As the Red Sox rolled into the All-Star break one year ago - following a game in Oakland where Brandon Workman took a no-hitter into the the seventh inning, only to watch Boston fall to the A’s in extra innings, 3-2 - they were 58-39, in first place in the American League East, and 2 1/2 games up on the second-place Tampa Bay Rays.
You’re forgiven if all that seems too foreign to comprehend. As the 2014 Red Sox hit the same juncture this time around, with only Jon Lester and Koji Uehara headed to Minnesota for All-Star festivities, the last-place Red Sox are a mere 42-52, 10 games under .500, and a remarkable 16 wins off from last year’s midseason break total. According to FanGraphs, they’re on pace for a 77-85 campaign to follow up their World Series title.
A.J. Pierzynski, Ryan Roberts, and Grady Sizemore have all come and gone, leaving a trail of indifference in their wake. It is the fact that they were here in the first place that speaks to one of two fatal flaws in the 2014 Red Sox; They were poorly constructed, with Ben Cherington relying on a lineup with a reclamation project replacing Jacoby Ellsbury’s high octane presence and a catcher who spits in the face of your organizational philosophy at the plate.
“Young players we believe in need to be given an opportunity,” Cherington said last week. “But we can always learn how to do that from our experience. And ultimately, based on the team’s record, I didn’t do a good enough job finding – to this point, anyway – the right mix. That’s not particular to any one player or any one position. It hasn’t worked in the aggregate, so we have to learn from it and get better.”
The other flaw can be debated. Is it Shane Victorino’s lost season? Dustin Pedroia’s descent into becoming Spike Owen? Daniel Nava’s inability to figure out the season started in April? Clay Buchholz's barf-tastic start to the season? Boston’s ridiculous assertion that Stephen Drew would be a good addition in order to provide stability at shortstop?
If not for David Ortiz’s heroics last October, the Red Sox’ now-laughable inability to score runs would have simply been an extension from a World Series in which Boston bats seemed to give a free preview of what to expect in 2014. It only becomes more remarkable to consider what the Red Sox did in 2013 every passing day. Imagine the looks on our grandfathers’ faces when they learned that group won the World Series that evaded their rooting interests for decades.
No franchise in baseball history has ever gone from worst to first back to worst again. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2014 Boston Red Sox.
Here we stand, at the Major League Baseball All-Star break, a week of re-assessment for most teams chasing the division or a wild card spot. In Boston, it’s all but over, barring a Morgan Magic type streak to open the second half. Boston won a whopping three in a row after saying goodbye to Pierzynski last week and it was treated like the beginning of the run in some circles. This is what it’s become. Three-game winning streaks are the new game-changer.
But what’s most frustrating about these 2014 Red Sox: Only Atlanta and San Diego have scored fewer runs in baseball this season. But Boston’s pitching staff remains championship-caliber. One needs only to look at the case of Jake Peavy to sum up what has inflicted Boston all year. No shock that Peavy took the loss Saturday in Houston, despite allowing three runs over seven innings of work. It is the fifth time in his last six starts that he’s allowed three or fewer runs. He’s 0-4 over that stretch, 1-8 overall this season.
Jon Lester and John Lackey could both be knocking on the doors of 20-win seasons and the Boston bullpen has once again been the most dependable in the American League. The Red Sox have only used 17 pitchers all season, and only Alex Wilson and Tommy Layne were cameo appearances. That speaks greatly to the staff’s dependability and the faith that manager John Farrell has in certain guys. Even Mujica, I guess.
If they could hit a lick, just how good might the 2014 Red Sox actually be?
Instead of looking for a difference-making bat though, the Red Sox went out and signed Drew for $10 million, and hasn’t it all worked out swimmingly?
If “This is our $%&*%% city” was the rallying cry a year ago, this time around it’s more “Bad moves. Bad luck. Bad news.” Farrell will be managing the AL squad for a home-field advantage in the World Series for somebody else. You’re welcome, Oakland or Detroit.
Not here. The Red Sox are done, and the All-Star break is all of a sudden a lot different.
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