The Giants Must Address Their Closer Situation

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The Giants’ loss of Brian Wilson unravels much of their winning strategy.

Santiago Casilla was designated as the replacement closer when it was revealed that Wilson would miss the rest of the season with Tommy John surgery.

That decision was either short-lived or not final-final because when Casilla started the ninth inning of Friday night’s game against the Mets with a 3-2 lead, he had a short leash of one batter. Jason Bay led off with an infield hit and manager Bruce Bochy yanked Casilla in favor of Javier Lopez to pitch to the Mets lefties Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Josh Thole.

Strategically, it was the correct move even though it didn’t work. But if Wilson were available, Wilson would’ve been pitching regardless of lefty or righty bats coming to the plate.

The Mets tied the game and the Giants won the game in the tenth inning, but to do it they had to use Lopez, Sergio Romo and Clay Hensley to finish the game when, under normal circumstances, they would’ve used one pitcher, Wilson.

And that’s the problem.

The Giants have a very strong bullpen as long as they have a legitimate closer to be the linchpin. When there’s such disarray as to the roles and the pitchers don’t know when they’re going to be called on, it turns into anarchy that makes it very hard to win. Bochy has never functioned with a closer by committee; there are managers who can do that. Davey Johnson likes to have more than one short reliever racking up the saves; Buck Showalter and Joe Maddon are capable of doing it. It’s not a strength of Bochy. For his entire managerial career he’s either had Trevor Hoffman and Wilson. The haphazard way in which they’re coping with Wilson’s loss is indicative of Bochy’s need to have that ace in the bullpen.

As much as the Giants’ starting pitching is considered their strength, the problem they now have is that without Wilson, they’re likely to reconsider pulling their starters when they normally would because they might need them to go deeper into the games. As the season winds down, that extra stress and workload due to the absence of Wilson will take its toll on the team—a team that isn’t going to run away with any division. They’re going to make their playoff run in September and have to be healthy and fresh.

Tim Lincecum should be fine; Matt Cain is a workhorse; Madison Bumgarner is a rising star; Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito are still question marks. Zito especially, with his 84 mph fastball, has zero margin for error and, in a larger scope, nor do the Giants.

It’s very hard to compete when relying so desperately on the starting pitching and having an All-Star closer if that closer is no longer there. Their defense has been horrible and they don’t hit. When you combine the sequence of events, it’s going to be a bad ending in San Francisco unless they do something definitive to address one or more of these issues.

They’re going to need someone who can close.

Brett Myers is likely to be available; I’d prefer Carlos Marmol whom the Cubs will absolutely want to unload.

When Wilson went down, so did the Giants blueprint. It has to be dealt with. Soon.

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And Daniel Bard as Jack Chesbro

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The Red Sox plan for straightening out the same dysfunctional mess they’ve been since last September is apparently to take Daniel Bard and turn him into an über-Justin Verlander of the present day or a Jack Chesbro from 100 years ago.

According to this CBS Sports report, the Red Sox are skipping Bard’s spot in the rotation, will use him out of the bullpen (possibly as the set-up man), then he’ll go back into the rotation when his turn comes around again.

This scheme is appropriate considering the Red Sox just celebrated the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park with a lavish celebration.

Chesbro pitched in one game for the Red Sox after putting the horse in the word workhorse by setting Major League records that—pre-Bard—were never going to be broken.

41 wins in a season; 51 starts; 48 complete games; 454 innings pitched; a 1.82 ERA—all were cemented in baseball lore as case studies of the ludicrousness of comparing players from one era to another, statistically or otherwise.

Here’s what I’m thinking: they can use Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Bard, Clay Buchholz, Bard, Beckett, Felix Doubront, Bard, Bard, Bard, Lester (with Bard setting up and closing), Buchholz, Bard as the long man if Buchholz gets knocked out or even if he doesn’t, Bard, Doubront, Bard then Bard.

BardBardBardBardBardBardBardBardBard.

Then they can use Bard.

