The fans have been unhappy with the team's record (44-43 going into Saturday night), which has spent more days below .500 than above it. Manager Bobby Valentine has not been happy with the team's injuries, and the bad bounces and borderline calls that he says steal games. The press, or media, or whatever you call the group that objectively or subjectively adds up the season in innumerable ways each day, has definitely not been happy with the Red Sox, in that it has constantly reiterated that this team is not playing up to expectations.
But of all the people not happy with how the season has gone so far, those outside the team cannot forget that the players are not happy, either. The Red Sox don't put on the uniform to put up Padre-like numbers, and any major league player wants to win. To say that the players are OK with how the season has gone so far would be a gross misjudgment.
But a major storyline of this season has not just been the team's poor play. Injuries have been there, but insults have come, too. The team may not like to be reminded of last September, and players may not want to know each day how poorly things are going, but it is reality. And, as hard as the Sox have tried to shake that reality with winning spurts here and stretches of good play there, the team has failed to mount a major breakthrough. This team has the gumption to turn its season around, but so far, it's been lacking that little extra that will move the group in a positive direction for the long run.
What the Red Sox need now is accountability — a giant push to answer the critics, take blame for whatever has happened so far and go hard in the same direction. With players coming off the disabled list and pitchers finding their form, the team will get a natural boost. But that boost needs to be combined with serious movement toward an acknowledgement and dismissal of past problems. That will allow the Red Sox to go on with a clean slate, letting their record prove once and for all that this team is about playing hard — and hopefully winning.
The Red Sox could use change in a few basic areas.
First, every time the team falters, rumors spread of distrust in the clubhouse. Valentine's first year has had its hurdles, but perhaps the worst part of the poor play so far is that the team hasn't had a chance to let loose and really get along with its new manager. Parts of the club felt the team needed major change after last fall, while others didn't see a mandate when Valentine came in. Whichever side is true, though, there's no doubt that the Red Sox would be much better off if unified in some way around Valentine.
Player-to-player relationships have also been said to take a hit, no matter how many times the players deny the speculation and speak up for each other. They may be right, and the team may be in order, but something must be happening for there to be rumors at all.
And finally, for as lousy as the season has been, and as much as the players have acknowledged it, the Red Sox are still missing a large measure of remorse. For the times that players have taken the blame after games and said they didn't get it done, they've also been slow to accept correction at other points. Valentine and some players often defend horrid stretches of play, saying the effort was still there. But true champions aren't going to excuse any moments that are less than excellent. Every "we gave it our best" needs to be accompanied with an "it wasn't enough." No hints of mediocrity should crop up on a team built for greatness, no matter how the season turns out.
The players have every right to be defensive, as they've had to take an earful all season about matters that are often out of their control. But that doesn't mean they can't be aggressive with what they can control — getting behind their manager, getting behind their teammates and getting behind a no-excuses policy when it comes to superior playing. And while much of the team has done parts of this so far, the Red Sox won't be able to latch onto real success until all of the players start being proactive in all of these areas. A few new bats in the lineup and a couple more wins could mask the problems the team has to hear about every day now, but long-term success depends on the team making sure its house is in order as soon as possible.
One of the most difficult parts of the season is the divide that has formed between those who continue to be optimistic about the Red Sox and those who say they're just calling it how they see it. The supporters have grown increasingly tired of the critics, saying they need to just leave the team alone until it can get its feet back underneath. The critics, on the other hand, say the team needs to be spurred to play better and work harder, or it will have no chance to get its feet back.
What the team needs is a fresh start, a time where it can stop looking at what's been heaped on it so far and just plan for a strong half of baseball. Whatever problems there were as the season began can be shelved. Any learning curves with Valentine should be dismissed. Hangovers from tough outings can be relegated to another time. The Sox have a brand-new half of baseball waiting for them, with an even record coming out of the break. They can still make a dent in the league and its standings, but better yet, they can set a new standard for what Boston baseball should be, both now and in the future.
The questions of how the clubhouse feels or what has been said are distracting and often unfortunate, but they don't have to be the theme going forward. Those on the outside — the fans, the media and even the manager — can't change that. In a sense, winning can't change it, either, because that will just have people wondering whether it will all regress. But the players can do serious work in not only dismissing the rumors but also in proving them wrong. They are the ones who control their coverage, because they are the ones working with each other, and the ones who can win.
Dustin Pedroia seemed to be getting the team off to a good start when he spoke words of affirmation for Valentine the other day. Of all the players, he's had one of the toughest adjustments, as the manager he knew for his entire playing career was replaced by a guy he didn't quite have figured out. And now, despite a rocky beginning, Pedroia doesn't appear to be holding any grudges. He's looking forward.
The Red Sox should take his cue. A little self-realization and wiping the slate clean could mean a drastically different second half.
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