Right now Red Sox are a lousy team

BY foxsports • April 6, 2011

Yes, it’s early. Yes, the game-time temperature was below 40 degrees on back-to-back days. Yes, Reggie Dunlop and the Charlestown Chiefs played before larger crowds than what we witnessed at the former Jacobs Field this week.

None of that explains a four-hit Thursday that ended with the tying run being picked off second base.

None of that explains 11 strikeouts in a game started by Mitch Talbot the night before.

None of that explains Kevin Youkilis’ .105 batting average.

None of that explains the 7.13 team ERA.

None of that explains 0-6.

The Red Sox, many observers said last month, will win the World Series. But they have yet to win a game in 2011.

No sugarcoating. No excuses. Right now, they are a lousy baseball team.

Boston’s latest lost — a 1-0 defeat to Cleveland on Thursday — might have been the most wrenching of them all. The lone Indians run came in the eighth — on a suicide squeeze — after Daniel Bard walked the No. 9 hitter to lead off the inning.

Bard, the people’s choice to one day succeed Jonathan Papelbon as the Red Sox closer, is already 0-2.

And on Friday, the winless Red Sox will jog out for pregame introductions on Opening Day at Fenway Park, with the New York Yankees in the visiting dugout.

“I’m frustrated,” Dustin Pedroia said. “We all went to bed at 3 o’clock (Thursday morning). We don’t put our head on the pillow at 11:30 and say, ‘Everything’s great.’ We’ve got 15 All-Stars or whatever the hell we’ve got on this team. This is our lives. We’re going to get home, and my wife’s going to look at me and go, ‘You’re 0-6. You guys stink.’ We all bring this home with us. We care.”

“Right now, we’re just not living right,” said Jon Lester, who had nothing to show for his seven shutout innings. “I don’t know what’s going on.”

“We need to pick it up,” manager Terry Francona said.

But to put a different spin on Dennis Green: What if the Red Sox aren’t who we thought they were?

They won’t finish 0-162. They probably won’t finish 81-81, either. “We’re going to win a lot more games than we lose,” Pedroia vowed. And I agree.

But I, for one, am beginning to wonder whether this team will be so special after all.

Last year, the Red Sox could blame injuries. Not now. Felix Doubront and Junichi Tazawa are the only players on Boston’s major league disabled list. No one uttered their names during your fantasy draft.

If I were a Red Sox fan, I would be less worried about the hitting than the pitching. Closely scrutinized additions Carl Crawford (2-for-4, two stolen bases) and Adrian Gonzalez (first homer of the season) had productive games on Wednesday. The slumping regulars — including Youkilis, Crawford (.174), Jacoby Ellsbury (.167), Marco Scutaro (.176), and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.071) — probably won’t hit like this all year.

It’s my experience, though, that a declining pitcher in April is usually a declining pitcher in May. And the Red Sox have several pitchers — in prominent roles — who match that general description.

I mean, if the Red Sox have a .181 team batting average because it’s too cold to hit, then why aren’t their pitchers' numbers better?

“We just need to continue to play games together and learn how to win together,” infielder Jed Lowrie said.

“Everybody’s trying to find their niche on the team — new guys, old guys,” Papelbon said.

“There’s no reason to push the panic button,” reliever Dan Wheeler said.

Not to sound the alarm in Lexington and Concord, but I heard many of the same explanations and rationalizations three years ago — when I was covering the ’08 Detroit Tigers.

You remember that team, don’t you? They won the World Series, thanks to brilliant pitching by Kenny Rogers, Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson.

Oh, wait. They didn’t. But they were  supposed to, after supplementing a veteran rotation with snazzy lineup upgrades.

Sound familiar?

The Red Sox have an excellent front office. (Even a Yankees fan would admit that. At least, I think they would.) But it’s ironic that Boston’s biggest offseason upgrades came on offense, when, in fact, the Red Sox were second in the majors last year with 818 runs scored. And they hit that mark despite a rash of injuries that depleted their lineup from early April onward.

Left unattended — outside of a few bullpen upgrades — was a pitching staff that finished in the bottom half of the American League with a 4.19 ERA.

But there was only so much general manager Theo Epstein could do with the rotation. He signed John Lackey to an $82.5 million contract in December 2009. He signed Josh Beckett to a $68 million extension in April 2010. Unless Epstein was willing to sell low — which would be a very un-Theo thing to do — Beckett and Lackey were going to be in Boston’s 2011 rotation.

The same was true for Daisuke Matsuzaka, who turned in another laborious start Wednesday — five innings, three earned runs and not nearly enough strikes.

After a single by Asdrubal Cabrera gave Cleveland a 3-2 lead in the second inning, Dice-K had thrown 41 pitches and recorded four outs. He had thrown 22 balls and 19 strikes. I’m only a Double-A lip reader, but I think I saw every Red Sox position player chattering, “DUDE, IT’S FLIPPIN’ THIRTY-NINE DEGREES! PPPPUUUHHHLLEEASE THROW SOME STRIKES!”

Francona observed that Matsuzaka’s strike-to-ball ratio didn’t flip the right way until sometime in the fourth inning. “That’s just a hard way to pitch successfully,” Francona said. “He was almost at 100 pitches after five. It’s a hard way to stay out there.”

Matsuzaka is 30 years old. He will earn an eight-figure salary, this season and next. Since the end of the 2008 season, his ERA is 5.00. What indications exist that he will again be the pitcher he was when the Red Sox won a World Series title in 2007?

And you can ask the same question about Beckett, who is 6-7 with a 5.77 ERA in 22 starts since signing his new contract one year and two days ago.

Beckett, Lackey and Matsuzaka are all 30 or older, and they are part of a pitching staff that is still looking for its first quality start of 2011.

The Red Sox aren’t as bad as they have looked over the season’s first six games. But they’re not as good as they appeared in January, either.

“Can’t get any worse than this,” Youkilis said.

I’m not so sure. What if the Yankees sweep them, too?

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