In 2025, the talk on barstools in Boston will sound something like this: “Remembah that Bahd kid? He saved ouwuh season from ouwuhselves.”

Then one will raise his Sam Adams: “To Bahd!”

In unison, his drinking buddies will shout, “TO BAHD!!!!”

In all seriousness, this isn’t happening. The Red Sox are planting the seed before announcing the final decision of shifting Bard back to the bullpen as set-up man and eventually closer and calling Aaron Cook up to take his spot in the rotation.

The stated idea is madness. They’re going to protect their young pitchers by slowly integrating them into the starting rotation by managing their innings and pitch counts very carefully and then put Bard into this situation where he’s going to be talk show fodder if he’s used in both roles?

And what if he comes in on Wednesday and blows the Twins away with three straight strikeouts? Then what? Are they really going to stick him back in the rotation when they have a veteran starter in Cook who’s pitching well in Pawtucket, can opt-out of his minor league contract by May 1st and will be picked up by another team if he does so? The Red Sox need Bard in the bullpen and if they’re going to use him as a starter at some point, it has to be done when they have sufficient and reliable depth in either the starting rotation or relief corps. As of right now, they have neither, but they can survive with a rotation sans Bard; they can’t with the bullpen in the state it’s in.

Bard’s going back to the bullpen and the move is being made whether the Red Sox announce it officially in the coming days or not.

Like much of what they’ve done as an organization since last September, this is being handled strangely and poorly. In the past, they were able to gloss over their infighting and controversies by winning. Now they’re in disarray, are losing and the framing of the Bard story is only adding to that perception that there’s no one person making the decisions, but a college of cardinals who can’t get on the same page. They’re more concerned about how the public reacts than in doing what’s right. If they’re going to return to what they were from 2003-2010, they have to do what needs to be done rather than overthinking how to package it into something palatable for the fans and media. They have too many other things to worry about and fix as it is.

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How About A Reunion Of Scully And Garagiola?

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Watching the Braves-Diamondbacks game this afternoon I heard the familiar voice of Joe Garagiola working as a D-Backs analyst.

It brought me back to the days of the 1980s when it was unheard of to watch out-of-market games by the click of a button. If you wanted to hear clubs from outside your area (mine being New York), you had to fiddle around on your radio from various locations around the house and hope to pick up what was ostensibly a foreign signal that might as well have been coming from Nigeria rather than Philadelphia or Baltimore.

As a kid it was a thrill to go on road trips with my parents and stay in a hotel with cable. Having cable generally meant we’d have 18 channels rather than the usual 10.

One of those channels was Ted Turner’s TBS Superstation Channel 17 and we’d be able to watch the Braves. It was like going into space. “Why is Gilligan’s Island on at 3:05 and not 3:00?”

Apart from that? Nothing.

Nothing except the NBC Game of the Week and ABC’s Monday Night Baseball.

Monday Night Baseball had Howard Cosell whose baseball knowledge was highly limited and superseded further by the insinuation of his enormous ego on Al Michaels’s play-by-play.

The NBC Game of the Week generally featured Tony Kubek and Bob Costas or Vin Scully and Garagiola.

Hearing Garagiola’s voice this afternoon and with Scully having missed the opening of the Dodgers’ season because of a bad cold has added a sense of urgency to listen to the two Hall of Famers broadcast together for what might be the last time in both their careers.

The Dodgers and Diamondbacks should, at some point this season, stage a joint promotion to have Scully and Garagiola broadcast one entire game together. Or two games together, one in Los Angeles and one in Arizona.

Scully is a Dodgers’ icon and is taking it year-to-year as to whether he’ll continue working. He’s the only broadcaster I’m aware of that works alone as the play-by-play man and the analyst; he manages it without his voice growing tedious.

Scully is 84; Garagiola is 86; but when two people worked together for so long and did it so well, the chemistry, banter and camaraderie would return relatively quickly.

And if it doesn’t, so what?

