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If paying attention to the news of Major League Baseball is part of your daily diet, then there is little questioning that you have heard about the early struggles of some of the League’s perennial contenders. St. Louis, San Francisco, Minnesota, and Tampa Bay, all playoff teams in 2010, have limped out of the gates. But the worst start of all belongs to…
…the Boston Red Sox. That’s right, Red Sox Nation. Kansas City, a team that hasn’t finished over .500 since 1994, is five games up on the BoSox at this point. Fans throughout the (Red Sox) Nation are panicking. But are the early season struggles warranted?
Boston spent freely in the offseason, making major upgrades offensively by adding left fielder Carl Crawford ($142 million) and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez ($161 million). The result thus far has been mixed. As a team, the Sox are hitting only .230, and have managed only seven homeruns (which is worse than every other American League team but Minnesota, which has three).
Crawford has yet to find a groove in Beantown. In 11 games, Crawford has six singles, two steals, one double, and eight strikeouts. If history prevails, though, fans will have little to concern themselves as the season moves forward. Crawford has never hit lower than .273 in the regular season, and his career averages of 53 steals and 77 runs batted in give Red Sox fans some room for optimism. It is likely that, when Crawford adjusts to playing in a major baseball town, that the old “C.C.” will rise to the occasion.
The start of his Red Sox career has not been as rough for Gonzalez. Although his starts in the past two seasons have been much better, Gonzalez has still managed a .268 average and 18 total bases. His RBI totals should increase with better production from the hitters batting in front of him. Of his table setters, only Dustin Pedroia (.366) is reaching base with any regularity. Gonzalez is another guy with proven pedigree (30 homers, 100 RBIs, .280 average over the past four seasons), so things are bound to eventually come around.
Problems in the Sox camp have stemmed from the back-end of the pitching rotation. The team earned run average of 6.77 is the worst in all of MLB. After Josh Beckett and Jon Lester (who has started to show some signs of life), Boston is, well, bad. Clay Buchholz, who just signed a $30 million extension, is 0-2 with a 7.20 ERA. In his 10 innings pitched, he has allowed five homers. John Lackey, who at $15.25 million this season might be the highest-paid fourth starter in the majors, is awful. Lackey has allowed 15 earned runs in 8.2 innings. His end of the rotation mate Daisuke Matsuzaka has been equally as bad. Dice-K has allowed 10 runs in seven innings (2 starts) and was unable to get out of the second inning of his last appearance (Monday against Tampa).
Things aren’t all that bright in the Boston minor league system either. In AAA, the Sox have few options to contend with what is already on the Major League roster. Alex Wilson, a 24-year-old righty at Portland (AA) may be a stop-gap. Or Boston could call on touted prospect Felix Doubrount or not-quite ready Kyle Weiland. A Red Sox blog has been calling for the return of Pedro Martinez. With the state of the rotation, no measure can be ruled out of the equation.
One thing that will keep Boston competitive is their willingness to leverage prospects (and money) in trade negotiations. The Red Sox will leave no stone unturned in the search for trade bait to fuel their machine. Never do Boston fans settle for a “rebuilding year.” Management will continue to look for upgrades, and that promise is something that offers unlimited upside.
Eventually or unfortunately (depending on your viewpoint), the Red Sox will find their way. The team has too much talent and financial means to stay down for too long. Because of the competitiveness of the American League East, the team will have to fight a little harder than others. Comebacks from bas starts have been made before. The 2001 Oakland A’s (Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, and Mark Mulder) didn’t reach .500 until July and still managed to make the postseason. The’91 Twins started 2-9 and still won the World Series (remember Jack Morris?).
2-9? Gahbidge. The Sox are still only five games out of first place.