May 2, 2022
To everyone who has been frustrated at what they’ve seen from the Red Sox offense throughout the first month of the season: I hear you.
To everyone who feels betrayed by Chaim Bloom and disgusted with the players for throwing the season away before the end of April: I mock you.
When I say mock, I don’t mean lighthearted chiding like this from Paul Rudd and Seth Rogan.
No … the mocking I have in mind for such bandwagon jumpers is more cutting and personal, a la this from Martin Lawrence and Will Smith.
I’m just old enough to have vivid memories of not only the stacked Red Sox teams that ran roughshod over the rest of the league (2004, 2007, 2018) and the unexpectedly miraculous seasons that somehow seemed to fall into place (2003, 2013). I also lived through 20+ years of experiencing the Boston Red Sox organization under Yawkey ownership.
Those were the days when the best you could hope for was a hot start to the season that could sustain the team long enough to remain in contention before the big boys of the American League (A’s/Blue Jays/Yankees) eventually got their act together and euthanized us. Back in those days, it was not uncommon for the Red Sox to start out winning a lot of games early on and making believers of us yet again. But in the end, we were always left with a giant hole in our hearts following a late September elimination or embarrassing playoff sweep.
Have old age and four championships since 2004 taken some of the edge off for me? Am I less hungry to see the Red Sox win it all than I was as a youngster?
I don’t think so. I think I just have three decades of experience gaining a logical understanding of the ebbs and flows of a Major League Baseball season and the unnecessary agony you could endure if you don’t brace yourself for the long haul.
As fans, we get wrapped up in every inning and every game, cussing out guys like Christian Vazquez when they forget how many outs there are and cost the Red Sox a desperately needed run following a two-out single. When the team is not performing well, we take such mistakes as personal insults. In the grand scheme of a season, that one run is not going to mean much. Hell, even in that game, a 9-5 loss that the Orioles put out of reach in the sixth inning, it turned out to mean very little.
But I’ll remember that mistake all season long. I’ll also remember Hirokazu Sawamura’s pathetic throw to third base the night before, along with Bobby Dalbec dropping a 20-foot shovel pass from Matt Strahm in Toronto, Bobby Dalbec missing a would-be game-ending throw from Trevor Story in Tampa Bay, and Bobby Dalbec swinging and missing at pitch after pitch out of the strike zone to kill rally after rally all month long. During the regular season, we seem to remember the gaffes far longer than we remember the triumphs.
My point here is that logic tends to escape us during the grind of a regular season. It happened last year when the Red Sox spiraled out of first place and found themselves on the outside of the playoff picture in August, leading thousands of fans to cut bait with the team that had captured their hearts for the first half of the season. They bailed on Fenway Sports Group’s commitment to the team, claiming that it was subservient to their interests with Liverpool FC and the Pittsburgh Penguins. They bailed on Chaim Bloom’s frugality as cheap egotism. They bailed on the Kyle Schwarber acquisition as an empty gesture to fool the fans into thinking they were trying to win in 2021.
They bailed because, quite frankly, that’s what most fans do when their baseball team endures a horrid month.
How many times have we been told it’s a marathon, not a sprint? We’re all well aware that a Major League Baseball season is six months of grinding, night after night, inning after inning, pitch after pitch. We know it’s the antithesis of the NFL, in that you cannot get too high after a win or too low after a loss. You just have to keep plodding along, hoping that your team fights their way out of the muck and rises back to the level that you know they are capable of playing at.
And during times like this, that sucks. It really sucks. We’re only a month into the season, and we feel like they’ve already lost 50 games. Bad losses.
Walk-off losses, bullpen collapses, errors, mental mistakes, non-competitive at-bats, poor umpiring, dead friggin’ baseballs … how the fudge can you not just throw your hands up and say “this just ain’t the year, fellas”???
The answer is maybe my favorite aspect about the greatest game on the planet. And Alex Cora has said it time and time again after tough losses during his tenure as Red Sox manager.
It’s such a lame, non-committal, fake answer.
Only it isn’t.
This game turns on a dime for reasons that nobody can explain, and it happens all the time. Teams’ fortunes inexplicably spin around on a dime every year. The team that can’t get anybody out throws back-to-back shutouts. The team that scores seven runs per game for a month scores three runs over the course of the next week. The Cy Young frontrunner gets shelled in three straight outings while the journeyman fifth starter tosses three consecutive gems.
There are always theories about why this stuff happens, but nobody can ever truly explain it. A coach noticed something during batting practice or a pitcher felt something different during a bullpen session or the team started washing their jockstraps with a different detergent. But the ultimate turning point can rarely be fully explained or understood.
Things change in baseball because, frankly, they have to change eventually. You can’t escape the numbers.
Have you ever wondered why no player has ever caught fire for an entire season and managed to hit .475 or slug 100 home runs? If not, congratulations on having a life with far more interesting things happening than mine.
Anyway, those things can ever happen because baseball will always humble you in the long run. You can only stay hot for so long before your success comes crumbling down around you on the national stage. When the greatest hitters in the world square off against the greatest pitchers in the world on a daily basis, the hitters will be successful no better than 15% to 35% of the time. If a player gets a hit in seven straight at bats, he’ll probably go hitless in his next twelve. No matter how hot or cold a streak can get, we are all eventually victims of the statistics.
And this is why I hold out so much hope for this Red Sox season despite such an excruciatingly testicle-crunching month. Even without Hunter Renfroe and Kyle Schwarber on the roster, I believe that this team has enough pop to right the ship and go on long winning streaks. There is, quite frankly, too much talent on the team for them to keep goose-egging us to death.
Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, Trevor Story, Kike Hernandez, Alex Verdugo … those are six guys who can rake when they are feeling it. Did all these guys (except Bogaerts) just forget how to hit over the course of the same offseason?
