Theo Epstein Says The Red Sox's Nosedive Is "A Tremendous Opportunity"

Every morning, the fine folks at Sports Radio Interviews sift through the a.m. drive-time chatter to bring you the best interviews with coaches, players, and personalities across the sports landscape. Today: Boston's GM is not freaking the fahhk out.

Theo Epstein joined WEEI in Boston with The Dennis and Callahan Show to discuss why September has turned out so poorly for the Boston Red Sox so far, what Terry Francona and himself can do to improve this Red Sox team before Tuesday, why John Lackey has the highest ERA in baseball, the message he is trying to send to the players in the Red Sox organization right now, the Red Sox thinking about the postseason a little prematurely, accelerating Clay Buchholz' return to the starting rotation due to injuries in the pitching staff, Clay Buchholz coming out of the bullpen, any chance of seeing Jonathan Papelbon back in a Red Sox uniform next year and his overall message to Red Sox Nation for the last 17 days of the regular season.

Why has September turned sour for your team?
"We were asking ourselves the same questions in April. It's odd, the way we've done this – open the year 2-10, then have the best record in baseball for over four months, and now we're 3-10 all of a sudden. It's never one factor. There are a lot of things that we're not doing well right now, and those are all contributing. Obviously we're not getting good starting pitching right now. Our bullpen has been in a downturn. We are having some guys who are not having the kind of at-bats that they've had over the course of the season. We are not playing great defense. We're making some big mistakes once the ball is in play. A little bit of everything has contributed to it. It's not just one thing. I think it is just about across the board about why we have had a very bad couple of weeks."

What can you and Terry Francona do about this? Is there someone you can bring in? Is there a drastic measure you can take before Tuesday?
"Obviously, we spent some time talking about that. We'll talk more about it today. We did a lot of things in April and I don't think any of them are responsible for us turning the season around. It ultimately fell on the players playing better and pulling through it. That will be the case here when we turn this thing around. It will be to the credit of the players for doing it. That said, sure, there are moves we can make, there are things we are considering inside the organization. We didn't rule out some things from outside, but that's obviously not something that can help us in October. You feel like you need that help in September, it doesn't bode well for October. So obviously, internal solutions and tweaks and adjustments and improvements are much preferred over external ones at this time of year."

You and your baseball people, do you know what's the problem with John Lackey? Do you understand why he has the highest ERA in the league?
"Again, I think it's a number of factors. We were pretty hopeful for a while there that he was pulling himself out of it. He had a run of good starts and started to throw the ball better. There's been a bit of regression here lately. That's what makes it frustrating. If it were that easy to pinpoint, obviously he would have made an adjustment by now. It's a continual struggle to try to pinpoint what exactly is going on with him and make adjustments so he can help us."

What message does the general manager try to send to the guys in the organization at this point? David Ortiz came out, maybe he was kidding, and said, ‘Hell, yeah, it's time to panic. We're playing bad baseball right now.' I don't think panic is probably the message you're sending:
"For me, the message is - and obviously I think this pervades the clubhouse - is it's not what happens to you. Every team is going to stumble, every team is going to get kicked in the mouth. It's how you respond. It's incumbent on us to respond the right way. If we don't respond the right way, there's going to be night after night after night that all of us, and every single one of our players, is going to wake up and say, ‘Gosh, we were 3½ up with 17 games to play and felt like it was slipping away from us. Why didn't we just come out and play great baseball the way we have for most of the year?' As much as this seems like a massive problem, this is also a tremendous opportunity. We have a tremendous opportunity to respond for the second time in one regular season to a stretch horrendous play with great opportunity ahead beyond that. If we can right the ship, and we will, not only will we be where we want to be at the end of the regular season, but we're going to have great momentum headed into the postseason. I'm glad we play the Rays four times coming up. If we can't right the ship against these guys, if we can't do what we need to do, we probably don't deserve to get into the postseason. As much as this looks like a crisis from the outside and obviously has not been fun on the inside, this is an opportunity. If we are what we think we are, to quote somebody else, then this is a great opportunity for us to go play well for 2½ weeks, ride some momentum into the postseason and be the team that we were for four months, the best team in baseball over four months. We have to go do that."

Did everyone in that clubhouse assume that the Red Sox would make the playoffs? Were you guys thinking about the postseason a little prematurely?
"I can't get into the minds of every single player in that clubhouse. I don't think so. I think there's always been a focus to go out and win that next game. I'll say this: I know when Tito and I get together after the games and talk about how we played and he asks what happened in the other games beyond the score, we've always been talking about the Rays. Even when we were 10 up a couple weeks ago or whatever it was. We've never fully erased them from our radar. As much as you want the division - and we do want the division and we still want the division - you look ahead of you, and in a division like this, you're always looking around you as well. Sure, it looked good. We put ourselves in a position where it looked good, and it still looks good if we play the way we're supposed to. But I don't think we ever took 100 percent for granted that we're in the playoffs. You have to play until you spray champagne and then you can look to the postseason. We're not there yet and we have a lot of work to do ahead of us now to get there."

Will any of these starting pitching woes tempt you to accelerate Clay Buchholz' return?
"We can't accelerate his return. We laid out a timetable about four weeks ago that would represent a best-case scenario. So far, he's exceeded every goal. It has been the best-case scenario. Knock on wood, it will continue to be so. He hasn't been off a mound yet, which is a big step, so it's hard to get too excited until he actually gets of a mound, because that's what slowed him down in the past. Once he gets past that hurdle, then we can start to get a little excited that he can help us. It's not going to be in lengthy outings. He just doesn't have time, certainly in the regular season, to get stretched out for any kind of significant long outing."

So, you're talking about Buchholz possibly out of the bullpen:
"Yea, it's been out there before, Clay said the other day his goal is to try to make an appearance sometime right toward the end of the regular season. Clearly, that would be a shorter stint. He wouldn't have time to be stretched out. So, yeah, that could be out of the ‘pen."

For like 4-5 years, we've been saying Jonathan Papelbon's gone, once he gets to free agency, see you later, he's history, move on to the Daniel Bard era or whatever. Did you ever think that way, and has it changed at all. Is there a chance we'll see Papelbon back in a Red Sox uniform next year?
"We've never thought that way. Since we drafted him back in 2003 and he proved himself in the minor leagues and came up and made the transition to closer, he's been a huge part of this team. He's always been a part of our plans, obviously. We haven't been able to sign him to a long-term deal throughout his arbitration years. Now, the different scenario is with free agency coming up. But there's never been a lack of interest in keeping him here. Obviously, a proven guy, dominant guy. Frankly, I think when a lot of people doubted him over the previous two years, when he wasn't quite as great as he was earlier in his career, we stuck with him, and now we're getting rewarded for that this year. I have to think there's a lot of mutual interest in containing the relationship. Whether it can be done or not, who knows. Free agency is always interesting. Those are our best two guys in the bullpen. You don't get better by losing one of those guys."

Anything you want to say to Red Sox Nation to calm the waters as we go into this last 17 days?
"As I told you guys earlier, we have an opportunity ahead of us to play good baseball for 2 1/2 weeks and ride that momentum to the postseason. If we don't do it, we don't deserve to be there. We have to prove that we are the team that had the best record in baseball for four-plus months, not the team that started 2-10 or has played 3-10 most recently. That's on us. We need to go out and do it."

This post, written by Steven Cuce, appears courtesy of Sports Radio Interviews. For the complete highlights of the interview, as well as audio, click here.

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