The Boston Red Sox enter Wednesday night’s game with the Toronto Blue Jays at 58-74, a far cry from preseason predictions of another division title or at least a Wild Card appearance. The goal is now much smaller in scope: win more games than the 2012 Sox.
Bobby Valentine skippered that moribund Red Sox unit to 69 wins, the worst showing for a Boston team since 1965. The season was marred by dysfunction, injuries (Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz and Andrew Bailey, to name a few), experiments gone wrong (Daniel Bard as a starter, Alfredo Aceves as anything), and a franchise-altering trade that unloaded three of the team’s biggest contracts. The result was a 7-19 September featuring Daisuke Matsuzaka‘s off-key Boston swan song and plenty of at-bats for the likes of Scott Podsednik and Mauro Gomez.
The Sox need 12 wins in their next 30 contests to eclipse the total of the 2012 edition. You’d think it would be easy to play .400 baseball from here on out, but some are doubting their chances in the wake of a recent eight-game losing streak. Boston has won just 11 games in the past month, a 39.3% success rate. Their starting rotation looks nothing like the one that kicked off the campaign (and the only one left is Clay Buchholz) and several young players are scuffling, particularly with the bat.
The Red Sox have at least two things going in their favor if they want to avoid sinking to 2012-level embarrassment. For one, September, with expanded rosters, is not always indicative of true performance level. That’s why it’s difficult to make assessments on players based on end-of-season auditions: extended time for younger players means all kinds of wacky things can happen. But Boston, with a number of premium prospects in tow, could expect to field a better September lineup than other teams who are “out of it.”
Second, and more importantly, is the steady hand of John Farrell. That steady hand may sometimes draw the ire of fans for keeping a starter in a game too long, or using Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa out of the bullpen too much. But Farrell, given his track record, projects to be the manager of the next Red Sox contender.
The 2012 Red Sox were a sinking ship with a lame duck captain in Valentine. The 2011 squad sunk to 7-20 in September under another lame duck in Terry Francona. The 2001 Sox? 11-17 down the stretch under another lame duck: Joe Kerrigan. Farrell is no lame duck. And I’d expect this year’s edition to compare favorably to the 2006 and 2010 teams, who, despite a rash of injuries, managed to poke at .500 over the season’s final month. Both of those squads had a healthy Ortiz murdering baseballs – hopefully Papi’s most recent malady isn’t enough to shut down his dominant campaign.
It’s rare for a team to go from worst to first, and particularly for one to go from worst, to first, to worst again. That fate likely cannot be avoided (unless the Sox can make up a six-game deficit to the Rays). But at least the 2014 Sox can look alive over the last month in the season and get themselves past the ignominy of finishing at or below the mark of their dreadful 2012 counterparts.