Theo's success rings true

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Theo's success rings true

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

For all hes accomplished in Boston, Theo Epsteins always had his detractors.

Initially, they said he was too young. At 28, he wasnt ready to rumble with The Boss, or handle the pressures of Boston, and certainly wasnt the savior after 80-plus years of baseball hell.

After the Sox won in 2004, they said Epstein was lucky. Hed been ready to give the world to Jose Contreras, before thankfully losing out. Hed rolled the dice on random guys like Bill Mueller, Kevin Millar and David Ortiz, and theyd just happened to morph into the A.L. batting champ, the heart of the clubhouse and the most clutch hitter in franchise history. When the playoffs ended, the title felt more like a perfect storm than the product of Epsteins grand plan. That team was so close to not being good enough, and the fact they survived was more about the moment, not the GM.

When they won again in 2007, theyd done so despite Theo whiffing on his two biggest offseason acquisitions, J.D. Drew (outside of that one swing in the ALCS) and Julio Lugo, and his major trade-deadline pickup, Eric Gagne. Not to mention, two stars of that team (should-have-been Cy Young Josh Beckett and World Series MVP Mike Lowell) were guys acquired while Theo was off running around in his gorilla suit. And it was a deal that Epstein presumably wouldnt have even done, given his love for Hanley Ramirez.

Through it all, a tenure that now spans eight seasons during which his team has averaged 94 wins, made six playoff appearances, won one division title, two World Series, and currently has a roster capable of bringing home another Epstein's always had doubters.

Guys in the media, impatient fans or, say, Orioles manager Buck Showalter.

Id like to see how smart Theo Epstein is with the Tampa Bay payroll, Showalter said in an interview for the April issue of Mens Journal. You got Carl Crawford cause you paid more than anyone else, and thats what makes you smarter? Thats why I like whipping their asses: Its great, knowing those guys with the 205 million payroll are saying, How the hell are they beating us?

First of all, I love renegade Buck Showalter. Hes great for the A.L. East. Not that I want to see the Orioles turn into a juggernaut, but wouldnt it be nice to have them relevant again? They havent had a winning season since 1997!

And if Showalter wants to go the Rex Ryan route and starts trying to break down the New YorkBoston barriers and save baseball in Baltimore, then thats cool. He seems genuine enough. Plus, he really went to bat for George Costanza on those all-cotton uniforms. Lets cut him some slack.

The first part of his quote is actually pretty interesting.

Id like to see how smart Theo Epstein is with the Tampa Bay payroll.

Take out the sarcasm, and who hasnt wondered something along those same lines? Assuming it somehow wouldnt affect the Sox, who wouldnt want to see Theo take a crack at building a small-market winner? Most GMs have to do that before getting a job like Boston but Theo never did. For all thats been said about him, in the face of so much success, seeing him try to wheel and deal and scout and draft a low-budget team into contention would be a lot of fun.

Would he be a success? I dont know. How well does any small-market general manager do? I mean, theres such thing as getting hot for a season or two, or building a scary foundation, but with the way this league works its almost impossible to sustain a high level of success. Billy Beanes Oakland A's havent had a winning season since 2006. Eventually, if you cant retain your young players or acquire legitimate replacements, that stuff catches up to you.

Would it catch up to Theo? Probably. Would that somehow prove that hes not as smart as we thought? We can't say that. It's two completely different worlds.

We could discuss this forever, so for that, lets thank old Buck for his honesty and inspiration. But let me also say this:

Even though I respect his intentions, Showalters missing the point here:

You got Carl Crawford cause you paid more than anyone else, and thats what makes you smarter?
No one thinks like that. No one thinks that makes him smarter.

No one bases opinions of Epstein's intelligence on his ability to sign expensive free agents. The owners get more credit for that. No one got the news about Crawford and thought: Oh my God . . . Theo is a genius!

Theos graded on his ability to build around those superstars, keep up with the farm system, and make the in-season adjustments that take them to the Promise Land. It helps that he has a nice cushion, and the luxury of bringing in guys like Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, but to quote the poet Biggie: Mo Money. Mo Problems.

And how many teams -- the Mets, the Cubs, Showalter's own Orioles in years past -- have spent plenty of money and gotten zero in return? Money doesn't guarantee success, any more than having money guarantees giving you brains.

No, this is what money does: Inflated bank accounts mean inflated pressure, a brighter spotlight. In the end, Theos intelligence isnt measured by how many superstars he signs that winter, but the fact that if those superstars dont win the World Series, hes a failure.

Theo Epstein gets no points for exciting seasons, inspiring stories and sold-out stadiums. All he's judged on is winning titles.

So far, he has two.

And all things considered, they speak for themselves.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Drellich: Sale may be Red Sox' most electrifying pitcher since Pedro

Drellich: Sale may be Red Sox' most electrifying pitcher since Pedro

The newest lefty ace can succeed where David Price did not.

Chris Sale might be the most electrifying pitcher the Red Sox have had since Pedro Martinez.

Josh Beckett had his moments. Jon Lester was steadily excellent.

But the stuff Sale brings is a step above.

