MLB Insider: Dropping Bobby V has Boston picking up W’s

Posted Saturday, May. 04, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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More information Top five Red Sox Tranquil clubhouse, top-notch pitching lifting Boston. Rangers Most complete team in the AL West waiting on offense. Cardinals Excelling in all facets to climb atop NL Central. Braves Slowed by speed bumps at Detroit, Washington. Tigers Only a matter of time until Detroit puts it together.   Bottom five Marlins Owners of NL’s worst batting average, fourth-worst ERA. Astros Not even Miami or Anaheim pitch as bad as Houston (5.29 ERA). Padres NL’s worst ERA despite playing in best pitcher’s park. Cubs Thankful to have Scott Feldman and his first career complete game. Angels Led majors in disappointment for a second straight April.

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Maybe blame for Boston’s unbearable 2012 season should be placed on Mike Maddux.

The Texas Rangers’ pitching coach was said to be one of the top candidates to take over as Red Sox manager, but he chose to remain near his college-aged daughters in the Metroplex rather than interview for one of the top jobs in baseball. Hard to argue with that?

The Red Sox eventually ended up hiring Bobby Valentine for a vacancy they probably should have never had in the first place. But they had squeezed out Terry Francona, who had only ended decades of misery at Fenway Park, and their penance was Valentine.

What followed looked from afar to be absolute chaos. Everything that was chronicled on TV and in print was accurate, though 100 times worse for the players who were living it each day. Boston finished in last place in the American League East at 69-93.

The first month of this season must have seemed like a baseball utopia.

Old friend John Farrell has taken over as manager, the Red Sox have started pitching again, David Ortiz has started playing again, and every off-season move has made them better.

They entered Saturday with the best record in baseball and atop a division that they were said to have no chance of winning.

What a difference a year, a manager and a few key additions can make.

“The coaches have been awesome,” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “We’re prepared. At the same time, the players get along. Everyone knows their role, and everyone knows how to prepare themselves.”

Boston shaped up its clubhouse atmosphere by dumping Valentine and adding known high-character players via free agency. The group includes Mike Napoli, but is headlined by Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes.

Gomes was hailed in Oakland for the effect he had on the A’s as they caught and passed the Rangers last season for American League West crown. He’s only a part-time player, but he’s a full-time Grade A teammate.

“Jonny has that presence of ‘Hey, we’re here to win, we’re here to do things right, and here’s how you do them,’” Saltalamacchia said. “Victorino’s been on a winning team before, so he knows how to do it, and Nap is that silent assassin.”

The reshaping of the clubhouse didn’t just start in the off-season, and it’s an ongoing process. Josh Beckett, generally considered to be a lousy clubhouse influence, was shipped out at the trade deadline last season. Hot-head Alfredo Aceves was shown the way to Triple A Pawtucket last week after speaking out yet again.

Neither Beckett nor Aceves had been especially effective on the mound, where the Red Sox’s current success is rooted.

Clay Buchholz was the American League Pitcher of the Month for April after going 5-0 with a 1.19 ERA. He then went out May 1 and tossed seven scoreless innings.

Their scheduled starter Sunday, Jon Lester (4-0, 3.11), and Ryan Dempster (2-2, 3.00) have also helped the Red Sox post the third-best team ERA in the league, behind the Rangers and Detroit.

John Lackey, who entered his start Saturday at Rangers Ballpark at 1-1 with a 2.61 ERA, is healthy again and starting to making good on the five-year contract he signed two years ago.

“They can pitch,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “Lackey threw well the last time out. Lester seems to have his stuff back, and their bullpen is solid. That’s what it is right there.”

The pitching has been a big part, no doubt, and the plate contributions from Napoli and Ortiz have put a dent in opponents’ ERAs. But the Red Sox were given a fighting chance in 2013 when Valentine got the ax and the new manager and three newcomers started to breathe fresh life back in the clubhouse.

“Playing for John, he wants us to be on time and play hard,” Napoli said. “The veterans in the clubhouse take care of all the stuff that goes on in there, and we have fun. We show it the way we play on the field. We get out there and play hard, but we have fun while we’re doing it.”

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @JeffWilson

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