It’d be great to hear them work together again, especially for people who remember them as part of their youth; it would be an opportunity to reminisce about a time when there wasn’t an inundation of self-proclaimed baseball experts on multiple outlets sabotaging our enjoyment with technical and pompous droning of numbers and condescending criticisms sapping the simplicity from the game itself—simplicity that might’ve attracted us to it in the first place.

Scully and Garagiola never did that and a reunion would be a terrific baseball moment for two Hall of Famers who made their names as part of a classic unit.

//

Charity Begins At Home

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Michael Pineda has had a setback in his shoulder rehabilitation and will see the Yankees’ team doctor—NY Times Story.

Beyond his visit to take a deeper look at his ailing shoulder, Pineda’s next step with the Yankees—barring surgery—is for the club to say he’ll rest and maybe be able to pitch in a few “show me” games in September as a mop-up man.

I wouldn’t expect to see him in 2012.

The Yankees’ development of pitchers is like the North Korean space program.

In essence, the Yankees gave away Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to the Mariners and Jack Zduriencik. For those keeping score, they’re the same Mariners and Zduriencik that the Yankees insisted they would never deal with again after the double-dealing in the Cliff Lee trade when the Yankees thought they had an agreement and Zduriencik used their offer to extract what he felt was a larger haul from the Rangers.

Not only did the Yankees go back on that edict, but they lavished two gifts on the Mariners for Pineda (on the disabled list and not coming off anytime soon) and the exalted Jose Campos who the team is desperately trying to push as the “key” to the trade.

No matter how gaudy his stats are, I don’t want to hear how scouts are raving about a 19-year-old in A-ball, especially one that’s pitching for the Yankees’ organization under this regime—a regime that has shown no propensity to building pitchers; in fact, under GM Brian Cashman, they’ve systematically destroyed every top starting pitching prospect that’s come along. The Yankees seem to function as if, by rite of tribal sacrifice and the tossing of valuable, cheap young arms into the volcano of Yankees’ sacrosanct rules of protection, they’ll curry favor from the Baseball Gods in the form of championships.

If they’re clinging to the propaganda that they’re glad to have Pineda and liked his stuff, facts are repeatedly getting in the way. The didn’t like Pineda’s stuff. After they acquired him, Cashman made statements indicative of someone taking a chance on a young pitcher. They were concerned about his second half decline (attributed to fatigue) and his secondary pitches.

You can bet that they were also worried about his psyche and dealing with New York.

Why did they trade for him if they felt this way? And why give up Montero and Noesi to do it?

A pitcher about whom such negatives are leaked—as a self-defense mechanism or slip of the tongue—isn’t one that you surrender two top prospects to get. That both Montero and Noesi had reached their minor league ceiling and were on the cusp of making it to the big leagues to stay makes it worse. A pitcher who’s thought of as the Yankees did Pineda is the kind you draft as a project or sign as an amateur free agent and hope he develops. But the Yankees dropped Pineda into their cauldron of expectations and are wondering why he’s melting.

The way the Yankees are absolved after the fact for their pitching idiocies is astounding.

After Carl Pavano stymied the Yankees earlier this week, none other than Mike Francesa decreed that the Yankees weren’t to blame of Pavano’s failed tenure in the Bronx.

“He’s a good pitchuh!!” Francesa said.

I don’t remember anyone ever blaming the Yankees for Pavano. If they hadn’t signed him to that contract, the Red Sox, Tigers and Mariners were prepared to. It didn’t work out and has no connection to defending or maligning their subsequent decisions.

They are to blame for this growing folly of Pineda; of Phil Hughes being on the precipice of a demotion to the bullpen or bandied about as part of a trade; of Joba Chamberlain’s utter failure.

Are your expecting more with Dellin Betances? Manny Banuelos? Campos?

If you are, you should stop.

They gave away two players they could’ve either used themselves or traded to fill another need. If they were intent on a donation to a needy organization, they could’ve sent Montero and Noesi to the Mets.

Charity begins at home.

//

Valentine’s Been Through This Before

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In Bobby Valentine’s first full year with the Mets, the team started out 4-10 and the veterans had already spent a substantial amount of time before the season in clandestine meetings discussing how and whether they should try to get him fired.

