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Slow start doesn't mean they're finished

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  May 6, 2010 03:58 PM

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"We just have not played up to our capability or up to our expectations..."

Those words came on May 5 from an official with an underachieving, overpriced American League East outfit that appeared ticketed for a summer of discontent and disappointment. A grumpy assessment offered by Red Sox manager Terry Francona or a rote admission uttered by general manager Theo Epstein of the 2010 Run Prevention Red Sox?

Nope. That quote came on May 5, 2005 from the mouth of former Yankees manager Joe Torre, following a 6-2 "Stinko de Mayo" loss to the then Tampa Bay "Devil Rays" that dropped the Bronx Bombers to 11-18. The Steinbrenner Nine would fall again the following day, losing 6-3 in extra innings at home to the Oakland Athletics to ensure their worst start since 1966. That put them nine games back of the first-place Baltimore Orioles and 6.5 behind the second-place Sox.

They ended up winning 95 games and finishing first in the AL East -- although not according to the alphabetically listed tie atop the standings on the Green Monster -- taking the division title from the Sox on the final weekend of the regular season by virtue of winning the season series with the Epstein group, who finished with an identical 95-67 mark.

That was the year that the Yankees pulled Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon off the scrap heap to compensate for a dearth of starting pitching.

The point that can be gathered from the Pinstripes false start five years ago is that it's too early to panic about the plight of the 2010 Red Sox. Hysteria is part of our Puritanical heritage here. We tend to assume the worst in this corner of the country, but let's take a step back and consider, just consider, that while this is a flawed Sox team, that doesn't mean it's a failed one.

The Sox won again last night, getting another strong start from John Lackey (2-0 with a 2.57 ERA in his last three starts), to level out at .500 (14-14). They can sweep the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of Orange County of Southern California tonight with Daisuke Matsuzaka, making his second start of the season, on the mound.

A win would give the Sox a winning record for the first time since they opened the season by beating the current edition of the Yankees, who invade Fenway tomorrow for a three-game set.

It's my belief that you can't make any definitive judgment about a baseball team until you're 40 games into a season, which is about one-fourth of the way. Before then the sample size is simply too small. So, we'll learn a lot about the Sox in the next 12 games -- tonight against the Angels, the three with the Yanks, a trio against Toronto at home, three more with the Detroit Tigers in Motown and a two-game drop-in to the Bronx.

The '05 Yankees ripped off a 10-game winning streak after their horrid 11-19 start, but even 63 games into the season they were 31-32.

Only a complete pink-hat Pollyanna would believe the Sox don't have some concerns to overcome -- the continuing decline of David Ortiz, Victor Martinez's glacial start at the plate and behind it, a lack of bullpen depth beyond Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard, and a mix-and-match lineup that has more interchangeable looks than a Mr. Potato Head doll.

However, you also can't ignore that the vaunted starting pitching, which has been the biggest disappointment so far this season, is starting to make a U-turn. In their last eight games, Sox starters have gone 5-1 with a 2.82 ERA.

The cynics out there could joke that the run prevention approach has worked for Epstein, as it has prevented the Sox from scoring as many runs as in the past. Like the Bruins, the Sox are built to play with a lead. The Red Sox are 10-1 when they lead after seven innings; conversely, they're 1-7 when trailing after seven innings.

Currently, the bridge year Sox rank tied for ninth in baseball in runs scored with 139. The Olde Towne Team hasn't finished that low on the run production totem pole since 2006, when they finished ninth and didn't make the playoffs. But that lineup featured Mark Loretta at second base, Alex Gonzalez at shortstop, Coco Crisp in center field and Trot Nixon in right field, none of whom hit more than nine home runs that year.

Say, what you will about the current Sox lineup, but it's better than that top to bottom, even if it lacks the charisma and pop of Manny Ramirez and Big Papi in his prime. We just haven't seen it intact yet.

You can't overlook the fact that the Sox have had their intended starting outfield together for six games, due to the rib and abdominal injuries that have felled Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron. Ellsbury is a dynamic force at the top of the lineup, and it's not easy to replace a 70-steal player. Say what you will about Cameron's propensity for Shakespearean swings -- full of sound and fury, signifying nothing -- but he's hit 20 home runs in each of the last four seasons. Both could boost the offense enough with the current pitching

Plus, the Sox have done some positive things at the plate. They're second in the majors in slugging percentage and third in OPS. They are tied for second in extra-base hits. For all the talk about the vast difference in lineups, the Sox have outhomered the Yankees so far, 39-34.

It's not going to be easy to chase down teams as good as the Rays and the Yankees, but the Sox aren't competing in the 40-yard dash they're running the Boston Marathon. They've just left Hopkinton.

The Sox have proven to be slow starters, but just like the 2005 Yankees it's too early to call them out.
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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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