Piling On the Optimism (and When Should We Really Worry?)

The 2002 Anaheim Angels got off to a horrendous start. After starting off 3-2, they lost six straight games, then had another four-game losing streak later in April. Through 20 games, the Angels were 6-14. They went on to win 99 games and the World Series.

The previous year's Oakland Athletics could relate. Just 2-3 after five games, the A's dropped seven in a row, played .500 baseball for a couple of weeks, then lost four more. Through 26 games, they were 8-18. they won 102 games and made the playoffs.

None of them could beat the 1914 Boston Braves, however, who lost their first three games, then compiled April losing streaks of five and seven games. Just 3-16 through their first 19 games, they were an abominable 12-28 through early June. They won 94 games and a World Series title.

Adding to these improbable stories are the 1974 Pirates and 2007 Cubs, who started the season 9-20 and 7-13, respectively, and won their (admittedly weak) divisions.

Of course, anything can happen in baseball. The point isn't to say the Red Sox will be just fine even if they lose 28 of their first 40 games, though they very well could be. The point is that teams with arguably less talent than this one have gotten off to worse starts than this one and gone on to make the playoffs.

Is there a line after which we should acknowledge the Sox are not likely to recover? Yes. But i'm not sure anyone knows where that line is. With 21 games left in April, if the Sox were to play at their ideal 95-win pace, they would finish the month 12-15.

A 12-15 month does not destroy a season: the 2008 Red Sox went 11-13 in July. The 2007 Sox went 13-14 in June. The 2004 Sox went 11-14 in June. And the 2003 Sox went 13-14 in May.

But a 10-game losing streak would push the projected April record to 10-17, the second-worst month ever for the Sox in the Theo Epstein era, with only the wretched 9-21 from August 2006 beating it. It's hard to make the playoffs when you're seven games under .500 for one-sixth of your season.

So I'll allow this: If the Sox don't win one game in this weekend's series against the Yankees, there will be legitimate cause for worry that the team won't be able to recover sufficiently from its poor start.

21 comments… add one

  • This team is also capable of ripping off 19 or 20 out of 24 games, so color me not worried yet. It’s not like the Sox are going to play .500 ball this year. They’re going to have weeks that they’re nearly unbeatable, as they always do, and all this will be forgotten. I get the bridgejumper attitude, I’m just not there yet.

    Brad April 8, 2011, 10:54 am
  • So let’s look at your post this way: you have, one week into the season, determined that if the Sox are swept by the Yankees the season could be in jeopardy. Can you believe that you even typed that sentence based on what Theo did in the offseason? Would the fact that you typed that sentence indicate that the six games lost so far are, potentially, rather immense in importance?
    We aren’t far apart from each other in sentiment, it seems.

    SF April 8, 2011, 10:59 am
  • whew.
    If The Red Sox win 22/25 at some point in the next two months are you still upset about this start, SF?
    I’m not saying you’re overreacting at all, but I just think that things will level out to what they are at some point. Yeah, the Red Sox lost 6 in a row, but they could also come right back and win 14 of the next 17 and be where they’re supposed to be.
    They’re just making it harder on themselves right now, but they’ll bounce out of it. Hopefully sooner than later.

    Brad April 8, 2011, 11:07 am
  • Well, I guess I see being swept by the Yankees at home as a nearly unthinkable event, especially after losing six straight already. It feels like there’s a big difference between six games and 10 games. You see good teams with six-game losing streaks all the time. You don’t really ever see 10-game slides from good teams.
    Or looking at it this way, a 10-game losing streak is 67 percent longer than a six-game streak. That’s pretty significant.

    Paul SF April 8, 2011, 11:09 am
  • I really am beginning to tire of people saying that this 0-6 start is not a big deal, or that it’s not a bridge-jumping start. Sure, they are capable (on paper) of turning things around, but after watching the games I am worried about this team’s:
    1. New Pitching Coach. (Was Farrell really that good?)
    2. Pitching Staff (not including Lester and Buchholz)
    3. The Bullpen (Oy…et tu, Bard?)
    4. Chemistry (This one could take some time to develop, but I haven’t noticed much of that “Cowboy Up” attitude that proved so beneficial in 04)
    So much of baseball gets lost in statistics and objective analysis (see overhyped preseason picks from all the pundits)…SF: you are right on with your analysis of the situation as of today. Sometimes subjectivity (what you see, how you feel) is more powerful than the objectivity (what we know, what history tells us).
    The hardest part for me in all of this is that what I see from this team is not matching up to what is “known” about this team. Until that happens, the sky is definitely falling.