This was after he’d managed the team for a total of 31 games in late 1996.

Valentine was under constant pressure from the media for another already lost Mets’ season after 14 games. They’d been bad for so long, the front office hadn’t spent any money to improve a club that had finished the previous season at 71-91 under Dallas Green and Valentine and it looked as if they were well on the way to an even worse year.

But Valentine maintained his positive outlook, insisted that the team was better than they were playing and swore they’d turn it around.

No one believed in him or the Mets.

But they slowly pulled themselves together and were 18-18 after 36 games. They worked their way over .500 until they were as much as 15 games over .500 by August and one game out of the Wild Card lead.

Because they were in a division with the Braves and Marlins, they didn’t come close to a playoff spot. A massive trade made by new GM Steve Phillips brought Turk Wendell, Mel Rojas and Brian McRae from the Cubs for Mark Clark, Lance Johnson and Manny Alexander and didn’t pay the immediate dividends they’d hoped for. It wound up being a net winner for the team because the only player who was of any long-term use to either club was Wendell, but for the rest of 1997, it failed.

That September as the club faded, Valentine engaged in a public spat with star catcher Todd Hundley as Valentine complained about Hundley’s sleeping habits (or lack thereof) negatively affecting his game.

Valentine had also had a preseason dispute with pitcher Pete Harnisch as Harnisch was dealing with depression and withdrawal from quitting chewing tobacco. Valentine was blamed for the mid-season firing of GM Joe McIlvaine in a power struggle which Valentine won.

After the season he was held responsible for the ouster of longtime broadcaster Tim McCarver because Valentine felt McCarver doled too much criticism on the Mets.

Overall, Valentine came off as cold, heartless, dismissive of player complaints and Machiavellian in his attempts to accumulate organizational power from the composition of the roster to the teaching in the minor league system to the front office structure to the men in the broadcast booth.

Some of the allegations were based in truth and others were scapegoating because Valentine was an easy target since he was so polarizing.

The best starter on the staff that season wound up being Rick Reed. Reed was a journeyman righty who was shunned in the clubhouse by leader John Franco because he’d been a replacement player in 1995. Valentine managed him at the Mets’ Triple A affiliate in Norfolk and believed in him. Uninterested in acquiescing to demands or forging bonds with his veterans like Franco, Valentine did what he thought was right for his team.

And it worked.

Factions of the clubhouse hated him, but other players swore by him rather than at him because without Valentine’s insistence and belief, they wouldn’t have had major league careers at all.

Three years later, the Mets were in the World Series.

What has to be remembered now as he’s trying to handle the Red Sox is that underestimating his stubbornness and resiliency is a big mistake.

Those who think Valentine is going to resign from the Red Sox job because of a bad start can forget it.

The 1997 Mets didn’t have the expectations of the 2012 Red Sox. They weren’t trying to rebound from a humiliating collapse. In fact, that Mets team came out of nowhere.

But there are similarities to the circumstances.

If he gets a sense that the wind is blowing in the direction of him being fired, Valentine is not going to go down meekly and if that means taking on members of the front office like GM Ben Cherington or players who are running interference and smearing him behind his back, he’s going to do that.

This is not to say that Valentine has done a good job with the Red Sox because he hasn’t. Everyone is at fault for the mess they’re in. Ten years out of a Major League dugout might have caused the game to pass him by. Perhaps he can’t relate to today’s players and is overmatched for this toxic brew and massive scrutiny that no one could’ve anticipated. If that’s the case, then the hiring was a mistake, but to imply that any other manager would have a better record with this group is pure folly. The idea that “somewhere Terry Francona and Theo Epstein are laughing” is possible, but if true both men are doing a wonderful job of brushing aside their contributions to this burgeoning disaster.

Valentine didn’t put this team together, but he’s got to deal with it.

This is his last opportunity. He’s not going to give it up without a fight.

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After The Fenway Party, There Was a Game

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I didn’t see it, but by all accounts the Red Sox did a great job with their celebration of Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary.