Of course not. More likely, some unfortunate combination of an atypical offseason, deadened baseball, extended time away from Fenway, difficult April schedule, bad luck, and good old fashioned slow start has victimized this team more than most other teams this season, to the point where they already find themselves looking a long way up in the standings at some stiff A.L. East competition.
This crew will hit. Dead baseball or not, I find the fact that these guys have still not gotten it going this year a complete statistical anomaly that will correct itself very soon. They are currently 24th in the league with 3.45 runs per game, a number which actually sounds high compared to what I’ve witnessed from this team thus far. When the inevitably gigantic statistical correction comes (shortly) it will be a thunderous assault that will reopen the eyes of teams and fans across the league.
Oh, yeah! I remember these guys!
Have I been saying this to myself, and others, for weeks already? Yes.
Do I still firmly maintain that they will turn it around in time to still be competitive in the division? Absolutely.
The only way that I would ever cede that it’s just not gonna work out this year would be if the pitching plummets as soon as the hitting finally recovers, leading to yet another month of futility. These Red Sox were built around a strong offensive presence. The fact that offense has been their weakness thus far is proof positive to me that it’s only a matter of time. If they’d been hitting the lights out all April only to consistently lose slugfests due to atrocious pitching, I wouldn’t be so optimistic.
And you can whine all you want about how Chaim Bloom didn’t spend on Carlos Correa or Marcus Semien or Corey Seager or Javy Baez or Matt Chapman or Kris Bryant, but the truth is that most of those guys aren’t hitting much either. Trevor Story is a great fit to compliment the trinity of Bogaerts, Martinez, and Devers. Hernandez and Verdugo are quality role players as well, and Jackie Bradley Jr’s defense in right field (especially in Fenway Park) should make up for his offensive deficiencies if the rest of the order can get their heads on straight.
The gaping hole on this offense is first base, an easy enough position to play that should normally be occupied by an offensive force. Travis Shaw couldn’t even manage a hit before getting the boot, while Bobby Dalbec somehow clings to a roster spot by a pinky nail. To say that I’ve seen enough of the Bobby D era is the understatement of the millennium.
With Triston Casas still getting his footing in AAA Worcester, I’d rather see Hernandez, a Renaissance man who can play everywhere, moved over to first base than ever see Dalbec in a Red Sox uniform again. That’s not to say that I want Hernandez moved from center field. It’s merely a testament to how fed up I am with seeing Dalbec sabotage the Red Sox with his atrocious at bats and empty-headed boners in the field at the worst possible times. I’d rather see Hernandez at first base, Bradley in center field, and Arroyo/Verdugo in right field than to ever have to see Bobby Dalbec on my television screen again.
Despite the wide array of problems the Red Sox have endured on the field thus far, from defensive snafus to blowing late leads to forgetting how many outs there are (I still see you, Vazquez), those issues will all be minimized once the team starts to hit. Every mistake to-date has been magnified because the Red Sox have held barely any sizable leads all season long. A big lead creates a nice cushion that can absorb an occasional miscue, and you can’t get that cushion without figuring out how to put crooked numbers on the scoreboard.
The rest of the league can’t hide from the numbers, or the Boston Red Sox, for much longer. This is an exceptional collection of big league hitters that absolutely cannot be contained for an entire season. Is their plate discipline poor? Absolutely. Are they striking out too much and walking way too little? Of course. But they were a free-swinging bunch of hackers last year as well, and they rode that same approach to become the fifth-highest scoring offense in the league.
Fans are bailing on the Red Sox in the infancy of May because of one poor month against a brutal April schedule, and that annoys me. Those fans are not so irritating because of the nature of the game and the assured eventuality of each team regressing back to the mean, but because we just saw this eight months ago.
Not only have we seen plenty of teams endure bad months and succeed, we just saw this team endure a bad month and succeed. This team, still very much in tact from last year, was 12-16 last August. Many fans jumped ship back then as well, prompting me to write a column very similar to this one. Once the calendar turned over into September, the Red Sox naturally fought their way back into the playoff picture, clinched a playoff spot on the last day of the season, and tore through the Yankees and Rays to reach the ALCS.
It’s not just the hitting that I expect to return to this team, but the fight as well. Despite a lot of undefined roles at the beginning of 2021, the Red Sox became one of the best teams in baseball with a top-notch offense, adequate pitching, and the gumption to outlast other teams. Fight goes beyond hitting, pitching, and even statistics. It’s the unquantifiable intangible that I feel is the biggest reason why this team found so much success last season. The core of that team is still in place, and that fight is still somewhere to be found, deep inside them.
When this team turns it around — and this team will turn it around — it won’t solely be because they start hitting again. It will be because they regain the passion, grit, and composure that guided them so deep into October last year.
This team is currently finding new and innovative ways to lose. They are built on offense, and their collective lack of it has sapped them of their confidence, which is such an enormous factor in baseball. When the hitting returns, the confidence will return along with it. And once they regain their confidence and remember how good they truly are, the Red Sox will resume fighting the way we all remember them fighting last year.
Some of you will have leapt far off the bandwagon by then, while some will tiptoe back on after slinking away while nobody was looking. Those of us that remain aboard for the whole ride will enjoy it more than anyone else, because we won’t have to look back with regret at some shortsighted decision to pack it in back in April or early May.
But don’t look too negatively on those who bailed so early. After all, it’s so easy to lose heart when things get tough. Their memories don’t stretch back to those gut-wrenching teams of the ’80s and ’90s that taught me that a hot start or faceplant in April won’t seal your fate.
It’s a hell of a lot harder to stand tall alongside your team through the tough times and wave the flag with pride. Not every fan was built to withstand the rigors of a Major League Baseball season.
Maybe one day they’ll learn.