Red Sox

Valentine was a managed disaster for Red Sox

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Valentine was a managed disaster for Red Sox

NEW YORK -- Last fall, on the heels of the worst collapse in baseball history, in the aftermath of a scandal that revealed some of their players to be beer-swilling, chicken-eating slackers, the last thing the Red Sox needed was more drama.

So, naturally, they hired a manage who thrived on it.

In retrospect, you could almost understand the logic. In turning the club over to Bobby Valentine, Red Sox ownership probably thought he was the perfect tonic to shake the players out of their complacency and command their focus.

What they failed to take into account, however, was that, often, for every problem Valentine solves, he creates two new ones.

And so it was that Valentine, who will be relieved of his duties either Thursday or Friday, leaves the Sox somehow in worse shape than he found them 10 months ago.

Unlike the 2011 club, which sported the best record in the league until the final fateful month, the 2012 edition never reached such rarefied heights.

They were bad in the beginning, achieved mediocrity in the second month, and then began a long, spiraling descent shortly after the midway point of the season. In the final month they were, plain and simply, an embarrassment, winning only seven times after Sept. 1 and finishing on an eight-game losing streak.

By then, of course, Valentine wasn't the main issue. A succession of injuries -- and a late-August trade which brought payroll relief, future financial flexibility and a fumigated clubhouse -- left the roster in tatters. Often in September, Valentine was given no choice but to field a lineup of journeymen, role players and not-ready-for-prime-time prospects, surrounded only by a legitimate everyday major-leaguer or three.

But the die was cast before that. It was clear Valentine not only wasn't part of the solution -- he was part of the problem.

"He lost a lot of guys in spring training,'' remarked a baseball source with knowledge of the situation, "and it was tough to get them back after that.''

Valentine, sources said, alienated veteran players in the early days at Fort Myers when he needlessly embarrassed Mike Aviles during infield drills. And it went beyond a single incident. He lacked preparation at times, failed to communicate his ideas for fundamental instruction, and seemed to make little effort to build relationships with players.

When, seemingly out of nowhere, Valentine questioned Kevin Youkilis's commitment two weeks into the season, he further put off many of the established players.

Youkilis was never the most popular veteran in the clubhouse, but several players were mystified by Valentine's unprovoked rebuke.

It didn't help Valentine that his predecessor, Terry Francona, made it a point to criticize or discipline players in private. Francona limited his message to the one person for whom it was intended; Valentine preferred to surprise his targets with a very public airing of his grievence.

(It further galled players that Valentine, when questioned about his habit for delivering zingers through the media, often responded with a mystified "What? What'd I say?'' defense).

And Valentine could be cruel. In a radio interview, he made mention (before correcting himself) of then-pitching coach Bob McClure's "vacation'' from the team, knowing full well that McClure's absence was so that he could attend to his gravely ill infant.

The manager's penchant for "divide-and-conquer'' extended to his coaching staff, routinely ignoring bullpen coach and catching instructor Gary Tuck and bench coach Tim Bogar. In his role, Bogar was supposed to provide in-game input on strategy and act as the manager's liason in the clubhouse. But often, his only communication with Valentine was via text or e-mail.

Weeks after McClure was fired, Valentine told others that reliever Alfredo Aceves's hostile behavior in late August and into September was somehow McClure's fault.

Not that Valentine was without his strong points. He proved that he was still a strong talent evaluator by plucking Franklin Morales from the bullpen and putting him into the rotation; arguing against the conversion of Daniel Bard from reliever to starter, and being an early advocate for Pedro Ciriaco.

He deserves credit, too, for patching together the bullpen after closer Andrew Bailey was lost for the first 4 12 months by a freak thumb injury. The team's relief pitching was wretched in the first two weeks, but Valentine soon got it under control, matching pitcher to role.

But each week or so seemed to bring -- or threaten to bring -- more moves reeking of passive-aggressiveness or self-destruction. Like his observation of the team's late-season roster as the "weakest roster we've ever had in September in the history of baseball,'' which infuriated members of the front office.

Valentine's hiring was a gamble last December. Yes, there was the chance he could inject his energy and foster discipline; there was also a far greater chance the team would implode on his watch.

The Red Sox didn't beat the odds. They got the Valentine they feared, rather than the one for whom they had slim hope.

Are Red Sox playing a waiting game before naming their new manager?

Are Red Sox playing a waiting game before naming their new manager?

BOSTON — As soon as the American League Championship Series ends, the Red Sox could make a move for their manager.

Industry sources continue to expect Astros bench coach Alex Cora will be the Sox’ pick. No offer had been officially made as of midday Wednesday, one source close to the situation said. But the belief is such an offer waits out of respect to the Astros-Yankees ALCS that can end no later than Saturday if the series goes a full seven games. 

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“Not a doubt it is him,” the source said.

Sunday and Monday would both be off days ahead of the Tuesday night start of the World Series. That leads to the potential for at least a Red Sox announcement of Cora, if not a press conference, before the Fall Classic begins. (If the Astros advance to the World Series, it may be harder to have Cora in Boston for any length of time.)

All those who know Cora praise his ability to connect with players. The former Red Sox infielder is good friends with Dustin Pedroia. Cora’s previous knowledge of the Boston market works in his favor, as well, as does his mettle handling the media. Some question his readiness as a first-time manager, considering he would be taking over a team with great win-now expectations and complicated clubhouse dynamics.

