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Panic in Beantown
If no one circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills (ugh), no one pushes the panic button quite like the faithful denizens of Red Sox nation. Boston struggled to a 4-9 record to start the season, before taking two of three from both Texas and Baltimore. When combined with Tampa and the Yankees’ hot starts, Boston’s sluggish opening weeks created some…er…consternation up in Scott Brown’s constituency. Some of the highlights (note the obscenely early dates attached to these quotes):
Bill Simmons (April 19): Just went into my attic, pushed around 12 boxes of Xmas lights, found the Red Sox panic button, dusted it off & pressed it. (Of course, this is coming from the guy who claimed the Heat were going to sweep the Celtics in the first round.)
Alec Sulkin, TV writer (April 20): As a longtime Red Sox fan, I find it sadly comforting that we’re terrible again. (The perfect description of Red Sox Nation in just 14 words.)
Kirk Minihane, WEEI (April 19): If the Red Sox continue at this pace of ineptitude they will finish the season with a record of 50-112. And if the Yankees and Rays keep up the pace they have set it means the Sox would be a mere 75 games out of first at the end of the season.
Nick Cafardo, Boston Globe (April 20): That’s why it wasn’t too early to be concerned about David Ortiz after only two games of the season. It wasn’t too early to question whether Mike Cameron was a suitable replacement for Jason Bay. It wasn’t too early to wonder whether Victor Martinez could be the full-time catcher and still maintain his hitting. And so we wonder, even though it’s still very early in the season, what can be done to shake things up?
Charles Pierce, boston.com (April 19): Right now, the Boston Red Sox look primarily like a very badly constructed baseball team. Stuck in a general slump, they are sadly bereft of options on their roster to turn things around, and they must now depend for improvement solely on the fact that Texas and Baltimore — a pair of 25-man Get Well cards — are the next teams to visit Fenway. This does not occasion hope.
And so we wonder, even though it’s still very early in the season, what can be done to shake things up?
My personal favorite, this headline on NESN (April 10): Why is the Red Sox’ 1-3 Start No Reason to Panic?
The National League: Still Terrible
The Roy Halladay-led Phillies are off to a good start (though it must madden Phillies fans to think how good their team could have been with Halladay and Cliff Lee), as are the perennially overachieving Cardinals, but the rest of the Senior League looks like even more of a disaster than usual at this early stage of the season. The big-budget Mets and Cubs struggled badly out of the gate, so much so in the latter case that the Cubs pulled one of the great April panic moves of all time by putting Carlos Zambrano in the bullpen. It didn’t work for the ’79 Yankees, and it probably won’t work here either.
Other expected contenders like the Dodgers, Braves and Rockies have also exhibited more flaws than promise thus far. The good news for all these teams is that the league itself is so stunningly mediocre that it will be hard for all but the most inept teams to fall out of contention. The worst teams in the NL are only 3 games behind the best teams in the standings right now. The National League is a Roy Halladay arm injury away from 16 teams going 81-81.
Steroids! Steroids! Steroids!
The Reds’ Edinson Volquez received a 50-game suspension for violating the league’s banned-substance policy. The more we learn about steroids and HGH in baseball, the more it becomes clear that it wasn’t only the big sluggers who were juicing. I don’t doubt for a second that Bonds, McGwire, Sosa et al. were cheating, but so were a lot of pitchers and a lot of guys you wouldn’t expect by looking at them (ARod, Alex Sanchez, etc.). Meaning it was more of a level playing field than we initially thought.
The troubling thing is what to do with the statistics and records from that time. I’ve always thought it ridiculous when the NCAA takes away wins and championships because of rules violations. If time travel movies have taught us anything, it’s that you can’t change the past. But it also seems unfair to allow Barry Bonds to be the all-time and single-season home run king. What’s the solution? Asterisks? That won’t work either, because we’ll never know the full list who cheated and who didn’t. Unfortunately, the only answer is what we’re currently dealing with: a sad, empty feeling in relation to more than a decade of the game’s history.
Update: Ryan Howard Signs $125 Million Extension
Are the Phillies fucking insane? They just signed a 30-year-old with classic “old player” skills to an extension through his age-37 season. They’ve seen what’s happening to David Ortiz, they watched the decline of Mo Vaughn, and still decided to dedicate a huge percentage of the team’s payroll to locking up Howard for the foreseeable future. This coming from the team that couldn’t afford to keep Lee and Halladay together for one season. Note: Ryan Howard has a career .309 on-base percentage against lefties, which means he can always be pitched to in a big spot.