The Red Sox Aren’t Good

Nava high 5s

Daniel Nava has led the Red Sox’s surprise start this season, but can he and the Hometown Heroes keep it up?

…Yet.

If you’ve paid any attention to America’s Past Time in the first month of the season, you’ll know that the Red Sox not only lead the American League East, they also have the best record in the American League and, even further, all of baseball. At 18-7, the Red Sox have already tied their own club record for most wins in April. A 19th win today would produce the best start the team has ever had in over 100 years of existence. After the misery that has followed this team like a black cloud follows Eeyore, this is no small accomplishment.

In the past three Aprils, the Red Sox haven’t managed more than 11 wins in any season, going 11-11 (2012), 11-14 (2011), and 11-12 (2010)

It took the team until May 17th to get to 18 wins in 2012, May 13th to get there in 2011, and May 11th in 2010.

This season is a bit different. Pitching, shaky at best for the past several seasons – especially in the early going – has been much better overall. A solid bullpen has formed in former uber prospect turned Tommy John recoveree Junichi Tazawa, journeyman set-up guy in Koji Uehara, and the rejuvenated and finally healthy Andrew Bailey closing games for the Red Sox.

The starting pitchers have been even better, as Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have both re-found their inner ace in April, going 9-0 in 10 starts and giving up only 13 runs collectively. Ryan Dempster has been a nice surprise, as many considered him maybe a 4th starter as the 35-year-old has historically struggled in the American League. He owns a 3.30 era through 30 innings and five starts this season, while also striking out 43 batters. The only Red Sox pitcher to ever strike out more batters through 5 games to start the season was Pedro Martinez in 1998. He finished second in Cy Young Award voting that year. Red Sox pitchers as a whole have struck out 248 batters in April, a Major League record.

Further, the team has scored the third most runs in the American League, allowed the third fewest in the AL, have the third best era in the AL, and lead Major League Baseball with a +40 run differential.

They’ve led or tied the Division every single day in April. Again, a Red Sox record.

So how could I possibly sit here and say the team isn’t good? It’s easy: I’m a Red Sox fan.

I’ve seen the good. I was poisoned by 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008. I was pseudo-shocked by 2009, convinced until the bitter end 2010 was “the year” again despite all the injuries derailing the season, I believed the 2011 Red Sox could be the best team ever, and that 2012 would leave them bouncing back into happiness. I supported Bobby Valentine for a solid 3 and a half months, roughly 31/4 months longer than anyone else. I know what it’s like to be over confident, absolutely sure of your team, full of Blind Obedience to a team you love so dearly.

What I’m saying is, it’s easy to be fooled, especially growing up in the era of Red Sox Lore that I did.

I love this Red Sox team. I think they could have the best personality since 2004, I’ve said it since Spring Training, and will hopefully carry us charismatically all summer long and well into October. But I won’t be fooled…yet.

Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Ryan Dempster have pitched well in the first month of the season. Lots of pitchers have pitched well for a month over the long history of this league, and lots of hitters struggle in the early going. These three in particular have a lot to prove.

The bull pen doesn’t have really anything to prove outside of Joel Hanrahan, but again, it’s a long season.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia has started roughly as many games as David Ross, which is probably bad for both. Ross thrives in limited action, but the 35-year-old will struggle as the season progresses. Salty is just an enigma no matter what happens – he slumps too much when playing every day, can’t hit a watermelon if he doesn’t, and is too lost inside his own head to figure either situation out.

Mike Napoli, while mashing 28 hits and driving in 27 runs in April ( more than his previous two Aprils combined 26 total – 12 in ’11, 14 in ’12), isn’t a sure thing. He’s got the ultimate Fenway Swing, but you’ve got to think a lot of his home runs were helped by the warm air in Texas and Los Angeles. And really, there’s a reason the team changed a 3-year, $39 million deal to a 1-year, $5 million deal. When is his hip going to break down?

