Now that the season in which we bring good tidings to you and your kin is over, we come bearing those of the bad variety, or at least a scenario that could be considered less than ideal for Red Sox fans.
It’s hard to find something to make local loyalists feel worried about the upcoming season, but before you go off planning your October around a long playoff run, make sure you prepare for an April that fails to meet expectations.
One factor in this theory is that the expectations will be massive. Injured stars will be back, new additions will be on board and many prognosticators will have Boston going all the way for the third time in eight seasons. Those expectations will be hard to live up to.
Another lies in the players themselves, many of whom will either be shaking off the rust, returning from injury or doing their best to turn around a career worth of slow starts.
This is not a glass-half-empty outlook or an effort to knock fans off cloud nine. It’s simply a realistic understanding that the best days for several Red Sox players may not be within that first month or so, but rather when the weather warms. And if a handful of them are struggling at the same time, the eagerly anticipated April could be as cool as its early spring temperatures.
For beginners, simply consider the projected lineup, one through nine.
Jacoby Ellsbury: Last month, Ellsbury was still feeling something in his back as he rehabs in Arizona from a season wasted by broken ribs. The something he was feeling was expected and part of the healing process. But until we see Ellsbury going first to third on a single to right or tracking one down in the gap in Fort Myers, we will not know how far along he is in getting back to the guy who hit .301 with 70 stolen bases in 2009.
Dustin Pedroia: There doesn’t figure to be any issues with Pedroia’s once-broken left foot once spring training rolls around, but this is the first time he will have to shake off considerable rust to get going. Pedroia hasn’t played meaningful baseball since June. Although he had a great April last year, his career OPS in the month (plus any March games) is .771 — all other months are .801 or higher.
Carl Crawford: Like Pedroia, Crawford sometimes takes a while to get going. His March/April OPS is .736, nearly 50 points below his career mark, and it is the only month in which he has hit below .290 over the course of his career (.281). Plus, he will have 142 million reasons to perform well. There will be pressure.
Adrian Gonzalez: The new first baseman has been a pretty consistent performer from April through September, but he won’t be swinging a bat for several more weeks due to shoulder surgery. His progress will be the big story throughout spring training. Expect plenty of rust until and perhaps beyond Opening Day.
Kevin Youkilis: The new third baseman has made a career out of fast starts and usually rakes until about the All-Star break. However, he is also coming off a season-ending injury. Youkilis does not figure to have any lingering problems with his surgically repaired thumb, but it is something to keep an eye on.
David Ortiz: If you are unaware of what Ortiz has done early in recent seasons, you have not been paying much attention to the Red Sox. In 2009, he did not get his batting average above .200 until June 11. Last year, he hit .143 with a home run in April. A slow start is almost expected.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia: The new starting catcher has played only 21 career games in April, so the sample size is too small. He will be another player looking to rebound from a season-ending injury, and will have some pressure to perform out of the gate by a fan base that has yet to see anything from him.
J.D. Drew: Entering what could be his final season in a Red Sox uniform, Drew is a career .270 hitter in March/April, but hits a bit higher in all other months. It’s not glaring, but notable.
Marco Scutaro: Like several others on this list, Scutaro saw his 2010 campaign cut short due to a physical issue. He is a 35-year-old shortstop who struggled to make throws across the diamond late last year. Scutaro has performed just fine in April over the course of his career. Let’s see how he responds from an offseason that has him concentrating on a throwing program to improve shoulder strength.
As for the pitchers?
Jon Lester: He has been a notoriously slow starter, posting a 3-6 record and a 4.76 ERA in 17 career starts before May. After May, he is 58-19 with a 3.37 mark. That says it all.
Clay Buchholz: In his first full season in the rotation, Buchholz set the tone for a phenomenal campaign with a 2.19 ERA in four starts. No problems with slow starts on his end.
Josh Beckett: The right-hander’s March/April 1.294 WHIP is second-highest among his monthly splits. His 2.63 strikeout-to-walk ratio in that time period is his lowest. He hasn’t been bad, but Beckett sometimes takes a few weeks to get going. Oh yeah, he’s coming off the worst year of his career, so it’s not like he’s starting at a high point.
John Lackey: Fresh off a sometimes rocky first season in Boston, Lackey will be looking to start strong in the month that has seen him post a career ERA of 4.79 and a WHIP of 1.559, some ugly April numbers. This Texan likes pitching when it gets a bit warmer.
Daisuke Matsuzaka: Since his strong 2008 campaign, Matsuzaka has made just two starts in the month of April due to injuries, giving up nine runs in 6 1/3 innings. Simply put, he’s been nowhere to be found until May.
Last season saw the Sox go 11-12 in April, creating a hole from which they never completely dug themselves out. It is obvious everyone is amped for a better start this year, but considering several players’ physical conditions and their histories in the first month of the season, you might have to wait until May to see it all come together. Until then, we offer good tidings.
Do you think the Red Sox will have a slow start? Leave your comments below.