A note for optimistic Red Sox fans, even if it is a damper to start your week:
Enjoy the ride, embrace the development, but don’t lose sight of the big picture.
Boston and the rest of baseball have reached the All-Star Break, setting up a World Series home-field advantage-influenced exhibition on Tuesday night. The Sox capped their first-half on Sunday with four wins in five games against the mediocre White Sox and abysmal Astros. As fun as it was watching Clay Buchholz offer one of the best starts of his career – especially in the midst of what’s been an individually miserable season – and Brock Holt’s success force his mother and friends to tears in Houston, the team continues to boast the third-worst record in the American League.
At 43-52, John Farrell’s club sits eight games and eight teams behind a Wild Card berth, while the division standings are even worse as the squad stares at a last-place position and 9.5-game deficit. That’s a far cry from the first-place 58-39 record at last year’s break.
Despite that reality, an 11-0 clobbering and a plus-17 run-differential over the last five games will leave anyone feeling good, especially the manager.
“We recognize the struggles of the first-half but to go into the break with some momentum, it’s something that we’re hopeful we’ll continue to build on,” Farrell said following Sunday’s win. “We haven’t conceded anything. We know that there’s a little bit of a hole to climb out of but this is a confident group playing well right now.”
Those words fly in the face of what’s been implied by members of the Red Sox organization over the last week, including Farrell.
After starting a recent 10-game homestand an ugly 1-and-7, the Sox started what may be a minor mid-season overhaul by ousting embattled veteran A.J. Pierzynksi and promoting talented backstop Christian Vazquez.
Farrell then offered, “Based on the performance of us as a team, we’re not closing the book on 2014 but, at the same time, we’re investing in those beyond this year.”
General manager Ben Cherington said after Pierzynski’s departure, “We are where we are so we need to start looking at things a little bit differently.
“Whatever we do,” he added, “will be with the mind of trying to get better as quickly as possible and trying to build the next good team as quickly as possible.”
The next one. In other words, the ship has sailed for this one.
When the Sox suffered their 20th one-run loss of the year on Saturday, slugger and face of the franchise David Ortiz said, “It’s just one of those situations where you face reality. All you can do is come back the next day and try to get things done better.”
To some degree, there’s been an aura of acceptance and complacency. To outsiders, even a lack of leadership.
To be fair, the organization has left room for the possibility of improvement but it certainly hasn’t banked on it and that’s a credit to Cherington, his staff, and ownership. Rather than firing off a letter to fans and season ticketholders about friendly and cheerful players, the varsity, and the museum on Yawkey Way, Boston is taking a realistic approach to the remainder of this season with a focus on development.
This year is nothing like that ugly 2012 campaign, no matter how similar some of the struggles or complaints along the way may feel. The 2014 Red Sox are still a club worth rooting for, rather than a detestable embarrassment to season’s past for a storied franchise.
It may feel like the Future’s at Fenway at times, but it is fun watching the ongoing development of Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Holt, Vazquez, Rubby De La Rosa, and Brandon Workman, among others. The growing pains are less enjoyable, of course, but every eye-opening at-bat for Bogaerts, Bradley diving catch, Holt heroic, De La Rosa 100 mile per hour pitch, and additional flash in between provide for an optimistic future outlook.
Unfortunately, though, future remains the key word. The Red Sox aren’t a 10-game winning streak away from jumping back into the playoff race because such a streak isn’t coming. Over the last handful of games, they’ve beat up on two terrible teams with similar paths to October obscurity. That’s not getting hot at the right time; it’s heating up for a brief time.
Blame it on the Cherington’s offseason approach if you’d like, or more appropriately on the great many players who have come back to earth after career-years in 2013. Put it on the injuries if you’re inclined to make excuses. Or, simply acknowledge what the Red Sox have started to publicly recognize and long known internal:
The team isn’t good enough. Perhaps it never was.
There’s much that bears watching when the second-half begins on Friday against the visiting Royals. Jon Lester and John Lackey are, in their own ways, pitching for new contracts this winter. Buchholz is hoping for an injury-free return to form. De La Rosa, Workman, Bradley, Holt, and Vazquez are playing for big league jobs in 2015. Dustin Pedroia is fighting against a premature descent for the ages. Will Shane Victorino or Will Middlebrooks ever be healthy? And, in the next two-plus weeks, a host of veterans on the cusp of free agency could find themselves moved to contenders or, at the very least, out of the way.
That’s just the beginning. Sadly, the end is far too near.
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