    HodgeSox April 8, 2011, 11:12 am
  • Well, I’m gonna get out my pink hat and cheer them on.
    One time through the rotation and suddenly Young is a horrible pitching coach. 2/60 appearances and we’re judging Bard and the other pitchers on the year.
    Jesus Christ.
    I hope they can get their “chemistry” together for this seventh game. Hopefully they’ll “cowboy up” and get the ball rolling. Maybe they should give Kevin Millar a job, so he can turn around all their bats?

    Brad April 8, 2011, 11:17 am
  • This is the hardest thing for me: eliminating the emotion and thinking of this situation in objective, clinical terms.
    I would love to believe the clinical analysis, but even in that analysis I find anecdotal reason to be really worried. As in “this team did it in 1953, so it can be done again!”, or things to that effect. That we are already pointing to rare historical precedent to give us hope for our season, on April 8th no less, is extremely worrying.

    SF April 8, 2011, 11:20 am
  • The chemistry thing is something I’ve been wondering about. It’s far too early for that but who’s the leader of this team? There really isn’t one on the pitching staff with Beckett’s struggles. Who is it among the hitters?
    Add to that Crawford and Drew – who aren’t exactly winning personalities – what is this team’s identity? If AGon goes off tonight against Hughes, he could grab the chair. That wouldn’t surprise me, no sir.

    James YF April 8, 2011, 11:22 am
  • Why are we worried about the pitching staff but not Lester and Buchholz? Beckett and Matsuzaka each pitched better than Buchholz did, and they pitched better than Lester did in his first start.
    I’m going to reserve judgment on Young until we have a statistically significant sample of pitching performances, which should be somewhere around Oct. 31 (hopefully).
    And there wan’t much of that “cowboy up” attitude in 2007 either, but things turned out all right, unlike in 2003, when “cowboy up” led to an excruciating ALCS loss to the Yankees, and 2005, when no amount of cowboying kept an old team from fading late and being swept out of the playoffs.
    Subjectivity is always more powerful than objectivity. That’s why it’s so hard — and so imperative — to stay objective when a team is performing well above or well below expectations.

    Paul SF April 8, 2011, 11:25 am
  • The “chemistry thing” is probably below the bottom of my list of worries. I think chemistry is completely over-considered. Winning begets chemistry, losing begets bad chemistry, how can one possibly measure this? It’s cause and effect, mostly mythology. I don’t get any sense that this is an issue, the team is mostly intact from last year and the new guys they added have reputations as hard working and dedicated – Crawford’ personality has never been impugned from what I saw.
    To me chemistry is the least of the worries. Youkilis not swinging at butterflies is more of one.

    SF April 8, 2011, 11:26 am
  • Everything I’ve read indicates that Pedroia was emerging as the team’s leader last year. He seems to be the No. 1 guy who talks after every game, which generally indicates a leadership role in the clubhouse. and of course Varitek is still the captain.

    Paul SF April 8, 2011, 11:40 am
  • The Sox have not spotted anyone 6 games and they are not 6 out. Forgetting about the Orioles for a second because as much improved as they seem I don’t see them finishing in the top two of the AL East, the Sox are 4 games back of the Yankees right now. 4 games. Not 6. Like Paul said in another thread, projections factor in losing too. And similarly, projecting the implications of a team’s losing streak without looking at how the rest of the division is doing makes no sense. The Sox are 4 games down on April 8. It’s much worse than being tied and much much worse than being 4 games up. But there is simply no way that it will take even a minor miracle for them to erase a 4 game deficit over the course of 5.5 months of baseball. Seriously now.

    IronHorse (YF) April 8, 2011, 11:47 am
  • “Everything I’ve read indicates that Pedroia was emerging as the team’s leader last year”
    new nickname would be Napolean.

