Just when the Red Sox see a glimpse of optimism, another problem crops up. It’s that kind of season so far.
The Red Sox flew to Chicago after getting terrific back-to-back pitching performances from Felix Doubront and Clay Buchholz. Josh Beckett had pitched better than his numbers indicated, and Jon Lester has a solid track record. If Daisuke Matsuzaka could just be respectable, the Red Sox would have the makings of a very solid rotation.
Suddenly, a season filled with frustration and tension might just be turning in their direction even after losing 7 of 10. And then there was more bad news. Beckett would be played on the Disabled List with a sore right shoulder. If you’re keeping score, the Red Sox now have three of their four highest-paid players–Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and John Lackey–on the DL. Throw in Jacoby Ellsbury, Cody Ross and Andrew Bailey, and that’s $68 million of their $173-million payroll on the shelf. For you math whizzes, that’s 39 percent.
The Red Sox began the day having lost 706 games to injuries. Bobby Valentine has used six cleanup hitters and six leadoff hitters. At one point, the Red Sox had seven outfielders on the disabled list. Valentine has started seven different plays in center, six in right and five in left. They’ve also been in fourth or fifth place the entire season. This is the latest they’ve been in last place since September, 1997. They’ve had 14 straight losses by four runs or less, including seven by two or less.
Valentine is challenged on how best to get his best players in the lineup. So there was Adrian Gonzalez, a three-time Gold Glove winner at first, playing right field and letting a Ryan Dempster hit skip past him for a triple on Friday. Valentine settled on Gonzalez as the best way to put his usual DH, David Ortiz, in the lineup. He played first.
Meanwhile, rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who is hitting .290, wasn’t in the lineup at all. Instead, veteran Kevin Youkilis, a three-time All-Star hitting .212, was back in there. The Red Sox began the day 7 1/2 games behind the first-place Yankees, who’ve won 17 of 21. They’re five behind the Rays, who would get the fifth and final AL playoff berth if the season ended today.
If you see the glass as half full, you begin with that rotation. Despite the troubles, there’s still the makings of a very solid group. Offensively, the Red Sox have been fine even without Crawford, etc. Only the Rangers and Rockies have scored more runs. With Ellsbury and Crawford likely to play at some point this season, GM Ben Cherington should have the flexibility to add, say, a reliever or a starter in the next few weeks.
But the catch is that the salaries are so high that the Red Sox have a large number of players it would be hard to move unless they’re playing really well. And if they’re playing really well, it would be silly to move them because if Lester, Buchholz and Beckett are pitching well in October, the Red Sox are good enough to win.
If you catch the Red Sox on a certain day, you might see them as an aging club whose time has past. Catch them on another day, and they look plenty good enough, with roster dotted with tough, experienced, respected players, with guys who’ve been through the wars. To give up on them at this point would be silly. To believe in them would be, well, silly.