Nowhere do they panic quite like Boston, where two World Series rings in the last six years cannot erase an institutional paranoia eight decades in the making. Chicken Little, no doubt, is a Red Sox fan.
And make no mistake, after a weekend sweep by a Baltimore Orioles team that conjured comparisons to the 1988 outfit that started 0-21, a black cloud ensconces Red Sox Nation with no wind seemingly capable of blowing it away. The Red Sox are hurt, they're not getting on base, they've got one starter with an ERA under 4.50, nobody gives up more stolen bases, and even when it grows apparent they need some sort of drastic maneuver to stir them from their somnambulism, something stops it.
For the second straight April, David Ortiz(notes) looks cooked. He can't catch up to average fastballs, and scouts are letting their managers know. Fastballs account for nearly 64 percent of the pitches Ortiz has seen this season. And so the two meatballs fed to Ortiz on Saturday by Brad Bergesen(notes) and Alberto Castillo – 90 and 91 mph, respectively, getting every ventricle of the plate – served as nothing but an impediment.
Because if the Red Sox intended to take care of Ortiz – take care, in this case being mafia parlance – a two-homer game in his first May appearance complicated the issue. Boston is a coolly unsentimental organization, so it would like to cut Ortiz when it damn well pleases, and yet it knows this one will be different – different even than Manny and Nomar. Big Papi is Big Papi, and sending him to the glue factory takes a measured approach.
Well, at 11-14 on a $162 million payroll, Theo Epstein, Terry Francona and the rest of the Boston brass is tired of contemplation. The Red Sox are disappointed and disappointments. There are plenty more around baseball, actually, a cornucopia of April failures from which teams have five months to drag themselves, though none quite as egregious as …
1. That of the Boston Red Sox, whose situation looks dire and probably is.
The history of sub-.500 teams at the end of April making the postseason recently isn't altogether glorious. In the last 10 years, 22 of the 80 playoff teams were under .500 on April 30. Boston's 11-12 record looks mighty nice next to the 2001 Oakland Athletics at 8-17.
Scarier is the issue of run differential. Boston scored 103 runs and allowed 119 in April, a differential of minus-16. Only six of the 80 playoff teams have been worse than minus-16, and five were bounced in the first round, the 2007 Colorado Rockies team that advanced to the World Series the lone exception.
The greatest difference, of course, is the division in which Boston competes. The two best teams in baseball, Tampa Bay and the New York Yankees, compete in the American League East alongside the Red Sox and the …
2. Baltimore Orioles, who don't necessarily crank the disappointment meter quite like the Red Sox. Still, at 6-18, and with a slugging percentage of .304 with runners on base – slugging percentage, not batting average – and with hitters slugging an AL-high .460 off their pitching, and … man, this is just too depressing.
Even after sweeping the Red Sox, Baltimore's run differential is minus-39, and while the Orioles are not as bad as 6-18, they're not as good as some dolts thought they'd be. Perhaps another year, a luxury …
3. Not given the Atlanta Braves. This is manager Bobby Cox's final year. He got his new toy (Jason Heyward(notes)), his best rotation since Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz (Tim Hudson(notes), Jair Jurrjens(notes), Tommy Hanson(notes), Derek Lowe(notes) and Kenshin Kawakami(notes)) and found himself filled with optimism.
It took a weekend sweep of Houston to bring the Braves back to 11-14. That is on the candy-from-a-baby level, so perhaps once Nate McLouth(notes) and Melky Cabrera(notes) and Chipper Jones(notes) and Troy Glaus(notes) and Brian McCann(notes) and Yunel Escobar(notes) start hitting – really, Heyward and Martin Prado(notes) are the only worth-a-damn Braves these days – maybe they can scratch out a few faith-renewing wins on a nine-game road swing. Only the futile Pittsburgh Pirates …
4. And the Los Angeles Dodgers have more road losses. They are 4-11 away from Dodger Stadium, and their 11-14 record is tied for last in the NL West. They won three straight over the weekend against a Pirates team that defines futility as much as Baltimore and would register as a disappointment if they weren't expected to be brutal in the first place.