A spaghetti-limbed motion and a fast pace. The ability to throw any pitch in any count, something said of many pitchers, but noted here without exaggeration. A delivery that disguises each pitch as another until there’s no time to react.

MORE ON CHRIS SALE

There's been a lot of talk about how competitive Sale is. That's great.

Let's acknowledge how filthy he is before going crazy about the intangibles. He carves hitters better than he does jerseys.

Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has made some questionable moves, but he deserves some optimism here. Some early praise, even -- no matter how well Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, the best prospects he gave the White Sox for Sale, are faring this spring.

Where Dombrowski failed with Price thus far, he may succeed immediately with Sale.

Yes, Sale's 10-strikeout performance against the Yankees on Tuesday night was just a spring training game. But he was dominant to the point that a Grapefruit League game was actually made interesting.

Must-watch, even.

“You guys saw,” Sale told reporters in Florida. “Just felt good.”

All three pitches were working for Sale, the fastball, slider and changeup, and the variants thereof.

“I've been working on my changeup a little bit more the last couple of outings,” Sale said. “My last time out it wasn't great, but just working on it in between starts, just throwing it on the flat ground, it's a pitch that doesn't take a whole lot of stress on your arm. So even when you're just playing catch, you can flip it around, work on grips, things like that.

"As far as my slider, I feel good about it. . . . Obviously when I'm throwing harder, I think it's a little bit flatter. When I take some off of it, not only do I have a little bit more control, but I think it has a little bit more depth. Plus, it kind of creates another pitch in there. It's like an in-between fastball-changeup type of thing. Anything to give them a different look or try to throw them off. That’s kind of the name of pitching."

American League Rookie of the Year runner-up Gary Sanchez was miles in front of the 2-and-2 changeup he swung over in the first inning. Matt Holliday was frozen by a slider at the belt on the inner half.

Chris Carter, he of 40-home run power, was beat by a 2-and-2 fastball an inning later, clearly thinking off speed and unable to decipher just what was coming in time.

Aaron Hicks tried to golf an 0-and-2 slider by flinging his bat into the stands, somewhere behind the third-base dugout.

That’s just the first two innings.

"He added his third pitch more this evening than five days ago, when it was more fastball-changeup," manager John Farrell said. "He had his breaking ball to both sides of the plate, and got underneath to some right-handed swings. And any time he needs to, he's got such good feel for the changeup to get him back in counts to give him a different look. He was impressive."

Opening Day at Fenway Park will be exciting. But Game No. 2, when Sale is to make his Sox debut, should bring the most intrigue.

Chris Sale dominant again in Red Sox' win vs. Yankees

Chris Sale dominant again in Red Sox' win vs. Yankees

By Pat Bradley, CSN Staff

Chris Sale was treating this like a regular season game, and delivered an excellent, midseason performance.

The Boston Red Sox got a taste Tuesday of the star pitcher they acquired last offseason, when Sale dominated the New York Yankees in a 4-2 spring training road win in Tampa, Florida.

Sale, who entered the game having thrown 63 of his 68 spring pitches for strikes (92%), continued to show off his incredible command, throwing 58 of his 86 pitches for strikes (67%) in the victory.

The 27-year-old struck out five of the first six Yankees he faced, and finished with an even 10 strikeouts on the night. He’s now struck out 20 batters to just one walk this spring.

"Obviously, anybody who knows anything about sports knows about Boston and New York," Sale said, via The Providence Journal’s Tim Britton. "Coming in here, playing against the Yankees, playing at their park in a night game, it gives it more of a regular-season feel. That's what we're here for. Anytime you can get that much closer to a regular-season game, the better off we're going to be."

His single blemish came on a 2-2 pitch to Yankees designated hitter and noted masher Matt Holliday, who sent the ball sailing to the opposite field for a two-run home run that at the time tied the score at 2.

Sale quickly regrouped, lining out Chris Carter to left field on his very next pitch to end his outing. His final line: two runs on four hits with 10 strikeouts and a hit batsman in six innings on 86 pitches.

That’s quite a debut to the rivalry, and something the Red Sox are well aware could become a regular thing.

“I don't want to say tonight is the norm,” began Red Sox manager John Farrell, via The Providence Journal, “but certainly he is very capable of doing that every time he walks to the mound.”

Sale wasn’t the only one strutting his stuff on Tuesday, though. Youngsters Marco Hernandez and Sam Travis continued to hit and were pivotal parts of a Red Sox offense that pounded out 13 hits.

After Mike Miller opened the scoring with a solo homer for Boston in the third inning, Travis kept things rolling a few batters later when his base hit scored Hernandez.

Travis was back at it again in the seventh inning, when his groundout scored Heiker Meneses for what proved to be the game-winning run.

Hernandez and Travis each finished 2-for-4, with Hernandez tripling (his fifth of the spring) and scoring a run and Travis driving in two runs of his own. They raised their spring averages to .422 and .351, respectively.

Every member of the starting lineup -- which did not feature regulars Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval or Xander Bogaerts -- recorded at least one hit, save for Jackie Bradley Jr., who went 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts out of the cleanup spot.

Boston is back in action Thursday with a 1:05 p.m. start against the Pittsburgh Pirates.