Monday, April 23, 2012

On Schedules and Turn Arounds

Through 14 games, the Red Sox stand at 4-10. Through 14 games last year, the Red Sox stood at 4-10. Though those records are identical, all 4-10 teams are not created equally.

This team just seems like it’s in more dire shape than its counterpart from a year ago. Though I’m sure none of this is a surprise, here are some of the sad realities that make this year’s team seem worse off than last year’s:
  • The scar from last year’s collapse has made an already cynical fan base even more cynical
  • The new imposed budget means an impactful upgrade is not walking through the door
  • 2/3 of the starting outfield is on the DL
  • No true relief aces (like Pap and Bard) to right the sinking bullpen ship
  • Even though Bard and Doubront have pitched better than Lackey and Dice-K did last year, people somehow just assume they will implode
  • Youkilis is teetering on the verge of a major decline
  • Mike Aviles is the leadoff hitter and Cody Ross has hit cleanup
  • Let me repeat that last one: Mike Aviles is the leadoff hitter and Cody Ross has hit cleanup
  • Leatherface
With all of that I can understand if nobody has any optimism left. If you come by the Fenway neighborhood at 5:30 PM each day this week you just might find a wild eyed fan with a Yaz tattoo picketing Yawkey way for Leatherface’s head on a platter (and yes, I know he is not the main problem, but he is absolutely not a solution and you can’t fire players). With all that has gone wrong with this team since last September, things look as bleak as the coming winter in Westeros (happy Sarah? A nerdy Game of Thrones reference). But, just like last year, I am here to provide you with that one tiny silver lining. One glimmer of hope. One beacon on the horizon. The schedule.

This season the Red Sox have (unofficially) played the most difficult schedule in baseball. They have faced the three teams most “experts” project as division winners (NY, Texas, Detroit) and two other division rivals who project to be in the wild card race the whole season (TB and Toronto). While you’d like to see better success against these teams, the truth of the matter is that even the best teams typically have a losing record against the other best teams over the course of the season. Last year, the Yankees were 6-12 against Boston, 9-9 against Tampa, 3-4 against Detroit, and 7-2 against Texas. Texas was 6-4 against Boston, 5-4 against Tampa, 2-7 against New York, and 3-6 against Detroit. The winning teams beat up on each other, there is no way around it. It may not sound as romantic, but playoff teams earn their spots by beating up on the bad teams.

Luckily for the Red Sox, they have bad teams lined up for as far as the eye can see. Starting today, the Red Sox play the following teams: Minnesota, Chicago (AL), Oakland, Baltimore, Kansas City, Cleveland, Seattle. That’s a stretch of 22 games against teams that all should finish under .500 this season. Meanwhile, in that time the Sox should get Carl Crawford and Dice-K back (I know they sucked last year, but if anything this will help the bullpen and lineup depth considerably) and see if Marlon Byrd (and Youk) have anything left. Even without the returning and new players, I would suspect the team will have “turned it around” by that point if for nothing else than the incredibly weak level of competition especially relative to the first 14 games. If the Sox are not hovering around .500 at that point we can all officially storm the gates. But I would bet we won’t have to. 

If you want some evidence of scheduling playing a major role in a team’s “turn around”, look no further than last year. As the Sox stood at 5-10, their next 22 games were against the following: Oakland, Los Angeles (AL), Baltimore, Seattle, Los Angeles (AL), Minnesota, Toronto. In that time they went 12-10. Not great, but good enough to get within shouting distance of .500 and change the mood from one of impending doom to wide-eyed optimism. The only downside I see here is that when they do “turn it around”, Leatherface’s job will most likely be saved. If only we could get him to admit he admires Fidel Castro, Sadam Hussein and Roger Clemens…

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