On May 29, the Red Sox beat the Tigers 6-3 at Fenway. In the process, they improved their record to 25-24 and climbed over .500 for the first time all season.
This the .500 mark isnt something we typically celebrate around here, and this year was no exception. But while the champagne (of beers) wasnt popping, there was an undeniable sense of relief: "OK, they did it. Theyre going to be all right." Even if .500 isnt the mark of a champion (well, it depends on who you ask), its the sign of a team thats headed in the right direction, that has some fight left in their seven-figure bones, that might even stick around long enough to make run later this summer. Or so we thought. Why not? Its not like the Orioles and Blue Jays are ready to win the division. The Yankees are old and without their anchor. The Rays have the arms but lack the serious bats. In a perfect world, with everyone healthy and every aspect of the team playing up to its potential, no ones better than the Sox. AL East champs: Why not them?
That faith was rewarded, as the Sox won three of their next four games against the Tigers and Blue Jays and moved to 28-25, within only two games of first place. At that point, we just assumed the depths of sub.-500 ball were a thing of the past. Like last year, just something they needed to get out of their system before realizing their potential (but hopefully not falling off a cliff down the stretch).
That was 10 days ago.
It might as well be 10 years.
The Sox have now lost seven of their last eight and are back below .500, back in last place, six and a half games behind the division-leading Rays and Yankees. But while the struggles are all too familiar, the source is unexpected its the bats.
Scoring was the one thing we never worried about with these guys. For most of the season, even without Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford and, basically, Adrian Gonzalez in the mix, the Sox were and still are the second-highest scoring team in baseball. And even if that stat is slightly misleading (they have a knack for blowouts, so a lot of their runs are scored in games that are already decided), theres never been a question of the true strength of this Sox team: The bats. The bats!
Lately, not so much. The Sox have only scored 10 total runs on this current four game losing streak. Over the course of this recent 1-7 stretch, theyve been held to only one run on three occasions and scored more than five runs only twice. Meanwhile, the pitchers have been far from dominant but have certainly performed well enough to win. Some wonder if its time for the starters to put on their Papi hats and call a team meeting (Note to reporters: If theyre anything like Papi, DO NOT bring up this meeting), but Im not sure what that will do. Call me crazy, but I dont think the line-up, as futile as its been, deserves anything near the treatment that the staff received earlier in the year.
Back then, the starting rotation was at full strength and getting knocked around by Oakland, Baltimore, Kansas City and Cleveland this after sucking it up in September and forming the nucleus of the collapse. Meanwhile, this lineup has been in shambles since day one and has been more resilient than we could have ever imagined. Whether it was losing Ellsbury, Crawford and every other outfielder, or Youks injury, Pedroias injury and Adrian Gonzalezs struggles, the offense has had plenty of chances to go belly up, but theyve kept on fighting. They havent always won, but theyve stayed afloat. And yeah, theyve been pretty awful as of late, but they were also up against the hottest pitching staff in baseball, and then Josh Johnson, a very good pitcher whos only a year and change removed from the NL ERA crown.
Good pitching beats good hitting, and lately the Sox have been up against some pretty damn good pitching. We're really going to over react? Aren't they entitled to a slump? Considering the competition and the mounting injuries, shouldn't we have almost expected the slump?
Eh, with the money the Sox are paying these guys even in the face of all these injuries you never expect a slump, but all I'm saying is at the very least we should tolerate it, and save our judgment for once Ellsbury and Crawford are back, and Gonzalez presumably (he HAS to, right?) snaps out of this ridiculous funk. And hope that when it happens, the pitching is still holding strong, still keeping up their end of the bargain. Because we all know the potential that lies within that Sox clubhouse. That as horrendous as they've been as a whole this season, they're still only six and a half games back, and they're up against teams with plenty of problems of their own. First place? Why not them?
But first, let's get back to .500.