You can read and see clips of the event here on Boston.com.

Here are other notables.

Manager irrelevant.

If Terry Francona, Joe Torre, Joe Maddon, John Farrell or Connie Mack were managing this Red Sox team, there would be less public feuding but the results wouldn’t be much different.

This is what Bobby Valentine was saddled with: a GM who didn’t want him; a dysfunctional, enabled and highly paid group of players; a starting rotation with questions from positions 3-5; a bad bullpen; injuries; and black holes in the starting lineup.

Valentine was expected to cause controversy and the expectation was so intense that when he said something seemingly innocuous (and by insider accounts, true) about Kevin Youkilis it was treated as if he’d said Ted Williams was overrated.

What do the masses want Valentine to do?

What can he do?

A firestarter might be needed.

Under no circumstances do I think Ivan Nova was throwing at Youkilis when he hit him with a pitch in the bottom of the 6th, but in the situation the Red Sox are in, intent doesn’t matter.

They need a spark and with Alex Rodriguez batting second in the top of the 7th, it was the perfect setting to retaliate.

“You hit my third baseman? I hit your third baseman.”

If it starts a fight, so much the better. The Red Sox need something to bring them together and maybe a brawl is it.

Joe Girardi wants you and everyone else to know how smart he is.

In theory I suppose I understand why Girardi decided to begin the bottom of the 9th inning with a sidearming waiver wire pickup Cody Eppley.

The Yankees had a 4-run lead and the conventional wisdom is not to use your closer when it’s not a save situation.

But after Eppley allowed a leadoff single to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Girardi called on Mariano Rivera to finish the game.

In spite of it being—in the grand scheme of things—a relatively meaningless game in April, in reality, it wasn’t.

On a day where the Red Sox and their fans were still in bliss at the celebration, why give them the opening to stage a comeback? How galvanizing would it have been had the Red Sox rallied—against the Yankees no less!!!—on such a day? All the acrimony within the organization would’ve been replaced with the joy of a huge win against their hated rivals and possibly save the Red Sox spiraling season.

It was a needless and self-indulgent risk.

For a smart man, a good manager and baseball man Girardi does some notoriously idiotic things in what appear to be repeated attempts to show how smart he is.

I’m the “don’t mess around” guy and can’t stand overthinking and overmanging. I thought we were past the “save situation” nonsense especially with teams like the Yankees who have intentionally shunned conventional baseball orthodoxy in favor of objectivity.

Keep your boot on their throats; don’t open the door; hold them down and keep them down. The best way to do that is with Rivera.

What’s Rivera there for?

Girardi’s overmanaging has gotten the Yankees in trouble before and he could conceivably have done it again yesterday. It wasn’t just unnecessary. It was stupid.

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The Red Sox Had A Right To Their Celebration Without Rehashed Drama

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Since the Red Sox have invited every former player, coach and manager to attend the 100th anniversary celebration of Fenway Park, will Eric Gagne be there? Grady Little? Joe Kerrigan?

The problem with inviting everyone to a celebration like this is that there are bound to be people who you don’t want to show up but only invited because you were inviting everyone and it would cause more of a distraction if you picked and chose who could and couldn’t come.

What makes it worse than the person showing up is when they make a great show of pronouncing that they’re not showing up and go into graphic detail as to why.

It’s like a wedding. “Well, if we invite X, then we have to invite Y! We have to!”

The Red Sox have done a Mets-like job of botching things since the final month of the 2011 season when they acted as if a playoff spot was an entitlement rather than something they earned; as if spending money on stars and formulating mathematical calculations based on runs scored and runs allowed that they’d make the playoffs on an annual basis and waltz into another “ultimate matchup” between themselves, the Yankees and the Phillies.

None of those teams made it past the first round of the playoffs.

There’s no right or wrong answer in designing this type of party, but like the aforementioned analogy of a wedding, for the organizers, it’s a case of not having it degenerate into a YouTube disaster.

The Red Sox made the mistake of adding fuel to the fire from the fallout of 2011 with the public dustups with Theo Epstein’s and Terry Francona’s “are they coming or are they not?” twin gaffes.

