Bridge Year. Best Team Ever. Five aces. Turn the page. Luxury tax reset.
The Red Sox have a talent for assigning lost seasons instantly recognizable shorthand. To that list, we may soon be adding, "Sneaky good."
A week ago, there was general agreement among the local baseball cognoscenti that the Red Sox might not make the playoffs, but they'd at least be "sneaky good."
This didn't make them world-beaters. It simply made them better than last year, when they punted on the season after about two weeks. Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom imported a number of versatile veterans, upgraded the woeful pitching staff, and rehired manager Alex Cora. The Red Sox probably wouldn't be great, but they had every opportunity to be, you guessed it, sneaky good.
Three games into the season, it is time to reassess. The Red Sox aren't sneaky anything. They are plainly, straightforwardly, forthrightly horrible.
Remember how opening the season with six games against the Orioles would create some early momentum? It's now clear that Baltimore was right to view Boston as the easy W.
After dropping their first two games in low-scoring affairs that at least featured solid pitching, the Red Sox had their doors blown off in Sunday's finale, falling behind 3-0 in the first and 10-0 in the third en route to an 11-3 defeat.
Starter Garrett Richards, acquired because of spin rates and upside and a willingness to accept a 2022 option year, was a disaster. He couldn't spot his fastball, he couldn't command his slider, and he left after loading the bases with no outs in the third inning of a 3-0 game.
Reliever Josh Taylor, returning after a year spent largely on the sidelines because of COVID, was even worse. He walked the first batter he faced to force in a run and then came completely unglued. By the time he was lifted after allowing five hits and a walk while recording just two outs, the Red Sox trailed 10-0.
So much for the fast start that would remind local fans that they needn't torture themselves over the disappointing Celtics and Bruins while waiting for the Patriots to trade out of the first round. This start already ranks alongside 2011, when the Red Sox opened 0-6, and 2019, when they began their title defense by going 3-8 on the West Coast. Neither squad made the playoffs. In fact, no Red Sox team to start 0-3 has ever made the playoffs.
It's astounding how much has gone wrong. Rafael Devers played poor enough defense over the first two games to receive Sunday off while intensifying concerns over his long-term viability at third, which in turn complicates any possible contract extension. Newcomers Kiké Hernández, Marwin Gonzalez, Hunter Renfroe, and Franchy Cordero are a combined 3 for 30 with no extra-base hits.
Hernández booted a ball that cost them the opener. Devers threw one into right field that cost them the follow-up. Alex Verdugo, Devers, Cordero, and Bobby Dalbec remain hitless. The vaunted offense has managed exactly four extra-base hits, three of them from DH J.D. Martinez, the only batter carrying his weight.
It's not too soon to say this is the kind of series that sets the tone for a season of hopelessness. When the 2012 Red Sox started blowing games under manager Bobby Valentine because of a flammable bullpen, they never stopped en route to an inevitable last-place finish.
The 2010 club opened 4-9 and built a bridge to third place. The slow start in 2011 merely put that Best Team Ever in a position to collapse in epic fashion five months later. The Five Aces of 2015 turned out to be none, costing GM Ben Cherington his job. The Red Sox refused to turn the page in 2019 and paid the price. Last year they celebrated resetting their luxury tax penalties as the season went to hell.
Now comes the sneaky good club with the unambiguously horrible start. It could be a long season.