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Three up, three down

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  April 4, 2011 05:05 PM

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A half-inning's worth of thoughts on the Red Sox while presuming the final 53/54ths of the season will go slightly better . . .

finnbuchholz4411.jpgThat picture sort of sums up the weekend, doesn't it?

You've got a Sox starter standing on the Rangers Stadium mound looking defeated, something the box score will eventually confirm with all of the gruesome data punctuated by an "L."

You've got Terry Francona ambling out the mound to take what appears to be a live grenade out of yet another shell-shocked pitcher's hand.

And you've got Jarrod Saltalamacchia standing around awkwardly, perhaps wondering whether this is the point where Crash Davis would attempt to lighten the mood with a joke about Kinsler or Cruz's latest moonshot having a stewardess on it.

After watching these guys throw batting practice to the Rangers, Josh Beckett has to wonder how the heck he's the fourth starter behind this crew of Wasdins.

Of course, what transpired over the past three games did not inspire comedy. The three Sox starters -- Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Clay Buchholz -- combined for a 10.57 earned run average in the series. Last season, their respective ERAs added together equaled 9.98. I know, that's hardly a mathematically-sound approach, but it confirms just how brutally out-of-character their performance was this weekend.

Which brings me to a point that I'll emphasize later on: Not much of this is worth fretting about. Lester may plod through another April. Buchholz is expected to have some regression due to his good fortune on batted balls last season. And Lackey is probably going to be baseball's most well-compensated 14-17-game winner with a 4.20 ERA.

I have small concerns about this team, the same ones with which they entered spring training. Saltalamacchia looks the part, but can he play it? I want to see more of Jed Lowrie, even if it comes at the expense of Marco Scutaro. And to a far, far lesser degree, I wish Carl Crawford didn't look so tense in his first few days with his new team.

But the starting pitching? Don't sweat it. These guys are high-quality, established major league pitchers, despite looking like anything but this weekend. If they remain healthy, they'll progress toward their mean, which should mean about 50 wins and that current 10.57 ERA divided by three.

* * *

gonzalezadrianinn4311.jpg For those of us -- humblebrag alert -- who haven't been smitten for years with the idea of Adrian Gonzalez playing for the Red Sox, it must be a blast to watch his fast start (.385 average) and discover just how great he is.

Actually, it's been a blast even for those of us who followed what he accomplished in the relative anonymity of San Diego the past five years, and yes, I know I sound like a jerk right now. It's just that a lot of the people racing to praise him now once told me there's no chance the Sox could ever make a deal for him. Blogboy wins, suckers! Now you go back to your mom's . . . upstairs. (Burn.)

I loved that Gonzalez immediately proved his skills against southpaws, staying with the pitch against C.J. Wilson (who held lefties to a .176 slugging percentage last year) and effortlessly lining a two-run single to center field in the opener.

I got a kick out of Shaughnessy reminding us not to compare him to Ted Williams. I don't think I'd dare compare Gonzalez to Ted Williams even if he hit .407 this year and singlehandedly brokered peace in the Middle East.

I thought Jerry Remy's comment that Gonzalez is reminiscent of Manny in that he has no wasted motion and then explodes through the baseball was spot-on.

In fact, Remy's comment jarred a memory of Manny's fast start with the Sox 10 years ago, so I looked it up . . . and man, I'd forgotten just how awesome he was from pretty much the first pitch he saw in a Red Sox uniform.

In April 2001, Manny batted .408 with nine homers, 31 RBIs, a .735 slugging percentage, and a 1.217 OPS in 112 plate appearances. On May 23, he was batting .414, and as late as June 5 he was at .388.

Can Gonzalez be Manny's equal? Well, no, I don't think he'll prove to be in that all-time elite class, though looking at his numbers from a sharper angle leads you to believe he could be capable of about any achievement now that he gets to play half his games at Fenway. But of this much I'm sure. It's going to be incredibly fun to watch him try.

* * *

lesterfinn4411.jpgAll right, I warned you. We've reached the portion of the program where we plead for reason. Beg, even.

Please don't overreact to this. Don't activate your long-dormant Fellowship of the Miserable membership card. Don't be, as Peter Abraham perfectly put it, a merchant of panic. Don't wait on hold for 45 minutes to howl at Felger or the Big O or your doomsayer of choice that Theo can win only with Dan Duquette's players and that Francona's job should be in jeopardy because let's just admit it, he was lucky in '04 and '07.

Don't. Just . . . don't.

Take today as a mental health day. Shut off your radio. Turn that part of your mind perpetually occupied by sports toward Butler and UConn.

Exhale. And please do not equate three lost days in Texas to a lost cause.

Should the requisite Yankees fan in your office begin chirping, remind him of 1998 since there's a decent chance that was the year he boarded the bandwagon. The Yankees of that vintage are perhaps the greatest team of this era and one of the best of all-time, winning 114 games in the regular season, then tearing through the postseason with 11 wins, 2 losses, and yet another championship.

They were awesome. They also began the season 0-3, then 1-4 . . . and then ripped off 14 wins in 15 games, annihilating the rest of American League by going 59-21 from May through July. Now the only time you hear about that lousy start is when another presumably excellent team starts 0-3. Like, you know, this one here.

This slow start would be but a blip had it happened, say, June 18-20. It's exaggerated because it comes at the beginning of the season. As ESPN's David Schoenfield pointed out this morning, the 2004 Red Sox had six stretches of three or more losses, and the 2007 Sox had four. I'm not going out on a limb to guess that you might own a championship DVD or two from those particular seasons.

Then there's the stat, which I first saw on Schoenfield's Twitter feed, that just three of the last 80 playoff teams began 0-3. I wasn't surprised whatsoever; the vast, vast majority of them were lousy teams. The 2001 Brewers, 2002 Tigers, 2006 Pirates, 2007 Orioles, and on and on. Strangely, none of those teams were managed by Joe Kerrigan.

Then there are the weird aberrations -- the 2002 (Devil) Rays began 3-0 and ended up with 55 wins and 106 losses. In 1999, the Diamondbacks and Reds began a combined 0-6. They somehow managed to win 196 games and two division titles between them that year.

Contrary to what they've shown through three games, the Red Sox are not lousy. Nor are they the Greatest Team Ever, a headline that other newspaper in town used on Opening Day and one we here on Morrissey Boulevard have unfortunately pounced on over the weekend.

What they are is a damn good team off to a stunningly awful start. And that stunningly awful start happens to be magnified (amplified if you still have your radio on) because of the anticipation that came with the long winter and that five-day stretch in December when Gonzalez and Crawford arrived and anything seemed possible.

We waited so long to see them and this is what we get?

I've heard the more reasonable among us say Sox fans will look back on this 0-3 start and laugh.

I say you won't. Know why? Because the 2011 Red Sox are built to deliver so many good times and memories from now through October -- yes, through -- that you'll barely remember how it all began.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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