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A not-so-good year for the Sox

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Collectively, though, this just ain't the Red Sox's year. Even if they right the ship in time to squeeze into a playoff spot, they just don't smell like a post-season contender.


Question: What's the difference between the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Red Sox earned run average?

Answer: The Dow Jones is going down.

It is true that the Dow Jones is somewhere around 26,000 and the Sox' ERA is hovering at about 4.75, but doesn't it seem on some days like they should be reversed? This is a trend that was briefly interrupted the other night, when Chris Sale's evil twin failed to show up for a game against the Los Angeles Angels, causing Sale himself to make an emergency start. The result: eight innings pitched; 13 strike outs; and zero runs allowed.

Overall, though, this is just one of those years when nothing seems to go right for the Red Sox. Second guessing is something that Sox fans do best, and we're getting plenty of practice this summer. It's easy to point the finger of blame, but how can the same people who were geniuses just a year ago suddenly morph into incompetent doofuses one short season later?

When Sale (not the evil twin) put his signature on a new contract last March, the news was greeted with applause and pom poms. The team had locked him up for the foreseeable future. There were bows and handshakes all around. His record in two seasons with Red Sox was 29 wins against only 12 losses, and he had compiled an earned run average of just 2.56. He had made the American League all-star team for seven years in a row. But that was then. This is now. He and his dastardly brother have compiled a record this season of just 6-11 with an ERA of 4.41, and that includes last Thursday's gem. He has shown flashes of his former brilliance, but little or no consistency. His brother keeps sneaking into the clubhouse ahead of him and stealing his uniform. And the new deal doesn't even kick in until next season when the annual salary balloons from 15 to 30 million dollars. And the Sox have him, and hopefully not his brother, through 2024.

Who's to blame for what's gone wrong? Who's to say? It's certainly not a lack of effort or commitment on Sale's part. His coaches can't suddenly be feeding him misinformation about the opposition. It's true that in the past two years he has worn down late in the year, but that's not been an issue thus far this season.

The fact is that in baseball at its highest level there is a fine line between excellence and mediocrity. And the Red Sox, for some unfathomable reason, have lost their edge. They're just mediocre so far this year.

Take, for example, the case of Rick Porcello, the former Cy Young winner was coming off an excellent year in 2018 when he went 17-7. Thus far this season, he's a so-so 10-9 with an ugly ERA north of 5.55. It's not because he isn't trying. He takes good care of himself. Plus, this is his free-agent year, when there is serious money on the table. At the rate he is going, one can envision Porcello sitting home by the telephone as next season opens, hoping for someone to offer him something in the vicinity of the twenty one million dollars he's being paid this year.

The Red Sox tried mightily to sign Mookie Betts to a long term deal last winter when he was coming off a monster year. He was MVP and won the batting title with an average of .346. Mookie, however, preferred to test the free agent market in 2020. That decision could cost him millions of dollars. He heated up for awhile, but his average is still more than 60 points lower than a year ago and his power numbers, despite a three home run game not long ago, are down.

Xander Bogaerts, on the other hand, signed up for a deal beginning next year that will pay him an average salary of 20 million dollars a year for six years. So far, at least, it looks like a bargain. Bogaerts has been hitting the cover off the ball all year long, his defense has been, as usual, excellent, and he has emerged as a real leader.

Collectively, though, this just ain't the Red Sox's year. Even if they right the ship in time to squeeze into a playoff spot, they just don't smell like a post-season contender. They have undeniable talent and there have been no reports of clubhouse dissension or of late night carousing (although, given that they are a group of young guys in their twenties and early thirties, one can assume that there is always an element of that). 2018 seems like a long, long time ago, doesn't it?

It has been said that in baseball, as in all walks of life, true greatness is what happens when not many people are watching. When Edison was spending long days and evenings in his lab, unlocking the secrets of the incandescent light bulb, when Michelangelo was lying on his back on the scaffolding, painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, when Ted Williams was taking those hours and hours of extra batting practice, not many people were watching. Based on those criteria the Red Sox, as well as they did in 2018, are not a truly great team. They are not nearly on a par with the Yankees of the '20s; the Celtics of the '60s; or the present-day Patriots. That said, they are young and talented, and they've won it all once. They're stumbling this year, though, and we'll find out soon enough if they have it in them to, in the words of a pretty good song, pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start all over again.

Meanwhile, as the Sox search for answers to their problems, they seem to think they'll find them by looking into their caps. There has been a sudden rash of players checking their caps for information. Infielders check their caps before positioning themselves defensively. Outfielders, in contrast, pull index cards from their hip pockets. It's the pitchers, especially the relievers, who are most dependent on the inside of their hats. Apparently, the team has developed a new system of changing the catchers' signals when there are runners on second base (which seems to be a lot of the time), and the secret to that system is apparently found inside the pitchers' caps. Has it helped any? Well, I have a baseball cap, and I looked at the inside the other day. All it said was seven and an eighth, which seems to be a good set up line for another earned run gag.

- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox “Poet Laureate” and The Pilot’s recently minted Sports’ columnist.

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