David Ortiz has raked since rejoining the team, batting an even .500, slugging at .912, and sporting an overall otherwordly 1.425 OPS with 3 home runs, 8 extra base hits, and 2 walks. He’s also 37 years old, coming off a season in which he missed just under 50% of the games because he ruptured his achilles, and he and his wife are getting a divorce.

Mike Carp is leading the team in batting at .455 (outside of Ortiz in limited play), and Daniel Nava has 4 home runs and a .310 average, which is really, really awesome and has Dan Duquette writhing in jealousy in Baltimore, but does anyone think this will pan out over 162 games?

Stephen Drew has hardly hit the ball, although he’s been good in the games he has. He’s in a contract year, trying to re-establish himself with his 1-year, $9 million tender (think Adrian Beltre circa 2010). He could be an offensive juggernaut and a terrific signing that will inevitably leave via free agency. He’s also Stephen Drew, so he could spend 4 months on the D.L. and show everyone why he’s the kid brother of J.D. Nancy Drew.

Will Middlebrooks, hitting a measly .202, is a stubborn young kid currently not willing to change anything in his approach and only swinging for the fences.

Bottomline: there’s a lot of questions. These Red Sox look great right now. The team is guaranteed to finish April with the best record in baseball. But they were also projected to be better than the 1927 Yankees in 2011 and blew a ginormous lead in September in one of the most epic collapses in MLB history. They were also supposed to lose to the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS when they trailed 3 games to 0.

Confused? Me too. Think you know anything about this team yet? Think again. Only time will tell, and so far we’ve only had 30 days and 25 games to say anything, which is to say the Red Sox haven’t really said anything at all.

Stay tuned

 

Readers can follow Pat on Twitter at @PatBradleyUSCHO

Advertisements

The Team That Wasn’t

We all waited for the boys to hike up their skirts and play ball, but it never happened

Sitting here on October 1st with 3 games left in their abysmal 2012 campaign, the Red Sox don’t have much to cheer for. Looking on the calendar, we have just 27 more innings to play against the hated rival New York Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates, who haven’t had a winning record in 28 years, have more wins than we do. The worst Red Sox team of my lifetime previously finished 73-89 in 1992, but this team has them beat, clinching the worst record of my life with another defeat at the hands of the Orioles yesterday afternoon. Even if the Sox somehow sweep the stumbling Yanks, they’ll still only finish with a 72-90 record, potentially bringing up the rear in the American League East. The past few years have been easy to brush off: In 2009, injuries to Victor Martinez, Jason Varitek and Daisuke Matsuzaka, lack of pitching depth, a failed John Smoltz experience and a Jonathan Papelbon meltdown led to a first round playoff exit; In 2010, there wasn’t a single starter who didn’t land on the disabled list, and the Red Sox had almost 15 members of their Opening Day roster head to the DL over the course of the season, leading to the team just missing the playoffs; In 2011, well, they just choked and, frankly, it happens to the best of ’em. Just ask the 2004 Yankees.

However, after a season filled with almost no hope and almost $200 million dollars on payroll, it’s time to face reality. Not only are the Red Sox not in ‘Kansas’ (so to speak) anymore, they aren’t in the playoffs either. In fact, they aren’t anywhere close.

Pay No Attention To That Man Behind The Curtain

In the wake of the 2011 collapse that saw the Red Sox lose a 9 1/2 game lead in September and miss the playoffs, Terry Francona, the clubhouse favorite, fearless leader and arguably greatest manager  in the history of the Boston Red Sox, did what he did best: protect his players. Amid allegations that the team was a bunch of lazy slackers, including eating fried chicken and drinking beer in the clubhouse before, during and after games, Francona stuck to his guns and shouldered the blame. Instead of letting his players take the fall, which he very well could have and they very much deserved, he blamed himself:

“It was my responsibility to not let what happened happen. So regardless of how ownership feels or regardless of how [general manager] Theo (Epstein) feels or how the fans feel, I had a responsibility to get something done and it didn’t get done.”

