Hackett: The concerns are very real for these Red Sox

Jim Hackett
April 10, 2019 - 11:09 pm

Winning begets winning, just see the 2018 World Series champion Red Sox for proof of that. However, on that same theme, losing most certainly begets losing and you need to look no further than the standings or the sloppy play of the first two weeks of the Red Sox new season for evidence.

The Red Sox who now stand at an uninspired 3-9 after their first 12 games have left me concerned about one critical thing and it’s something that never penetrated that magical 2018 team. They have learned how to lose and are showing concerning and repetitive signs as the losses pile up. With The Masters beginning today, I’ll steal a phrase from the world of golf: the Red Sox have a case of the yips. I just hope they don’t turn into David Duval, a former champion who lost it suddenly and never got it back.  

The season is two weeks old and the Red Sox have failed every test so far. Most alarming to me was their failure at Tuesday’s home opener which offered the perfect opportunity to hit the reset button and whisk off the collective dust. The championship ring ceremony, the hanging of the new banner, the home opener and their ace Chris Sale on the hill to face a lousy opponent offered the perfect combination to unlock their winning formula, one that has been MIA since winning it all last October. The result? Another ugly loss. But this time there was an air of carelessness and vulnerability on the field that even the lowly Toronto Blue Jays were able to recognize and prey upon. 

When Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. stole home in the disastrous fourth inning it wasn’t the actual play that bothered me, it was the fact that the Blue Jays were ready to catch the Red Sox napping. Just waiting for a sign and as the slumping shoulders of the Red Sox started to show, the Jays, like the Mariners, the A’s and the Diamondbacks before them were ready to pounce. I had great seats on Tuesday right next to the Red Sox dugout and the look on the faces at the moment of any and all small failures was tangible. A bad at-bat, a long inning in the field, you could feel and very clearly see the weight on their faces. They know they aren’t playing well. The bigger problem is that their opponents do too and they are just biding their time with heightened awareness to strike when the opportunity comes. The kind of awareness and alertness that anchored last year’s Red Sox team ironically.

The Red Sox are clearly not ready for primetime baseball yet and as the clock ticks, the book is already out on them. The hyper-vigilance that served the 2018 Red Sox so well is becoming a blurry memory as untimely walks, baserunning gaffes, defensive lapses and a general lack of alertness have sadly been the hallmarks of these 2019 Red Sox thus far. The Blue Jays shouldn’t be able to compete against the Red Sox on an even playing field, but if the mental focus isn’t there, then any big league team, even the Blue Jays, Orioles or other bottom feeding American League teams will be able to beat them. You can’t just show up and win and now it will only get more difficult as it will take six wins in a row just to get to .500. 

Equally as important is the fact that their opponents will be gunning for the Red Sox all season long.

They are the defending champions and played with a very obvious swagger for the entire 2018 season. I’m sure that off put plenty of the American League counterparts and am equally certain the Blue Jays dugout was feeling damn good on Tuesday knowing that they peed in the Red Sox championship banner day punch bowl. The Red Sox came out of spring training last year with a giant chip on their shoulders, itching to prove everybody wrong after two years of lackluster postseason failures. They had the eye of the tiger, came out hungry and never lost the taste for blood. This year? Like Mickey candidly told Rocky Balboa in the beginning of "Rocky III" as he tried to talk Rocky out of taking the fight with Clubber Lang: "You got civilized."

Frankly, I don’t think the necessary level of focus or preparation was anywhere close to what they had the year prior. Not even close. 

So here we are, entering the third week of the season and already 6 1/2 games back and six games under .500. Granted, it’s way too early to panic, but the concerns are real. Put it this way, history shows that it’s very difficult to get everyone streaking at the same time in baseball. When do you ever see all nine guys in the batting order hitting well? When do you ever see all five starters giving you quality starts? When have you seen clean bullpen innings, great starts and great hitting all at the same time? It doesn’t happen a lot, if at all and if the Red Sox poor play continues, they’ll need that kind of herculean effort just to get back into the mix. Impossible? No. Recommended? Definitely not. 

We’ve all seen a ballplayer press a little too much when he may be close to hitting a milestone, think of someone hitting .300 with a week or two to play. They want that .300 batting average and press a little too hard in pursuit of it. You see it a lot. If memory strikes me correctly I think Mookie Betts was stuck on 28 or 29 homers for a bit before cracking 30 and he was the league MVP. If the Sox keep losing at this rate or at a minimum fail to clean it up soon, extrapolate that same theory to 25 guys pressing too hard. It can get ugly fast and you can see how this thing can snowball. Once that thing starts rolling downhill it can be tough to stop.

This team needs to clean it up and start winning right now with the Blue Jays and Orioles on the home turf this week or that hole they are currently in will start looking cavernous. It’s time to loosen the noose and start winning before they hang themselves. Panicked no, but concerned with what I’m seeing? Most definitely yes.