The Red Sox have no excuses for the start to their season, which has been as flat as yesterday’s glass of champagne. Unlike the Yankees, they are mostly healthy, with their starting lineup in the Bronx Tuesday night featuring six batters and one pitcher who appeared in the Game 4 playoff clincher on the same field last fall.
Thus, no excuses. What they also don’t have are explanations. For the life of them, the defending world champions have no idea why they are so lifeless.
“We’ve been inconsistent in every aspect of the game: pitching, offense, defense, baserunning. It’s on us to clean it up and play better,” manager Alex Cora said. “If we do, we’re one of the best teams in the big leagues if not the best. We know what we have to get better at. It’s pretty simple. Get better at everything.”
Easier said than done. In their 8-0 loss, they made Mike Tauchman, the ninth-place batter in the Yankees’ injury-ravaged batting order, look like Babe Ruth (run-scoring double in the fourth, three-run homer in the sixth). They made Yankees starting pitcher James Paxton look like Whitey Ford (eight shutout innings, two hits 12 strikeouts).
Chris Sale, Boston’s ace, left with an 0-4 record, an 8.50 ERA and absolutely zero answers. “I’m not going to sugar-coat it. I just flat-out stink right now,” he said after allowing four runs on seven hits in five innings. “This is as frustrated as I’ve ever been on a baseball field. I’ve got to find a way to pitch better. This is flat-out embarrassing, for my family, for our team, for our fans. This is as bad as it gets.”
Cora does not believe in the concept of a World Series hangover. He said ballplayers do get hangovers, but not from having guzzled bubbly the previous October (or November). “It’s because you had a few extra pops the night before,” he said.
All the pop so far has been in the opponents’ bats, and so far the Red Sox are stumped as to why.
Here is one possible explanation: Maybe the arms have not bounced back from the wear and tear of winning 108 regular-season games and 11 more in the postseason. Pitchers went above and beyond. Sale, for instance, threw a pivotal relief inning in the finale of the Yankees series.
And maybe the Red Sox could have used the shot of adrenaline that a new player or two would have brought. They had no significant imports this winter and lost closer Craig Kimbrel and key reliever Joe Kelly.
You’d have thought the mere sight of the Yankees would have lit a fire under the champs. You’d have been wrong. “We could be playing the Caguas Crillos, where I’m from in Puerto Rico, and we’d need to find a spark. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” Cora said, adding of the Yankees, “I think the fans have actually connected with that team over there because of who they are, they’re young. They’re cool to watch.”
Actually, the Yankees were not so hot at home against the Orioles, Tigers and White Sox. The Red Sox arrived just in time to make the home side look and feel good.
Either the Yankees or Red Sox have won the American League East 15 times since 2000 and only once in that span did they both fail to make the postseason (2014). The credo is just to stay close to the rival and you’re in good shape. That might not be true this year, with the Rays appearing solid.
Sure, there is a long, long way to go. But the Red Sox (6-12) have only vague ideas about how to get out of the hole. “Keep grinding, got to keep working, got to get back to where we were,” Sale said. As for everything else, he added the phrase that sums up their April: “I don’t know.”