CLEVELAND — As they prepare to launch their 116th big league season at Progressive Field Monday, the Boston Red Sox are immersed in a sense of urgency.
Win now. Win today. Be careful not to get off to a bad start or we’ll render you mathematically eliminated from relevancy before Mother’s Day.
This feeling is all around the Red Sox, and it is the antithesis of baseball’s century-old mantra that the major league season is a marathon rather than a sprint.
Not this year. Not for the 2016 Olde Towne Team. An early-season slump simply will not fly with fans, bloodthirsty media, and, most important, new baseball boss Dave Dombrowski.
Despite one of the top payrolls in baseball, the Red Sox have managed to finish in last place in two consecutive seasons and in three of the last four years. They have won a playoff game in only one of the last seven seasons. Since this date last year, they have bounced CEO Larry Lucchino, fired GM Ben Cherington, dumped two coaches, spent $217 million to bring in ace David Price, and dealt four prospects to the Padres for closer Craig Kimbrel. Last week they essentially fired $95 million third baseman Pablo Sandoval and $72 million outfielder Rusney Castillo, benching both in favor of younger, cheaper models.
And then . . . the first question in John Farrell’s first press conference of the 162-game season was, “John, do you feel a sense of urgency to keep your job?’’
“Good morning to you, too,’’ said the startled manager before tackling the question certain to be asked almost daily as the Sox attempt to rise from the quagmire of bad baseball that has polluted three of the last four seasons.
Wow. Where else but Boston would a manager field a kickoff question about getting fired before a single game has been played?
And yet, in this situation, it’s a perfectly fair question. That’s the reality after everything that’s happened to this team starting with the epic collapse of 2011, and including the thrilling and somewhat inadvertent championship of 2013.
“There’s always a sense of urgency,’’ agreed Farrell. “We know exactly what we’ve lived through. . . . We embrace what all the people in our market expect — to be in it every year.’’
“Getting off to a good start is extremely important,’’ acknowledged Price, who’ll join Babe Ruth, Lefty Grove, Bruce Hurst, and Jon Lester (among others) in the roll call of Red Sox Opening Day southpaw starters.
“I think everybody is really excited about this team, it’s a very complete team,’’ added Price.
He later said, “This is the most relaxed I’ve been in a long time, knowing I’m going to be here for a long time. That’s not something I’ve had. To have that feeling now, it’s a good feeling.’’
Hmmmmm. Hope he still feels that way when the dogs back home start barking after the Red Sox’ first two-game losing streak. For $31 million per year over the next seven seasons, Price is the man expected to make the Red Sox whole again. And woe is the high-priced guy who fails in the Boston market. Ask Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez, Rick Porcello, or (big gulp) Sandoval.
Watch: Price, Ortiz on being teammates
‘You should be as urgent in game 79 as you are in game one . . . We’re trying to make a statement all year.’Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox second baseman
The 2016 Red Sox appear to be the most difficult team to project in all of baseball. You’ll see them picked as high as first and as low as fourth in the American League East. Sports Illustrated predicted the Sox would win a whopping 92 games, and USA Today picked the Sox to finish first. But six of six Globe baseball guys say no (five votes for Toronto, one for New York). Commissioner Peter Gammons ranks the Sox below Toronto, New York, Houston, Texas, Kansas City, and Cleveland in the American League. FoxSports ranks the Red Sox 19th out of 30 teams in baseball.
Now that’s range.
The questions are many. Can Clay Buchholz, Porcello, and Joe Kelly give the Sox any consistency beyond Price (Buchholz has been on the disabled list for six straight seasons, Porcello was awful — 9-15, 4.92 — after he signed for $80 million and Kelly pitched himself back to the minors in 2015)? Can Ramirez play first and will he start hitting again? Will Travis Shaw (third base) and Brock Holt (left field) cut it as everyday players? Is Blake Swihart ready for everyday catching in the bigs? Will David Ortiz’s legs hold out as he makes his farewell tour across Baseball America? Will Jackie Bradley hit? When will Eduardo Rodriguez and Carson Smith return from injuries? How bad is the Boston bench?
Watch: What is a Red Sox pitcher’s routine in between starts?
Will they get off to a good start? After the first three games in Cleveland, the Sox will play 13 consecutive games against American League East competition.
“We feel good about our team,’’ said Dustin Pedroia, the de facto captain of the Sox, who will be making his tenth consecutive Opening Day start for Boston.
What about the urgency?
“You should be as urgent in game 79 as you are in game one,’’ he countered. “Just because people think you need to start 20-0, that’s ridiculous. It’s not just Opening Day. We’re trying to make a statement all year. I think we’re always built for success. It’s just a matter of playing good.’’
While Pedroia spoke to a couple of reporters, Ortiz was holding court before cameras and a larger media group on the other side of the clubhouse. The two Sox leaders finished their interviews at the same time and when a couple of cameras came over to get a “round two,’’ with Pedroia, he politely declined, saying, “Got to go. Sorry. If not first, you’re last.’’
Words to live by for the Boston Red Sox.
Podcast: Talking pitching
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Shaughnessy.