BOSTON (CBS) — The Red Sox won two out of three in Chicago over the weekend — against the worst team in Major League Baseball — to “improve” their record to a remarkably mediocre 33-33. Through roughly 40 percent of the season, the Sox sit at .500, unable to ever establish any sort of sustained success that you see from good baseball teams from time to time.
Yet, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal is holding onto his optimism in the Red Sox.
Rosenthal wrote on Monday that the Red Sox can still win the American League East, a division in which they sit in last place, 7 1/2 games behind the first-place Yankees, 6 1/2 games behind the second-place Orioles and four games behind the third-place Rays. All three of those top teams appear to be on their way to win upwards of 90 games this season, with the Yankees on pace to win 100, the O’s on pace to win 96, and the Rays on pace to win 91.
The Red Sox are on pace to win just 81, but according to Rosenthal, their “revival” can be kick-started by four simple steps: put Daniel Bard in the bullpen, “dump” Kevin Youkilis, trade for a starting pitcher and, whammy of all whammies, “be patient.”
Be patient. Really? With a makeshift pitching staff, a patchwork outfield and a clubhouse that’s reportedly more tense than a Christian Bale movie set, all the Sox need to do is just wait this one out and let the other teams start losing, and all will be fine in the world?
Really, while Rosenthal’s optimism is something we don’t often see too much of around here in Boston, it could dangerously misguide fans into believing that this team has a good chance of playing baseball in October. To try to combat that, let’s counter those four steps to success with 10 reasons they don’t have a chance (I was going to list 40 reasons, but in the interest of saving you some time, I’ve whittled it down to 10).
1. Their Record
Simple numbers here: At 33-33, the Red Sox have to go 57-39 the rest of the way just to win 90 games. That’s a .594 winning percentage for a team that’s spent exactly eight days over .500 since the season began on April 5. Their best record was 28-25, which represented a .528 winning percentage. And that only lasted for a day before the Sox lost three in a row and seven of their next eight.
And as it was mentioned earlier, 90 victories might be enough only for fourth place in the stacked AL East this year. Realistically, it’ll take between 93 and 96 wins to secure one of the wild-card spots. Are the Red Sox really capable of going 62-34 (.646 winning percentage) the rest of the way? All the patience in the world can’t win that many ballgames.
2. Starting Rotation
Last season, the Red Sox’ offense was prolific, while their pitching staff was downright abhorrent. That is why they collapsed in September and didn’t make the playoffs.
This year, it’s more of the same, with the Sox ranking 25th in team ERA, 19th in quality starts and 19th in batting average against. And all too much of that has to do with the starting rotation. No starter has an ERA below 4.00, and the top quartet of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Felix Doubront and Clay Buchholz has a combined 4.57 ERA. Any hope of Daisuke Matsuzaka returning from Tommy John surgery as a changed man has pretty much already been dashed, as he looks to be the same fourth or fifth starter he’s been for years.
In the middle of that mediocrity, Beckett’s on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation, and Clay Buchholz is asking for extra rest when the team needs him. Granted, Franklin Morales stepped in nicely, and the Sox have a day off to get their bullpen rested, but sitting out a nationally televised game for an extra day of rest isn’t exactly the type of attitude that can lead this team out of last place.
3. “Dumping” Helps Nobody
The idea of “dumping” Kevin Youkilis is an odd one, considering he’d still be an asset for a contending team in need of a consistent bat who can play either corner infield spot or serve as a designated hitter. In a normal world, the Sox could get plenty in return for a player like Youkilis, from a team looking for a short-term rental. The problem is, the rest of the league knows the Red Sox are not in a position of strength, and it will be nearly impossible for the Red Sox to get anything of value (at least for this season) in exchange for Youkilis.
While Rosenthal says “dumping” Youkilis is one of the four reasons the Red Sox can win the East, that statement simply makes no sense. Yes, it will put Will Middlebrooks in the lineup every day and it’ll get Adrian Gonzalez out of right field and back to first base. But since when does getting rid of a contributing player magically make a baseball team better? Curious, to say the least.
4. Bard Will Only Strengthen A Strength
Daniel Bard back to the bullpen? Sure. It’s not that he was the worst starter in the world, it’s just that he was a mess and looked like a shell of himself. So throw him back in the bullpen and see if he can rediscover his 99 mph fastball and become the guy who didn’t allow a run from May 27-July 31 last season.
