Time for Sox to Put Last Year in Rearview Mirror
By Michael Silverman
So, two things about those bejeweled, diamond-encrusted rings that the Red Sox are about to receive Tuesday at Fenway Park.
One, for the fans: Go ahead and cheer your lungs out for the incredible feats of the 2018 Red Sox team, a truly special and gifted squad that reached heights no other Red Sox team has reached before -- everybody should celebrate this joyous moment.
Two, for the players: Literally, try the ring on, gaze at it, feel great about it. And then, figuratively, take the ring and chuck it over the Wall and into the Charles River.
As the 3-8 start to the 2019 season demonstrates, that ring and that championship the Red Sox earned last year ain’t worth much now.
The hangover from 2018 that this year’s squad so cleverly thought it could avoid is afflicting the team with a throbbing head- and total-body ache of epic proportions. No matter how many times we heard over the winter and throughout spring training that the Red Sox were not going to fall prey to complacency and that they were still a “hungry” team, it wasn’t enough.
The team was too hungry for its own good, actually, which is why it began the season playing “fat.”
They began the season flat-footed, unprepared and simply wrong about the strategy that all they had to do was show up with essentially the same roster in order to replicate their unbelievable success from last year.
By the time the team lost three of its first four games in Seattle, it was crystal-clear that the software for this year had a bug in the code. After two more series losses to the A’s and then the Diamondbacks, it was as if the team had been hacked and was a victim of identity theft.
Manager Alex Cora’s response to the adversity has been informative.
If denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are the five essential stages of grief, then Cora’s progression from shock, defensiveness, self-flagellation, introspection and acceptance as the team progressed south, southwest along its season-opening road trip provided a road map to salvaging this horrendous start.
By the time the team was ready to leave Phoenix to fly to Boston, Cora appeared to have come to terms with what’s gone wrong and implied that the team has learned its lesson.
“There are a lot of ways we’re being attacked differently than last year -- we have to make adjustments,” said Cora. “This is a game of adjustments. Teams are making adjustments with us, we’re going to have to make adjustments, too.”
Both how hitters were not fooled by much of what any of the Red Sox starters had to offer and how the Red Sox lineup (less of a problem) was being pitched to caught the Red Sox by surprise. Cora said that the team was not “ambushed” by the change in approach that the team encountered. If that’s the case, then the burden of the 3-8 record should be laid at the feet of Cora and the coaches for not sufficiently preparing the team for the Mariners, A’s and Diamondbacks, because the players sure did not appear to know what was going on.
That’s not to blame Cora and the coaches for bizarre screw-ups in the outfield and basepaths from the likes of Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts. But this is not a team comprised of bums, either. The talent level, overall, is clearly elite and the 3-8 record is not an accurate reflection of this team. A perfect storm of sorts hit the Red Sox on the West Coast, drenching them in the reality that a string of bad planning, bad play, bad preparation, bad luck and bad scheduling resulted in that 3-8 record.
It’s the record they deserve, even as it’s a record the team has the ability to overcome. The team did not transform from champs to chumps, but it needs to quickly understand where it went wrong and, most importantly, make changes on the fly.
No matter how confident the front office was in the idea that “what worked last year will work this year, so let’s re-sign as many people as we can,” the idea was not fully baked.
“Just a matter of us recognizing a few things and moving forward -- we will make adjustments, we know that, we’re going to be better,” said Cora. “It was a good learning experience. I don’t want to say humble experience, because we’re a humble group, but we learned a lot from this one.”
It would be wrong to suggest that the Red Sox’ vision and plan for 2019 contains a fatal flaw. That’s not what the results of the first 11 games show.
The eight losses in 11 tries are a sign of a team, from top to bottom, that did not have a handle on what it takes to play at championship caliber after a championship season. Words and attitude were not enough, and the Red Sox paid for it. But drastic changes are not what’s needed.
The Red Sox need refinement -- with it, they’ll be fine.
″ ‘Refine’ - that’s a good word to put it,” said Cora. “We’re not going to change everything. But we can make a few changes on a few things. I think that’ll help us out.”
Maybe the act of slipping the rings on their fingers is going to kick-start that refinement process.
More likely, the act of taking the ring off and realizing it’s a brand-new year will spark a new beginning for a team in need of one.