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On baseball

Red Sox’ slump not as bad as it seems

Dustin Pedroia and the Red Sox have opened the season 1-5.

Frank Gunn/CP/AP

Dustin Pedroia and the Red Sox have opened the season 1-5.

TORONTO - They have lost five out of six games.

Their worst nightmare - a poor start following a 7-20 September and a 2-10 start last season - has come true.

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The energy that Bobby Valentine brought to spring training has dulled, though this is nowhere near the malaise of a year ago.

The question remains, as it did last September: “How do we win a baseball game?’’

Seven and 20 has turned into 8-25 since last Sept. 1. Is coming home to play the Rays, Rangers, and Yankees a good thing?

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“Nobody wants to win more than we do,’’ said Kevin Youkilis following Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to the Blue Jays. “This is our livelihood. We want this more than anyone.’’

We believe him.

One of the differences between this season’s poor start and last season’s poor start is that very desire.

Last year’s team began the season with severe lethargy. This year’s team has more energy but hasn’t had the luck and the execution, and the pitching and hitting have not yet been in synch.

Jon Lester, victimized twice already by a lack of thump from the offense, pointed out, “The games we pitch well, we don’t hit. The games we don’t pitch well, we hit.’’

Indeed.

Sometimes when you hear players and managers talk about hitting balls on the button but right at people, or saying that if balls were hit an inch one way or the other it would have been a different result, well, you roll your eyes. That’s true for any team.

However, some of that is going on. There have been well-hit balls that were caught. The Sox have indeed faced tough competition in the red-hot Tigers and up-and-coming Blue Jays. They have faced top-shelf pitching in Justin Verlander, Henderson Alvarez, Kyle Drabek, and Ricky Romero.

“You have to give the other team a little credit,’’ said Youkilis. “The pitching we’ve faced is tough. That’s no excuse, because we’ve got to overcome that.’’

Valentine has not jumped ship on anyone. He gave Alfredo Aceves a chance to straighten himself out after two shaky appearances, and the third time was a charm with a save Tuesday.

He has stuck with struggling hitters like Youkilis and Jacoby Ellsbury.

He has not pulled the plug on Daniel Bard as a starter even though every baseball scout you speak to who watches this team knows that Bard should be the closer.

Blame Valentine? Go ahead, if you want to. That’s a sport in and of itself in Boston. But he hasn’t exactly been dealt a great hand.

His left fielder couldn’t start the season. His closer is out until after the All-Star break. Two of the biggest pieces in his rotation (Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz) pitched awful in their first starts.

Felix Doubront pitched well in his, and Bard wasn’t bad, but neither pitcher has learned to economize, which means the bullpen must go three or four innings in their starts.

It’s a good thing that Vicente Padilla and Scott Atchison pitched so well in middle relief. But the other side of that is, when those guys have to pitch, it’s usually not a good thing.

What we’ve learned from six games is that this is a team a little short on just about everything right now.

The pitching staff doesn’t have the horses.

Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia are the only two hitters with home runs.

Ryan Sweeney has been better than expected, but Cody Ross hasn’t hit as expected.

Mike Aviles has been what the team thought he’d be: a guy who gives all-out effort but has limitations with range. As the season unfolds and scouting reports pinpoint his weaknesses, Aviles may be easier to get out.

The catchers also have struggled at bat, and their throwing has been erratic.

But what you get from listening to players is that they care. You can’t accuse this team of folding the tents.

“We’re trying out there,’’ said Pedroia. “We’re going up there battling on every at-bat. I know we’re all up there trying to start something.

“When it clicks, I think you’re going to see what this team is capable of doing.’’

Obviously, rhetoric is no substitute for results.

The Red Sox, unlike at times last season, do have reinforcements to call upon should they change their minds on some personnel decisions that seem to have been made even before spring training.

Waiting in the wings is veteran righthander Aaron Cook, who has a May 1 opt-out in his contract. It doesn’t appear that the Red Sox will get him to extend that date, and there already are teams waiting for May 1 to come around.

An American League Central scout said Wednesday, “I’ve already recommended that my team sign him. There’s going to be a lot of competition for him because he looks like he did a few years ago when he was a very good pitcher and an All-Star.’’

There is also Daisuke Matsuzaka. The thought of his return may not sit well with Red Sox fans, but he is throwing 94, and his arm seems electric again. He is slowly building toward a mid-to-late May return. And for the first time he feels comfortable in his Red Sox skin, because he has a manager with whom he can communicate.

While Justin Thomas didn’t do the job as the situational lefty in Tuesday’s loss, lefty specialist Rich Hill isn’t far from being ready.

Even before Hill returns, tall lefty Andrew Miller could be added as a bullpen piece. Sure, teams have been waiting forever for Miller to emerge. But maybe he is better than what they have on the roster.

And of course, young prospects can add spark to a team.

Jose Iglesias is off to another rough start at the plate in Pawtucket, but you can’t discount what his defensive ability can do for a struggling rotation.

If the catchers can’t hit, the Sox know they have Ryan Lavarnway ready to go. If they had to struggle a bit with his defense at first, they know the upside is his power and offense.

We know what can happen in these situations.

A team can turn it around quickly, and then things start looking so much better. The players you thought had holes in their games suddenly look different when the team is winning.

Right now, it may look like Valentine’s team is the same as Terry Francona’s. But look a little deeper. Because this time you can.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.
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