The title says it all. That’s all I can say at this point. Everything that went right for the Red Sox last year is what’s going wrong for the Red Sox this year, as they have currently lost nine straight games and sit in the cellar of the American League East. What the baseball gods giveth, the baseball gods can taketh away in an offseason. Jacoby Ellsbury is in pinstripes, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia has taken his talents to South Beach, but that’s not the only problem with the 2014 Red Sox. This could be a long season, but I don’t expect it to be the long term trend.
Right now the Sox’ lineup lacks the thunder it had last year, but that was to be expected. Jacoby Ellsbury is one of, if not the best lead-off hitters in the Majors, and Salty provides above average production at the plate for a catcher, but they were not worth getting overpaid by the Yankees and Marlins the way they were. Every Red Sox fan knew that, and nothing has changed, but in the meantime, their production is missed. The hope is that Jackie Bradley Jr. can eventually replace Ellsbury’s production (and Bradley is already a better defensive center fielder than Ells) and that Xander Bogaerts becomes the hitter people think he will be, but right now it’s a team that struggles to drive in runs. The Red Sox are showing us this year why batting average and RBIs still have value as statistics in an age where on base percentage, OPS, WAR, and VORP are replacing the traditional columns on the backs of baseball cards. Sure a walk is as good as a hit, but sometimes you really need to hit.
The new arrivals in Boston have not stepped up enough. I expected growing pains with Bradley, Bogaerts, and Will Middlebrooks (who is on the disabled list once again), and I am okay with that. Bogaerts has incredible plate discipline, and I’m not losing too much sleep over his struggles in the field at shortstop because I don’t think he’s going to be there forever. Go back and Google Image search the pictures of a young skinny Miguel Cabrera. That kid was originally projected to be a shortstop, too, but he’s since bulked up and become the best hitter in baseball, and this season has moved from third base over to first. Bogaerts is going to be such a good hitter that he’ll be worthwhile no matter where you put him on the field. Middlebrooks is the guy to be worried about, as he’s spent more time at the Major League level than Bradley or Bogaerts, and he has a deep pipeline of third base prospects waiting in line behind him. If he can’t stay healthy, this might be his last year in Boston.
What’s really killing the Red Sox is their starting pitching, and the biggest offender is Clay Buchholz. I was done with Buchholz last year, but he got bailed out by the fact that the Red Sox won the World Series. If the Red Sox had fallen short (knowing full well that they would be taking a step backward this year no matter what with the loss of Ellsbury and Saltalamacchia), then Buccholz would be the #1 scapegoat in Boston all last winter. Buchholz basically took a summer vacation in the middle of last season for an injury where there was no structural damage to his throwing arm, pitched like he didn’t want to be there in the World Series, got the team to baby him through spring training, claims to have no physical problems, and now is just pitching like crap. No player in Red Sox history has ever done less to earn two World Series rings. What’s the point! I’d say trade him, except I can’t imagine teams would want to give up much of anything for him.
If Red Sox fans want something to be hopeful about, they should look to the National League and the west coast. The San Francisco Giants are a couple years ahead of the Red Sox in their franchise’ developmental arc, and have had a similar on-and-off success pattern. The Giants won the World Series in 2010, missed the playoffs after being eliminated in the last week of the regular season in 2011, won the World Series in 2012, and finished in last place in the National League West in 2013. Nearly two months into the 2014 regular season, San Francisco currently has the best record in Major League Baseball (31-18) and appear poised for another playoff run. It’s very early for this kind of thing, but we could be looking at a rematch of the 2012 World Series between the Giants and Detroit Tigers of a rematch of the 1989 Earthquake World Series between the Giants and their Bay Area rivals, the Oakland Athletics. A year ago, the Giants couldn’t get out of their own way on the field, but they stayed the course as an organization and are right where they want to be in 2014. San Francisco GM Brian Sabean is one of the best, as is field manager Bruce Bochy, and they have been smart enough not to overreact to one season. In Boston, Ben Cherington and John Farrell are the same way, it seems.
Who knows? Maybe we’re in for a run where the Giants always win in even numbered years, and the Red Sox take the odds. Of the last four World Series champions, the only team that has consistently competed has been the St. Louis Cardinals, who lost in the NLCS to the Giants in 2012, and who lost in the World Series to the Red Sox in 2013, and are currently gaining ground on the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central. Baseball isn’t easy, and just because you win it all one year, doesn’t mean you’ll even be in the discussion the next, as the Red Sox and Giants know all too well.