Francona was invited and initially declined because of the circumstances in which he was dismissed, then reversed course. He did it publicly and it was intentional.

Apparently, Epstein hadn’t been invited at all—a horrific mistake in propriety.

The way to handle situations like this is to rise above the fray. What the Red Sox should’ve done was asked Francona and Epstein to come and left it there.

If Francona said no, they needn’t have called him or gotten into a war of words in the media (dutifully blown up to increase the scrutiny on the reeling organization and shift the onus away from the “beloved” former manager) to rehash the back-and-forth that went on all winter as to whom said what and who’s been allocated the majority of blame for the collapse.

The right answer was the simplest. “We invited Tito and Theo. Of course we want them here for the celebration. It’s not about 2011. It’s about 1912 to 2012 and they contributed greatly to this organization. If they don’t come because of any lingering animosity, we regret that and they’re going to miss a beautiful ceremony.”

Bang.

Who looks worse if Epstein and Francona decline?

Francona’s not Mr. Innocent here.

Don’t think he was hit by a bolt from the blue of magnanimity and changed his mind after dredging up accusations of what led to the ugly split between him and the club. If you believe that, I have a ballpark on 4 Yawkey Way in Boston to sell you.

It’s 100 years old, but was recently refurbished and is a beloved landmark.

Make an offer.

Ask yourself this: if the Red Sox were 10-2 instead of 4-8 and reeling on and off the field under new manager Bobby Valentine, would Francona have so willingly decided to attend?

To an absurd degree, Francona’s been shielded from his part in this club’s decline. In truth, he’s lucky he’s out of there because as long as they keep playing like this and resorting to organizational cannibalism and self-preservation (“Hey, don’t blame me!!!”), he looks better and better when he probably shouldn’t.

Francona is getting his revenge on and off the field and when he steps out and hears the cheers and chanting (“Come back Ti-to!!!”). It’s a kick in the groin for Larry Lucchino, John Henry and Valentine.

Players on the roster will seek Francona out, hug him, shake their heads and complain about the new regime; they’ll express their regret for Francona being dismissed while shirking the reality that their behaviors caused the dismissal. That’s what players do.

The Red Sox are coming apart. Valentine is under fire from the players and media as the lightning rod when much of what’s gone wrong falls at the desks of both Epstein and Francona.

With Epstein, it’s ridiculous that he wasn’t invited. Both he and Dan Duquette played major roles in the rejuvenation of the franchise and deserve acknowledgement for that. They’re not among the generic “non-uniformed personnel” who were, as a rule, not asked to come.

All of the responsibility for what’s currently going wrong for the Red Sox is falling on the remaining actors in the ongoing tragi-comedy. Lucchino, Henry, Josh Beckett, Kevin Youkilis were there for the explosion and are dealing with the fallout. Valentine was parachuted in like a banished general who hadn’t been in combat for a decade and is seeing first hand the factional disagreement, media vultures and fan anger. It’s becoming clear that even the polarizing Valentine had no idea what he was getting into. He thought he was managing a baseball team, not overseeing a zoo.

The entire off-field drama is a distraction from what this celebration is meant to be about: the ballpark and the history of the franchise.

Like it or not, that history going to be intensified by this downfall. It was inevitable as soon as they abandoned the initial blueprint they’d designed and altered the template to be the Yankees and purchased gaudy trophies in lieu of maintaining financial sanity and getting needs over wants.

They’ve succeeded in becoming the Yankees.

But it wasn’t the 1965 Yankees they had in mind.

Let them enjoy their day.

It’s going to get worse from here.

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A Start Just As Bad Without The Circling Vultures

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While the Red Sox need only look skyward to see the circling vultures, are under intense media scrutiny and increasing fan anger and angst for their horrific start, the Angels have an identical record—4-8—as the Red Sox. That the Angels are operating without the open factions in the front office and players engaging in a cold war with the manager doesn’t alter the fact that the bottom line is the same.

