Trending in May — the Red Sox?
If you consider that they have won eight out of their last 13 games to end April with a 13-14 record, that’s probably a good bet.
“We’re moving in the right direction, finishing off the month in a positive way,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell after Wednesday’s game against the Rays was postponed because of inclement weather.
“We’ve had a more consistent offensive approach. We’ve gone through a number of challenges both performance-wise and with health that kept us from being full strength for most of the month. While the win-loss record is less than we had hoped for, we’re moving in the right direction.”
Farrell added that when it comes to the most important aspect of his team — starting pitching — “There’s more consistency that can be had. At various times, guys have performed up to their ability, but it’s more start after start that we’re still trying to strive for.”
Farrell also said there’s been no surprises in the AL East.
“Our view in our division is in line with what we thought this offseason that it was going to be — good teams that are going to beat up on one another, all bunched up,’’ he said. “The first month has indicated some of that.
“We can only look at our club and the things you can control. We’re in a healthier state now than when the season began, and that remains the case.”
As for being one game under .500 after going 18-8 in April last season, Farrell said he viewed it as “a continuation and a building. Recently we’re heading in the right direction. We’re one-sixth of the way through. There’s no final assessment right now.”
What can be drawn from this lackluster April?
Is it the reverse of 2013, when the Red Sox never lost more than three straight games? Did April set their championship season in motion, and therefore a lackluster April could be their downfall in 2014?
Last April, you would have thought a 13-14 start was fitting. Boston was coming off a 69-win season and David Ortiz and Stephen Drew were missing from the lineup. There were seven new free agents, and yet that April meshed and this one, on the heels of a championship season, didn’t?
The players don’t think this team has found its identity yet.
Farrell talked about the incorporation of two rookies — Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. — into the lineup, as well as Will Middlebrooks, another young player trying to find himself. For sure, people in the organization wondered whether trying to break in too many young players, especially up the middle of the field, would be difficult. So far, it has been.
It is why the team made a qualifying offer to Drew.
Suffice to say that two of the major ingredients that led to a world championship — pitching and defense — haven’t been there. The third element — clutch hitting — also has been missing.
The ability to manufacture early runs also has been nonexistent (Jacoby Ellsbury factor), which has led to playing so many games from behind.
Another factor is their 6-8 record at Fenway Park. If you can’t play over. 500 in your own ballpark, it makes it very difficult to win.
The Red Sox went 15-15 last May, so the strong start didn’t exactly lead to them running away with anything. If they have a strong May, who cares what happened in April?
The Red Sox have been clumped with the Orioles, Blue Jays, and Rays in that mediocre-to-lousy grouping while the Yankees have risen a tad higher.
The Rays’ and Yankees’ rotations have been hit by injuries. This is where Boston has a huge advantage.
So, what has happened?
Boston’s regular lineup hasn’t been together much. Shane Victorino is back, and that can only help.
Despite the demotion of Daniel Nava — the poster child for patience at the plate — the Red Sox were second in pitches seen per plate appearance with 4.57 going into Wednesday’s action. So that part is not the culprit.
The Red Sox have introduced new players Grady Sizemore and A.J. Pierzynski in addition to the rookies. Koji Uehara has had one shoulder-stiffness setback, but it didn’t last very long. Edward Mujica hasn’t quite been the force he was out of the Cardinals’ bullpen last season.
It’s obvious Bogaerts has nowhere near the range of Jose Iglesias or Drew, and that Bradley, despite being an outstanding center fielder, can’t replace Ellsbury’s offensive skills.
We compare the numbers of this April to last April, with the help of some Bill Chuck research.
We find that last April, with runners in scoring position, the Sox hit .310. Their 75 hits were tied with the A’s for tops in the majors. This April, the Sox are hitting .225. Their 54 hits are tied with the Twins and Angels for 13th.
Last April, with runners on base: the Sox hit .306, second only to the Rockies. Their 121 hits were tied with the A’s for third. This April, the Sox are hitting .242, 19th overall.
Last April, the Sox were 22 of 30 in stolen bases. This April, they were 9 of 16.
Last April, the Sox’ outfield hit .263 with four homers and 31 RBIs. This April, .221 with six homers and 34 RBIs.
Last April, the Sox’ infield hit .258 with 10 homers and 56 RBIs. This April, .264 with seven homers and 35 RBIs.
Last April, the Sox walked 97 times and whiffed 232 times. This April, 107 walks and 224 strikeouts.
Last April, Dustin Pedroia was homerless, but had 19 walks to go with his .337 average. This April, the second baseman is again homerless, but has only nine walks to go with his .270 average.
Last April, Sox starters had a 3.24 ERA, the fifth best in the majors. Their 1.244 WHIP was 10th. They were 15-4. This April, the starters have a 4.23 ERA, 21st, while their WHIP is 23d.
So you can see, last April and this April are night and day.
The Red Sox are hoping it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. They already have the curse of the 20-game mark hanging over them. Elias determined that the Red Sox have never made the postseason when they began a season under .500 after 20 games.
“Another challenge,” Farrell said.
They met and overcame every challenge last April, and every turn last season.
We’ll see if they trend positive in May.