Red Sox playing inspired baseball under Farrell
Manager's easygoing demeanor has helped build team chemistry
NEW YORK -- With a little more than a third of the season behind them, the John Farrell era has paid great dividends already for the Red Sox.
Out of the turmoil of the past two seasons, the 35-23 Boston club suddenly finds itself with a 2 1/2-game lead over the Orioles and a three-game bulge on the Yankees and Rays in the American League East. That after a 3-0 victory at Yankee Stadium on Sunday night in a game that was called after three rain delays and stopped for the last time as the Yanks were about to come to bat in the sixth inning.
Last year after 58 games, the Red Sox were 29-29, four games out -- and in the midst of a battle with manager Bobby Valentine -- about to free fall out of contention. This year, it's a different story.
"They've got a lot of good players over there. They have a lot of guys who have had success in years past," said Kevin Youkilis, traded by the Red Sox to the White Sox last June 24 and now with the Yanks. "Sometimes there's just a bad year and I think that's what happened last year. They're doing well. They're pitching and hitting in the right spots and that's how you win ballgames. In this game, any team has a chance to win in baseball. You can't count out any team."
A week ago, the Red Sox were tied for first with the Bombers. Since then, they've won five of their last eight games while the Yanks have hit the skids by losing seven out of eight, including a rare four-game Subway Series sweep at the hands of the Mets.
The Red Sox have obviously played diametrically different ball under Farrell. They opened the season by taking two of three from the Yankees in the Bronx and did the same thing this weekend.
During that opening series, Farrell said when asked about building team chemistry that "wins certainly are the biggest factor in helping a team gel."
After Sunday's game, Farrell went a tad deeper.
"Winning certainly helps, there's no doubt about it," he said. "But I think we have a group of guys who pull for one another. They get along really well. They're anxious to get the ballpark every day. That's evident by the relationships that have been built here since Spring Training. This is a group that has become more close knit with each passing day. I think that's the reason we've been able to meet and answer some of the challenges that have come our way."
Talk about impact, it can't be any coincidence that the team's top starters are thriving with a skipper who was once their pitching coach under manager Terry Francona before leaving after the 2010 season for the top job in Toronto.
Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester are thus far a combined 13-2 as opposed to 2012, when they finished 20-22. Buchholz, at 8-0 with a Majors-leading 1.62 ERA, is a big part of the revival. On Sunday night, the right-hander had just been pulled out of the game after the second delay, but in an oddity of scoring, was credited with a complete-game shutout.
"He's the guy who makes out the lineups," Buchholz said when asked about the team's success so far under Farrell. "He's always going around asking guys how they feel. If a day is needed, he'll give you a day off. It's an open-door policy with him and that's what makes it a little bit easier to communicate. When the team is doing good, guys just like to go out there and play."
Lack of chemistry was what made Francona and Red Sox management part ways after the great September collapse of 2011. The team needed a new voice, Francona said. The outspoken Valentine never had a chance with the old group that included Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, plus much of the starting rotation, all stuck in their old ways.
Youkilis was the first to clash with Valentine and he was the first player shipped out. To this day, he cringes when asked about the Red Sox. Queried about whether it still felt weird to face his old team after the Yanks defeated Lester, 4-1, on Friday night, Youkilis simply said:
Following the Youkilis departure, four major cogs of that team -- Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto -- were traded to the Dodgers on Aug. 25 in a personnel and financial house cleaning of major order.
Valentine, who manages out of chaos, was dismissed after what turned out to be a last-place 66-93 season. Farrell is the antithesis, which almost always seems to be the case.
The tough guy who no one likes is followed by the calming influence, which is the definition of the solid and no-nonsense 50-year-old Farrell, who had a 154-170 record and a pair of fourth-place finishes in Toronto. He's seemingly that easy-going guy.
The Red Sox, who won the World Series under Francona in 2004 and '07, but haven't made the playoffs since 2009, needed some sort of transfusion. And thus far they've responded.
"We've had some tough circumstances," Farrell said. "In addition, we've had to go to a number of guys because of injuries -- a couple of spot starts. I think it speaks to our depth and guys staying prepared to step in when they're called upon. Those kind of contributions across the board have allowed us to put together a solid year so far."
Fifty-eight games do not a season make, but it's always better to leap off on the right foot than to wallow in constant negativity. For the Red Sox, the former is the way the John Farrell era is going.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.