Is Terry Francona to blame for this mess?

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The “blame Theo” chorus kind of died down this week as the shock of the Red Sox actual collapse seemed to overtake the rancor of the collapse-in-progress.  But Curt Schilling was asked about it again today and he said that, if you have to blame someone here, it’s better to blame Theo Epstein than Terry Francona (though he does note that the players own this thing too):

“I think more of it’s on [general manager] Theo [Epstein] than on Tito, anyway,” Schilling said. “I would tell you that the environment around what they’re doing now, the guy managing this team is the only guy that could keep them together. I would argue that with another manager in this position right now, you’d have some in-fighting, big-time in-fighting going on given what they’re going through.”

Schilling’s defense of Francona isn’t really rhetorical here, as I’ve seen a lot of people around the web and on Twitter starting to ask if Terry Francona really shouldn’t be getting tons of blame for this collapse and whether it should cost him his job.

I haven’t thought too terribly hard about it, but yeah, there have been some instances of Tito-panic lately. The bullpen usage has been a bit odd. Batting Jed Lowrie cleanup in tonight’s game (really).  Not the acts of a man whose hand is steady on the rudder, so I get why he’s drawing fire.

But can you really blame Francona for a collapse that has, more than any collapse I can recall, been a total team effort?  Offense, defense, pitching, you name it, it’s been terrible.  Francona can’t make the pitches that Josh Beckett and Jon Lester haven’t been making. He can’t throw out Vlad Guerrero at second base.

Which isn’t to offer a full-throated defense either.  I guess I’m just asking the question of people who have been following the Red Sox demise on a day-in, day-out basis. To what extent is this a Terry Francona failure? And if it is, is it enough in your mind to cancel out all of the good stuff he’s done over the years?  Because, really, I consider him one of the better managers in the game.  What has he done to make me wrong about that?

Bud Norris exits outing with right knee soreness

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Angels’ right-handed reliever Bud Norris made his 23rd appearance of the season on Friday, and after just three pitches, he was done for the night. He worked a 2-1 count to Marlins’ Dee Gordon in the eighth inning, then promptly exited the field after experiencing some tightness in his right knee. Neither Norris nor manager Mike Scioscia believe the injury is cause for major concern, and the 32-year-old right-hander admitted that it may have had something to do with his lack of stretching before he took the mound. For now, he’s day-to-day with right knee soreness, with the hope that the issue doesn’t escalate over the next few days.

While the Angels are lucky to have avoided serious injury, they’ll need Norris to pitch at 100% if they want to stay competitive within the AL West. They currently sit a full nine games behind the league-leading Astros, and haven’t been helping their cause after taking five losses in their last eight games. Friday’s 8-5 finale marked their third consecutive loss of the week.

 

When healthy, Norris has been one of the better arms in the Angels’ bullpen. Through 23 2/3 innings, he’s pitched to a 2.66 ERA, 3.4 BB/9 and an outstanding 11.8 SO/9 in 23 outings. The righty hasn’t allowed a single run in four straight appearances, recording three saves and helping the club clinch four wins in that span. This is his second setback of the year after sustaining a partial fingernail tear on his pitching hand during spring training.

Video: Max Scherzer sets record with 13-strikeout outing

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Max Scherzer is a force to be reckoned with. The Nationals’ right-hander delivered a season-high 13 strikeouts against the Padres on Friday, locking down his fifth win and his fourth double-digit strikeout performance of the year.

More remarkably, it was also the 53rd double-digit strikeout performance of Scherzer’s career, tying Clayton Kershaw for the most 10+ strikeout appearances by an active major league pitcher. Chris Sale is a distant third, with 43 to his name, though he’s been making considerable strides to catch up so far this spring.

Scherzer took the Padres to task on Friday night, whiffing 13 of 31 batters during his 108-pitch outing. He started strong, catching Allen Cordoba swinging on a 1-2 count to start the game and keeping the game scoreless until Ryan Schimpf unleashed a home run in the fourth inning. That was the first and final run the Padres managed off of Scherzer, who retired 14 consecutive batters following the blast and came one out shy of a complete game in the ninth inning. (Fittingly, Koda Glover polished off the win with a final strikeout, bringing the total to 14 on the night.)

It’ll take more than one stellar start to advance Scherzer and Kershaw on the all-time list, however. Their 53-game record ranks 13th, about 159 games behind second-place Hall of Fame hurler Randy Johnson and a full 162 games shy of the inimitable Nolan Ryan.