In many ways, the Angels’ situation is worse because they were the ones who made the splashy winter acquisitions, taking the crown of off-season champions that had, in previous years, been co-opted by the Yankees and Red Sox. Confident in their blueprint, the Angels could mitigate firestorms under owner Arte Moreno and manager Mike Scioscia. Whereas the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies have long made the headlines and ramped up their status as favorites from November to February, the Angels have been the tortoise to the hare.

The Angels went slow and steady; worked within a reasonable budget sans gaudy bidding wars; adhered to a template; brought in cogs to the machine rather than creating a new machine to integrate with the old one.

They unapologetically clung to their methods.

That changed this past winter when, after hiring GM Jerry Dipoto, Moreno lavished an open checkbook to his GM to sign Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson.

Wilson is precisely the type of pitcher the Angels pursue—a durable starter who’ll gobble innings.

Pujols is not the type of player they would ordinarily bid on, let alone land. In years past, the Angels have identified a target and made bold, “take-it-or-leave-it”, “do you want to be here or not?” style offers to Torii Hunter among others. This past winter was different and it’s taking time for them to come together as a unit.

Amid the spending spree came another hallmark of the Yankees and Red Sox: the Angels have too many players who have a reasonable argument for playing regularly for too few spots in the lineup.

Bobby Abreu was outspoken in his unhappiness at being in the unfamiliar position of second or third DH and fourth or fifth outfielder. They were trying desperately to unload him in a deal for A.J. Burnett over the winter; then they wanted the Indians to simply take him. Both trades fell apart.

The Angels had been the team that did it their way for a long time. They’ve switched their strategy and it’s taking time to gel. The starting pitching has been shaky; the bullpen a catastrophe; the defense porous; and no one—specifically Pujols—is hitting.

As uncharacteristic as making those huge acquisitions was for the Angels, so too is the attention surrounding this star-studded group.

The Red Sox are openly at war with one another and their manager. This dynamic goes back to last season and beyond. It was glossed over for much of that time because they managed to win in spite of it. The Angels haven’t operated under that pressure. When they were prohibitive favorites it was mostly because they were in an awful division and had the history of winning within their parameters of top-down discipline, cohesion of purpose and pitching and defense.

It’s not the same and they’re off to a poor start.

Unlike the Red Sox, the Angels have time to right the ship before coming under attack as a disaster.

Unlike the Red Sox, there’s reason to believe the Angels will get their house in order.

But they don’t have forever and with the stifling expectations stemming from their winter spending, 4-8 is not how they wanted to start.

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The Pirates Are On The Right Track—Believe It

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For the second straight game the Pirates won and did it with a journeyman righty reliever, Juan Cruz, saving both games because All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan is day-to-day with a tight hamstring.

The Pirates are 5-7 after 12 games almost exclusively because, apart from megastar-in-waiting Andrew McCutchen, they haven’t hit. But if they do hit and continue pitching the way they have; if they get the above-and-beyond performances from pitchers like Cruz and the rest of the bullpen of misfits and youngsters; if they pick one another up like a team, they’re going to sneak up on some people.

After so many years of one step forward and three steps back mostly because of self-inflicted damage, tone deafness, missteps in talent recognition and mistaken acquisitions and subtractions, the Pirates are finally (really) on the right track.

Manager Clint Hurdle has instilled discipline and a no excuses attitude; the front office is taking steps to keep the young players they’ve cultivated with the signings of McCutchen and Jose Tabata and they’re interested in an extension with Neil Walker. The rotation is filled with talented journeymen like Erik Bedard and, when he gets back, A.J. Burnett. I’ve long been a fan of Kevin Correia and James McDonald; and Charlie Morton is still growing accustomed to the Roy Halladay imitation he’s trying to pull off with his motion.

They’re talented and are learning to play the game correctly as a unit.

This isn’t to suggest they’re on the verge of a 2008 Rays-type run into the playoffs, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they’ll finish at or near .500; and if they’re loitering around the outskirts of contention in July/August, they might be too hard-headed (stemming from their manager) to know that they’re not supposed to be doing what they’re doing.

