No disrespect to the Marlins with their four wins, or the Reds with their five, or the Rockies and Royals with their six, but nobody expected greatness from them.
Today, the Red Sox (6-13, .316) are the worst team in the American League. And, to be blunt, based on expectations, payroll and record plus a minus-43 run differential, they are playing like the worst team in baseball. That’s harsh, but for today, that’s fair. And while it still feels reasonable to say the Red Sox are not going to stay stuck at the bottom of the standings over their remaining 143 games, it would be a dereliction of duty to exonerate their performance as nothing more concerning than hitting a pothole, needing a new hubcap and perhaps a re-alignment before resuming a drive — which now sounds so quaint — to repeat as world champions.
Remember, the organization was so enamored of the 2018 Red Sox that it performed what amounted to an oil change and tune-up for 2019. But here we are, 12 percent into the season and the team is putt-putt-puttering around like a jalopy rather than a sleek sedan. For sure, the front office and coaches are using all the tools and diagnostic devices at their disposal to make the repairs. However, the Red Sox’ team of mechanics are not magicians. The Sandy Leon-for-Blake Swihart switcheroo on Tuesday was the first sign of the overhaul, and the sad reaggravation of Dustin Pedroia’s knee injury will likely be the excuse the team needs to take a long look at Tzu-Wei Lin at second base or else trade for their 2019 version of Ian Kinsler a lot earlier than they had to last year.
Where are the 2019 Red Sox headed?
There are essentially three ways in which this season can play out, so let’s examine them from best- to worst-case scenarios.
Didn’t mean to scare anyone, pass the pom-poms:
Half-full types can glom onto this point of view, which calls for dismissing what you’ve seen as an aberration. Yes, it looks as if the slow ramp-up of the starters’ schedule in the spring was a tad too conservative but (wipes sweat from brow) they’re going to be fine here on out. Recent starts from David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez and Nathan Eovaldi certainly are encouraging, and fingers are crossed that Chris Sale and Rick Porcello will also pitch to their potential beginning … very soon.
Second base is going to be fine. Maybe Pedroia’s “weird” knee injury re-aggravation Wednesday night was the last flare-up of that lingering injury and the 35-year-old will bounce back to resemble the last season he was Dustin Pedroia, back in 2016. Also, Mookie Betts’ slow start is nothing to worry about — small sample size.
This scenario assumes the Red Sox can win at least 90-95 games by season’s end and make it into the playoffs via another division crown or fine, the wild card. They would have to play at a .587 clip to win 90, at a .622 clip to win 95, but hey, since last year’s 108-win team played at a .667 clip, that will not be a problem.
The list of hopes and aspirations in this scenario is a long one. It is also a fantasy, an outdated holdover from the honeymoon that set in last Oct. 29 right after the Red Sox won the World Series and everyone decided history could repeat itself by showing up, and no one will have a down or even middling season.
Wow, that iceberg left a pretty big hole in the hull, but we can plug it and sail on:
This is the realist’s view of the world, a pragmatic approach that focuses just as much on proactive moves as it does waiting for slow starters (not only rotation members) to emerge from hibernation. In this scenario, Betts will heat up, as will J.D. Martinez, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Steve Pearce. The rotation’s generally positive trend will have to continue. Second base has to be addressed, which is ironic, since the presence of the underrated D.J. LeMahieu on the Yankees roster this past series was a reminder the Red Sox could have been less hopeful about Pedroia’s recovery this winter by making a run at the free agent. But moving on, the outlook for Pedroia is not rosy. Lin deserves a long look. Michael Chavis, who has split time between second and third base at Triple-A Pawtucket, could get a look as well. Chavis is not viewed yet as a reliable defensive middle infielder but his bat will be tempting.
The other weak spot is center field. Bradley looks lost at the plate. His defense is too valuable to sacrifice, but it’s highly frustrating he has not been able to replicate the offensive approach he had late last year. Will the Sox retain patience with Bradley?
Overall, this scenario means the Sox will, by any means necessary, strive to return to the playoffs by keeping the core intact, aggressively making changes and keeping a hopeful eye on the medium-term horizon for regulars to resume playing like they should be.
The sky is falling:
Sale never regains his form, the other starters never turn around, the heavy usage of the bullpen catches up to them, doubts, worries and no answers grow into a distraction. It’s not difficult to project how this start is only a preview because the Red Sox are already living it. Teams usually wait until the end of May before making grim prognoses, but if the Sox realize their win-now window slammed shut last year and they have no shot at the playoffs, you’ll see the usual signs of distress. Scapegoats will be found (teams tend to start with the coaches) and then the speculation will swirl that it’s time to start over by selling off parts not assured of being around for the long term. Trade Martinez or Betts? Trade David Price or Porcello? Everything and everyone will be on the table. It will not be pretty but you’ll recognize that by referring back to today.