The Red Sox might have been a championship team at some point during the season, but when it mattered most, they lacked the horses, the heart, and the smarts to get it done.
Their "playoffs" were a best of three at Camden Yards against the Woes. And when asked to rise to the challenge against the least of the east, the Sox couldn't execute well enough.
The Sox had some players who executed and never quit, Pedroia with a home run and at least four brilliant plays, two double play turns, a catch of an Aviles throw and a stop of a grounder. Jon Lester worked six strong innings allowing a pair of runs.
But that's far too simple. Baseball isn't a game where 'bearing down' necessarily makes the man. You can grind the bat into sawdust, but that won't help. Gripping the ball tighter decreases the flexibility in the wrist, inhibiting natural movement.
But we need a villain, someone to blame. It's Terry Francona for not being 'tough enough' in the never-ending cycle of 'task-oriented' versus 'people-oriented' managers. Or it's Theo Epstein who overspent and underproduced. Let's blame J.D. Drew (for being hurt) or fault the gods who allowed Kevin Youkilis and Clay Buchholz to be injured.
I do believe that the Sox abysmal start directly resulted from a lackadaisical spring training where the team believed their talent level would allow them to "turn it on" when the bright lights came on. That diminishes the credit that teams deserve who beat the Sox. The early season wipeout in Texas foretold the problems the Sox would have later.
The Sox have a plethora of decisions: GM, manager, shortstop, DH, and right-field are all areas that require attention. The pitching staff now lacks a closer with free agency, and they need how to rebuild the rotation after Beckett, Lester, and Buchholz. Can John Lackey get over his issues? Is Felix Doubront a viable option as a starter? Does Ryan Kalish need another year or can he compete for the right-field position bringing talent and intensity? Or are the Sox simply too left-handed?
Is Terry Francona the problem or have the players simply not collectively been able to be professionals, when given the chance? Player accountability has always surfaced as an issue. Not everybody loved Jim Rice, but he always took responsibility. Are there guys who just simply need to go because they can't play here?
Is the money the problem? Is underachievement a 'relative' term, based on perceived production per dollar? Carl Crawford had an "average" season for the final years of Mike Greenwell. But Greenwell was a media darling and Crawford comes off as surly at times. As fans we do see performance through the prism of pay. Whose fault is that?
Bottom line? The Sox didn't deserve to make the playoffs, and I won't mourn a team that won a handful of games in September. The denouement of the 2011 season really had a perfect ending, the end-of-game, end-of-month, end-of-season weakness seen in bear markets. If only we could have been short the Sox.