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Seeing red

Can Sawx be fixed? Here's where they went wrong

Posted: Tuesday August 22, 2006 10:41AM; Updated: Tuesday August 22, 2006 3:40PM
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Coco Crisp hasn't been the playmaker the Red Sox had hoped for when they acquired him from the Indians.
Coco Crisp hasn't been the playmaker the Red Sox had hoped for when they acquired him from the Indians.
Party of Five
Boston's five-game losing streaks at Fenway Park
Year Runs Allowed Final Record GB
1966 53 72-90 26
1953 52 84-69 16
2006 51 90-72* 8*

Like most gory horror flicks, the Boston Massacre has its sequel, even if it was 28 years in the making. The New York Yankees' five-game sweep of the Red Sox at Fenway Park stands in the long term, like its 1978 prequel, as an unforgettable part of baseball history. In the short term it suffices as a repudiation of the 2006 team architecture as planned by the Red Sox' front office.

First, the history. Just try to find a run of five games in which the Red Sox embarrassed themselves more than they did last weekend. Let me help. Take every game the Red Sox have ever played in Boston, look for five consecutive games they lost at home, and then look at the most runs they surrendered while going 0-5. Here's the worst of it in franchise history (see chart, above).

You're left with the third-worst home spanking in history, and the worst if you limit the five games to a single opponent.

Where did the Red Sox go wrong? Obviously, their pitching was woefully inadequate. They used seven pitchers who either are rookies or were off the roster even before the series ended, and an eighth who was cut by the Royals this year.

The Red Sox, having let center fielder Johnny Damon and pitchers Derek Lowe and Pedro Martinez walk in recent years, pride themselves on a sustainable farm system they believe can keep the team competitive on a yearly basis for the long and short term. The team's credo is to field a renewable contender: a team that wins between 90-95 games per year -- more if everything magically breaks just right -- which is good enough to keep Fenway Park full. The Red Sox don't believe in blowing out the budget to seize the chance for one big year at the expense of falling back into 80s-wins mediocrity for a year or two.

The second half of this season, though, has been a worst-case scenario. When injuries hit (catcher and team captain Jason Varitek, pitchers Tim Wakefield, Matt Clement and Keith Foulke, right fielder Trot Nixon, etc.), Boston asked too much of its young players on the field while protecting them from quick-fix trades off it. It's an approach that is admirable because of its commitment to patience, but it's an approach that left the team undermanned against the Yankees, a team on which the depth of its veteran talent is exceeded only by the depth of the club's pockets. The series against New York exposed not only the flaw in the plan, but also a series of miscalculations by the front office.

Here is the breakdown of where the Red Sox went wrong, and whether or not the problems are fixable:

1. Coco Crisp. Boston let Damon leave (thanks to a below-market bid) knowing full well they coveted Crisp. Crisp, they believed, was a Damon in the making, maybe even better. They whiffed on that evaluation. Sure, Crisp, 26, still has time to blossom, but the Red Sox now know he is not an impact player, not a premium center fielder and not a leadoff hitter who grinds out at-bats. Crisp went 1 for 19 against New York, including nine plate appearances that ended after one or two pitches. (He saw an average of 3.1 pitchers per plate appearance in the series.)

Fixable? Probably not. The odds that Crisp is playing center field next year for the Red Sox are less than 50 percent. It looks a lot like the way Boston lusted for Edgar Renteria while letting Orlando Cabrera take a hike; a few months into the 2005 season the Red Sox could not wait to dump Renteria.