CHICAGO - If they had lost five straight, we’d be killing them. The talk shows would be tearing them apart from limb to limb.
So now they have won five straight and it’s time to heap praise on a Red Sox team that could have easily gone into oblivion. Thanks to a 10-3 win Friday night in Chicago, they are on the verge of being a .500 team after their 4-10 start.
We’re going to give them a little love.
Their last loss came last Saturday against the Yankees, when they had a 9-0 lead after five innings and then gave up the next 15 runs.
Bobby Valentine told the team after that game they had hit rock bottom. The Sox haven’t lost since.
They beat up on awful Twins pitching, but give them credit here in Chicago. They beat Phil Humber, who had pitched a perfect game in his previous start, and on Friday night, they beat up on lefty John Danks.
Dressed in facemasks and neck wraps on a cold Chicago night, the Red Sox looked as if they had just gone downhill skiing. But quite the contrary, their slope is uphill.
Suddenly, Valentine isn’t wearing a dunce cap. If he were doing this at Fenway, the knee-jerk, fair-weather fans who booed him would probably be keeping their yaps shut.
The Daniel Bard-to-closer talk has died down.
There’s no cry for Jose Iglesias’s defense over Mike Aviles’s offense.
You never hear about Ryan Lavarnway replacing Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Kelly Shoppach.
And although Carl Crawford might be out three months with an ulnar collateral ligament sprain, it feels less ominous to a team that’s already missing Jacoby Ellsbury, because Cody Ross, who knocked in two more runs Friday night and now has 17 RBIs on the season, is driving in big runs, and Ryan Sweeney is hitting .383.
The Marlon Byrd acquisition from the Cubs has created some energy.
After the Yankees loss, Ross said the awful start - and that awful game - was discussed.
“It was bottom. It felt like we needed to get on the road, even though it’s tough to win on the road and you always have an advantage when your home because you have the crowd behind you,’’ he said. “But sometimes when you’re struggling, sometimes it’s best to go on the road and get away.’’
What’s changed for a team that was the laughingstock of baseball?
Could it be being away from the pressure of Fenway Park and the hometown crowd?
Whatever it was, the negativity has been replaced by optimism.
Even a move like Rich Hill coming up from Pawtucket, activated after his rehab from Tommy John surgery, has boosted the bullpen. Hill becomes the lefty specialist the Sox hadn’t had.
It allows Valentine not to have to turn to Justin Thomas, or to use righthanders when he really needs to use a lefty. He can now concentrate on setting up his bullpen with Franklin Morales leading to Alfredo Aceves as the closer.
Is it perfect? Surely not. There will likely be more tweaking since the Red Sox can’t possibly allow Aaron Cook to escape May 1 without bringing him up.
The Red Sox are surely not out of the woods. Who knows whether Aviles’s bat will stay hot. Who knows if David Ortiz will continue to carry the offense, as he got the Sox on the board with a two-run homer in the second inning Friday.
Who knows when role players like Darnell McDonald (four RBIs) - who cleared the bases with a bases-loaded double in the sixth - becomes a non-essential piece.
And if there are any more injuries - to Ortiz, Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, or Ross - how could they possibly handle things then?
But right now there isn’t a care in the world.
Oh, they’d love to see Clay Buchholz smooth out his starts and Felix Doubront go deeper into games. They would love to see Jon Lester become that consistent ace. They’d love to get Mark Melancon straightened out in Pawtucket so they can add him to the set-up mix.
At some point, they will have “good’’ problems such as making room for Cook and then Daisuke Matsuzaka.
“The thing about this team,’’ Ross said, “is even when we were in a funk we were still all positive and behind each other. Nobody turned their back on anyone and that’s what you have to do to get out of these situations. We have a long way to go, but we have to keep the mind-set of winning series and if we do that we’ll get to where we need to go.’’
There is now music in the clubhouse after games.
The quiet, sinking feeling is gone.
Who knows if this team just needed more time to get to know one another better.
Certainly, Valentine is still getting to know his players and what they can and can not do.
There’s been a different means to the end during the five-game winning streak, and that means that a lot of people are getting involved in creating the positive atmosphere that’s now prevalent.
Did the tough schedule at the start of the season blindside them?
They had to play Detroit when they were hot, Texas, which has been the best team in the league, and the Yankees, who are always difficult.
“But you can’t blame it on that because the schedule winds up being the same for everyone,’’ Ross said. “We never used that as excuse because we know we have to beat those teams just like we’re beating these teams now.’’
There are happy faces again.
What looked and felt like a disaster a week ago is suddenly upbeat.
We give credit where credit is due. They stopped the negativity in its tracks.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.