#BlameEpstein

In Game Seven of the 2006 NLCS, St. Louis Cardinals closer (at the time) Adam Wainwright struck out Carlos Beltran of the New York Mets to end the game and send the Cardinals to the World Series. Despite hitting three home runs and putting up a 1.054 OPS in the series, Beltran was unfairly blamed for the postseason failure by much of the Mets fanbase. The blame was then extended to parody like levels throughout the rest of his time in New York solely because of the one incident.

If the Red Sox lose the Wild Card race that they currently find themselves in with the Tampa Bay Rays, I think we’re going to see a similar blame game played out in Boston, this one featuring Theo Epstein. In fact, the finger pointing has already begun, even while the Red Sox still cling to the AL Wild Card. Today, Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan wrote a column titled, “Epstein’s blunders paved way for Boston’s collapse.”

When a contending team coming off its worst weekend of the year heads directly to a doubleheader with the first half started by a rookie with a 7.58 ERA [which the Red Sox lost earlier this afternoon 6-5 to the Orioles] and the second half in the hands of a veteran with a 6.19 ERA, that’s not bad luck. It’s mismanagement.

Actually, it’s a staggering level of bad luck. Three starting pitchers have been shelved this month due to injuries, and that’s in addition to Clay Buchholz who has been out since June with a stress fracture in his back. In other words, extenuating circumstances have caused Kyle Weiland (who lost this afternoon) and John Lackey to get called into duty today.

Nevertheless, Passan continues:

Theo Epstein is facing criticism – all of it justified – for leaving his franchise shorthanded in the throes of a playoff race.

It is very simple: No team with the ability to spend $170 million on its payroll should be starting Kyle Weiland in September. Period.

Mr. Passan is going to criticize the same general manager who brought in (arguably) the two most coveted position players available this offseason to back up a starting rotation that was entrusted with more innings and struck out more batters than any other group of starters in the American League last season? If he’s going to insist on doing so, he should at the very least provide a name or two of a pitcher that Epstein could have dealt for at the deadline, when his team was ten and a half games up on the Rays.

Come on, Epstein. Crystal ball, much?

In order to acquire Adrian Gonzalez this off season, who has been worth six plus wins above replacement for the team (only six pitchers in all of baseball have been worth as much this season), the Red Sox had to dip into their farm system in the form of right-handed pitcher Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, outfielder Reymond Fuentes, and outfielder Eric Patterson. After doing so, would Passan have the Red Sox give up the equivalent of Casper Wells and Charlie Furbush to acquire Doug Fister at the deadline (remembering that the team was 10.5 games ahead at the time)? Or how about the equivalents, if they exist in the Red Sox organization, of Drew Pomeranz and Alex White to land Ubaldo Jimenez?

It’s a ridiculous criticsim from Passan that’s based 100% on hindsight, which even a blind man can use to make it look as though he’s seen what’s happened. And I think Passan is aware of how disingenuous he’s being, because he goes on to list nine other reasons, all outside of the control of Epstein, that have contributed to the Red Sox collapse this month. What he doesn’t mention is that one of Epstein’s deadline additions, Mike Aviles from the Kansas City Royals, has been one of the team’s best players during the slump.

Instead, Passan includes Epstein again in his list, bookending the reasons for the Red Sox reducing their considerable lead over the Rays. Only this time it’s not really clear what he’s criticizing or how the Red Sox GM’s goal of reaching the playoffs seven out of ten years is a bad thing.

I understand the desire to apply blame for bad performances or a bad streak in general, but to point fingers at a general manager who has built an organization that has appeared in the playoffs six times in the eight years he’s been in charge is ridiculous. It would be ridiculous to go after Epstein if the Red Sox blow their lead, and it’s only made more silly by the fact that they haven’t completely choked yet. The conviction for crimes not yet committed reminds me of The Minority Report. But the scarecrow target of the blame reminds me of another science fiction novel, Farenheit 451, when the dystopian government captures and executes a random citizen in place of the main character for the sake of optics alone.

The Boston Red Sox have not been built to fail, and the fact that the team won 70 of 103 games between April 16th and August 9th is testament to that. Passan pointing the fingers of blame at Epstein for the last two weeks of troublesome baseball from the Red Sox is like assigning a loss to a starting pitcher who loses a 1-0 game because of an outfield error in the ninth inning.