Long Winter of Discontent – almost over…

At this time last year, many Red Sox fans, media members, and even Vegas odds makers had the Red Sox as the favorite represent the American League the World Series. We know how that turned out.

Not surprisingly, some Red Sox fans are concerned about how this year will play out, and many are still upset about how last year ended. That concern and anger is based in fans still not understanding how last year fell apart, which in turn has fans concerned that this season may be a repeat of last season.

On paper the 2011 Boston Red Sox were one of the best teams in baseball. We saw them live up to that billing over a 3.5 month period when they went 64-30. We also saw them play well below those expectation during the first 2 weeks and the last 2 months of the season when they went 26-42 (17-12 in August, 9-30 from April 1-15 and September) and missed the playoffs. The events of game 162 left Boston Red Sox fans with a disappointing end to a long season and, unless they happen to also be a fan of the Bruins or Patriots, started a long, dreary, cold and very weird, winter (and not just because of the lack of snow).

The Red Sox problems last season came down to pitching: 10 different pitchers started games last season for the Sox.  Beckett, Lester, Buchholz, Wakefield, Miller, Bedard, Lackey, Matsuzaka, Aceves, and Weiland. Three aces, followed by three number-five-in-the-rotation guys, two hurt and underperforming pitchers, a great reliever but only so-so starter, and a Triple-A call-up tossed out to fill the void. The Red Sox pitching was so bad that if they had made a one-game playoff, the front office was looking to acquire Bruce Chen to start it. The bullpen wasn’t much better – only Papelbon and Aceves had an ERA under 3.00. Bard probably would have joined them if he didn’t have 9 games where he seemed to be unable to buy an out. The Red Sox lack of pitching depth was their Achilles heel. September was when it was exposed.

But hope springs eternal, and we will learn if the pitching staff has been improved during the season. The Red Sox think they have fixed the problem, and I hope that they are right. Although I personally think Bard would be better suited as a set-up man than as the 5th pitcher in the rotation.

As the start of the Baseball season approaches, I urge Red Sox fans to remember that the April record will not indicate how the season will end. The Red Sox made it to the 2008 ALCS with a 17-12 April record, but also appeared in the 1999 ALCS after an April record of 11-11. The Red Sox missed the playoffs in 2006 with an April record of 14-11 and 2002 after starting 16-7, but won the 2004 World Series  with an April start of 15-6.

The best news is that there is always the trading deadline, and the opportuntiy to fix whatever is broken. Just don’t overreact to their April record, and don’t expect to know how much better or worse the 2012 Red Sox are compared to the 2011 Sox until sometime in June. So when the Red Sox start their 2012 season in Detroit on Thursday, I urge you to put 2011 behind you, enjoy the games, a couple of Fenway Franks, and cheer for the Sox as loud as you can.