The leadership, management and ingenuity that had led the Red Sox to two World Series Championships was suddenly in

Red Sox fans have faith in Ben Cherington restoring the magic that once was, but many wonder if he’s even the man in control

shambles, as just a few weeks later Executive Vice President and General Manager Theo Epstein left the team as well. In an offseason full of turmoil and criticism for a lack of clubhouse chemistry, largely due to what Epstein hinted at as “business signings” (as opposed to baseball signings), the Red Sox went out and, after a long and grueling process, signed Bobby Valentine as their new manager, someone who fell right into the category of the popular, ratings-inducing clowns the team already had too many of. The one bright note was the promotion of Ben Cherington, groomed by Epstein himself, as the team’s new General Manager. However, numerous reports throughout the offseason and into this season have questioned whether Cherington or Red Sox President and CEO Larry Lucchino are calling the shots. Regardless of whose team this is, it hasn’t worked in the last calendar year on or off the field, leaving Red Sox fans wondering what life would be like if they only had a brain.
Fortunately towards the end of the season, while Larry Lucchino and the gang were wiling away the hours conferring with the flowers, Ben Cherington seemingly unraveled some of the riddles plaguing the Red Sox. In late August, the Red Sox pulled the trigger on a blockbuster trade that sent some of Boston’s biggest blunders and clubhouse clowns away to La La Land with the Dodgers. While it was disheartening to see Adrian Gonzalez, the power-hitting lefty whose swing was tailor made for Fenway Park and defensive skills solidified him as the club’s main building block and first baseman for years to come, be traded, it had to happen. The happy-go-lucky Gonzalez from his introductory press conference was long gone and had been replaced by a slimy, snitching slacker. No longer could he be the face of the franchise for future generations to love. Tony Massarotti puts it into perspective quite nicely:

“The Red Sox won two World Series with Manny Ramirez. The New York Yankees won titles with Wade Boggs and even Alex Rodriguez.You can win with vain, selfish players in baseball; you just can’t win if they are your leaders. And so, could the Red Sox ultimately have won here with Gonzalez batting third? Some of us would like to think so. But the price of freedom is always high, and the Red Sox were in no position to be particular about escape routes.”

Ultimately though, it comes down not to what the Red Sox had and misused, but rather what they altogether lacked: heart. The team could never build off the small bits of momentum they occasionally found and, all due respect to Dustin Pedroia and Pedro Ciriaco, never really had a spark plug. Remember, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. For every big hit, there was an equal and opposite big out; for every 1-2-3 inning, there was a reliever who would give up 5 runs. It’s been the story of the season, and a sad one at that. Forget the wins –  it would warrant a parade if these Red Sox simply tried. Even Manny Ramirez, despite all of his defensive deficiencies, would always dive for close balls. The atmosphere in Boston has changed this season. Times are tough for Red Sox fans. Yes, Pittsburgh, I hear you. 28 years is a long time but, hey, your team tries. Sure, we’ve won in recent years and are always spoiled with the Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle wrapped with a big bow under the tree. But let’s be honest: this team makes us want to shoot our own eyes out. It’d be nice one time for this batch of Red Sox “just to register emotion, jealousy, devotion and really feel the part.” And it might be possible, too, if they only had some heart.

But it’s not too late. They have one last curtain call this week in the Big Apple. Sure, the Yanks have clinched a playoff berth, but they haven’t won the division. Not yet. In a year that was supposed to be great and honor the rich history of Fenway Park and the Boston Red Sox, everything has gone wrong. The Red Sox lost the face, heart and soul of the franchise when Johnny Pesky passed away in August. They lost the voice of the Red Sox when PA Announcer Carl Beane tragically died in a car crash in May. These things were taken away from them, but no one can take away their pride except themselves.

So, 2012 Red Sox, you have a choice.You can be the lazy, never-say-win team you’ve been since last September and roll over, die and roll out the red carpet for the Yanks. Or, you can be the never-say-die, hard-nosed dirt dogs I’ve grown up with, who went out there and kicked the crap out of the Damned Yankees for three straight games, pushing them into the wild card and giving Red Sox fans everywhere something to remember and hope for over these next long, cold, four and a half months.

The choice is yours. I’ll see you tonight.