Maybe the 2014 Red Sox just aren’t very good.
The free-falling Sox (ode to Tom Petty?) were routed at Fenway Park again Thursday and have now lost seven in a row. Ace Jon Lester tried to stop the bleeding in the late-afternoon series finale, but fell behind, 7-1, in the second inning of a 7-2 loss.
That’s three straight to the Blue Jays, after three straight Fenway losses to the Tigers as the Sox were blanked in a homestand of six or more games for the first time since Daddy Butch Hobson was at the wheel in the rotten old days of 1994.
The Sox led for one half-inning out of 54 innings on the homestand. According to WEEI’s Alex Speier, they have not played nine consecutive home games without scoring at least five runs in one of them since 1968. Wow.
“There’s some frustration that everyone’s dealing with,’’ said manager John Farrell.
Question: Are these reeling Red Sox the real Red Sox? Was last year the aberration?
Because of who we are and where we live, we have a tendency to exaggerate achievements and overlook flaws of our local teams. Eight championships since 2001 and stable ownership with all four franchises have inflated perceptions of the Patriots, Bruins, Red Sox, and Celtics (yes, even them still).
There’s a general notion that the folks who run our teams are smarter and better than everyone else (wonder what Haywood Sullivan would think of that). Everything is awesome and any team that upends our team is merely lucky.
The recent fall of the Bruins is a nifty demonstration of this dynamic. We still can’t believe the Bruins were beaten by an inferior team. Must have been bad puck luck. Meanwhile, the Montreal Canadiens are firm in their assessment that the New York Rangers are the best team they’ve faced in the playoffs.
Which brings us back to the 2014 Red Sox, a defending championship team stepping on its own beard in the first 46 games of the season.
The Red Sox have enjoyed spectacular success in this century, winning three World Series while erasing the pain of 86 years of futility and frustration.
This spring, there was a popular perception that the Sox were stacked and bulletproof. They had enough pitching to stock two big league franchises and they were too smart to get caught in silly overspending for free agents. Fans applauded madly when the Sox let Jacoby Ellsbury walk. Who needs him?
But now we’re beginning to wonder about the company blueprint. Is this slow start of 2014 more the rule or the exception? Is this a true market correction? Do we need former Sox skipper Joe Morgan to come back and tell us, “These guys aren’t as good as everybody thinks they are”?
In the early part of the 21st century, the Sox truly were a powerhouse, annually winning 95 games and making it to the World Series or the seventh game of the ALCS four times in six years. Those days are over.
The Sox won a World Series last year, but 2013 looks more and more like an outlier season. If the Sox fail to make the playoffs this year, it will mark the fourth time in five seasons they have failed to make the postseason. It would mark the fifth time in six years that they have failed to win a postseason game.
Think about that: zero playoff wins in five of six seasons. Does that sound like a dynasty? Does it sound like a perennial powerhouse? Does it sound like achievement commensurate with a top-five payroll and the highest ticket prices in baseball?
“It’s been a grind of late, as we know,’’ sighed Farrell.
With his in-game strategy starting to come under fire (e.g. Tuesday’s weird bunt situations), Farrell has been a pillar of stability during this awful stretch of stinky starting pitching and inability to hit with runners in scoring position.
He has held the company line, defending the Bogaerts-Middlebrooks left-side failure, and explaining Felix Doubront’s collision with a car door and Clay Buchholz’s descent into meatball artistry.
It makes me wonder. How long before John Farrell snaps? I’ve only seen him angry twice (when Daisuke Matsuzaka critiqued Sox training methods in 2010, and this April in the Bronx when Raging Replays dogged the Sox), but it feels like a five-star Jack Nicholson nutty may be around the corner for the Dugout Duke of Fenway.
Early in Thursday’s game, Lester had the look of Lester under Bobby V in the sad summer of 2012. The ace surrendered bombs on back-to-back pitches in the first inning. Toronto led, 2-0, after seven pitches, and was up, 7-1, with two outs in the second.
Clearly at a loss without personal catcher David Ross, Lester regularly stared at plate umpire Gary Cederstrom, twice fired used baseballs at a Sox batboy near the on-deck circle, and barehanded a toss from first baseman Mike Carp after not getting the call on a double play attempt. He got back on track in the third, but it was too late. His record falls to 4-6.
“It’s not fun to go out and give up a bunch of hits,’’ said Lester.
This is bad. The 20-26 Sox are looking like worst-to-first-to-worst candidates. Only two American League teams have more losses than Boston. The Bobby Valentine Sox were 23-23 after 46 games in 2012.
It’s fine to keep saying that the Sox are only a few games out of first, despite the terrible start, but there are three teams in front of them and it doesn’t look like a wild card will come out of the AL East. They are digging a hole. It’ll take some work just to get to mediocre.