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Some Theo thoughts

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff  September 21, 2007 10:00 AM

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Red Sox GM Theo Epstein shared a few thoughts on the team's struggles and the upcoming postseason today on Boston sports radio station WEEI’s Dennis and Callahan show.

"We've lost a lot of games, and people are thinking that we've lost them because we're somehow pulling the reins back or not trying 100 percent or balancing our short and long-term interests," said Epstein. "We've lost the games because we've been completely outplayed at the critical junctures of the game for the last week to 10 days, and that's exactly what you have to do to win close games in a pennant race, and win games in October.

"You have to outplay your opponents at the critical junctures of the game, and we haven't done it and we're paying the price, but that balancing act, yeah, it's always in the back of your mind as you get right down to the end of the season. But the guys who are missing games now are missing games because they can't go. And the reshuffling of the rotation didn't cost any pitcher a start. They all have the same number of starts left, it's a matter of when they would take them."

More of Theo’s thoughts:

  • Epstein addressed the question of the importance of winning the division vs. resting for the playoffs.

    "There are psychological reasons to want to win the division, and there are practical reasons to want to win the division," Epstein said. "They're not extreme reasons, it's not a do-or-die thing but from a psychological standpoint, some people would argue these are very nominal, some would argue they're very significant. I tend to focus more on the practical reasons. But the psychological reasons are: We haven't done it since 1995 and we've been in front pretty much from the second week of the season on, so you feel in a sense like you've earned it. You've gone out... not a good thing to feel like you've earned something over 5 1/2 months and then give it away over two weeks. So from a psychological standpoint, we all want to win the division.

    "From a practical standpoint, winning the division does create some sort of home field advantage, and if you can win the division and stave off the Angels and the Indians, well, that gives you the choice in the first round, and home field throughout the playoffs, so again, home field isn't the be all, end all in playoff baseball, far from it, but it is better to have home field, especially with our club. We score about a run per game more at home than we do on the road. That's not insignificant."

  • Epstein said that no decisions have been made regarding any playoff pitching rotations for the Red Sox: "It's going to be a matter of sitting down with Tito [Francona] and John Farrell and I'll be there... just figure out what puts us in the best possible position to win, match up with our opponent, and win that first five-game series."

  • Epstein, like manager Terry Francona, said he has confidence in the embattled Eric Gagne.

    "This is a guy, for starters, that's never failed," said the Sox GM, who made the trade for the former star closer at the deadline. "When I look at the process of that deal, I think it's extremely sound. We anticipated the need for another reliever, because we expected [Hideki] Okajima to either falter or fatigue or both the rest of the way just because we were asking him to do things he's never done before and he was ridden extremely hard, justifiably, in the first four months of the season. ...

    "[Gagne] still runs his fastball up there 93-94, still has a really good changeup, and the ability to flip a curveball for a strike and was healthy and we scouted him extensively and had good uniformity in our reports from a variety of scouts, probably a half a dozen guys, had seen him and written up the same thing...

    "I think what's happened is that it's been a really difficult adjustment. Gagne's had a difficult adjustment from a lot of different standpoints, probably trying to do too much, probably trying to overthrow, the adjustment to the eighth inning has been bigger than we had anticipated. And it's been hard to adjust to him too. He's a guy whose calling card is a swing-and-miss changeup. And we haven't been in position to really get the most out of that pitch because he's falling behind in counts, it's kind of taken us a while to get to know him as a pitcher, and that's our issue.

    "I'm not going to sit here and say we just have to keep throwing him out there blindly ... but of course it would be better if we could tap his potential, help him make that adjustment, even in these last nine games, we're going to be better for it."

    Commish checks in
    Elsewhere around the web, ESPN's Peter Gammons offered some thoughts on the Red Sox’ slide, the struggles in the outfield, and questions some Red Sox players’ drive for excellence, in his ESPN.com blog this week:

    When one watches the Yankees stalk the Red Sox, one sees a Boston team with two late-season callups, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brandon Moss, in the outfield because Manny Ramirez has missed September with a strained oblique and Coco Crisp's back acted up. They had Hinske at first because Kevin Youkilis is out after being hit by Wang last Saturday. Ramirez's OPS was .880 -- his worst -- before he was injured, J.D. Drew has fewer RBIs (12) than Ellsbury (13) since July, and Julio Lugo has a .298 on-base percentage.

    Yankee players raved about Daisuka Matsuzaka's arm-side fastball down and away to left-handed hitters but wondered why, with his change, split, and curveball, he was throwing so many fastballs. The same issue was raised Tuesday night when Eric Gagne went away from his bread-and-butter pitch -- his changeup -- and got beaten on his fastball.

    But those issues would not be so pressing if David Ortiz and Mike Lowell had Ramirez and Drew producing at their norms. Ortiz has remarkable numbers (1.031 OPS), considering Ramirez has played 127 games; in fact, according to the Elias News Bureau, over five seasons with the Red Sox, Ortiz's batting average and home run rates are high when Ramirez hasn't been in the lineup. Lowell has been their most consistent player.

    But when one looks at the September histories of Jeter and Rodriguez, then looks at Ramirez's stretch resume, there is a legitimate question about the drive for excellence. ...

    The fact is that 37 players have more RBIs in August and September than Ramirez and Drew, combined, whose total of 30 equals that of Rick Ankiel. David Murphy has as many homers as each of the Red Sox $34-million corner outfielders in the two stretch months.

    It's about how a team's best players play when it counts, and, right now, it's why the Yankees and the Phillies are flying in the left lane, making the Red Sox and Mets nervous. Very nervous. As the Mets quibble with unattributed whines, the Red Sox have gone from the surest of the sure to looking at the possibility of seeing C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona four times in the first round with the knowledge that not only did Sabathia beat Johan Santana and Justin Verlander five times, but the Tribe were 9-2 in games started by the other two best pitchers in their division.

    Manny has a total of 19 at-bats over the last two Septembers, batting .211 with just one home run and two RBIs. Since July, Manny has batted .264 with two homers and 18 RBIs.

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