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It'll work itself out fine

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  April 20, 2010 02:17 PM

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kotchman.jpgWatching the Red Sox hit -- or I should say, attempt to -- is aggravating enough. But the race among fans and, yup, media to win the I-told-you-so game and become the first to declare that the "run prevention" model has failed and Theo Epstein's "bridge" has collapsed under the weight of his own hubris is a whole different level of annoying.

Compared to the self-satisfied caterwauling we've had to endure since the new season took a dismal turn just a few days after Neil Diamond sang us his creepy song, watching J.D. Drew take called strike three or Big Papi whiffing on an 89 miles-per-hour fastball is a sepia-toned baseball delight narrated by Vin Scully.

C'mon, people. You know the Red Sox are better than this. You know they'll prove they're better than this over the next 149 games. You know this awful start, in which nothing, save for the hot start of Dustin Pedroia, has gone right is an aberration magnified by the fact that the Red Sox picked the beginning of the season to be governed by Murphy's Law.

You do know better, right?

I am not whistling past any graveyard (or David Ortiz's bat rack, wise guy). I am stating the truth as I know it based on the ability and accomplishments of the likes of Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Victor Martinez, Adrian Beltre, John Lackey, Jonathan Papelbon, and on and on:

Provided they are in reasonable health, the Red Sox will pitch and field as well as any team in the American League. And contrary to the majority of the evidence provided thus far, they will -- OK, should -- hit better than every team in the AL, save for three or four.

The much-discussed 0 for 32 drought with runners is scoring position? It's not an omen or an indictment so much as it is a fluke, albeit one perhaps enhanced and extended by pressing players trying to break a team-wide slump with a five-run homer. Even the 1962 Mets -- or, in different sense, the 1919 White Sox -- got a clutch hit now and then. The runs will come.

Now, I'm not suggesting that there aren't some causes for alarm. It's frustrating that the Sox have looked so disheveled and sloppy defensively. We'll believe until his retiring day that Terry Francona is the ideal manager for this team, but one can't help but wonder if the club missed Brad Mills's organizational skills in spring training more than we know.

I'm glad Epstein called out the players. They need to be accountable, and the individual cases of early-season underachievement are evident up and down the roster. Enough words have been spent on the sad state of Big Papi already; moving him down the lineup would seem a foregone conclusion if Drew, the logical choice to bat fifth, wasn't apparently determined to pay homage to Andy Tomberlin. Lester's April struggles (2-6 in the season's first month, 40-12 the rest of the way) are a mystery John Farrell needs to solve once and for all. Victor Martinez's throwing issues have made Jason Varitek seem like an appealing defensive option. The back of the bullpen -- does Scott Schoeneweis pitch every day, or does it just seem that way? -- will need some remodeling before the summer is through.

I admit I liked the Mike Cameron signing, and despite the early returns in which he's Hoseyed a couple in center field, he is a superior defender to Jacoby Ellsbury. But at this point, it is also fair to wonder, given that he is 37 years old and sidelined for at least a couple of weeks, if the Red Sox have signed up for two years of his decline.

Spare me your panicked wails; of course I recognize that there is more urgency here than there would be with a simple slow start. Their chief rivals have been as terrific as the Sox have been terrible. They're 6 games behind the Rays and 5.5 behind the Yankees just 13 games into the schedule. That's almost unfathomable, and given that Tampa Bay and New York might be the two most talented teams in the American League, that's a hell of a deep hole to dig for yourself so early in the schedule. It's not going to be easy to regain that lost ground.

But there is so much time remaining to do just that, provided they get to it before the calendar turns, and the reservoir of talent on this team is such that common sense suggests the worst has to be over. Lester has an 8.44 ERA, Lackey's is 5.63. History suggests they'll both be below 4.00 come October. Youkilis, second in the AL in OPS last season and the elite hitter some fans often forget they have, is 1 for his last 15. Drew has a .499 OPS, a little more than half of what he put up a season ago. Adrian Beltre hit 25 or more homers three times for the Mariners; I'm assuming he'll hit a few for the Sox playing at a home park that suits his swing. Martinez has an adjusted OPS of 55, and for those of you gloating that you'll take scouts over stats every time, let this alleged stat nerd tell you (I prefer to think of it as accumulating as much information as possible before drawing a conclusion), 55 is pretty lousy.

While I agree with the sentiment that Jed Hoyer's ransom note for Adrian Gonzalez probably lengthens by a couple of Sea Dogs' names with each hapless Sox performance, if you're going to put blind faith in early-season numbers, I'd recommend you stop pining for another slugger, one whom departed the Red Sox this offseason.

Jason Bay is batting .245/.351/.327 for the New York Mets, with no home runs, three RBIs, and 19 whiffs in 57 at-bats. He'd fit right in with his former team, though last night he did show signs of life with a pair of hits, boosting his average from .217.

The Red Sox will show those signs of life, too, perhaps as soon as tonight. But in the meantime, if you really must long for ex-Sox from those long-ago days when the home team knew the route around the bases at Fenway, here are a couple of names to consider.

Alex Gonzalez: .300 average, .956 OPS, four home runs.

Casey Kotchman: .963 OPS, three home runs, 12 RBIs.

Yup, still early.

This team is going to be fine. Whether you want it to be or not.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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