It’s a slump. That’s it. That has to be it.
Mayday! Mayday! We’re going down… aren’t we?
Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between a slump and a freefall. When given the choice, you always root for the slump, because, what other options do you have?
But there’s a subtle beauty in a slump. Just like a sudden thundershower in July (and we’ve had plenty of those this year in New England), they come and go without warning, are usually brief, and no one but the Almighty seems to know when they’ll end. So, instead of trying to be the Knower of All Things, let’s just try to be weathermen. Shall we?
There have been definite signs that point to a freefall and there have been others that point to a slump. First off, this team is way, WAY too talented to put on a repeat of Kerrigan’s Klub in 2001, when they lost a gut-wrenching 13 of 14 games in late August. However, it’s far from certain that they are the 2004 or 2007 teams that rode off into the sunset.
As for the good signs, this team is about to get a whole lot better. The wounded veterans are about to return and bring some desperately needed reinforcements.
Jason Bay’s hamstring is going to heal, which, coupled with his time away from the plate, should bring an end to his horrific struggles at the dish. That sweet April power stroke should return because, hey, talent doesn’t just disappear. Unless this injury is more serious than is being let on, he’ll be just fine. A break is just what the doctor ordered anyway, as those strikeout issues were getting ridiculous.
Tim Wakefield’s return will also be a welcome sight for sore eyes… and backs, and calves, and whatever else can plague a 40+ year old man. The team needs to be careful not to rush him, but his return as the number three starter will be a huge upgrade over whatever garbage we throw out there in the meantime.
Another thing to keep in mind is that there is more to this rotation than just Josh Beckett and Jon Lester.
This season, there has been a lot of questioning of Brad Penny’s abilities. While he may be sitting on a poor 5.16 ERA, and may be default winner of the inglorious “will it be Penny or Smoltz who actually works out?” contest, there is really a lot to like about Big Brad. He’s got a low walk rate (2.73 BB/9), his fastball velocity is way up from last year (avg. FB velocity: 2008 – 92.4 mph; 2009 – 94.0 mph), and his ERA is currently suffering from some bad BABIP and a poor strand rate.
In short, this guy is a league average pitcher who would go six innings a night on a better defensive team. And, as a wise man once said, if your #4 or #5 starter is league average, you’re in good shape.
Unfortunately, the Red Sox are the owner of one of the worst defenses in the league, and when your defense is this bad, no starter or Act of God can make it any better. Fangraphs.com credits Penny with a 4.52 FIP ERA on the season, although I’m a little more pessimistic about his prospects with such a terrible defense behind him, projecting Penny for a 4.92 mERA the rest of the way.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking Penny should be replaced. His ERA is not his fault. It’s this awful, AWFUL defense. Oh, and if you were wondering: No. Cristian Guzman will not make it any better. This is something we will all have to collectively sweat out until October, then shower off in November.
For the proponents of Chicken Little and the sky is falling, there are some gaping holes in this team, far larger than there have been in recent memory.
The days of the megalith offense that is the Boston Red Sox are over. This is the first time since 2002 that David Ortiz won’t be able to put this team on his back and carry it through September. Even Manny’s comparable, but slightly less talented step-brother, Jason Bay, may not be able to contribute at full strength given his recent leg problems.
Further compounding these issues is the fact that there is no safe fifth starter on the horizon. Now that fail-safe Justin Monsterson is gone, John Smoltz has been DFA’d, and Buchholz cannot remember how to throw a fastball, that “ridiculous pitching depth” of April is wearing very thin. Even Daisuke won’t be back until September. Would someone please get Michael Bowden and Junichi Tazawa some Wheaties?
But, before we all jump ship like the Titanic, remember that there is no perfect team, the division is still within striking distance, and the Wild Card is still in the home team’s hands. Should the Sox play in October, with the injury woes in the past, don’t bet against them.
Losing streaks have a special place in our hearts because of how bleak things seem and how desperate we all become. However, slumps are never all they’re cracked up to be. After all, “the great ones always figure it out.”
If you’ve ever seen Goodfellas, you’d be keen to remember Henry Hill’s famous words of advice from his father, “When you’re down you’re never as low as it seems, and when you’re up, you’re never as high as it seems.” While you should never trust a mobster, the beleaguered Sox fan should heed his advice: Keep the Faith.
It’s a slump. That’s it. That has to be it.