This question is being asked all the time. There are a lot of people who think they have answers. A lot of people; a lot of answers. For the most part, all those answers add up to not much of anything at all.
As of this writing, the Boston Red Sox have the worst record in the Major Leagues, two weeks into the season. The worst. And this is odd, you know, because all the experts told us at the beginning of the season that this was the best team in Major League Baseball. Not a very good team. Not a great team. Not a contender. Not a pennant winner. The very best. Going all the way. That ‘s what they said. All of them.
Given that level of expectation, this situation is beyond disappointing. Disappointing is a 50-50 start. Disappointing is getting less than dominance from the first three pitchers in the rotation. Disappointing is seeing key hitters fail to come through in the clutch. This is not just disappointing. This is jaw-droppingly bizarre. This is “space aliens kidnapped the Red Sox and substituted defective clones” bizarre.
So, what’s going on here?
As mentioned, there are plenty of ideas about what’s wrong with this team. Here are a few:
- The team had lousy preparation during Spring Training and are still trying to find themselves (this is the most charitable one we’ve heard).
- The weather was too warm in Texas, and too cold everywhere else, except when they played the Yankees (which assumes the opponent is playing in a different climate).
- The pitching staff was overrated; specifically: John Lackey has a bad attitude (he was once quoted as saying that he hated to pitch in Fenway Park) and Dice-K (Daisuke Matsuzaka) refuses to modify his style away from his standard Japanese delivery despite 4 years over here. (He actually seems to be trying something new; he used to wear opponents down by nibbling the corners of the strike zone. Now, he is going for the middle of the plate, seemingly wanting to see how hard his opponents can hit the ball.)
- New pitching coach Curt Young doesn’t have the rapport with pitchers that John Farrell had (most experts have indicated that Young has an excellent record as a pitching coach).
- Jarrod Saltalamacchia doesn’t call a good game (perhaps, but these guys are all veterans who also study the film, so they ought to have a pretty good idea of what to throw).
- The lineup is all wrong (in truth, I think we’ve seen Terry try just about every possible lineup, including most of those suggested by talk show call-in “experts”, to no appreciable effect).
- It’s just some sort of karmic thing (let’s hope not).
What can be done about it?
The same “experts” who offered diagnoses such as those listed above have also suggested a variety of treatments. They include:
- Send Salty to the minors and get a young but experienced, quality catcher. (Really? Do you know of any on the market?)
- Find a “spark plug” who can get the team motivated in the clubhouse. (By all accounts, Pedey (Dustin Pedroia) does a pretty good job of that under most circumstances, but I’ll admit he’s no Kevin Millar. Maybe we need a Morale Coach. Hey, Kevin…)
- Bat Ellsbury first (been tried); bat Ellsbury last (been tried); bat Crawford last (been tried); bat Crawford after David Ortiz (so Papi can walk ALL the time?); mix up lefties and righties; get more righties.
- Trade Dice-K (right; with his rich contract, he’s tough to trade under the best of circumstances, but after his disastrous starts so far this season, not a chance).
- Light a fire under Lackey’s butt (I don’t see that it will help, but there’s a box of matches under the stairs).
- Send the entire team to Pawtucket, and promote the PawSox en masse to Boston. Hey, they can’t do much worse.
OK, so let’s get serious.
Or maybe not so serious. There is a huge mental component to this game. It could just be that this team is so full of high expectations, that they have been playing with brittle attitudes. Carl Crawford definitely seems to be trying too hard at the plate. Ditto Clay Buchholz on the mound. Youk seems to have come around. Pedey is playing well. A-Gon (Adrian Gonzalez) has not disappointed. Marco Scutaro looked good last night. So did JD Drew. Perhaps this thing is simpler than it seems. This is still a hugely talented team. The sports writers who praised them at the start weren’t just smoking something. Maybe these guys need to dig their heads out of the hole they dug with their anxiety and their expectations.
We all need to remember the immortal words of Crash Davis in Bull Durham: “Let’s have some fun out here! This game’s fun, OK? Fun goddamnit.”