable."

He's right. It's not inevitable.

But it's still stunning, and it's still inexcusable.

"It's on us," Epstein agreed. "We don't have any excuses. It's time to step up, and show what we're made of. Fortunately, in a sense, we can play one week of good baseball [and make the playoffs]. It's up to us to do it."

It's quite a story, no matter how it ends.

But no, it's not a soap opera.


Category: MLB
Posted on: June 29, 2011 7:16 pm
Edited on: June 29, 2011 10:12 pm
 

Adrian, Papi and the big Red Sox gamble

PHILADELPHIA -- It seems simple enough.

The Red Sox had one guy hitting .357, with 16 home runs and 71 RBI. They think he's the best hitter in baseball, and they want him in the lineup.

They had another guy hitting .311, with 17 home runs and 48 RBI. He's pretty important to them, too, and they want him in the lineup. Most of all, they don't want him sitting around for the better part of two weeks, losing any kind of rhythm he had at the plate.

And that's how the Red Sox got to where they were Wednesday against the Phillies, with Adrian Gonzalez playing right field (where they'd rather not play him) and David Ortiz playing first base (where no one really wants him to play).

"I told [second baseman Dustin Pedroia], 'Anything up there [in the air] is yours . . . and anything on the ground is yours, too,'" Ortiz said, before taking the field in a game for the first time this year. "I just have to make sure I catch the balls they throw to me."

"[Pedroia] is going to have to cover first base and right field," Gonzalez said, before heading to the outfield for the first time in six years. "Hopefully [starter John Lackey] gets a lot of strikeouts."

And the Red Sox were just hoping no one got hurt.

No one did get hurt, although it's hard to call the scheme a total success, as Gonzalez and Ortiz went a combined 1-for-8 and the Red Sox lost 2-1. Neither Ortiz nor Gonzalez played any significant role in the game on defense, either.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona has talked to Gonzalez numerous times about not trying to do anything extraordinary, and risking injury while he plays in the outfield. Gonzalez has told him repeatedly not to worry, but naturally the manager and the entire Red Sox staff will spend every minute Gonzalez is in the outfield worrying.

"I keep telling them if you fear getting hurt, you might as well not play," Gonzalez said.

It's all a little nuts, but Francona decided it was a better plan than having Ortiz (his regular DH) go through an entire nine-game interleague trip without ever starting a game. And a better plan than having Gonzalez, the leading hitter in the major leagues, sit out a game entirely so that Ortiz could play first base.

"He actually offered [to sit] Sunday [in Pittsburgh]," Francona said. "I said no."

Francona made no commitments as far as playing Gonzalez in the outfield in any of the final four games of this Red Sox road trip, which continues Thursday in Philadelphia and then this weekend in Houston. Ortiz said Wednesday night that he'd been told he's not playing Thursday, but that he didn't yet know about the weekend.

In any case, when Wednesday's game was over, Ortiz could joke about it. Asked how he felt standing at first when big Ryan Howard came to the plate for the Phillies, Ortiz said, "I had a little chat with him. I told him, 'I've got a family at home.'"
Posted on: May 13, 2011 11:26 pm
 

Nearly 40 games in, Yanks and Sox remain a puzzle

NEW YORK -- It's a little disconcerting to hear the manager of the Yankees openly hoping that a series with the Red Sox would "bring out the best" in his team.

And almost as disconcerting to hear the manager of the Red Sox admit that the Sox are "still taking one step forward and one step back."

But that's where we are in the American League East, perilously close to the 40-game mark that is supposed to define teams, but without much definition at all about the sport's two superpowers.

We're at a point where one rival scout could walk away from Friday's 5-4 Boston win and declare, "The Yankees are in trouble," but also at a point where that sounds needlessly harsh.

What seems more reasonable is to say that these are two very talented teams with very big issues -- but not necessarily season-killing issues.

The issues have allowed the Rays to sneak into first place, which just adds to the questions about both the Yankees and the Red Sox.

On one side:

-- It really does feel like the Red Sox follow every step forward with a step back. But maybe it feels more like that because even though the Red Sox have followed their 2-10 start by going 16-10 since (basically a 100-win pace over a full season), their overall record is still disappointing.

-- John Lackey's problems are a real issue. It's obvious he's distracted, and easy to believe that a family medical issue is the reason. The Red Sox understandably want to be compassionate, and Lackey apparently wants to pitch through the trouble, but the time may be coming when the team tells him that it's best not to.

-- The Sox have consistently stood behind Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and even on Friday general manager Theo Epstein spoke of the improvement he sees. But the Sox are getting less offense from the catcher spot than any team but the Joe Mauer-less Twins, and rival scouts are suggesting that Saltalamacchia's game-calling skills are hurting the pitching staff (along with his inability to throw out runners trying to steal).

