By Dick Flavin
Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate
and New York Times Best Selling Author
THE BASEBALL SEASON IS UNDERWAY – FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE
Question: Should we be panic-stricken over the Red Sox’ slow start this season?
Answer: No. It’s a long season and there is plenty of time for the Sox to hit their stride.
Question: Should we be worried about the Red Sox’ slow start this season?
Answer: You better believe we should.
It might be early, but the games in April count as much in the standings as those in
September. The Sox’ slow break from the gate all but assures that last year’s franchise
record of 108 wins during the regular season won’t be challenged. Last year they charged
to a 17-2 record to begin the season and built upon that by staying hot all year. This time
their record is well below .500. Not only is 108 wins already beyond reach, but it also
looks like the 100 win mark is a fast-fading hope. That is of concern because if the New
York Yankees play as well this year as they did in 2018, when they had exactly 100 wins
(granted, the Yanks are having troubles of their own in the early going), the Sox could
finish in second place in the American League East. That would make them, at best, a
wild-card team and subject to the whims of a one-game playoff against the league’s
other wild-card, perhaps the Oakland A’s, who have already whipped olde towne team in
three out of four games this year.
Of particular concern is the starting pitching, heretofore considered one of the team’s
strongest assets. Through 13 games the starters had compiled exactly zero wins to go
along with their 8 losses. And the combined earned run average of Messers Sale, Price,
Porcello, Eovaldi, and Rodriguez was – are you sitting down? – more than 10.00. Oof!
Chris Sale, the erstwhile ace of the staff, has been especially alarming. His velocity has
been way down, from 98 MPH to the 91-92 range. Always a strike out pitcher, he has
been getting few if any swings and misses. It’s not that Sale or any of the others have
become smug, not that they aren’t giving their all. It’s just that, at least so far, their best
effort is not enough.
It’s instructive to go back to the last time the Red Sox were coming off of a one-hundred
plus winning season to see what happened then. It was more than 70 years ago. In 1946
they won 104 games in what then was only a 154 games schedule. Led by Ted Williams,
they were a terrific hitting team, but it was their starting pitching that really stood out.
Three men, Dave Ferriss (25-6), Tex Hughson (20-11), and Mickey Harris (17-11),
combined for 62 wins and led the way to an easy pennant victory. Though they were
upset in the World Series that year when Enos Slaughter stole the seventh game with his
mad dash to home in the eighth inning, the Sox were the odds-on favorite to repeat as
American League champions in 1947. But Ferriss, Hughson, and Harris all came down
with sore arms, and none of them ever fully recovered. The Red Sox were still a hitting
machine that year – Ted Williams won the Triple Crown – but pitching wins, and the lack
of it doesn’t. The Sox went from 104 wins in ’46 to, without their three top starters who
combined for only 29 wins, just 83 victories in ’47, good for only a third place finish.
Bobby Doerr always said that if it hadn’t been for the career altering sore arms suffered
by Ferriss, Hughson, and Harris in 1947 we’d be reading about the Red Sox dynasty of
the late forties and early fifties and not that of the Yankees. Maybe he was right.
Interestingly, none of the sore-armed trio ever won more than 7 games a season after
1947. Ferriss and Harris both won 7 in 1948; Ferriss never won another game in the
majors. The best Hughson could do was 4 wins in 1949, his last season.
This is not to predict that the Red Sox of 2019 are headed for disaster. They are not, at
least I hope not. For all we know it might be the Yankees who are doomed. After all,
they’ve already suffered more than their share of injuries in the early days of this season.
Alex Cora was the smartest guy in a baseball uniform last year. Mookie Betts was the
best player – better than even Mike Trout. J.D. Martinez flirted with a Triple Crown.
Xander Boegarts matured into a real leader. There is no reason that those guys cannot
step up again. If David Price can find the groove he was in last September and October; if
Eduardo Rodriguez can develop the consistency he needs to be the top-of-the-rotation
starter he is capable of being; if Nathan Eovaldi can provide the inspiration he did in the
World Series; if Chris Sale can figure out how to be Chris Sale again, the Red Sox will be
right in the thick of the fight until the very end again this year.
That’s why a baseball season is so compelling. Anything can happen and, in one way or
another, it probably will.
Meanwhile, watch out for Tampa Bay. Almost unnoticed, they won 90 games in the
American League East last year. If they can pick it up just a bit while the Red Sox and/or
Yankees slip a little bit – who knows?
That’s why they play the games. Some kid pitcher you never heard of could shut down
the opposing team’s best hitter. A gold glove infielder could inexplicably let a ball go
through his legs. You might catch a foul ball. I must admit here that I spent the first half
of my life praying that a ball would be hit in my direction and the second half praying
that one would not be hit in my direction!
The 2019 baseball season is underway, along with all of the questions it brings. Six
months from now we’ll have the answers.