The Dodgers, on the other hand, won the NL West last year, and ever since Vicente Padilla's(notes) ominous opening day start, they've displayed their instability. Matt Kemp(notes) is diving for balls five feet in front of him in center field, and Ned Colletti is calling him out on it, and Manny Ramirez(notes) is on the disabled list because he's hurt or maybe trying to get pregnant again, and, amid the chaos, Andre Ethier(notes) keeps raking like he always does, a shiny diamond …
Non-Konerko White Sox
By himself, Konerko raises the White Sox's triple-slash averages to .225/.312/.399, and do they ever need it. Their rotation of Jake Peavy(notes) (7.85 ERA), Gavin Floyd(notes) (6.49) and Mark Buehrle(notes) (5.30) can't get outs, and their offense gets them by the dozen, a.197 batting average with runners in scoring position ranks last in the majors. Yes, even worse than …
6. The Seattle Mariners, whose Nos. 3 and 4 hitters sport a below-average career adjusted OPS, followed by a designated hitter who, at 40 years old, can't slug his weight. It's a good thing the Mariners have Felix Hernandez(notes) and Cliff Lee(notes) and the AL's best pitcher thus far, Doug Fister(notes), a 6-foot-8 beanpole sinkerballer who threw eight more shutout innings Sunday to lower his ERA to 1.29. Otherwise …
7. They'd be the Milwaukee Brewers, who can't pitch or hit. San Diego shut out Milwaukee three times this week, and the Brewers scratched out a 2-1 victory in the other game. How a Prince Fielder(notes)- and Ryan Braun-led team lets Wade LeBlanc(notes), Clayton Richard(notes) and Jon Garland(notes) do it dirty is as much a testament …
8.To the San Diego Padres as it is an indictment on Milwaukee's offense. While it remains too early to hop aboard the bandwagon, it is beyond apparent that the Padres are the opposite of a disappointment. Between them, the Minnesota Twins (plus-35 run differential), the Detroit Tigers (winners of five straight) and the New York Mets (yes, even the Mets, despite two straight losses, including the worst shellacking of Johan Santana's(notes) career), preseason expectations are always subject to adjustments. It's obvious for anyone watching that today the Tampa Bay Rays are the best team in baseball, even after splitting a four-game series at home with Kansas City.
Just so happens they've got the best pitching matchup of the week, t
• Matt Garza(notes) vs. Cliff Lee (Wednesday)
• Phil Hughes(notes) vs. Clay Buchholz(notes) (Saturday)
• Matt Cain(notes) vs. Ricky Nolasco(notes) (Thursday)
• Zack Greinke(notes) vs. C.J. Wilson(notes) (Friday)
• Adam Wainwright(notes) vs. Joe Blanton(notes) (Tuesday)
• Javier Vazquez(notes) vs. Josh Beckett(notes) (Friday)
• Joel Pineiro(notes) vs. John Lackey(notes) (Wednesday)
• Kevin Millwood(notes) vs. Francisco Liriano(notes) (Friday)
• Jaime Garcia(notes) vs. Cole Hamels(notes) (Monday)
• Kevin Correia(notes) vs. …
9. Ubaldo Jimenez(notes) on Monday, which portends a better week for the Colorado Rockies, getting their ace twice. Jimenez has five wins in five starts. The Rockies have seven in the 20 games he doesn't. Granted, their 12-13 record is misleading, as they've scored 24 more runs than they've allowed, twice the number of the 16-10 Tigers.
Health problems have crippled the Rockies. Jorge De La Rosa(notes) and Jason Hammel(notes) joined Jeff Francis(notes) on the disabled list this week, and so the Rockies' rotation consists of Jimenez, Aaron Cook(notes) and three others who don't exactly encourage a march toward the NL West title: rookies Jhoulys Chacin(notes) (who shut out San Francisco for seven innings) and Esmil Rogers(notes), and the 85-mph-throwing Greg Smith(notes), none of whom were around …
10. When the Rockies faced the Boston Red Sox in the 2007 World Series. Seems like a while ago, huh? Rocktober. Papelbon river dancing. The comeback against Cleveland. Manny and Papi. Jon Lester(notes) closing out the series. Those were the days.
The Red Sox haven't been back since. Tampa Bay went to the World Series in 2008. The Yankees won it in 2009. Boston retooled this offseason with a pitching-and-defense approach that went over horribly with the fans, their trust of Epstein and his methods only as good as last year's record. The skeptics are enjoying their Schadenfreude slurpies while the die-hards die hard.
Because while any Red Sox team that slumps catches grief, this one did so at the beginning of the season. In 2007, the Red Sox went through three 11-14 stretches, all in the exact middle of the season. In 2004, it was even worse: a dozen times they won only 11 of their previous 25 games.
Losing in May is OK. Every team can handle a June swoon. April showers are different, though, and the Red Sox only hope the black cloud that brought so many goes away. And soon.