Touching All the Bases

Given Recent History, Red Sox’ Subpar April May Be a Case of Playing Worst at First


There are three days remaining in April and two ballgames left to play for the Red Sox. While the flip of the calendar to May will be unanimously approved around here, it would be going too far to suggest the 2014 Red Sox, who at best will end the month at 14-14, require an unofficial reset on their latest championship defense.

Every team has a bad month, a lousy stretch, some turbulence even as they soar. The 2013 Red Sox are perceived as being just about the steadiest team, April to October, of any we have seen. There wasn’t a lot of drama along the way en route to the parade, just unity, Uehara, and lots and lots of wins.

Except … there was a hiccup, and at the time it felt like a big one.

After a scorching April (18-8) that seemed to put a wrap on any lingering drama and trauma from the Bobby Valentine disaster, the Red Sox started the next month in such a messy manner that you didn’t have to be a well-compensated reactionary cynic to wonder if the fast start was a mirage.
From May 3-14, the Red Sox lost 9 of 11 games, including three stretches of three losses in a row. They were outscored during that stretch, 67-36. They gave up 15 runs to the Twins in one loss, a dozen to the Blue Jays in another. A 5-3 loss to Matt Moore and the Rays on May 14 dropped them to 22-17, and three games out of first place.
They seemed to be skidding toward .500. Instead, in a way, they surged toward it. They won five straight, 8 of 11, and closed May with a perfectly acceptable 15-15 mark in the month. It was the worst month they would have all season.
The 2013 Red Sox would lose three in a row just twice more (July 6-8, August 14-16) over the final 105 games from June 1 on. The 2014 Red Sox have already lost three in a row twice, though never more than that. They are further out of first place right now at 3.5 games behind the Yankees than they were at any point a season ago.
It’s been frustrating, sure, and that frustration is enhanced because this mediocre start is our first impression of this particular team. There’s no baseline of success to support confidence that they will get it right, and least not without turning back to last year, where this core was formed even if some of the faces have changed.
We’re constantly told that looking back to 2013 is not allowed, that this is a new season and the old needs to be put in the rear-view mirror. I don’t necessarily agree with that — there are reassuring lessons to be taken not just from last year, but from various seasons of relatively recent vintage.
There have been some suggestions that this feels like the slow start of 2012, the My Bloody Valentine season of horrors. Believe it or not, the comparison in terms of April accomplishment if not attitude is valid. The ’12 Red Sox went 11-11 in April with a minus-4 run differential. The current Sox have a minus-15 run differential through 26 games, so in some sense it’s been worse.
But you know how it went for the ’12 Sox — Valentine steered them into an iceberg, David Ortiz got injured, the clubhouse revolted, Pedro Ciriaco sometimes seemed to be the best player, the Dodgers offered a franchise-altering bailout, and the Sox won 16 of 58 games from August 1 on.
You know better than to think this is that. Such a mess is not happening under John Farrell‘s watch, and may never happen again as long as we’re watching. Every season is different. In 2011, the Sox went 11-15 in April, 55-25 from May through July, then spontaneously combusted in September.
In 2007 — an unsung juggernaut of a champion — the Sox went 16-8 in April and stood at 36-16 after two months, then had their hiccup with a 13-14 June.
In 2004 — it was a pretty good year — the Sox went 15-6 in April, then 41-40 over the next three months.
Lousy starts don’t always happen to the best of the Red Sox franchises. But lousy stretches? They’re inevitable. There’s reason to believe the Red Sox are simply getting theirs out of the way early this year. The offense is finally intact with the return of Will Middlebrooks and the essential Shane Victorino; they will hit, though perhaps Jacoby Ellsbury‘s value atop the lineup was underestimated.
The defense isn’t as dependable as it was last year — Xander Bogaerts will get through this and thrive sooner rather than later, but his shortstop defense is a serious downgrade from Stephen Drew and Jose Iglesias a season ago. Clay Buchholz is a mess; Jake Peavy is picking up the slack for him again. The bullpen has been stellar.
They have real issues, but nothing that cannot be overcome. They are fortunate as April winds to a close that they are just 3.5 games back of the Yankees in the muddled AL East, where every team seems to be dealing with significant injuries.
The Red Sox have just two more games to play this month. They’ll be 14-14, or 13-15, or 12-16, and when that is recorded for history, they can move on. May is a fresh start, when the real measure begins.
If the Red Sox play like they should, we’ll forget about the lousy April just like we forgot about the rough start to May during that last championship season.

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