Are the Red Sox' playoff hopes over? The math says they aren't (though the odds are terrible), but the fans seem to be fleeing this sinking ship like the Titanic, and, realistically, it's hard to disagree with them. Even with the second wild card, there are just so many teams in between the Sox and a playoff slot at this point that Boston almost certainly can't leapfrog all of them.
So, the obvious question in Boston is, who's to blame?
Well, there seem to really only be three candidates: injuries, the underperforming starting rotation or, of course, manager Bobby Valentine. Certainly not all fans fall into this reactionary category, but clearly the most vitriol is directed at Valentine, and that's absolutely not a creation of the media. All one has to do is read comments on NESN stories or the Facebook page to get a sense of how oft-blamed the manager is.
But as easy as Valentine might be to target, unfortunately such things in baseball — such as in life — are never so straightforward, and there is no straight line from Valentine's personality to the performance on the field. Did there exist some communication problems between Valentine and his coaching staff? That seems to be well established. Did he handle the Kevin Youkilis situation poorly? Probably. Are there some Red Sox players who don't care for his management style? Apparently so.
"I've done a lot of work, I couldn't do any more," said Valentine after the Red Sox' 4-1 Sunday loss to the Yankees, according to ESPN. "I don't think I could've worked any harder. I probably could've done some things differently, I guess, but I don't know what they are. I'll appraise it and I'll look back on it."
The problem is, for those looking for neat answers and easy scapegoats, none of the Red Sox on-field problems can be directly attributed to what's gone on in the clubhouse. From John McGraw to Billy Martin to Valentine himself, baseball is littered with cases of teams who didn't like their manager or each other and still managed to win baseball games. By every indication, Valentine comes to the ballpark each day as prepared as everyone and, publicly, has done an excellent job throughout the year defending his players when need be.
And who wouldn't believe him? This is a man who was essentially exiled to Japan for years despite being universally recognized in America as one of the better minds in all of baseball — of course, Valentine's never been known as a "player's manager." This gig is likely his last shot at a major league managerial position if it doesn't go well, so Valentine has plenty of personal incentive to perform.
In short, how in the world is it Valentine's fault that the Red Sox are 17-29 in games pitched by Josh Beckett and Jon Lester? Reverse that record, and the Red Sox are sitting at 71-51, leading the wild card chase and trailing the Yankees by just a game and a half for the American League East crown.
So, what's the argument? That Valentine's managerial style has so gotten into the heads of Beckett and Lester that their games simultaneously fell apart? That's absolutely silly. Let's give the players more credit than that for their mental toughness, and let's stop making baseless extrapolations about how the psychology of a major league clubhouse affects a team on the field.
What we can look at, however, is performance. And, in terms of performance, it's pretty clear where the onus lies in terms of the Red Sox and underachieving.
Forget clubhouse discord. Beckett and Lester may well have doomed Bobby Valentine.