Well, April 2011 has sucked. With an 11-14 record (.440), things look pretty grim. How bad can things get, though, and still be redeemable? For perspective many look to last year when the Red Sox also started 11-14, and yet might still have made the playoffs if it were not for a poor bullpen and a plethora of injuries wrecking the defense. I, however, want to look back to a successful year for perspective--2007, the last time the Sox won the AL East Division. They had 96 wins that year (a .593 winning percentage), two games better than the second-place Yankees, and good enough to tie the Indians for the best record in baseball. But did they ever slump as badly as April 2010/2011?
After a hot April and a torrid May of 2007, the Red Sox stumbled and played poorly for a month and a half. Including the two losses that bookended the month of June, from May 30 to July 1 the Sox went 13-16 (.448), representing their deepest slump of the year. And things didn't turn around right away in July, either. For the next fortnight's-worth of games (interrupted by the All-Star break), the Sox were but 7-8, bringing their total record for May 30-July 19 to 20-24 (.455). So for more than 25% of the season, the Red Sox played under-.500 ball. And still won the division. Nor did they waste their chance in the playoffs.
So basing my judgment on recent Red Sox teams, I take this as the limit of acceptable suck. A full month and a half of slightly under .500 ball can be overcome by a talented team such as the Red Sox consistently are. What kind of winning does it take though? In May of 2007, the Red Sox had a streak where they went 20-6 (.769), which is about as good as it gets. Overall, they started the season going 36-15 (.706) before entering into their slide. After the month and a half of sub-.500 ball, their winning percentage was lowered to .589 (56-39), which is about the level of winning they evenned out at for the rest of the season. After a necessary 8-3 streak to end July, the Red Sox played consistent .571-ball (32-24) the last two months to finish up as AL East champs.
The 2007 regular season at a glance:
Part I - April 2-May 29: 36-15 (.706)
a) April 2-May 1: 16-9 (.640)
b) May 2-29: 20-6 (.769) BEST MONTH
Part II - May 30-July 19: 20-24 (.455)
a) May 30-July 1, 13-16 (.448) WORST MONTH
b) July 2-19, 7-8 (.467)
Part III - July 20-September 30: 40-27 (.597)
a) July 20-31: 8-3 (.727)
b) August 1-30: 16-12 (.571)
c) August 31-September 30: 16-12 (.571)
Final: 96-66 (.593)
Last year, April's slump fell a couple weeks short of the great slump of June-July 2007. Turning themselves around, the Red Sox by the end of June 2010 were up to 47-32 (.595)--precisely on pace to get the 96 wins which would eventually win the AL East (for the Rays). But in the next three months the injuries piled up and the bullpen foundered. From July through September the Sox went 40-40, exactly .500, decidedly beyond the limit of acceptable suck. This year can be different, and I remain patient for things to turn around. But now I know when giving up is a reasonable thing to do.
(To the OTM community: Hi, I have never posted here before. The site has long been my favorite place for Red Sox content and discussion on account of its mixture of passion and intelligence with a dash of civility. I finally broke down and started commenting a little this past winter. I'm out of market and can't afford the special packages so I don't commonly get to watch the games. For that, my participation will always be fairly limited, but I continue to enjoy the reading. Thank you for all your dedication.)