BOSTON (CBS) — The 2018 Red Sox campaign was as enjoyable of a regular and postseason as we’ve ever witnessed in Boston, for any of the pro teams. The Red Sox tallied 108 regular season wins before going on a dominating 11-3 playoff run through arch-rival New York, the defending World Series champions in Houston, and long time city-rival Los Angeles.
It was the equivalent of going 16-0 AND winning the Super Bowl. Perfection.
But, it’s over. Done. Gone.
I liked Alex Cora’s approach of embracing the success of 2018 while simply adding a new chapter, rather than “turning the page.” However, it is indeed time to turn the page.
What the Sox did last year in an intense sports city is not an easy task, and there’s bound to be a hangover. I remember seeing a player for the first time down in Fort Myers and having him tell me that he was still tired from the postseason, but knew he had to get it going again. Yes, it’s not easy physically and mentally, which is why repeating hasn’t been done this century.
And, heck, the team that won 108 games went just 3-4 in Oakland and Seattle last season. But, it’s time for this Red Sox team to wake the heck up! It’s not necessarily the 2-6 record. It’s the way they’re playing and managing that is so bothersome.
What was so impressive about the 2018 team was the team’s aggressiveness from day one of the regular season. Betts, Benintendi, Martinez, Bogaerts and the bunch were relentless. Not this year. The offense hasn’t been awful, but the game plans have felt ineffective, at best, at times.
And the one player that shows me this is J.D. Martinez. He’s hitting .364 with three homers and eight RBIs, but more importantly he’s stepping in to the batter’s box with a clear plan. He’ll attack the first pitch or know what pitch he wants and will wait for it. It sounds simple and, yes, there have been hard hit balls, but too many hitters throughout the lineup look off. It’s time for everyone to get on the same page heading into games.
While the hitting has been OK, Boston’s starting pitching has been atrocious. Slowing down the starters in spring because of their extensive use last October was a good idea, but the problem is their pitchers aren’t executing the economical game plans that are in place.
Chris Sale has to be healthy. There’s no way Dave Dombrowski would sign him to an extension if he wasn’t, nor would they let him pitch. Slowing him down? I get it because of his fatigue issues in August and September throughout his career. But, it’s almost impossible to expect an athlete to do anything at 70-80 percent. To go from airing it out at 96-98 MPH to locating at 89-92 MPH is not easy.
Sale was much better in his second start than he was on Opening Day. But, he’s also a tone-setter for that rotation, with his no fear “here I come right at you” aggressiveness. It’s not his fault, but that’s not visible when you slow things down.
As for the rest? You can’t get up 2-0 on a hitter and groove a fastball right down the middle, something Eduardo Rodriguez did Thursday to Stephen Piscotty, when the A’s outfielder blasted a three-run homer off the Boston lefty. With the Sox wanting (and needing) their starters to be more efficient, it magnifies each and every pitch. Execution is the key and there is less room for error. Yet, we’re seeing Rodriguez and Nate Eovaldi run up pitch counts to where they’re barely making it to the fifth inning.
Alex Cora and his staff need to do a better job at getting the urgency back into this team. He’s always stressed that his players need to “show up to the park, prepare, play smart, play your butt off” and good things will happen.
Right now, a solution seems simple. The “smart aggressiveness” is gone. It needs to come back. Everyone needs a mirror. Give it a good look, play with exuberance, and start turning this season around. That has to start today.