Keeping the Faith
Having been away over Memorial Day weekend, I neglected to post my end-of-May recap in a timely manner. Frankly, I was waiting for the team to return to their winning ways so I could write something glowing and positive. My patience has taken me to almost the end of June, and now it has run out.
To quickly summarize what has brought us to our current state of affairs, after going 15-6 in April, the Sox started May 0-5 and ended up 16-14 for the month. They started June 0-3, and as of this date (and including today's loss to the Phillies) are 11-11 this month.
What is more disturbing than the declining record is the way it has happened. After finishing April having lost no more than two games in a row and with a winning streak of six, they have failed to achieve more than two consecutive wins since June 8. The record since then goes like this: 1 loss, 2 wins, 1 loss, 1 win, 2 losses, 2 wins, 2 losses, 1 win, 2 losses, 1 win, 1 loss. That is called inconsistency, folks, and because of it our boys are now as many games behind the Yankees as the Devil Rays are behind us.
It isn't that this team isn't hitting. Team batting average has exceeded that of opponents since April 16; in the last 10 games, they're hitting .301 to opponents' .233. But they're leaving entirely too many runners on base, 1+ runner more per 9 innings than opponents, and a maddening number in scoring position.
It isn't that they aren't scoring runs. In the last 10 games, they have outscored opponents by almost two runs per 9 innings. The problem is that in that same time span, they have scored double-digits in three games (all wins) but only four or fewer runs in five games (all losses).
The biggest problem I see is errors leading to unearned runs, which is the fault of both the fielders who commit the errors and the pitchers who fail to work around them. More than four errors in every five games is bound to do damage, but that damage is made worse when the pitcher gives up hit after hit after the inning should be over. That propensity has led to one and a quarter unearned runs allowed per 9 innings, almost a whole run more than the other teams are allowing us.
I realize that Bill Mueller is still out after his knee surgery (though the good news is that he is starting a rehab sting with Pawtucket this weekend), but weren't things supposed to get better after the return of Nomar and Trot? I was willing to cut Terry Francona some slack for the first couple months, but shouldn't he have learned by now that there's no reason to "rest" productive players who aren't tired just for the sake of getting someone else some playing time? I understand that these are professional major leaguers we're talking about, but shouldn't someone be putting them through fielding drills considering they aren't doing too well left to their own devices?
What this team needs is more of the fire in the belly that pulled them through roster issues last year that dwarf anything they've faced in 2004. As surely as the Mike Timlin/Kevin Millar call to "cowboy up" spurred them on a year ago, they need something to get them going now. Time's a-wasting, boys. We're almost at the all-star break. It may not be time to panic, but it sure is time to get damned dissatisfied with the status quo and start doing something to change course.