    Nick-YF April 8, 2011, 11:56 am
  • “…That we are already pointing to rare historical precedent to give us hope for our season, on April 8th no less, is extremely worrying….”
    gee sf, we always look at history to help us assess the present and contemplate the future…that’s why we keep track of history in the first place…it helps to know where we’re going if we know where we’ve been [i sound like mike brady ;)]…it’s the foundation for all these projections showing the sox will have a good season…this is not a team that’s going to lose 162 games, even though they are currently on that pace…history tells us that they are good players and will win a fair share of the games they have left, and in all likelihood make the playoffs, where anything can happen…don’t undersell chemistry either…this team is starting to remind me of a rudderless ship, with no apparent leadership, starting with the manager…kind of like the losing torre years…they needed somebody to step up…jeter got bashed for not being more vocal…maybe your captain needs the same boot up his butt…one of you will tell me that i don’t know what goes on behind closed doors…spare me, that wasn’t a defense for jeter either…i’ll bet you a beer sf that the sox sweep and we’ll be talking about something else tuesday morning…

    dc April 8, 2011, 12:03 pm
  • The Sox have shortened the schedule in which they should plan on winning 93-96 games, or somewhere in there. Forget who they are behind for the moment, if we are going to look at this in a vacuum then we look at this in a vacuum, Orioles and Buck Showalter be damned.
    The Sox might expect to make the playoffs if the win 95 games. They have six fewer games to do that, off the bat. This is a fact.

    SF April 8, 2011, 12:05 pm
  • The Sox might expect to make the playoffs if the win 95 games. They have six fewer games to do that, off the bat. This is a fact.
    Also a fact: The Sox might expect to make the playoffs if they lose 67 games. They have six fewer games to do that, as well.
    Maybe they’re just getting them out of the way. ;-)

    Paul SF April 8, 2011, 12:14 pm
  • this team is starting to remind me of a rudderless ship, with no apparent leadership, starting with the manager…kind of like the losing torre years
    See, as unhappy as I am about the team I just can’t buy into this kind of assessment, at all. They are “rudderless”? Based on what? That they haven’t hit? That Reyes was atrocious? How is a bad streak evidence of “rudderlessness”? And what is “stepping up”? Getting a big hit? A big out? Or making a rah-rah speech in the clubhouse? How do you even know that someone hasn’t gotten up in front of the team and tried to rally the guys? We aren’t privy to their inner discussions, at all. I can only imagine they are as pissed off collectively as we are individually.
    I don’t buy this at all. The losses matter, not the volume of a single player shouting while standing next to a boom box.

    SF April 8, 2011, 12:15 pm
  • “The Sox have shortened the schedule in which they should plan on winning 93-96 games, or somewhere in there”.
    Fine, but they also still have 156 games in which to win them. That’s the largest number of games they could possibly have left to make up that ground. Or, as Paul says, maybe they’re just getting the losses out of the way.
    You can stick with the projected win total but I think how many games first place is much more relevant – after all, maybe no one in the AL East wins 93 this year. Then the Sox need not win that many either. What they need to win is as many games as the first place team wins + 1 (likely less than that given the WC but that could go elsewhere so let’s just stick with what is certain). And right now, they are 5 games out of first and 4 games back of their most likely biggest rival for first place.
    I’m not suggesting you not be depressed – I would be too – but I’m not giving in on this either only to be deluged by “what a miracle!!!”-talk if and when they make up a freaking 4 game deficit with 156 to play.

    IronHorse (YF) April 8, 2011, 12:25 pm
  • “how many games OUT OF first place…” – man, I need to proof read before posting.

    IronHorse (YF) April 8, 2011, 12:26 pm
  • RLYW has a look at the implications of this series.
    First of all, he looks at the projections from the preseason, which had the Sox with a two-game lead over the Yankees.
    That has changed, and the Yanks are projected to finish with a one-game lead over the Red Sox. So basically a tossup in the Sox’ favor is now a tossup in the Yanks’ favor.
    But the playoff odds have barely changed at all. The Sox had a 59.8 percent chance of making the playoffs. Now it’s a 55.8 percent chance, barely worse than the Yanks’ 55.8 percent shot.
    The big driver of this is the Rays’ equally horrible start. While the Sox go from 94 projected wins to 91, and the Yankees stay even at 92, the Rays go from 86 to 82, and their playoff chances go from 29.4 to 22.4 percent.
    As someone else said in one of these threads: This may be the best season the Sox could have picked to have such a poor start.

    Paul SF April 8, 2011, 12:54 pm
  • As someone else said in one of these threads: This may be the best season the Sox could have picked to have such a poor start.
    This I can hang my hat on!

    SF April 8, 2011, 12:57 pm

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