At the end of April, the Red Sox were in first place at 18-8, which projects to a 112-win pace over a full 162-game season.
Thirteen days into May, they’re 4-8 in the month with a minus-18 run differential in those dozen games, and their win projection is now down to 94.
This isn’t just a market correction for the Red Sox, who have lost eight of 10 games and their last three series. It’s on the verge of an overcorrection.
Based on the peaks and valleys we’ve witnessed through roughly a quarter of the season, a win total in the low 90s seems about right – perhaps even conservative if the recent roster attrition slows down.
As a nine-game road trip dawns following Monday’s much-needed day off, now is the time to get into the flow of the season, to find that happy medium between the juggernaut of April and the accidental slouches of May.
While they might not be able to remedy this instantly – they face unbeaten Matt Moore in Tuesday’s opener of a three-game set with the Rays – they will remedy it, and soon.
This is a good, well-rounded team, one that at the very least, presuming reasonable roster-wide health, will be playing meaningful games in late September and probably into October.
No worries, then? Well, some. The bullpen attrition is the most troubling long-term issue. Joel Hanrahan was brutal, injured, brutal again, and then lost for the season. His is a difficult loss to overcome based on what he could have been. His velocity and movement were there, but the control and command were absent. It’s not that he couldn’t handle this market. It’s that his elbow could no longer handle the demands of the job.
Now they’re dependent on Andrew Bailey, no stranger to the disabled list in recent years, to stay healthy and pitch as well as he was before his right biceps began bothering him. The retroactive yelps for Jonathan Papelbon are growing louder, and perhaps he is the rare closer who is worth the big payday because of his consistency, but give Bailey (1.46 ERA, .81 WHIP) a chance to prove he can stay healthy.
In the meantime, if you wish, feel free to daydream about trading for Papelbon at the July 31 deadline. The Phillies are going nowhere, and he’s a luxury.
The immediate saving grace for this team, believe it or not, could be its starting pitching. Jon Lester did his job as the stopper in the opener of the Jays series, throwing an efficient, almost effortless one-hitter.
Clay Buchholz didn’t win the second game, but it’s an encouraging sign that he was masterful against the team whose announcers started this whole is-he-doctoring-the-ball? sideshow. His stuff is exceptional, and his mental toughness has come a long way from the 2009 postseason, when the Red Sox were worried about how he’d handle the pressure of starting against the Angels. I can’t wait to see what the next couple of seasons have in store now that he’s an ace in full.
John Lackey (2.82 ERA) and Ryan Dempster (3.75 ERA) are capable of providing exactly what the Red Sox need from their 3-4 starters – a legitimate chance every time out. Yes, they’re just a combined 3-7, but that’s not a reflection on them but on an offense that hasn’t picked them up enough – and hasn’t picked anyone up lately.
The Red Sox are actually fifth in the American League in runs (4.76 per game), four spots ahead of the American League East-leading Yankees (4.36), who have thrived despite losing about 150 homers and from a year ago to injury and free-agency. (They’ve succeeded despite burned-out midge-magnet Joba Chamberlain apparently yelling “YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!” to anyone who dares shush his wisdom, including that graceful robot, Mariano Rivera.)
During the Jays series, though, it felt like the Red Sox hadn’t scored 4.76 runs total all season. They were 3 for 37 with runners in scoring position against Toronto, including 0 for 8 in Sunday’s loss. They left more players stranded on base than there were Bruins stranded overnight in Toronto.
Such team-wide ineffectiveness is a fluke more than anything else, but that doesn’t make it any less exasperating. No one is about to suggest that we should put on the hindsight glasses and resume begging for Josh Hamilton, especially since he’s been a fascinating mess for the Angels following a .259 batting average in the second half last year in Texas. But it would be swell if Jacoby Ellsbury‘s much-anticipated contract drive started any day now. He has a .676 OPS and has combined with Dustin Pedroia for exactly two home runs this season. Nothing would right this offense more than those two getting hot at the same time.
Then there is David Ortiz, who has lost, let’s see, 93 points off his batting average since Dan Shaughnessy’s controversial column asking him about performance-enhancing drugs ran Thursday. At the very least, his recent performance (or lack of performance) lends credence to the suggestion that a larger sample-size was probably required before broaching the PED topic based on his eye-popping numbers after a few dozen at-bats.
Like the Red Sox, he’s not as great as he looked early, and he’s not as miserable as he looked the past few days.
Their reasonable expectation of performance is somewhere in between.
And despite recent indications to the contrary, the confident bet here is that their true selves were revealed more by their April success that their so-far sluggish May.
It’ll get better soon. They’ll get better soon. The bad has followed the good. Now it’s time to flip the script again.