By Sean Sylver, 98.5 The Sports Hub
There’s a scene in Anchorman where Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd just turned 50, by the way), the night after a rager at Ron Burgundy’s house, cigarette dangling from his mouth, pours coffee and announces, "That was one crazy party. I am ... hung over."
That’s the Red Sox right now. They’re you at work the Monday after the Super Bowl. They’re your roommate a good decade ago, the morning after Topanga from Boy Meets World randomly made an appearance pouring drinks at a now-defunct Boston establishment.
While they didn't exactly Ovechkin their championship celebration last fall (although Jared Carrabis made a good-enough run at it), it's entirely evident that this team has the proverbial "World Series hangover."
We've delved into the reasons why nobody has managed a repeat this century, and the Red Sox currently exhibit multiple symptoms. After returning most of a roster that fetched 108 wins and steamrolled through the 2018 postseason, early returns indicate the Sox probably expected more of the same and instead received a rude awakening.
The collective faceplant of the starting five has been the most jarring. After a Spring Training where Boston more than doubled down on last year's approach of handling their starters with kid gloves - the trio of Chris Sale, David Price and Nathan Eovaldi logging a grand total of 22.2 Grapefruit League innings across six starts - they’ve looked anything but sharp. Babying Sale didn't work in 2018, as he failed to give the Sox more than 5.1 innings in any start after July 27 (including the playoffs). He picked right back up with an Opening Day clunker against the Mariners where he was out after 3 innings and 7 earned runs.
Price and Eovaldi have ceded 17 earned runs across 22 innings pitched. Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez: 22 earned in 15.1 frames.
The offense has also been lethargic. A top flight attack has regressed to 17th in baseball in runs per game and 18th in homers per game. It’s a small sample, but the Sox have lost games in that sample because of it. They’ve left runners stranded on base and others cut down in between the bags. Oakland’s Ramon Laureano may well have <a href="">the biggest cannon this side of Vladimir Guerrero Sr., but runners getting thrown out with this alarming frequency was supposed to be a problem left behind with the Farrell regime.
Their lack of focus is perhaps most apparent in nine errors and a .976 fielding percentage that ranks 26th in baseball. The Benny Hill-esque defensive routine was best exemplified in the Oakland series when a fly ball dropped between Gold Glovers Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley, leading to the unraveling of Eduardo Rodriguez, now in his fifth season as a member of the Boston rotation and still about as reliable as a Yugo.
And to everyone’s surprise, other than a single late inning meltdown, the bullpen hasn't been the problem. Sunday's 1-0 win over the Diamondbacks is perhaps the latest measure of comfort on that front, as five pitchers combined on the shutout to avoid a sweep. But the offense was still limited to four hits over 8 innings - against journeyman Merrill Kelly.
Alex Cora has remained even-keeled and clearly expects his team to right the ship. It’s almost inevitable for a team with this level of talent to be destined for a run. The last Red Sox team to start this poorly, the 2011 club, also boasted a raft of talent but lurched out of the gate at 2-9. They rebounded to a season-high 31 games over .500 by Labor Day before stumbling over buckets of fried chicken and empty beer cans in the clubhouse, or so the story goes.
But even Cora admitted "We're not paying attention to details" after a loss in Oakland. The ship doesn’t just right itself.
An 11-game West Coast road trip is a slog at any point of the season. Eleven games in 11 days - even tougher. The Red Sox can’t put that stretch in the rearview mirror fast enough. They’ve got plenty of home cooking with 16 of their next 21 at Fenway (where they went 61-26 last year, including the postseason) and some presumed gimmes against the likes of the Orioles and Tigers.
Just five years ago, the defending champion Sox submitted a sub-.500 April and never recovered. With a 3-8 record and the home opener at Fenway this afternoon, it's time for this year’s squad to break out the Pedialyte.
Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. You can follow him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.