Here We Go Again
Issue   |   Wed, 04/11/2012 - 00:11

It’s only been four days, and we are already in disaster mode. That’s saying a lot, given that the Yankees are also 0-3 and that, at this time of year, that would usually be grounds for the talk-radio masses to cry, “It’s ovah! The Yankees are done!”

Really, though. This team headed north with question marks galore, and, after only one series, we can see exactly why.

Remember 2001, when the Sox lost Nomar Garciaparra in the winter and Pedro Martinez in May, endured Derek Lowe’s implosion as then-closer, were forced to deal with the likes of Carl Everett and Jose Offerman and eventually fired manager Jimy Williams. Unless you were a Boston baseball fanatic, you’d have no reason to, but, if you are, you’ll recall that the Sox ended that year 82-79, which still stands as their worst finish in 15 years. Fast forward ten years, though, and I’m sure the woeful events of last September will still jog your memory. I mention both because, right now, that’s what I’m seeing. The 2012 Red Sox seem somehow to be a combination of both of those teams. They are reminiscent of the hapless ragtags of 2001 — Craig Grebeck? Chris Stynes? Darren Lewis? ... anybody? — who never had a chance in the AL East, yet they still bring back shades of last fall’s team, a squad comprised of one-time MVP and Cy Young candidates that seemed inexplicably doomed to underperformance.

You name the potential weakness, and this year’s edition has already shown you glimpses of it. Offense? Yes, the Sox exploded for 12 runs in the final game of the series. Yes, they staged a nearly heroic comeback against the always-nasty Jose Valverde. And yes, they had to face the best pitcher in the game. But the league’s most complete offense for most of last year scored just two runs in its first 18 innings. Good offenses certainly do falter sometimes, but Kevin Youkilis’ start — an ugly 0-for-8 — is a cause for concern given his recent injuries. While it is too early to make definitive assessments, Cody Ross, Jared Saltalamacchia and Darnell McDonald — whom, in general, I really like as a player — have not impressed me, either. If these four continue to struggle, as I suspect they might, opposing pitchers will be able to relax after getting by Ellsbury, Pedroia, Gonzalez and Ortiz (whose bat is inevitably slowing down). With the kind of pitching the Red Sox will have to offer, they can hardly afford that.

Did I mention the pitching? I’m obligated to acknowledge Jon Lester’s strong opening day start and last Sunday’s brilliant relief from Vicente Padilla, who, I swear, is hiding a stash of something illegal in his back pocket. Other than that, though, the most fitting word that exists to describe the performance of Boston’s staff is “unnerving.” I do mean that literally when it comes to Clay Buchholz, who looks so underweight that you can’t help but wonder if he and Padilla are ... you know. But if that weren’t enough, Josh Beckett grooved gopher-balls on a level I only thought possible from, say, Byung-Hyun Kim (finally, somebody that Yankee fans remember fondly!). I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen anyone give up five home runs in a start before, yet, there I was, enjoying my Easter weekend by witnessing just that from the erstwhile 20-game winner and World Series MVP. I’m not sure how much better I can expect from virtual unknown Felix Doubront or whomever ends up being the permanent fifth starter.

And then, of course, there’s the back end of the bullpen, so pitiful that it already makes me miss riverdancing blowhard Jonathan Papelbon. The injury to Andrew Bailey is unfortunate, but, on a team with Boston’s payroll, you’d think somebody else would be able to provide a solid short-term solution. We had every reason to believe Alfredo Aceves (5-2, 2.61 in 2011) or even new acquisition Mark Melancon (8-4, 2.78 in the late innings for Houston last year) might be that guy. Apparently, we all missed something. It’s hard to decide which one of them was more painful to watch in the two close games that they combined to blow away, but I will say that Cabrera’s moonshot off Aceves — the “closer” for now — on Sunday was just plain scary.

But there is a solution to this problem! For that reason, I’m going to have to add Bobby V and perhaps the front office — for now. You see, I was skeptical of the Daniel Bard move from the very beginning, and I’ve never had more ammunition than right now. So, I might add, was the RemDawg. His pitching style makes him perfectly suited to the closer’s role, he’s already shown he can handle pitching on the big stage, and his spring appearances as a starter hinted at some significant command issues. In theory, none of that mattered when the Sox already had a guy lined up for the closing job. But now, let’s face it, he’s needed there far more than he’s needed as a shaky fifth starter. Given today’s mantra of allowing players to adjust to their roles, it will probably be at least a few weeks (barring a drastic turn of events) before Bobby considers moving him to where he belongs. In this kind of a situation, that’s too long. Remember, the Sox started last year almost as badly as they finished; although it doesn’t seem like it, every game counts equally.

Regardless of impending personnel adjustments, though, I simply don’t forsee a terribly enjoyable 2012 baseball season in Boston. The strangest thing is that, just the way I did as a wee lad back in ’01 and have done ever since, I will make a hypocrite of my pessimistic self by continuing to follow every game intently, no matter how bad things get. 2004 and 2007 feel an awfully long way away but, then again, so did 1918. And, of course, the ’04 team looked almost as bad as this outfit at one point. The one thing I’m still sure of is that absolutely anything is possible.

Guess I’ll keep telling myself that.