The 2013 Major League Baseball season was a gift for Boston Red Sox fans. It was a magic-carpet-ride that the most cynical, superstitious, and negative-thinking fans received like a bonus Christmas. It was a joy-to-the-world season.
Just one year after a disastrous, last-place finish under the doomed managerial regime of Bobby Valentine that concluded with a 69-93 mark and a poisonous clubhouse, the Red Sox, under new manager John Farrell, recorded one of the turnarounds of the century.
Things went so well on so many fronts that even the most optimistic of fans could not believe their eyes. Boston swept to an unlikely and unexpected World Series championship.
Fast-forward to 2014, however, and seemingly as inexplicably everything that was touched and changed to gold last year has been touched and turned to clay this year. The Red Sox are flailing in the back of the pack in the American League East Division and really show no signs of making a second-half move.
Explanations for the problems this year can be seen by looking in the mirror from last year. There is one glaring personnel loss. Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury’s contract expired after the 2013 season and in the fine tradition of the most onerous traitors, he fled to the New York Yankees, always Public Enemy No. 1 in Boston. Also missing is catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who besides having the longest name in the majors, wielded a useful bat.
Perhaps not fatal losses, but the bigger issues revolve around the position players that are still present. The 2013 Red Sox recorded the second-best batting average in the majors at .277. Through the season’s first 88 games, the 2014 Red Sox were hitting .244. There you go. End of mystery.
In 2013, David Ortiz batted .309. He is hitting .261 this year. Last year Dustin Pedroia batted .301. This year he is hitting .284. Last year Mike Carp batted .296. This year he is hitting .214. Last year Shane Victorino hit .294. This year he has been injured and barely played. Last year Daniel Nava batted .303. This year he is hitting .227.
On the mound, last year Clay Buchholz went 12-1 despite an injury. This year he has also coped with injury, but is 3-4 with a 6.22 earned run average. Jake Peavy is 1-7. Last year Felix Doubront was in the rotation and won 11 games. This year his ERA is 5.37. Jon Lester and John Lackey have been the mainstays and closer Koji Uehara remains outstanding with 18 saves and a 1.30 ERA, but there have been few others for Farrell to count on.
From afar it may seem inexplicable that the defending World Series champions were 39-49, but upon further scrutiny it becomes obvious why this year’s Red Sox edition is a better candidate for a last-place finish than a Series repeat.