This happens all the time. When things are going poorly – as they are for the 2014 incarnation of the Red Sox – it’s only logical to think back to the last time the results were similar. We do so emotionally, mentally, statistically, and simply because it’s easy.
But just because it’s easy doesn’t make it right.
It’s time everyone stops comparing this year’s Boston bottom-dwellers to the group that circled the drains during a miserable 2012. The similarities are there, but they diminish the most significant factors.
This season, there are injuries, from Shane Victorino to Will Middlebrooks to Mike Napoli to Clay Buchholz to Felix Doubront, and on. In 2012, heavily relied upon contributors Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz, Carl Crawford, Dustin Pedroia, and Andrew Bailey, among others, all missed or were hampered for significant time as well. In all, two years ago, 24 players went on the disabled list a total of 34 times. In 2014, the Sox are up to 11 DL stints for nine players.
Each season, 2014 and 2012, you can also point to the promising young prospect (phenom Xander Bogaerts vs. Middlebrooks) and the surprisingly productive utility guy (Brock Holt vs. Pedro Ciriaco). Even the player who suddenly, inexplicably stinks (Daniel Nava vs. Daniel Bard). Had Stephen Drew been on the roster from the start, rather than a late addition, and pushed aside by the up-and-coming Bogaerts, we might even be able to make reference to Kevin Youkilis. Who out there doesn’t fantasize for a Drew midseason trade at this point?
And, most significant, the records. Currently, the Red Sox – a year removed from finishing with 97 wins and capturing their third World Series championship in the span of a decade – sit 29-35, are fourth in the American League East and nine games behind the Blue Jays. After 64 games in 2012, those Sox were actually 31-33, fifth in the division but a slightly improved 7 1/2 games out of first.
Sure, that’s glossing over the similar losing streaks but that’s just peripheral stuff for this argument.
The fact is, big picture, these clubs are nothing alike. And that ignores that only a dozen players (including John Lackey, who did not pitch in 2012, and Ryan Lavarnway, who’s seen time in only four big league games this year) have appeared on both rosters.
As we all remember, the 2011 club collapsed in September to the tune of a 7-20 finish, missed the playoffs (which wouldn’t have happened had the second Wild Card been in place back then), and parted ways with manager Terry Francona. General manager Theo Epstein followed him out the door for a more substantial opportunity with the Cubs.
Enter Ben Cherington, long a member of the organization, as GM, though he had his first major decision made for him in the hiring of polarizing figure Bobby Valentine as skipper. From Day 1, the boat was successfully rocked.
With a 69-93 finish under Valentine, that season will forever be remembered for an assortment of painful reasons. It was defined by drama, distraction, and incompetence on the way to Rock Bottom. About the only way that team was unified was against its intelligent but often aloof manager, who chastised Mike Aviles during a drill in spring training, questioned Youkilis’s emotional commitment, already had issues with Crawford and Josh Beckett before his arrival, and may have used a dartboard to construct his lineups. Frankly, it’s still somewhat surprising Valentine made it past that late-season breakfast with the bosses in Seattle after surviving July’s player-mutiny with ownership.
The injuries and closer Jonathan Papelbon’s seemingly welcomed departure to the Phillies in the offseason certainly hurt the roster, but that 2012 team was still built to contend. When it was clear how unrealistic that was, however, the Dodgers offered the Red Sox a life raft (hell, a cruise ship), left the roster a shell of itself, and made possible Boston’s run through the following October.
While I predicted the defending champs to repeat as division winners coming into the year, that feeling was related more to the inadequacies of the East than their title-winning prowess.
The 2014 Red Sox were not constructed to win the World Series without getting more of the Boston Strong motivated magic they received a year ago. The pitching looked plentiful, but the offense was littered with questions. As it’s turned out, run-production has been a bigger problem than anyone could have imagined, Ellsbury’s shoes were impossible to fill until Holt drove up I-95, the starting rotation has only been reliable about 40 percent of the time, and the bullpen (one of the few points of pride) has been occasionally spotty.
Last season, everything clicked. This year, it’s been more like a belt without a buckle.
But, the Sox have mostly stuck together. There were mild media-driven distractions in the spring revolving around contract talks for Ortiz and Jon Lester, but nothing that affected the clubhouse. There’s been no sign of Jonny Gomes’ “Look What I Bring to the Table Act” getting tired internally, and even anticipated bad apple A.J. Pierzynski has avoided public scrutiny for his personality – save for failure to accept a role in a poor outing for Lester.
The 2014 Red Sox aren’t a team against their manager, John Farrell, or one complaining about a lack of days off (though, yes, there have been a few too many excuses). They’re simply not very good, regularly done in by an absence of offensive execution, poor starts, health questions, bad defense, or an overreliance on young, inexperienced players, old, injury-plagued veterans, and reclamation projects. Perhaps, as some like to say, the bridge year came a season late.
Going forward, the comparisons to one of the worst, most trying years in team history should end. That 2012 team – the same group that largely and disgustingly ignored the funeral of legendary fixture Johnny Pesky – was difficult to watch and even harder to root for. For the most part, that isn’t true today. We want this group to do well; we’re practically begging for it.
By August, we’ll be able to cross another potential comparable off the list. Lester and Lackey aren’t going anywhere. This year’s club won’t be sellers, nor will it be eyeing a financial rebirth from a franchise’s desperate new owner. Hopefully, they’ll instead be building toward a playoff spot. It’s far too early to say they won’t.
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