Does Hope Spring Eternal For Red Sox?
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
That overpaid, underachieving and extremely frustrating excuse for a baseball team otherwise known as the Boston Red Sox opens up spring training today with pitchers and catchers convening in Fort Myers. Position players are to report before the end of the week for the club’s first full-squad workout on Friday.
When we last left the local nine, they were finishing off a brutal 2012 season with a 14-2 loss to the rival Yankees in New York. It was the team’s eighth straight loss to finish the season, a season that saw Boston finish in the basement of the American League East with a record of 69-93.
At the end of that forgettable campaign, manager Bobby Valentine was scapegoated by ownership and fired after only one year on the job. While Bobby V was clearly not the right fit for the franchise, he was not the reason the team followed up their beer-drinking, chicken-eating September collapse of 2011 with a dreadful 2012.
While the organization did seemingly score some points with their fan base by boldly trading away Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez in a salary-dump to the Los Angeles Dodgers, we were reminded of why we have grown to dislike this franchise when an offseason book by Terry Francona and Dan Shaughnessy was released skewering Red Sox management.
And now here we are.
For the first time in many years, the Boston Red Sox report to spring training where there is very little optimism for the upcoming season.
Sure the players and team management will tell us that there are plenty of things to be excited about, but we know better.
If we thought that September of 2011 was the aberration, the entire 2012 season confirmed that it was not. This franchise does have some serious issues and is trending in the wrong direction.
Sure the fraudulent sell-out streak is allegedly still going at 793 games and counting. But Red Sox fans know better than what team ownership would like them to believe.
Where once a ticket to Fenway Park was equivalent to an ounce of gold, those same tickets could be found on the secondary market for pennies on the dollar late last season. That could very well be the case again this year.
There’s also the fact that television ratings for their games on the golden goose otherwise known as NESN have dropped off dramatically over the last season and a half which may be the biggest red flag of all.
But despite all of these problems, John Henry & Company have something going for them. Boston has always been a great baseball town. While it’s true that the Patriots and the NFL have sprinted past the Red Sox and baseball in terms of popularity, there’s still plenty of interest in the Bosox and it’s something that winning can rekindle.
But is this team capable of competing for a playoff spot in 2013?
I suppose that anything is possible. After all, did anyone have the Baltimore Orioles making the playoffs prior to the start of the 2012 season?
Still, it seems hard to imagine that this conglomerate of pitchers and position players is one that can make at least a 20-game improvement on their 2012 brethren.
If that type of turnaround is to happen, it will have to begin with the starting rotation.
Jon Lester is clearly not a dominant ace in the mold of C.C. Sabathia or Justin Verlander, but he must take the lead for this rotation and pitch like he did from 2008 through August of 2011. Likewise, Clay Buchholz needs to rediscover something closer to his 2010 form (17-7, 2.33 ERA) than the oft-injured, eratic performances of 2011 and 2012.
The soon-to-be 36-year old Ryan Dempster comes to Boston with an impressive resume but our expectations should be tempered because of his age and the fact that he will be pitching in the American League. A career National Leaguer, Dempster did go 7-3 for the Texas Rangers in the second half of last season. However, that record was accompanied by a 5.05 ERA and a WHIP (1.435) higher than his average over the past decade.
Felix Doubront (11-10, 4.86 ERA) was more than serviceable last season and that should be the expectation heading into 2013 as well.
And then there’s John Lackey. Following Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow which caused him to miss all of last season, Lackey may be the wild card for not only the starting rotation, but also the franchise.
Signed to a big free agent deal more than three years ago, Lackey will be heading into his fourth season with the Sox. More importantly, he will be entering his first healthy season as a member of the club. Could he resemble the gritty workhorse who anchored the Angels starting rotation from 2002-2009? If he can, this team could pleasantly surprise an otherwise skeptical fanbase.