It’s only June 5, and your defending World Series champions are a plundering botch.
Just who the hell are the 2014 Boston Red Sox? Are they indeed as badly constructed as the team that went on a 10-game losing bender? Did they manage little more than a bit of good fortune when they responded with a seven-game winning streak? Are we simply right back where we all started in this mess, in the wake of losing three straight to Terry Francona’s Cleveland Indians, who, now at 28-29, have a better record than the sad-sack Red Sox?
“It’s been uncharacteristic based on the last couple of years,” Boston manager John Farrell said, after the Sox lost, 7-4, in 12 innings some time after 2 a.m. on Thursday, ”and that’s got some frustration there for us.”
Is it uncharacteristic, though?
Mind you, this is a team that in one year, went from 69 wins under Bobby Valentine to its third World Series title in a decade. From 2010-12, there were zero playoff appearances, an epic collapse down the stretch, and the worst managerial hire made in Boston history. Overall, the past few years have seen the Red Sox boast a characteristic as consistent as MBTA efficiency.
Last year on this date, Boston was 35-23, in first place in the American League East. Today: 27-32, 8 1/2 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays. Hell, they’re 8 1/2 games in back of their 2013 selves.
On Wednesday, it was Edward Mujica doing the honors when the bullpen’s ugly stepchild surrendered a three-run homer to Asdrubal Cabrera in a game in which his teammates actually showed some fight. The Sox had rallied for two runs in the seventh, and handed the rest of their fates to the bullpen, which by the 12th meant Mujica and Mylanta.
“It was a change-up, high in the zone,’’ the reliever said. “I just tried to get the ball down and that pitch was a little mistake.”
Mujica’s inefficiency is a mystery. This is a guy who sported a 2.78 ERA for the NL champion St. Louis Cardinals in 2013, a season in which he was an All-Star. His signing last December went unheralded for the most part, indicative of his first season in the American League, when the only thing he’s sporting are goat horns.
When does this ship turn? The Sox have played mediocre baseball for almost one-third of the season and other than their recent turnaround against the Braves and hapless Rays, look more like a team destined to challenge for the basement rather than a division title. Just when Sox fans thought that maybe, possibly, mercifully, things were starting to click, the stark reality is that Boston is now a pathetic 7-13 in its last 20 games.
They’re better than that.
Maybe not. Since the evidence is starting to prove more and more that 2013 was a fluke, what’s to say these Red Sox aren’t more descendants of the 2011-12 free-falling bunch than they are champs. The last time the Sox were involved in a series in which they or the opponent didn’t pull off a sweep was in Minnesota, where they lost two of three, May 13-15. They’re streaky all right, which isn’t the best thing involved when you’re trying to dig yourself out from a losing streak 20 years in the making.
Boston’s run differential is now a tidy minus-nine, putting it in the same company as the White Sox (minus-12) and the Reds (minus-six). The A’s, Giants, and Blue Jays, all division leaders, are at plus-40 or better. Pitching has been decent-to-above-average, but the offense is brutal. Boston is scoring 4.07 runs per game. Only the Royals, Astros, and Rays have a worse average in the AL.
Indeed, maybe this is just who these guys are. Get used to it.
Aside from an overhaul of the offensively hideous outfield, where are the fixes? You wait for Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino to come back healthy and see which avenue hope takes you down. You revel in the young wonder that is Xander Bogaerts. You appreciate Jon Lester, knowing that every start the impending free agent makes could mean one fewer in a Red Sox uniform. You hope the Jonny Gomes act finds its way to Terminal B sooner rather than later.
Now, it’s off to Detroit to face the first-place Tigers, who contributed losses 2-4 during the 10-game tumble. The Orioles, Twins, Indians, and A’s lay in waiting, all licking their chops to get their hands on a team playing in defense of its ineptitude, never mind defense of its crown.
The 2014 Red Sox just aren’t that good. It’s OK to say it.