They do have to start hitting.

Their free agent signings to improve the offense—Clint Barmes and Rod Barajas—are batting under .100 as is former 2nd overall pick in the draft Pedro Alvarez. (Alvarez homered today.)

No matter how good their pitching is, they have to hit or find a way to manufacture runs.

But they’re no longer a punching bag nor are they the weak kid in the schoolyard for the bullies like the Yankees and Red Sox to plunder for players at the trading deadline while doling a few prospects on them as a courtesy.

The Pirates have starting and relief pitching; they catch the ball defensively; they have some pop and speed in their lineup; and their manager doesn’t tolerate the old attitude of, “We’re the Pirates and we’re not supposed to win.”

They’re on the way up.

Believe it.

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Blame Valentine All You Want, But This Team Isn’t Very Good

All Star Game, Ballparks, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

The biggest mistake is thinking the 2012 Red Sox would be any different with Gene Lamont as manager.

It was only one game and every team gets shellacked once in a while so the Red Sox 18-3 loss to the Rangers, in the cosmic scheme of things, isn’t that big of a deal.

The bruises from that beating will dissipate quickly; the foundational problems aren’t so easily covered up.

The scrutiny placed on Bobby Valentine for innocuous comments about Kevin Youkilis have brought to the forefront the concerns that baseball people have had about Valentine since his rise to prominence in late-1980s with the Rangers: great strategic manager; polarizing character; very difficult to deal with; a magnet for trouble.

It’s only 11 games into the season and there’s plenty of time for every team with the talent to right their collective ships, but the question for the Red Sox isn’t Bobby V. The question is whether they’re actually talented and deep enough to get themselves straightened out.

Those who are wondering if Valentine is going to last the season are ignoring what’s led to this shaky start and caused the upheaval in the front office and dugout to begin with.

Their bullpen is bad. The starting pitching is short. They have black holes in the lineup. And they have veterans that may be on the downslide.

Whether it was Terry Francona and Theo Epstein or Valentine and Ben Cherington presiding over this group is irrelevant.

Of course, if Epstein had stayed, the roster would not look like this. It’s doubtful Epstein would’ve traded Marco Scutaro and the bullpen/starting rotation would probably be drastically different. That’s not saying Epstein had all the answers because he was the one who put together the team from 2011 that was expected to challenge the 1927 Yankees as the greatest of all time and was a dysfunctional, indifferent, fractured crew that undermined their “beloved” manager Francona and got him fired.

Those that are complaining about Valentine should’ve considered the alternatives before they sabotaged Francona.

Athletes are notorious for not thinking through consequences and if they were winning and getting away with poor behavior while they had a playoff spot seemingly locked up, there was no reason to change in September as their world came undone.

So now it’s Valentine’s baby. The manager had to essentially grovel for forgiveness from Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia for a comment about Youkilis that most close Red Sox’ observers have said might’ve been better left said privately, but isn’t wrong.

The Red Sox from 2003-2011 can be considered something of a modern day dynasty. They won two championships which, with the tiered playoff system and three short series, is a lot. They were in contention every single year. Boston became a destination for players not just because of money; it became a destination because of the chance to win and the passion surrounding the club—passion that was once drenched in negativity and shifted into an expectation of winning.

Drunk with success (and possibly buzzed from clubhouse beer), they grew complacent, spent money unwisely and aged quickly. Epstein and Francona are gone and Larry Lucchino interfered with the preferred template of Cherington who, rightly or wrongly, is looking increasingly like a figurehead, implementer and conduit to what his bosses want.

The joy from the Fenway Park anniversary celebration and a couple of wins against the Yankees this weekend will make Red Sox Nation feel a bit better, but they won’t repair the fundamental issues that plagued the team during and after the collapse.

This is how it goes as structures age.

And when they age and decay, they have to be rebuilt.

This wasn’t simply predictable. It was inevitable. No matter who was running the team, it was unavoidable.

No one should be surprised at anything that happens now.

Anything.

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