There’s no problem with that, per se, but the bullpen hasn’t exactly been an area of weakness for the Sox. Since the beginning of May, it’s been the best bullpen in baseball, so while adding a potentially rejuvenated Bard can’t hurt, it also can’t really help. Even with the great bullpen, the Red Sox are 33-33. Maybe with Bard in the pen, they’d be, what, 35-32?
5. Carl Crawford
Look, when the Red Sox signed Carl Crawford, they were adding one of the most consistent players in baseball. He was a .300 hitter who wreaked havoc on the base paths and was at times spectacular in the outfield. Then he got to Boston and was just terrible. And that’s being nice.
Now that he’s on the road to recovery, you’ll hear some people say, “Well, Crawford is coming back soon,” as if that is a positive development. These people are clearly thinking of the Carl Crawford who was a very good player from 2003-10, not the player who hit .255 last season and is currently being taught how to throw a baseball. Expecting anything great out of Crawford when he returns (probably in July) would be lunacy.
6. The Lineup
Daniel Nava is an admirable baseball player. He works harder than anyone else and should be the model for any youngster hoping to one day play in the majors.
Still, when he’s second in OPS on your baseball team among regulars, you’ve got some serious flaws with your lineup.
And when 36-year-old Scott Podsednik, who was not a Major League Baseball player last year, is batting leadoff for you 11 times, and when Darnell McDonald (.213 average) and Nick Punto (.217) are being penciled in regularly, you’ve got major problems. When you’re going out and acquiring Marlon Byrd, only to later DFA him and keep the other guys, you have a weak lineup. There’s no way around that.
Not all of that is any one person’s fault. Injuries happen. But they also derail seasons, and this looks to be one of them.
7. Bobby Valentine
He called for a squeeze play on Sunday night, and that worked out great. Wahoo. The Red Sox still have a lot of issues, and Valentine may be one of them.
Even if you don’t believe he’s a problem, is there any reason to believe he’ll be a solution? His Mets teams weren’t exactly known as models of stability, and he’s 10 years older now. At times, you almost have to feel bad for him, as he looks to have been put in a position destined for failure. Then you remember he gets to dress up in a baseball uniform and that he’s making a boatload of money to do so, and those feelings subside. Still, is the guy who was parading the streets of Chicago inventing a new kind of rap (warning: some foul language) and the guy who makes excuses every night going to be the guy who leads this team to a miracle finish?
8. The Competition
Even if the Red Sox go on a miraculous run to win 95 or so games, there’s just no reason to expect the Yankees or Rays to fade away this summer. Of course, the Yankees can’t win nine out of 10 all the time, like they’re doing at the moment, but at 15 games over .500, it would take a special sort of collapse for them to drop wildly in the standings. The roster, despite its flaws, is not built for such a disaster.
Likewise, Tampa has allowed just 266 runs this year, second-fewest in the AL East, and steady pitching equals a steady team.
If there is a glimmer of hope, it’s that the Orioles could fall apart. Despite their 39-27 record, they a plus-15 run differential, which is worst in the division by a healthy amount. The O’s may not be “built to last” like the Yankees and Rays, but at the same time, they’re 6-3 against the Red Sox. Battling back against the O’s won’t be easy.
9. No Home-Field Advantage
The last time the Red Sox made the playoffs (2009), they went 56-25 at Fenway Park. The time they made the playoffs before that (2008), they had the same home record. In 2007, when they won the World Series and won the division, they went 51-30 at Fenway Park. In their World Series-winning season of 2004, they went 55-26 at home.
This season, they are 14-19 at Fenway Park. They are the only team in the AL East with a losing record at home, and they’re on pace to go 34-47 at home.
They do have time to improve upon that, but it would take a half-dozen Mother’s Day Miracles (and then some) to even make that record respectable. And if you don’t have home-field advantage, what do you have?
The Boston Red Sox have been a very good team for more than a decade now. They’ve won two World Series since ’04 and they made the playoffs six out of seven times from ’03-’09. They were unquestionably one of the best teams in all of baseball during that time … but they only won the division once. In fact, since 1991, they’ve won the division exactly twice.
They will one day win the division again, but it will likely be during a season in which they’re one of the better teams in baseball in mid-June, not the worst. It will not be this year.