Is Theo Epstein to blame for the Red Sox’ skid?

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The Red Sox’ late season implosion is the talk of the morning, and the focal point of that talk is Jeff Passan’s column over at Yahoo! in which he assigns blame for Boston’s post season collapse.

It’s a failure — or potential failure, depending on how the next ten days go — that has many fathers, but Passan leads with Theo Epstein as the primary culprit. The reason: Epstein left his team’s cupboard bare and made blunders that resulted in the Red Sox’ rotation being painfully thin (Exhibit A: Kyle Weiland pitching critical games during a pennant race).

I’ll admit that it’s an awful state of affairs. But I’m struggling to see how this is a matter of Theo Epstein’s poor planning as opposed to just a lot of rotten luck.  Passan and I have had a lively back and forth on this on Twitter this morning (still in progress as I write this!), in which I have accused him of second guessing and he has accused me of being a Theo Epstein apologist.  But to me it seems that it comes down to whether or not you think Epstein screwed up in only trading for Erik Bedard at the deadline (Passan’s view) or if you think that Epstein did the best he could have done at the time given the situation on the ground.

In my view, that situation saw the Red Sox with a two-game lead in the AL East and a several games lead for a playoff position. It saw them with one real hole in the rotation — Clay Buchholz’s injury — but with a team that was otherwise in good shape.  It’s obvious now that they’re not in good shape. Beckett has been hurt, Lester has missed time and all manner of other things have gone wrong. But was that sufficiently foreseeable?  To be fair, Passan saw only trading for Bedard as a risk at the time (see #29).

But what else should Epstein have done?  Traded good prospects for pitching when, at the time anyway, the playoffs seemed totally secure?  And what pitching would you trade for?  It was a terribly thin market for starting pitching. Passan just tweeted to me that Boston should have considered “at least one proven starter like Kuroda/Wandy/Fister/EJax/Lowe/Guthrie. Even Marquis or Harang or innings-eater.”  Of course most of those guys weren’t ultimately traded because of their price tag, be it in terms of current salary or the prospects they would have cost. Marquis flamed out.

I’m not a Theo Epstein apologist. I think it’s fair, once a season is over, to look back at what the GM did or did not do and say what did or did not work.  But I think that there’s a difference between that and saying that he “blundered” and is the person most responsible for the Red Sox’ “choke” down the stretch.  Carl Crawford wasn’t supposed to suck. Daniel Bard wasn’t supposed to implode.  Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz weren’t supposed to have multiple nagging injuries. A lot of stuff has happened.

So what do you think?  Is Epstein the author of this failure-in-progress? Or is this just a perfect storm?

Video: Albert Almora, Jr. saved by the ivy

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
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The ALCS had a weird play in Game 4 on Tuesday night, but Game 4 of the NLCS did as well. This one involved Cubs outfielder Albert Almora, Jr. and his attempt to spark a rally in the bottom of the ninth inning against Dodgers reliever Ross Stripling.

After Alex Avila singled, Almora ripped a double to left field, past a diving Enrique Hernandez. The ball rolled to the ivy in front of the wall. Most outfielders there would’ve put their hands up, which would have alerted the umpires to call an immediate ground-rule double. Hernandez didn’t, instead fishing the ball out and firing it back into the infield. Avila had stopped at third base, but Almora kept running. Much to his surprise, he pulled up into third base to see his teammate standing there, resigned to his fate as a dead duck. Third baseman Justin Turner applied the tag on Almora for what he thought was the first out of the inning.

Almora, however, was then sent back to second base after the umpires correctly called a ground-rule double.

Unfortunately for the Cubs, the lucky break didn’t help as closer Kenley Jansen came in and took care of business, retiring all three batters he faced without letting an inherited runner score. The Dodgers won 6-1 and now lead the NLCS three games to none. They’ll try to punch their ticket to the World Series on Wednesday.