Until just a few weeks ago, I was traipsing down the path of the content and just, confident in my knowledge that my Boston Red Sox were well on their way to a deep run in the playoffs. They had the most dominant offense in baseball, a pitching staff that was at least adequate, and a legitimate chance to finish the regular season with 100 wins. However, since then, Boston has reeled off a putrid 5-17 run that has left their playoff spot in doubt, and their fans in disgust at how the fortunes of their team could change so quickly.
Not used to experiencing such a collapse, I have been forced to find comfort and solace in unusual places. In the event that you ever experience something similar with your own team, I wanted to note some strategies I have utilized and seen other Boston fans endure through these trying times.
1. Hindsight is not 20/20. Feel free to criticize mistakes made by your team’s front office: The season looked so bright for the Red Sox before a pitch was ever thrown in spring training. It seemed like a major coup for the Sox in getting arguably the top two free agents on the market in Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. Even with these two new toys, things did not go as planned.
Gonzalez has been as advertised. No problems there. But Crawford has been an absolute stinker. He can seemingly no longer hit, strikes out a ton, and has stopped running for some inexplicable reason. Excuses like he is still getting used to playing in a large market are still floating around, but that is a total cop-out, and Boston should be scared to death about the final six years of his 142 million dollar deal.
John Lackey turned out to be another major whiff for the Red Sox front office. Signed for 82.5 million last year, he was expected to be a solid number three starter, but has been anything but. Lackey 6.49 ERA in 27 starts this year has been punctuated by the way he has stared down teammates in the field after an error or perceived misplay. Despite his disgust at the play behind him, ironically he leads the majors in earned runs allowed. Hopefully he looks in the mirror sometime soon and realizes what a large role he has taken in the disappointment in Boston this year.
2. Question the injuries: This may be a little harsh, but most diehard fans want explanations of extended absences from injuries, unless something is torn, broken, or perhaps detached. I am not advocating questioning the players, but how their absence and how that has been handled by the team. That being said, a lot of us want to know where the heck guys like J.D. Drew and Clay Buchholz have been, and without their return, why the Red Sox didn’t do more to fill their shoes.
Drew has not played since mid-July because of a shoulder impingement, and Buchholz has been out since mid-June with a bad back. Neither has been seen since, and the Boston response was to bring up decidedly average Josh Reddick from the minors to play right field, and trade for Eric Bedard, who has been on the disabled list so much during his career that he might as well own a time share there. This also goes back to point #1; why wouldn’t the Sox, with seemingly endless resources, have done more to improve their depth?
Depth, particularly in the pitching staff has absolutely killed the Red Sox this year. I love him and everything he has done for Boston, but a playoff team can’t trot out a pitcher like Tim Wakefield every fifth day. He is hit hard a lot more often than he is not these days, and the time has probably come to thank him for his 17 years of service and find another option for next year.
3. Root for your enemies: Sometimes it’s okay to cheer for your enemies. Many of us Red Sox fans found ourselves in that position this past week when we lustily cheered for the Yankees to beat the Tampa Bay Rays, who were rapidly closing in on Boston in the Wild Card race. Fortunately New York came through and beat them in three out of four and helped keep Tampa at bay even as the Red Sox continued to lose.
The rivalries only mean something if they directly affect your team. If you have to root for your primary rival to better the chances that your team will then be able them in the playoffs, then so be it. The Yankees are going to still be the Yankees regardless if Boston fans want them to beat up on another team. If anything, it adds another element to the rivalry.
4. Accentuate the positives: Prior to this decade I became very accustomed to the “wait until next year” credo. The sting of losing was sometimes softened by thinking of the good parts of the team and season that could be built on for the next year.
Although Carl Crawford regressed into a shell of his former self, Jacoby Ellsbury surprised many by coming out and producing a close facsimile. His production was even more welcome, coming off his lost 2010 season, where his toughness and dedication were questioned as he battled a rib injury.
It is clear that the offense is the one area of the Red Sox that is locked down for the foreseeable future. With Gonzalez, Ellsbury, and Dustin Pedroia forming the core of the lineup, the team can focus on more important areas like pitching and defense going forward. The lineup should get even better as well since dead wood like Drew, Marco Scutaro, and (regrettably) Jason Varitek should be coming off the books at the end of the year.
5. Give no mercy: At the end of the day, don’t make excuses for why your team has collapsed. Winners win, and losers try to skirt around the fact that they were not strong enough to make to the end.
The Red Sox were good enough to be one of the best teams in baseball for the first four months of the season. No matter the challenges, they should be good enough to finish out the final month of the season and head into the playoffs without the extreme angst they have created throughout the New England region.
If the Red Sox fail to make the playoffs this year it will be nobody’s fault but their own. They had a commanding lead in the race, but have essentially lost their minds since entering September. The bats are still hitting for the most part, but the pitching has been atrocious and the defense lackadaisical. Sure, they encountered some bad breaks, but between their pedigree, collection of players, and initial lead in the standings, what has unfolded is totally unacceptable.
If your team ever collapses like my Red Sox have, you are not going to find much comfort in anything. But it is important to identify coping mechanisms to make the experience as bearable as possible. I have made it through so far by adhering to my strategies outlined above. There are just a few games left in the regular season, and somehow I am still sane, though it remains to be seen what the ultimate fate of the Red Sox is this year. All I know is I never want to go through this again.
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