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Touching All the Bases

Red Sox haven't had a smooth start, and you know what that means? Nothing at all




Driving north after Sunday's sunny snoozefest at Fenway, a ballgame I attended with my dad and daughter, I had more than the usual I-get-paid-to-listen-to-this-stuff reason for listening to sports radio.

I was desperately trying to preempt my 10-year-old's inevitable questions about why some of our neighbors in Right Field Box 5, Row J were happily hassling a certain disgraced Brewers right fielder about his allegedly shrunken physique, including occasional specific anatomical references. I suppose my dad might have been puzzled too. I let him solve this one for himself.

For an inning or so, I almost sympathized with Braun, who even seemed to get a kick of the leather-lungs at times. Then I brushed up on his dastardly cartoon-villain deeds and remembered he made even that incompetent milk snake A-Rod look like a junior varsity cheater. Braun has it coming, though I'm not particularly interested in being in the vicinity when he hears it.

braunfinn47.jpgSo the radio was on in part to half further queries about Braun's accused lack of, um, brawn. It worked, I think, though a sing-song "Braun's a liar, clap clap clap-clap-clap" could be heard coming from my daughter's room after bed time.

Listening to the postgame caterwauling was a necessary choice, perhaps, but not a particularly fulfilling one, either. John Ryder, the admirably reasonable studio host on WEEI, has long deserved hazard pay for dealing with some of the reactionary and Budweiser-aided nonsense that comes in via the phone lines.

Sunday was particularly exasperating. It's only slight hyperbole to suggest every call began, "I know it's only six games, but ..." before laying out the different ways the sky was collapsing upon us. Truth be told, it was probably just every other call.

lezcanosixtofinn47.JPGHey, the 2-4 start is of course frustrating, especially the three straight losses at home to the Brewers, a team that is perceived as far less interesting than Sixto Lezcano's name. While the first week report card rarely means a damn thing -- the 2004 and '07 Red Sox both started 2-3 and then 4-4, and the '04 Sox even had a five-game losing streak in the first five weeks -- there have been a couple of matters that make you wonder about the long-term effects.

David Ortiz does seem to be hobbling a little. While we must remind ourselves that he didn't even make his season debut last year until April 20 and it all went just swell from that day forward, any hint of injury at his age and with his history must be monitored. Especially if it's that Achilles'. Whatever is ailing him is said to be no big deal. But given all that he means, it's always a big deal.

You know the other issues, real and supposed. Catchers David Ross and A.J. Pierzynski, a combined 74 years old, have played like they are individually 74 years old. Clay Buchholz had sub-par velocity during and a swollen earned-run average after his first start. Shane Victorino, who was on the podium at the very least in terms of their most valuable player candidates last season, is on the disabled list, and that can't be underestimated, especially defensively. Edward Mujica looks more like the pitcher Mike Matheny ignored in October than the guy who saved 37 games during the regular season for the Cardinals a season ago. Will Middlebrooks, the starting third baseman, is on the disabled list, with lefty-masher Ryan Roberts arriving as a temporary stunt double.

Beyond the tone-perfect sentiment of the ring ceremony, there hasn't been much to celebrate through the first week. Which is why I resist that cliche that a defending champion has to move on and put the previous year behind it. It's simply untrue, and ignoring the recent spectacular past is counterproductive on top of that.

The resilience and next-man-up determination the Red Sox demonstrated though the '13 season is precisely what will get them through a hiccup like this. Those who were here last October should know this without the reminder: You don't put a season like that behind you; you take the best lessons and moments and carry them with you into the new season, to help you succeed again.

This team, despite the uninspiring first six games, is capable of becoming the first repeat champions since the 2000 Yankees, as difficult a task as that is.

gedmanrich1987finn.JPGLet's make this clear right now: This is not going to be a dreaded "hangover" season. This is not 1987, when Roger Clemens and Rich Gedman held out, Bill Buckner, Don Baylor and Jim Rice got old, and the flawed defending AL champs found themselves at 22-27 at the end of May, with Mike Greenwell, Ellis Burks, Sam Horn, Jody Reed, and Todd Benzinger arriving to turn it into an unexpected bridge year.

This isn't 1996, either, when the defending AL East champs, featuring possibly the worst defensive lineup ever assembled, started 6-19, which was too big of a hole to overcome even with a 38-19 record from August 1 on.

Perhaps it will be like 2008. That Red Sox team, which followed the unheralded juggernaut of '07, had a real chance to repeat. Terry Francona said in his book that it might have been the best squad he had during his eight seasons here. But Josh Beckett got hurt, David Price emerged as the postseason wild-card for the Rays, and they beat the Sox in 7 in the ALCS. There was no shame in that.

The current roster isn't star-studded, but it is talented, pitching-rich and versatile -- not all that different from the '08 team after the Manny Ramirez/Jason Bay deal, come to think of it. Among other franchises, only the Cardinals can boast a 40-man roster of equal depth. They'll score their usual bushels of runs once the weather and bats heat up in unison, and the organization is remarkably pitching-rich.

And if some change is necessary, there are resources here to improve from within or make a major trade or two if one becomes necessary.

No, the Red Sox haven't had the ideal start. But in terms of the big picture for this season and beyond, it's hard to imagine a time when the franchise was in such ideal condition. If they stay reasonably healthy, they're going to be much more than just fine.

John Lackey, winner of the clinching sixth game of the World Series last October, takes the mound tonight against the Rangers in the seventh game of the new season. To listen to the radio, you think the two starts were of equal importance. Settle down. It's early. No buts about it.

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