On the other side:

-- The Yankees haven't hit well this week, and every time they struggle at the plate, someone says they're too old. The daily Derek Jeter questions have slowed after he got a few hits, but now there are daily questions about Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada. Are they old or simply slumping? By the end of the year, maybe we'll know.

-- The rotation has been somewhat better than advertised, despite the Phil Hughes saga. But even with another encouraging start from Bartolo Colon Friday, you wonder how long Colon and Freddy Garcia will hold up, and who will be next in line if they don't?

-- The answer to the rotation questions was supposed to be a shutdown bullpen, but the road to Mariano Rivera is still paved with questions. Rafael Soriano hasn't yet been worth the money, and Joba Chamberlain is at times brilliant ("Best I've ever seen him," one scout said Friday afternoon) and at other times his usual puzzle (three huge hits, including a Kevin Youkilis home run, in Friday's decisive seventh inning).

Put it all together, and you start to understand why neither of these teams is in first place, why Joe Girardi was hoping for a Red Sox-fueled revival this weekend, and why Terry Francona was admitting that his Sox team is "certainly not clicking on all cylinders."

Forty games won't be enough to get a true handle on either of these teams.

Check back after 80.
Posted on: April 9, 2011 6:05 pm
Edited on: April 9, 2011 6:09 pm
 

The Red Sox aren't in trouble, unless . . .

BOSTON -- The Red Sox scoff at the idea that they're already in trouble.

"Dire?" Kevin Youkilis said incredulously, after Saturday's 9-4 loss to the Yankees dropped the Sox to a major-league worst 1-7. "I don't think it's dire."

"Tough situation?" Adrian Gonzalez said, just as incredulously. "We're eight games in. It's not a tough situation. It's so early in the season. We're going to recover just fine."

He's right. They're right.

Seven losses in eight games is bad, and not just at the start of a season (it's only the second time in Terry Francona's Red Sox tenure that the Sox have lost seven of eight).

But the Red Sox aren't in trouble . . . unless Clay Buchholz is going to pitch all year the way he pitched Saturday against the Yankees.

The Red Sox aren't in trouble . . . unless Buchholz is going to be as useless to them as Phil Hughes already seems to be to the Yankees.

That doesn't seem possible. Unlike with Hughes, Buchholz hasn't seen his velocity mysteriously vanish. He didn't make it out of the fourth inning Saturday, but he was throwing 94 mph.

"He had plenty of stuff," said one scout who watched. "He just isn't pitching with his fastball."

Buchholz gave up four home runs in his first start against the Rangers, and he allowed a three-run home run to Russell Martin on Saturday. A year after going 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA, he's 0-2 with a 7.20 ERA.

"Good mistake-hitting teams are going to hit your mistakes, and that's basically what's going on right now," Buchholz said. "They're hitting pitches they should be hitting."

A year after going 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA, Hughes is 0-1 with a 16.50 ERA.

No, Buchholz isn't Hughes, but the comparison is still important.

First, if the Red Sox are going to lose the American League East, the Yankees almost have to be the team that beats them.

Second, if you look at the two rotations, you see similarities. Like the Yankees, the Red Sox have a dependable ace (Jon Lester plays the part of CC Sabathia). Like the Yankees, they have huge questions at the back of the rotation (with Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka playing the parts of A.J. Burnett, Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia).

And like the Yankees, the Red Sox figure to hit their way to some wins on days when their pitching is bad (as they did in Friday's home opener). The Red Sox hitters are off to a slow start (a .215 team average, with Youkilis at .125 and Carl Crawford at .152), but that looks more like an early slump than a sign of bigger problems.

We all knew before the season that terrible starting pitching could sink the Yankees. Sure enough, the Yankee rotation has a 5.80 ERA through eight games, which is why they're 5-3 while averaging six runs a game.

Eight games in, the Red Sox rotation has been even worse, with a 7.46 ERA that is baseball's worst.

"We've got to pitch better," Dustin Pedroia said. "We gave up a lot of runs [Saturday]. It's hard to score 10."

It's hard for a Red Sox team this talented to lose seven times in eight games (staring at eight of nine if Beckett can't beat Sabathia on Sunday night). Since Francona took over in 2004, the only other time the Red Sox lost seven of eight was in that awful August of 2006, in the week that included the five-game Yankee sweep at Fenway Park.

That sweep dropped the Red Sox to 6 1/2 games out of first place, with just 38 games to play. Even a loss to the Yankees Sunday night would leave the Sox just five games back of the Yankees, with basically a whole season left to play.

"I think we feel like we're going to have a good team," Francona said. "Sometimes when you don't want to be patient, you have to."

Be patient. The Red Sox aren't in trouble . . . as long as Clay Buchholz is going to pitch a whole lot better than he pitched Saturday.


 
 
 
 
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