For a fourth consecutive season, the Boston Red Sox will be absent from the playoffs, but at least one former player believes they're closer than it would appear to being back in contention.
"This team has the tools to actually come back by next year," former ace pitcher Pedro Martinez said Sunday night before paying tribute to late Red Sox legend Johnny Pesky in a ceremony at Fenway Park. "I was on a lot of teams where we had a lot of sore and painful defeats, but it all showed up the next year and we got better and better and better."
Clearly, though, the Red Sox have work to do this offseason.
At 69-85, the Red Sox have clinched their first losing season since 1997. They already have lost more games than any Boston team since 1992 and must finish 4-4 in their final eight games against the Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees to avoid their first 90-loss season since 1966.
And the problems go back to last season, when the Red Sox finished 7-20 and authored the greatest collapse in baseball history. Since Sept. 1, 2011, the Red Sox are 86-105, third worst in the American League, ahead of only the Minnesota Twins (70-109) and Cleveland Indians (75-107).
But Martinez knows something about comebacks.
Martinez spent seven years with the Red Sox, and although the team never had a losing season, there were issues during the tumultuous 2001 season. That year was marred by infighting among players and discord for manager Joe Kerrigan, who replaced Jimy Williams in August. That club finished on an 18-32 slide that included a season-ending, five-game winning streak.
There have been comparisons drawn to this year, when players have had problems with manager Bobby Valentine. The Red Sox were 53-51 on July 31 and have gone only 16-34 since then. And last month, they traded stars Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to the Los Angeles Dodgers, further weakening the roster at least in the short term.
After the 2001 season, the Red Sox replaced Kerrigan with Grady Little and finished 93-69 in 2002, then reached Game 7 of the AL Champiosnhip Series in 2003 and won the World Series in 2004 under the stewardship of first-year manager Terry Francona.
Martinez believes the Sox can replicate that turnaround now. Finding another reliable starting pitcher will be high on general manager Ben Cherington's to-do list, but the Red Sox also will need to upgrade an offense that has been slugging and inconsistent, especially since designated hitter David Ortiz was injured in mid-July.
"This team, all they have to do is fix their character, come back next year and think that everything is possible and start nice and fresh," Martinez said. "Hopefully management will make the adjustments they need to make, work on the character of the team a little more. I think the talent is basically there, so they need to actually just work all together, pulling towards the same side and focus on it. I think it's achievable. ...
"They have to change some things. When things go wrong, you really have to look for the things that went wrong and fix them."