Boston Red Sox: Injuries, slow starts feel like status quo

The Red Sox’s 2010 season was gutted by serious injuries to key players.   2011’s awful April was tough to take, though it seemed unusual at the time.  But given the current repeat performance being offered up in Boston, these predicaments suddenly feel all too familiar.

A pair of Tuesday balks added insult to injury for Daniel Bard, but he's not the only struggling starter in Boston (Squire/ Getty)

Injuries, a struggling rotation, and a ghastly bullpen combined to make April fools of the Boston Red Sox.  The team finished the season’s opening month at a pedestrian 11-11, enjoying winning streaks of 3 and 6 games but enduring skids of 3 and 5.  May, in the early going, has been even uglier– 1 win against 6 losses.

The Sox have winning records against 3 clubs: Chicago (3-1), Minnesota (3-0), and, oddly enough, Tampa (3-1).   Against the Yankees, Rangers, Tigers, and Orioles…yes, Orioles, Boston is a collective 0-10.

The temptation is to blame the incredible array of injuries that have befallen the club.  Jacoby Ellsbury, Andrew Bailey, Kevin Youkilis, Carl Crawford– the list goes on.  Heck, Youk’s replacement, prospect Will Middlebrooks, had to leave Tuesday night’s contest in Kansas City due to hamstring tightness.  At times it has seemed as though half the starters are conspicuously absent.

But injuries can’t wholly explain a 5.31 team ERA.   They can’t account for a bullpen that has been utterly unable to rescue its bumbling rotation.

Josh Beckett leads all Boston starters with a 4.45 ERA.  Jon Lester stands at 4.62.  Daniel Bard at 4.83.  Felix Doubront?  5.29.  Clay Buchholz?  Try 9.09, more than a run per inning.

Coming into 2012, pitching was the team’s primary concern.  Now we know that fear was justified.  But few of us could have anticipated that even normally reliable arms would have such a difficult start.

The team is certainly capable of turning of things around.  There’s still a ton of talent sitting on this roster.  last year, a gruesome April was all but erased by a fantastic summer, a feat that could be replicated in 2012.  But before too long, “could be” will turn into “must be”.  Already 6.5 games back of Baltimore and Tampa, these Sox haven’t resolved the question marks that plagued the off-season.  And even if they can turn things around issues will remain.

The rotation will very likely improve, but it would be overly optimistic to expect greatness out of the 4 and 5 spots with Doubront and Bard still developing as starters.  Both should be better than they are at the moment, but Boston is digging itself a hole that will require greatness as a means of escape.

With Ellsbury and Crawford out until June (at least), the offense is missing a lot of weaponry.  Adrian Gonzalez isn’t hitting and Kevin Youkilis is more of an injury risk than ever.  Right now, David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia are carrying the club, but that can’t last.

Like veteran teammate Big Papi, rookie WIll Middlebrooks has been flying high, offensively (AP photo)

The point isn’t to paint a picture of nothing but doom and gloom.  The point is to be realistic.  The club has some major flaws and must now overcome both those and a very poor start.  Doing so might be too much to ask.  However, it is encouraging to see an effort being made.  The Sox have discussed moving Middlebrooks to the outfield when Youkilis returns from the D.L.  Assuming Youk’s back holds up and assuming Middlebrooks’ hammy isn’t a lingering problem, that would keep two quality in the lineup, most likely at the expense of someone like Darnell McDonald who isn’t doing anything anyway.

Middlebrooks arrived at Fenway ahead of schedule, but so long as he is hitting (1.435 OPS through 22 at bats) he has to remain a fixture in the lineup.  Beyond that, the team ought to consider giving a look to some other guys who are heating up.  Infielder Pedro Ciriaco has some upside and is posting an .854 OPS in Pawtucket through 16 games.  That’s considerably better than Mike Aviles (.755) and light years beyond Nick Punto (.469).

And if you’re sitting there saying “I told you so” to the television over the Punto signing, I’m right there with you.

Lars Anderson’s stock has fluctuated wildly in recent years, and it’s true that the 24 year old isn’t exactly tearing things up in AAA.  But if Boston’s not willing to give him a look now, what will it take to get him called up?  Don’t forget that the organization gave him reps in the outfield, presumably so it could plug him in somewhere other than Gonzalez’s locked-up position.  Speaking of which, Ryan Lavarnway, another young guy with plenty of upside, is completely stuck with Ortiz, Gonzalez, and the Saltalamacchia/ Shoppach tandem in his way.

The bottom line is that while this team can and should rebound a bit, it’s hard to imagine the patchwork lineup having an explosive month.  It’s hard to imagine the rotation and bullpen suddenly fixing themselves in any permanent way.  How far back will Boston be following another month of mediocrity?  What situation will Ellsbury and Crawford inherit?

Full disclosure: when I write negative pieces about the Sox they tend to respond with periods of success.  So part of this post hinges on the hope that Boston is still motivated to prove me wrong.