The team is still a very good one, but it has shown signs of fatigue in recent weeks. It’s a common occurrence in baseball every year around this time when players hit the dog days of summer, a spell that is very much a case of survival of the fittest.
Nobody in the clubhouse will make an excuse. At least not publicly. What they will do is find opportunities here and there to catch up on sleep, connect with family and do those normal things that make mid- to late-August a bit easier to stomach.
“It’s a grind,” left fielder Carl Crawford said of an August schedule that has Boston playing six games on the road, three games in 27 hours at home and then eight more on the road, all of which are part of a stretch of 14 games in 13 days.
“That’s the way the schedule is and we just have to play the way the schedule is. Not think about it. Tonight we get to get our rest and hopefully we can come back and get on track.”
The “tonight” Crawford referred to had the team flying from Boston to Kansas City earlier this month. It’s a flight of about three hours, enough time to catch some shuteye, do a crossword puzzle, enjoy a brew or whatever it takes to let off some steam.
Lately, in situations that offer up a day game after a night game, there are fewer early arrivals in the clubhouse. Manager Terry Francona will allow guys to take a little more time with their families over breakfast, and then to hit in the tunnel on their own rather than a full-scale on-field batting practice scenario. The players will take any opportunity whatsoever that can yield a break.
The training staff is also a bit busier this time of year. As Francona is fond of saying, almost nobody in the game is 100 percent healthy right now. The Red Sox have had a spate of sore backs, neck strains, illnesses and other ailments that, if not completely debilitating, have slowed some guys down.
“We’re a little beat up,” Francona said after the team dropped two of three at home to Tampa Bay in the middle of the month.
Baseball has a cyclical nature. Games are finite. People in the “real world” don’t always see the end of a season. Taking time for yourself, perhaps with a vacation or a day trip on weekends, is critical if you want to overcome the grind.
A great example on the Red Sox is Adrian Gonzalez. He entered the club’s recent eight-game road trip still leading the majors in hitting and among the league leaders in RBIs. Many still consider him a front-runner in the American League MVP race.
However, with designated hitter David Ortiz on the sidelines with right heel bursitis (another casualty of the dog days?), Gonzalez was one of the first to be thrust into Ortiz’s role, a concerted effort to give him a break. Gonzalez loves to play his defensive position and does it as well as anyone in the game. At this time of year, with Gonzalez showing some wear and tear and still bothered by a neck strain, it just makes sense to have him put his glove down for a day here and there.
“For the most part I don’t think Gonzie particularly likes [being the designated hitter], but I think today is a day where he’ll happily do it,” Francona said the day he installed Gonzalez as his DH. “Some guys don’t like it, but I think when you get to this point and you’re beat up, it does help.”
It’s all part of getting through the grind of August, otherwise known as the dog days of summer.