McAdam: Sox season begins under much uncertainty

McAdam: Sox season begins under much uncertainty
April 5, 2012, 2:02 pm
Share This Post

DETROIT -- They spent the winter digging out from the worst finish to a season since 1978, a public relations nightmare that resulted in an off-the-field house-cleaning.

They hired a new general manager and a new manager, trying to rinse the organization of the mess that had been made.

For the most part, the roster underwent only minor revisions. Uncharacteristically, they seemed to spend much of the winter waiting for prices to drop, a far cry from just 12 months earlier when they handed out 142 million to Carl Crawford, traded for Adrian Gonzalez and, for what it was worth, "won the off-season."

They found themselves serving as punch lines for their clubhouse misdeeds. You couldn't think or say the words "fried chicken" or "beer" without first thinking of the Red Sox.

The cloud over them never seemed to lift. In January, Carl Crawford required wrist surgery, delaying his season and slowing his chances to make up for a terribly disappointing first season in Boston.

Spring training brought them a chance to turn the page, which, with an exception or two, they seemed to manage. Bobby Valentine, the new manager, displayed boundless energy and offered the promise of a re-boot.

All of which leads them here, to the 2012 season and the hope that accompanies Opening Day.

And never have the Red Sox needed a fresh start.

For the past 10 years, really, since the arrival of the team's ownership, the start of the season has meant great expectations. From 2003 through last fall, the Red Sox won two World Series, went to the seventh game of the American League Championship Series twice and qualified for the playoffs six times while missing out on a seventh trip in the final out of the final game.

Each Opening Day, the expectation was that the Sox would play deep into October, that another World Series title, or, at the very least, an American League pennant, would be within reach.

This year, for the first time in a long time, it's difficult to find that same optimism.

The Red Sox enter the year with two unproven starters, without their starting left fielder, and with questions about their shortstop.

Worst of all, they open the season without a proven closer. Andrew Bailey was supposed to fill that role, but a thumb injury late in March required thumb surgery Wednesday, sidelining him until past mid-season at minimum.

Every team is supposed to start the season 0-0, but it's hard not to think that the Red Sox aren't starting out with a deficit.

The early-season schedule does them no favors, with 15 games, right out of the chute, against contenders: Detroit, Toronto, Tampa Bay, Texas and New York.

Try as they might, they won't be able to ease into the season. The schedule is unforgiving. For a team which stumbled badly in the early going of the last two seasons, a challenge awaits them again.

All is not lost, of course. The offense is mighty and should produce more runs than most. The front end of the rotation, should it remain healthy, is formidable, with something to prove.

And their is the collective will of the team in general to distance itself from last September's disaster. Even for modern athletes with guaranteed contracts, pride can serve as a huge motivational tool.

Certainly, things could be worse. This is not Kansas City or Baltimore or Pittsburgh, where winning seasons are distant memories and not even the arrival of Opening Day supplies the necessary amount of optimism.

But for a team which hasn't made the playoffs in either of the previous two seasons, there is the nagging thought that the decade of excellence the Red Sox have enjoyed may have come to a close and hard times are ahead.

In that sense, as first pitches are thrown and anthem sung and the season begins, the 2012 Red Sox find themselves not only trying to run away from last fall, but also, rediscover what made them so successful in the not-too-distant past.