Political debates run rampant, their tone downright sarcastic when an elected official messes up. Traffic jams involve lengthy dissections by talking heads on your TV and radio dial. And sports teams are under constant criticism when winning ways are hard to come by.
For the Red Sox, the microscope during tough times can lead to intense pressure, enough to derail a season. Avoiding the long slumps which can draw the scavengers to Yawkey Way will be critical to the team’s success in 2010.
The club was essentially re-invented this offseason, with multiple moves designed to solidify the defense and bolster the pitching. The changes leave the organization vulnerable for increased scrutiny if and when any slumps occur; hard questions will fly from the mouths of those hoping for better results.
Whose big idea was it to target defense?
Where is the offense?
Is this really the right mix of players?
While such questions can sting, especially when there is no good answer, the slumps themselves can have a more lasting effect.
The 2009 Red Sox lost six games in a row on two occasions. Before the first slide began in early August, they were tied with the New York Yankees in the loss column. When it was complete they sat 6 1/2 games back, and never challenged the Yanks thereafter.
The second such slide occurred from Sept. 25 to Sept. 30 and seemingly set the tone for the three-game sweep in the first round of the ALDS days later. The boys were not playing their best ball entering October.
In 2006, there was a 7-20 stretch in the second half which included a five-game sweep at home against the Bronx Bombers. The ugliness turned a division leader into an also-ran in less than a month.
The 2005 version was sitting pretty atop the division with less than a month to go. When it suddenly forgot how to score runs and went 6-8 as September came to a close, New York made its move and wound up clinching the division (again) on Fenway soil. Somewhat defeated and with their critics out in full force, the Sox were swept in the ALDS, scoring just nine runs in the three losses and looking like a team which was mentally out of it.
Remember the 2002 team? It entered August tied for the Wild Card lead and just four back of the Yanks in the division. A 14-18 period helped make the New Yorkers runaway winners and turn the wild card into a long shot that never came to fruition.
By contrast, the championship 2007 team saw just two four-game losing streaks, both with the club comfortably in front in the division race. And in 2004, after the memorable 11-10 win over New York in a July game which featured Jason Varitek feed leather to Alex Rodriguez, the Sox lost more than two straight just once, a three-game losing streak in mid-September that did little to hurt their wild card run.
With New York as strong as ever and Tampa Bay poised to challenge again, the division is as tough as it has ever been. The Yanks and Rays will be ready to bury anyone who falters (just as they were buried during second-half losing streaks in 2008 and 2009, respectively), making this one of the most important seasons in some time to maintain consistency. A significant slump could mean not only second place, but third as well, making the climb back to the top that much more difficult.
The second general manager Theo Epstein used the term “bridge” to describe 2010 as a season which might serve to simply span eras, Sox fans were up in arms. How dare he attempt to tread water while New York reloads and Tampa Bay eyes another run? Whether Epstein meant to imply that this would be a rebuilding season or not, the simple insinuation that it could be did not sit so well.
The moment the losses pile up, those same critics will come to the forefront and ask what this whole run prevention stuff was all about. People will notice. In Boston, they always do.
From now until Opening Day, NESN.com will run down 25 things that need to happen for the Red Sox to win the World Series.
April 4: Don’t sign Paul Byrd.