The Red Sox are Playing with an “Eff You” Mentality, and This Time That’s a Bad Thing


– Shane Carley –

After a week on the road during which they went on a 6-1 tear, the Red Sox promptly followed up with a 1-6 week at home.  27 games into the season, the Red Sox have won exactly four games at Fenway Park. The team is clearly having trouble playing in front of its own fans, and many people are wondering why.

I posit the “Eff You” Theory.

After last year’s end of the season collapse, Josh Beckett was the most prominent Red Sox player to make his displeasure with the fan backlash known. When a player is unhappy with his circumstances and makes that unhappiness known, there are usually two ways that frustration can manifest itself. The first way, as David Ortiz has been demonstrating through April and May, is to go on an absolute tear, producing more than anyone expected, as a way to say “eff you, you were wrong about me.”  The second way, as Manny Ramirez demonstrated at the end of his time in Boston, is to just go through the motions, not put in any more effort than is necessary, and generally half-ass your job.

The 2012 Red Sox are an interesting study in what happens when both of those options manifest themselves at the same time.

One problem that the Red Sox face when trying to direct their pent up frustration is that most players on the team aren’t really sure who they’re angry with. Beckett has made it clear he is angry with the fans. Dustin Pedroia has intimated that the issue of the clubhouse mole still has yet to be dealt with, so some players are angry with each other. Jon Lester seemed to be most angry with himself. And a number of players are likely angry with management for firing Terry Francona.

When you look at those competing motivations, you begin to see the problem. There is no common direction to focus that energy.  Unfortunately for the 2012 edition of the Boston Red Sox, that has translated into energetic play on the road and listless play at home.

Let’s put it in normal human terms. Have you ever wronged someone, then ended up in the same place as them? Let’s say you slept with a girl who turned out to be your buddy’s girlfriend. Whoops. He’s mad at you, but you protest that you didn’t know. Then let’s say, a month later, you end up at the same party as your buddy. You’re both mad at each other. Both trying to avoid each other. You don’t want there to be a scene but you’re both definitely on edge for the rest of the night.

That’s the current relationship between the Red Sox and their fans. The fans will cheer when the Red Sox perform well, certainly. But they’re not going out of their way to be the pick-me-up that they used to be, to help the team get on track. And they’re not shedding any tears for the team’s failures as they might have in years past. No, the predominant emotion in the stands at Fenway is not joy. It’s not even sadness. It’s anger, and it’s boiling just under the surface.

Would you be able to perform at your best if you knew that 37,400 fans were just a stone’s (or baseball’s) throw away, waiting for any excuse to jump on your shortcomings?  I know I wouldn’t. Hell, I can barely use the urinal if there’s a complete stranger standing next to me.

I’m not making excuses for the team. The fans have every right to be angry (at least I hope so, because I’m angry as hell).  But before we blast the players for being lazy, apathetic, or whatever other insult is currently being thrown at them, let’s take a step back and consider the situation they’re in, and give them the benefit of the doubt. There are other explanations for failure than laziness.

Now, on to other matters.

Report from the Ryan Sweeney Bandwagon: This week, Sweeney batted 7-20, keeping his season ERA locked in at a team-high .368.  Somehow, this isn’t enough to get him a regular spot in the outfield ahead of the .240-hitting Marlon Byrd or the .184-hitting Darnell McDonald. THE PEOPLE CRY OUT FOR MORE SWEENEY!

F–kin’ Jeter, Man: Derek Jeter and David Ortiz are inexplicably both still in the top five in AL batting average. And–wait–who’s that who’s joined them in the top five? GOOD GOD, THAT’S RYAN SWEENEY’S MUSIC!

Will Middlebrooks Call-Up Watch: Boy, that was fast! Will Middlebrooks actually got called up the day after I began the Will Middlebrooks Call-Up Watch, so this will go down as the shortest-lived feature in the history of this column. Middlebrooks has looks pretty damn good in the three games he’s played, hitting .313 and even knocking in a game-tying grand slam on Sunday.

This Week in Adrian Gonzalez Hit Pieces: The Boston Globe’s Eric Wilbur (of “blame Brady for blowing the Super Bowl” fame) put out a piece today tearing Adrian Gonzalez to shreds. He accused him of being devoid of passion, a “forgettable MVP,” and called him the perfect face for the Red Sox collapse. Worse, he compared him to JD Drew, perhaps my least favorite player in Red Sox history. I could go through this hit piece point by point, but I won’t waste your time. In a season where it took Albert Pujols 111 at-bats to hit a home run, is Eric Wilbur unfamiliar with the concept of a slump?

Stat of the Week: After his one three-run inning of work in Sunday’s 17-inning marathon of a game, outfielder Darnell McDonald’s ERA stands at 27.00. This gives him a season ERA that is 22.50 points better than supposed pre-season closer candidate Mark Melancon’s.

Stat of the Week #2: Five members of the much-maligned Red Sox bullpen currently have an ERA under 2.00. They are: Andrew Miller (0.00, one appearance), Matt Albers (1.29, 12 appearances), Scott Atchison (1.35, 13 appearances), Clayton Mortensen (1.42, two appearances), and Rich Hill (1.93, four appearances). While the other three will need more time to judge, Albers and Atchison are quietly having great seasons.

The Week Ahead:

The Sox are (thankfully?) taking a quick, three-game road trip to Kansas City where they’ll hope to beat up on the Royals. Then it’s back to Fenway for a four-game series against Cleveland. The Red Sox won’t have a day off until May 24th, meaning they’re in the middle of a brutal stretch of 20 straight games. If the Sox really are listless and out of shape, it will probably show during this stretch.

As for me, I’m more of the mind that Gonzalez will sort himself out, and now seems like a good time. Of course, every time I predict that the Red Sox are going to do well, they fail, and every time I predict that they’ll fail, they do well, so A-Gon will probably strike out 57 times this week.  In any case, let’s take a look at the probable pitching matchups:

5/7: Boston (Doubront) @ Kansas City (Sanchez)
5/8: Boston (Bard) @ Kansas City (Duffy)
5/9: Boston (Lester) @ Kansas City (Chen)
5/10: Cleveland (Lowe) @ Boston (Beckett)
5/11: Cleveland (Jimenez) @ Boston (Buchholz)
5/12: Cleveland (Tomlin) @ Boston (Doubront)
5/13: Cleveland (Masterson) @ Boston (Bard)

Kansas City currently has a worse record than the Red Sox, and their lineup doesn’t have nearly as much potential. I like the Red Sox to continue their streak of road dominance and sweep Kansas City in their own ballpark. Cleveland will pose more of a problem, as they’ll have a solid stretch of pitchers against the Sox shaky rotation (not to mention the series is at Fenway).  Justin Masterson has completely dominated the Red Sox since they traded him away for Victor Martinez. I’ve always loved Justin Masterson, and unfortunately I think he’s going to continue owning the Red Sox. Cleveland will take three out of four.

Fearless Prediction for the Week: 4-3

Last week’s prediction: 4-2. Last week’s results: 1-5

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