The Patriots were clobbered 41-14 by the Kansas City Chiefs on Sept. 29 last season. They were 2-2 and panic was in the air. Bill Belichick had built a terrible roster and Tom Brady was on the downslope of his career. At least that was the easy analysis.
To that point the Patriots had played 25 percent of their schedule. You know what happened next.
It’s a lesson worth remembering when contemplating the state of the Red Sox.
At 21-26, the Red Sox have played about 30 percent of their schedule. As awful as they have played — and, mercy, they have been awful — they are four games out in the AL East with 115 to go.
So dispense with the idea that general manager Ben Cherington and/or manager John Farrell will get fired any time soon. That’s not going to happen. The Red Sox have not fired a manager mid-season since Jimy Williams in 2001 and have never fired a GM during the season.
Ownership feels so strongly about Cherington that he was the only candidate considered for the job after Theo Epstein quit in 2011. It was only a few months ago that principal owner John Henry, who also owns the Globe, said the Red Sox have never been in better shape as an organization.
That’s obviously not true, given what has transpired, but it’s a tough statement to walk back from before the season ends.
Farrell is as tied to Cherington as any manager can be to a GM. They work in concert and share the same philosophies. Farrell can deviate from the plan at times, like when he pitched to Nelson Cruz in Seattle, but for the most part he carries out the wishes of the GM.
For now, and through the end of the season, they’re safe barring some sort of incident that forces Henry to act. Let’s not forget, the Cherington/Farrell combination won the World Series in 2013. That may be an outlier season, but it did happen.
If the Red Sox finish in last again, Henry may have little choice at that point but to seek new leadership. The Red Sox are 258-275 in Cherington’s tenure as GM. His .484 winning percentage falls far short of what Epstein (.575) and Dan Duquette (.533) did. For a team with the resources of the Red Sox, winning 48 percent of the games is unacceptable.
If Cherington goes, so does Farrell. That would seem clear.
For now, it’s better to focus on what can be done to improve the next 115 games.
Cherington, if only to save his job, must dip into his precious stock of prospects and improve the rotation if the offense shows it can do its part. The Sox also could stand to clear out some of their roster deadwood and bring in a veteran player with a personality like Jonny Gomes or David Ross to add some life to a sleepy clubhouse. Or how about some speed? The Sox have 14 steals, the second-fewest in the American League.
Farrell must take a firmer hand with even his veteran players. The Sox are much too comfortable for a team playing so poorly. That Dustin Pedroia is the only position player genuinely ripped when the Sox lose is a bad sign.
When he was the pitching coach, Farrell was a forceful presence who made it clear he expected performance. He should channel some of that into his managing.
Cherington and Farrell aren’t getting fired any time soon. The Red Sox aren’t the banana republic Marlins of Jeffrey Loria. But if they want their jobs come October, something has to change.
At some point, all this being so smart has to show up in the standings.
A few other Red Sox notes and observations from the road trip:
■ Shane Victorino has played 172 of a possible 371 games since he signed a three-year, $39 million deal with the Sox. It’s only going to get worse, too.
Victorino is on the disabled list for the second time this season and the odds of him playing another 50 or so games this season are slim.
Victorino, 34, has played professional baseball since 1999. Counting the minors and the postseason, he has played 2,025 games and his body is paying for that.
Victorino is not soft. He has broken down. There’s a big difference.
In the end, Victorino will almost certainly play fewer than 50 percent of the games over the three years of his deal.
But the contract was a good one for the Sox no matter what happens. Victorino was second on the team in WAR in 2013 and it’s fair to say the Red Sox might not have won the World Series without him.
Victorino had an .801 OPS that season. He hit for power, stole 21 bases, and played premium defense in right field, compiling a 24 Defensive Runs Saved. Victorino drove in 12 runs in 14 postseason games.
Off the field, Victorino was one of the biggest personalities in the clubhouse. He helped set the tone with his passion and nonstop chatter. At a time when the Red Sox needed energy after a lifeless 2012 season, he was human Red Bull.
It probably won’t end well in Boston for Victorino. The Red Sox need to make room for Rusney Castillo, a $72.5 million player who is already 27. Victorino will either carve out a part-time role, mark time on the DL, or get released.
Fans who forget what he meant to the team criticize Victorino on social media and that’s too bad. He’s the kind of player who should be celebrated, not chased away. Castillo would do well to accomplish half of what Victorino has in baseball.
■ Sure, the Red Sox should trade for Cole Hamels. But this team is more than one player away from being a legitimate contender. Trading for Hamels doesn’t improve the offense. The hitters need to earn Hamels first.
■ Remember those “He’s the ace” and I’m the ace” t-shirts that Clay Buchholz bought for his rotation mates in spring training? Haven’t seen them in weeks.
■ John Lackey has a 3.18 ERA in nine starts and is playing for $507,500. Meanwhile Allen Craig is in Triple A and Joe Kelly probably should be.
■ Remember Mike Aviles, who played for the Sox from 2011-12? He was the original Brock Holt, a guy who could play most anywhere. He also was incredibly gracious with fans and the folks who work at Fenway Park, a gem of a person.
One of Mike’s daughters, 4-year-old Adriana, has leukemia and to support her, his Indians teammates all shaved their heads. What a heartwarming gesture.
■ Here is my David Letterman story, kind of. The New York chapter of the BBWAA holds a dinner every January in Manhattan to honor the winners of the MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, and Manager of the Year awards. All of the winners show up along with assorted Mets and Yankees.
It’s a terrific event and several thousand fans attend.
Eric and Justin Stangel were writers for Letterman from 1997-2013 and eventually executive producers of the show. They are two of the funniest people walking the planet and big-time sports fans.
My good friend Mark Feinsand of the Daily News invited the Stangels to the BBWAA dinner a few years ago and they attended the pre-dinner reception with the writers, players, and other guests. They were so grateful and thrilled to be there, thanking us over and over again. Two guys who work with celebrities all the time were excited to talk to a bunch of writers.
■ Hitting coach Chili Davis was a switch hitter during his career and an excellent one. Yet the Red Sox can’t figure out how to fix Pablo Sandoval’s righthanded swing? That doesn’t make much sense.
■ Eduardo Rodriguez starts on Thursday, his major league debut. The Sox didn’t exactly make it easy for him. Texas has been playing well, is fifth in the league in runs and plays in a hitter-friendly ballpark. If Rodriguez handles that challenge, sending him back to Pawtucket will have fans howling in dismay.