It's always darkest before the dawn. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. There's a light at the end of every tunnel. If I keep typing cliches, the Red Sox will be cured of whatever's wrong with them, right? We're getting perilously close to "start clapping if you believe in fairies" time here.
I have no idea what's wrong with this team. None. I can look at the stats, same as you, and point out the results. I'll be doing a bit of that here this morning. But as to cause... I've got nothing. It's maddening. A few weeks ago, Marc and I were discussing this exact problem. He pointed out that writing is really fun when a team unexpectedly does well, and you can look at how they're doing it, and what's going right, and whether they can keep it up. But when a should-be-good team is playing badly, what is there to say other than 'they suck right now, they should play better'?That's where the Red Sox are right now. They've got a solid collection of talent, almost every game shows flashes of what they should be, and yet there they are at 11-16, dead last in the East.
Over this last weekend, the Boston Red Sox played the Baltimore Orioles for 39 innings of baseball in three games. A whole lot of baseballing occurred, and looking at this series is as good a way as any of trying to find some clues as to what the hell the Red Sox actually are. So, let's wander through the box scores and see what we've got, through the prism of a few key players. We'll start with pitchers.
Clayton Mortensen: Let's start with the good. Mortensen came in on Saturday to relieve Aaron Cook (we'll get to him), and although he allowed a homer to Mark Reynolds with two of Cook's runners still on, he was otherwise lights-out. He allowed only one other hit in 3.1 innings, striking out five. This brings his strikeout total for the year to 11, in just over six innings of work. It's only two appearances, but Mortensen looks like he could be a real find as the Sox look for bullpen stability.
Aaron Cook: Of course, Mortensen wouldn't have had to pitch (or at least not so early) had it not been for a complete fluke. Cook started the game exactly as we all hoped he would. He got four of the first five batters to ground out, and did so efficiently. Then a sinker got through Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Cook, while attempting to cover home, wound up spiked by Chris Davis. Cook's knee was cut clean open, as we all saw in vivid and unwanted detail on NESN. Inexplicably, Cook was allowed to return to the mound. Now, generally, when your plant knee has a gaping hole in it, it reduces your effectiveness as a pitcher, and a major-league training staff ought to know that. But it's the 2012 Red Sox, so instead Cook went back, got pounded, and is now on the DL, replaced by (shudder) Andrew Miller.
Clay Buchholz: Probably the single worst thing about Cook's injury is that it leaves the Red Sox without a good option for Buchholz. Clay got smacked around again on Sunday, walking four and giving up three homers. He's now given up ten HR on the season, behind only Ervin Santana in the AL. His ERA stands at a horrifying 9.09. Whether he's actually being affected by a blister problem, or lingering back issues, it's clear he needs to not be in the rotation right now. Even if it means giving a Johnny Wholestaff-style start to some combo of Mortensen and Padilla next time around.
Ryan Sweeney: Sweeney continues to be really very good in a Sox uniform. He had six hits over the weekend, and is now sporting a .368/.398/.540 line on the season. It's probably not sustainable, but from just a hot hand perspective, it is perhaps time for Bobby Valentine to give him the #2 spot in the lineup on a semi-permanent basis. Or any spot, really. Sweeney hit second, sixth, and eighth (as a PH) this weekend. No reason to bounce around a guy hitting that well, especially when the team has had problems scoring runs consistently.
Will Middlebrooks: Welcome to Boston, kid. After an impressive debut against Oakland, Middlebrooks kept impressing this weekend. He played solid defense at third, displaying the sort of range that Youkilis just hasn't had lately. His grand slam yesterday was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise totally dispiriting loss. It's way too early to talk about Youk getting Pipp'd by Middlebrooks, of course. Youk has a track record that outweighs any hot start by a rookie. But the longer Youk is on the DL, and the longer Middlebrooks performs well, the easier Boston's call for 2013 will become.
Adrian Gonzalez: I was all set to write a "maybe Adrian's coming around" column for today after Saturday's loss. It's hard to remember after yesterday, but Gonzalez had six hits in the first two games of the series. It was worrying that only one went for extra bases, but hits are hits, and we just hadn't seen many from Gonzalez lately. Then came yesterday. Gonzalez went 0-8, apparently the first Sox cleanup hitter to ever have a game that futile. He grounded into a double play. He left seven men on base. He struck out twice, the second time with two on in the bottom of the 17th inning against Chris Davis, who is not, in fact, a pitcher. I can't remember seeing a hitter as good as Gonzalez look as lost as he does right now. Maybe he just needs a day off. But the Red Sox, as Ben Cherington has explicitly stated, are built on their stars. Gonzalez is one of those stars, and if he keeps hitting .264 with no patience and no power, Boston's going nowhere fast.
Do better in KC, guys.