Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

Intrigue, Not Apathy, Accompanies the Red Sox in Last Place This Time Around

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

This is still fun.

No, really.

For the second time in three seasons, the Red Sox are going to finish in the basement of the American League East, but unlike the last time Boston bottomed out, there’s a whole lot less disdain in the air at Fenway Park. Being World Champs can do that.

In the stead of apathy down the stretch is intrigue and anticipation over youngsters like Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, Jr., Rubby De La Rosa, Anthony Ranaudo, and Christian Vazquez, characteristics that didn’t accompany the Red Sox's plunge in 2012. What, like Bobby Valentine was going to manage kids?

In 2014, John Farrell has taken on a veritable major league Romper Room with a roster that has been overturned in the wake of deadline deals that sent Jon Lester, Jake Peavy, John Lackey, Felix Doubront, Stephen Drew, Andrew Miller, and Jonny Gomes packing. But unlike how the team reacted after Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Nick Punto, and Carl Crawford were traded to the Dodgers, these Red Sox have reacted in an entirely different fashion; admirably.

Since Ben Cherington laid napalm to his roster a little more than two weeks ago, Boston is 8-6, including winning five out of its last six. Believe it or not, the Red Sox are 10th in baseball in runs scored in the month of August with 62, even if their team average (.229) and OPS (.624) are among the dregs of the game. In all, Boston has scored 474 runs all season,seventh-worst in baseball. That means 12 percent of all the Sox’ runs in 2014 have come over the past 16 days.

The addition of Yoenis Cespedes (three homers, 11 RBI, albeit batting .236 with a .705 OPS) has had an immediate impact as opposed to 2012, when James Loney was the only player of immediate worth acquired in the deal, with “worth” being a bit of a loose phrase. Two years later, David Ortiz isn't kicking up his Achilles heels either, setting Red Sox home run records instead of a farcical timetable for his return. The Red Sox are facing reality with an entirely different approach, trying to get a grasp on their new environment and winning in spite of the parameters set within a re-tooling.

Upon the deal that sent the trio of malcontents (and Punto) to Los Angeles, the '12 remnants of the Red Sox won a pair of games against the Kansas City Royals before shifting into complete free-fall mode, losing nine of their next 11 games, a preview of what would be a 7-22 finish with which to send Valentine back to Stanford, Conn. In 2014, 40 games remain, and the Sox need only go 14-26 to avoid matching the 69-93 mark the embarrassing "V" Sox left as a stain on the franchise.

Heck, a reasonable 25-15 gets them to .500.

OK, so maybe that is a tall order for a team that hasn’t enjoyed a month above .500 all season, but this squad is much different than the one that inhabited Fenway Park even but four weeks ago. It’s a roster brimming with anticipation, failure, and lessons at the big league level. September call-ups this year will likely involve plucking a fan or two out of the stands to sit on the bench since all the kids are already in Boston.

There are growing pains, of course, to suffer through, some more frustrating than others. (Let’s include De La Rosa’s Saturday start against Houston - four innings, six earned runs - in that category.) For every dazzling catch Bradley delivers in the outfield, comes the inevitability of incompetence at the plate. For every Xander Bogaerts at-bat, there is the memory of last October’s DVD, convincing you that, yes, the kid can play. For every time Vazquez shows off his superb arm, you just have to understand this is the way great catchers approach the game, defense, calling the game first, offense second.

The Red Sox are going nowhere, but they’ve become a whole lot more fascinating to watch. As is the schedule.

Over the next 40 games, the Red Sox will see the Blue Jays, still in the wild card hunt, division leaders Los Angeles, Baltimore, and Kansas City, the playoff-hopeful Pirates, the Yankees, and the Rays, the only team that will come into Fenway without any truly tangible hope of a playoff berth.

That’s a pretty interesting month-plus for a last-place team trying to figure itself out to look forward to.

Summer is waning, and so are the Sox. This time, though, it’s different.

This time, we’re still having fun.

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