NEW YORK — The Red Sox took two of three games from Baltimore to open the season and it appeared the defending World Series champions were again a formidable team.
They have since lost five of seven games and awoke Friday in last place in the American League East following a 4-1 loss against the Yankees on Thursday night.
There are a segment of Red Sox fans that revel in being miserable and this is their favorite time of the year. Those who live to complain have plenty complain about. The Sox aren’t hitting in the clutch, their defense is shaky and the pitching inconsistent.
Before jumping into the swamp, it’s worth reminding you of two things: The Sox are one whole game out of first place and they have played six percent of the season. A three-game win streak wipes away this whole mess.
But let’s parcel out what is going on here:
Poor play (30 percent of the problem): The Sox are hitting .202/.272/.298 with runners in scoring position. Their defense has accounted for five unearned runs being scored and Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront, and Edward Mujica each had brutal pitching performances that led to losses. Dustin Pedroia has a .565 OPS and Daniel Nava a .455.
Injuries (25 percent): The Sox haven’t had Shane Victorino all season and lost Will Middlebrooks after only four games. Victorino was a critical piece of the puzzle last season, offensively and defensively. His versatility has been missed. Middlebrooks got off to a decent start after a strong spring training then strained a calf muscle running sprints. The Sox will be better when they get back.
Resting on laurels (15 percent): The Sox had what can best be described as a relaxed attitude about spring training. They did their work but the games were tepid at best and they never had their entire lineup together. Then came a visit to the White House, the ring ceremony and assorted other times where everybody was slapping them on the back. Right about now, they’re probably starting to realize that 2013 is really over and 2014 doesn’t want to see your ring.
Missing Ellsbury (15 percent): The Red Sox were smart not to sink $153 million into Jacoby Ellsbury. But that decision was sure to bring some short-term pain and they’re feeling that. Sox leadoff hitters are hitting .158/.304/.184 and that’s not close to getting it done. They’ve scored four runs in 10 games and so far three players have tried hitting leadoff. Jackie Bradley Jr. is the long-term solution. Xander Bogaerts is a middle-of-the-order talent and should stay where he is.
Getting to know each other (10 percent): As of today, the Red Sox have seven players on the team who weren’t in the organization last season plus Bradley, who played sparingly in 2013. It’s unusual for a defending champion to turn over a third of its roster. This group has yet to figure out some roles.
Bad luck (5 percent): The Sox have a .231 batting average on balls in play with runners in scoring position, a number that suggests misfortune more than anything else. Bogaerts, as good as he has been, has hit four or five ropes that were caught. The Brewers won three straight at Fenway and have won three straight since. The Sox ran into them at the wrong time. These sorts of things always turn around.
The solution for now is to ride this out and let good players be good. April is no time for impatience. The 2013 Red Sox were 6-4 after 10 games and everybody thought that was wonderful. A two-game difference with all that has gone wrong and changed is not worth getting distressed about.Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.