BOSTON (CBS) — The Red Sox’ season is seven days old, and if there’s one thing that’s been made very clear it’s that 2014 is certainly not 2013.
Or at least — April 2014 is not October 2013. Clearly, the defending champions have had some kinks to work out as they begin their title defense.
Fresh off getting swept at Fenway Park by the Milwaukee Brewers, the Sox sit at 2-4, tied with Baltimore for last place in the AL East. Those standings, however, are of much less significance than what’s happening internally with the Red Sox. Namely, of the early-season points of concern, which — if any — are really worth worrying about?
Let’s dive into them, shall we?
The Concern: Last Place
Yes, they’re in last place, but they’re 1.5 games out of first, and they’re one good series away from climbing back up the ranks. Nothing to worry about there.
The Concern: Health
This one’s a bit more of a problem, and it was on full display late Saturday night when John Farrell had to put Mike Carp and his bad back at first base in the 10th inning.
Shane Victorino’s presence at the top of the lineup has been missed, with Daniel Nava hitting .115 and drawing zero walks through the first week, primarily batting in the leadoff spot. And now with Will Middlebrooks on the disabled list, the Red Sox suffered an injury in the one spot where they could probably least afford it.
Jonathan Herrera, he of the eight home runs in nearly 1,000 big league at-bats, has filled in for the past two games, while Brock Holt — he of the 14 career home runs in more than 1,700 minor league at-bats — has been called up.
It may still be wishful thinking to say the Red Sox lost a lot when Middlebrooks went on the DL, but the 25-year-old’s dinger on Friday provided some promise that he’d be providing some pop for the Red Sox this season. Hey may still bring it, but not for at least 15 days. The team’s signing of Ryan Roberts on Monday indicates that perhaps Middlebrooks’ injury will keep him out even longer than that.
The Concern: Hitting With Runners In Scoring Position
On the surface, this one looks pretty bad, with the Sox ranking 24th in runs scored (behind Houston — Houston!!) and ranking 29th in MLB with a .136 batting average with runners in scoring position.
But of course, we’re talking about a tiny sample size here, one in which the Red Sox are 6-for-44 with RISP. The team is hitting .304 with the bases empty, so over time, those two averages will come a lot closer together. That is, unless you believe something strange takes over Red Sox batters as soon as a runner stands on second base. But the more realistic explanation is that A.J. Pierzynski (0-for-6), Jonny Gomes (0-for-4) and Jackie Bradley Jr. (1-for-4) aren’t really the ones the Red Sox expect to lean on to be the main run producers this season. And David Ortiz (0-for-3) and Dustin Pedroia (0-for-2) probably will hit better than .000 with RISP this season.
It’s always frustrating to watch an individual game during which a team leaves 12 men on base while going 0-for-10 with RISP, but when a team hits as well as the Red Sox do, the runs will come. In bunches, usually.
The Concern: Clay Buchholz Getting Shelled In His Season Debut
Giving up six runs on 13 hits (two of which were homers) over 4 1/3 innings was quite the surprising start to the season for Clay Buchholz, considering he didn’t give up his sixth earned run until his seventh start of the season last year. Not once did he allow more than four earned runs in any of his 16 starts, and even then, he only allowed four runs on one occasion. And despite all those nagging injuries, Buchholz had exactly zero outings shorter than five innings last season.
So the moral of the story is that Buchholz had an uncharacteristically bad outing. But there’s not much reason to panic.
For one, it was cold out on Saturday night, and Buchholz’s short-sleeved wardrobe was probably better suited for sunny Fort Myers. He was kept as the fifth starter for a reason, because the team wanted to give him a little bit of additional time to rest and get ready for the season. He didn’t throw a baseball at all until mid-December after winning the World Series, and he entered camp a little behind his normal schedule.
It’s likely that he’s still not exactly caught up speed, and you saw it play out in the form of Saturday’s shellacking.
The end result for Buchholz will likely be that he finishes this season somewhere between that absurd 1.76 ERA from last season and his equally insane 12.46 ERA this year. And despite the early-season hiccup, it’ll end up being a whole lot closer to the former than the latter.
Yeah, a 2-4 start isn’t exactly what most Red Sox fans were hoping for coming out of the gate, but a lot of that can be contributed to that lack of timely hitting, with two of their losses coming by just one run. And it’s not as if last year’s team didn’t have its minor blips, too. The ’13 Sox had three-game losing streaks on three separate occasions in early May as part of a 2-9 stretch, when they were outscored by 31 runs. (By comparison, they’ve been outscored by five runs this year). When it happened last season, most analysts believed the Red Sox were leveling out, that the 20-8 start was an anomaly and that the Sox were at best a .500 baseball team. We know how that turned out.
So it’d be unwise to look at these early-season issues plaguing the Red Sox and make any grand assessments of the team. There has been cause for frustration, sure, and there should be at least some mild concern about the two starting position players already on the disabled list. But overall, the early struggles don’t appear to be part of a problem that will ultimately sink this 2014 team, and the chances are we’ll see that play out over the next few weeks.
The main thing the Red Sox have to worry about right now is their ability to dodge raindrops.
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