Still reason to believe Sox are better than this

Still reason to believe Sox are better than this
April 9, 2014, 10:30 am
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After the Red Sox' 10-7 defeat to the Texas Rangers Tuesday night, outfielder Jonny Gomes was asked if the recent spate of defeats was perfectly indicative of a team that was "scuffling'' -- that is, managing to find a different way to lose every night.
     
"I don't think we're scuffling,'' insisted Gomes. "I just don't think we've started yet.''
     
While understandable, such a pronouncement is, at the very least, misguided. The Sox have lost four out of five at Fenway to start their first homestand, with three of those losses to the Milwaukee Brewers, a club whose best hope would seem to be a .500 season.
     
On the other side of rationality spectrum sit some fans who are ready to declare that the Red Sox are too self-satisfied after their World Series win a year ago, that the entire 2013 season was a fluke and that GM Ben Cherington was derelict in his duty all off-season.
     
All of this comes, of course, after a mere eight games, or almost exactly five percent of the season.
     
The truth, as is often the case, lies somewhere in the middle and some perspective is in order.
     
1) The Red Sox are scuffling. And that may be putting it mildly.
     
Since they returned from Baltimore -- and in retrospect, the two-of-three that the Sox took in Camden Yards is looking less impressive as the Orioles stumble through the first two weeks -- the Sox have played flat, uninspired baseball.
     
The defensive lapses are alarming, even allowing for the injuries that have hit the team in the early going. Misplays by Daniel Nava Sunday led directly to a loss to Milwaukee. Only one American League team has made more errors (seven) than the Sox in their first eight games.
     
Meanwhile, the Red Sox' offense has yet to get rolling. The team sports a putrid .316 OBP from the leadoff spot -- and that came after Gomes reached base three times in five plate appearances from the top spot Tuesday night.
     
Neither bullpen newcomer -- Burke Badenhop and Edward Mujica -- has pitched well. Had Badenhop done even a reasonable job in long relief Tuesday night, the Sox might have had a chance to make their late-inning offense awakening (six runs in the last three innings) mean something instead of serving as statistical window dressing.
     
Mujica, entering a tie game in the ninth inning in the home opener, imploded, helping the Brewers to four runs and a win, spoiling a solid start from Jake Peavy.
     
Offensively, the Sox are slugging a paltry .389 and have scored two runs or fewer in two of the five home games.
     
On the other hand...
     
2) No, the 162-game 2013 season and ensuing post-season run were not flukes.
     
How can it be that a six-month season in which they led virtually from start to finish, then survived a gauntlet of top-notch pitching from playoff opponents constitutes a fluke, but eight games in 2014 represents a significant sample size?
     
Answer: it can't.
     
The sloppy, poor execution that has typified the team's play in the first 10 days would hardly seem to be representative of a roster which was the very antithesis of that last season.
     
In 2013, the Red Sox seldom beat themselves. They were focused, played sound foundamental baseball and took advantage of nearly every opening their opponents provided.
     
Injuries happen to every team, and the Sox are fortunate that the two ones they've sustained to date -- Shane Victorino and Will Middlebrooks -- are minor in nature: both are muscle pulls that should sideline the players no more than a few weeks.
     
But Victorino's absence has exposed some defensive shortcomings in the outfield, especially in right, which Victorino played with expertise last season.
     
Nava has improved greatly as a left fielder, but is merely adequate -- at best -- in the more spacious, unforgiving right field of Fenway. Expect to see more of Jackie Bradley Jr. there, especially since he's begun to earn more playing time with his bat.
     
The offense has been anemic in the early going. But one encouraging sign indicates the Sox haven't gotten away from their basic approach: as a team, they have a .349 on-base percentage, meaning most of the Red Sox hitters are continuing to see pitches and grind out at-bats.
     
(The notable exception here is A.J. Pierzynski, whose aggressiveness at the plate is almost comical. Then again, Pierzynski is hitting .333 and the Red Sox knew what they were getting when they signed him. And while Pierzynski doesn't fit with the general team philosophy, a team can afford to carry a player or two in the lineup that goes against the grain, as the Sox have done in the past with the likes of Mike Lowell).
     
Badenhop and Mujica, as disappointing as they've performed, are not likely to continue to pitch this poorly. Each has a substantial track record of success in the big leagues. And as for the suggestion by some that one of the two veterans should have been shipped to Pawtucket instead of Brandon Workman, such a move would have been impossible, since both Badenhop and Mujica have too much service time to be sent on minor league assignments.
     
As for the assertion that Cherington and the rest of the Baseball Operations department were too satisfied over the winter and didn't do enough to improve the club, that seems far-fetched.
     
If there was one valid criticism of the roster-build, it was that the team didn't have a proven backup at third for Middlebrooks. Over the weekend, the Sox cut a deal with veteran Ryan Roberts within 24 hours of Middlebrooks' injury taking place.