Nothing takes the place of experience and there is such a thing as being too close to players. Ultimately, if the Sox do land Cora, 41, they would be adding the hottest up-and-coming managerial prospect who’s available on the market. The everybody-wants-him reputation could give Cora added cachet with players and certainly becomes a public-relations win for those fans following the search.

The Sox interviewed Ron Gardenhire on Wednesday. Gardenhire was the third candidate the Sox talked to and could well be the last. Cora met with the Sox on Sunday, followed by Brad Ausmus on Monday.
 

NLCS: Cubs avoid sweep, top Dodgers 3-2 to cut series deficit to 3-1

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NLCS: Cubs avoid sweep, top Dodgers 3-2 to cut series deficit to 3-1

CHICAGO -- Javier Baez sensed he was ready to bust out of his slump and give the Chicago Cubs the lift they needed.

As breakthroughs go, this was a big one. Just in time to keep the season going for the defending champs.

Baez snapped an 0-for-20 skid with two home runs, Wade Davis hung on for a six-out save and Cubs avoided a sweep, holding off the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 Wednesday night in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series.

"We have to be much more offensive," manager Joe Maddon said. "It's got to start happening tomorrow. We're going to do this. Going to pull this off, we have to become more offensive tomorrow."

Baez finally got going with a pair of solo drives .

Jake Arrieta pitched three-hit ball into the seventh inning to help the Cubs close their deficit to 3-1. Maddon got ejected for the second time in this series in the eighth, and a packed Wrigley Field crowd watched Davis get Cody Bellinger to ground into a game-ending double play.

Maddon was heavily criticized for not using Davis during a 4-1 loss in Game 2. This time, the Cubs closer threw 48 pitches to finish the job.

Willson Contreras also homered for the Cubs. Bellinger and Justin Turner connected for the Dodgers, who had won a team-record six straight playoff games.

Game 5 is Thursday, with Jose Quintana pitching for Chicago against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

"They're the world champs, and you know they're going to fight to the end," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "So today, they did. We got beat today."

Baez hit solo drives in the second and fifth after going hitless in his first 20 playoff at-bats. He had been watching videos and felt his timing was starting to come back in recent trips to the plate.

"I just need to take a step back and see what's going on," he said.

Contreras added a long homer against Alex Wood.

Davis entered with a 3-1 lead in the eighth. He gave up a leadoff homer to Turner, who went 2 for 2 and drew two walks.

Maddon became incensed that a swinging strike three against Curtis Granderson was ruled a foul after the umpires discussed the play. Maddon got tossed, and Granderson struck out swinging at the next pitch.

And after walking Yasmani Grandal to put runners on first and second, Davis struck out Chase Utley , who is hitless in his last 24 postseason at-bats.

All seven of Chicago's runs in this series have come on homers. And long drives in the second by Contreras and Baez made it 2-0.

"Great to have this win, because if not we were going home tomorrow," Baez said. "But I feel like we're still not on track as a team. But I think if we get back on track, everybody as a team, we're going to be the best again."

Contreras' 491-foot homer banged off the left-field videoboard and Baez sent a towering drive out to left.

Bellinger cut it to 2-1 with his drive to right in the third. But Baez got the lead back up to two with a shot to the left-field bleachers in the fifth, the raucous crowd chanting "Javy! Javy!" for the flashy young star who was co-MVP of the NLCS last year.

No Cubs player had hit two in a playoff game since Alex Gonzalez went deep twice in Game 2 of the 2003 NLCS against Miami.

Arrieta exited with runners on first and second in the seventh after walking Chris Taylor on a 3-2 pitch. He tipped his hat as fans gave him a standing ovation, a fitting show of appreciation for a pitcher with an expiring contract.

"Hopefully, it's not a goodbye, it's a thank you, obviously," Arrieta said. "I still intend to have another start in this ballpark. If that's where it ends, I did my best and I left it all out there."

Arrieta turns 32 in March and figures to land a huge deal in free agency. The trade that brought him from Baltimore helped fuel Chicago's rise, with the right-hander capturing the 2015 NL Cy Young Award and contributing to last year's drought-busting championship run.

Limited by a right hamstring injury in the final month of the season, he threw 111 pitches. Brian Duensing retired Bellinger on a fly to end the seventh.

Turner made it a one-run game with his homer off the left-field videoboard against Davis in the eighth.

A career-high 16-game winner, Wood gave up three runs and four hits in 42/3 innings.

"The only frustrating thing is we fell a run short," Turner said. "We played a great game, they played a great game. They just hit one more ball over the fence than we did."

FINISHING UP

Maddon said Davis would not be available on Thursday.

"So other guys got to do it," Maddon said. "We have to be much more offensive. It's got to start happening tomorrow. We're going to do this. Going to pull this off, we have to become more offensive tomorrow."

QUOTABLE

Chicago's Kyle Schwarber on all the Cubs' runs coming on homers in the series: "That's fine. A run's a run, anyway you can get them in. Obviously, we want to manufacture some runs, but we won a ballgame 3-2 hitting homers; I'll take that, too."

UP NEXT

Dodgers: The Dodgers turn to Kershaw to try to wrap up the series. The three-time NL Cy Young winner went five innings in Game 1, allowing two runs, and has a 4.76 ERA in two postseason starts this year.

Cubs: Quintana pitched five innings of two-hit ball in Game 1, one day after his wife, Michel, was taken off the team plane in Albuquerque with a medical ailment.

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