Red Sox manager Alex Cora believes assistant hitting coach Andy Barkett might have best described the reigning World Series champions’ slow start.
“Last year was Disney World. This year is real baseball,” Cora recalled Barkett saying. “It’s true if you think about it. It was such a perfect season. We didn’t go through this. It doesn’t mean we can’t bounce back from this.”
They’re hoping that putting on their new World Series championship rings for the first time might help a little bit, too.
After starting the season with a 3-8 start on the road, the Red Sox open their home schedule Tuesday against Toronto.
Boston began last season 17-2 on their way to winning a franchise-record 108 games and its ninth title — and fourth in 15 years. The Red Sox kept almost their entire core intact, re-signing pitcher Nathan Eovaldi and World Series MVP Steve Pearce, and giving long-term contracts to ace Chris Sale and shortstop Xander Bogaerts while allowing closer Craig Kimbrel to go free.
The Red Sox lost eight of their first 10 games, matching the worst start in franchise history. They avoided setting a new low by winning 1-0 at Arizona on Sunday.
Now they are set to return to the welcoming embrace of Fenway Park, the Boston fans and a full slate of activities to commemorate the franchise’s latest World Series title.
Along with players being presented with their rings, the team will raise the new championship flag. Festivities include a national anthem performance by the Boston Pops orchestra and flyover by four F-16s from the Air National Guard.
It’s a red carpet celebration for a team that hasn’t had a lot to beam about on the field.
Pitching has been woefully inconsistent for Boston thus far. Its starters have an 8.57 ERA and have yielded 47 runs and 16 home runs — both major league highs.
Sale had 237 strikeouts and finished fourth in AL Cy Young Award voting last year but has given up eight runs and has just five strikeouts in nine innings.
David Price, who earned the first postseason victories as a starter last season, has surrendered eight runs in 12 innings.
“It’s frustrating,” Price said. “Everybody in here is frustrated. But we’ve been through a lot together, this group of guys in the past two and three years. So we’ll be OK.”
Boston is hitting .238 overall and .250 with runners in scoring position while being outscored 72-46. The minus-26 run differential ranks last in the major leagues.
Reigning AL MVP Mookie Betts is hitting .262 with two home runs and six RBIs, but Cora said his leadoff hitter is not showing enough aggression early during at-bats.
“He’s been passive for a while. He’s been passive since the second half last year,” Cora said.
But there also are signs Betts is making progress.
“It seems like he is getting there,” Cora said. “You can see it. Even the takes. You can see there is intent.”
Cora, starting his second season, thinks his team has the same collective resolve to improve. And history says that Boston has reason to be optimistic.
According to Baseball Reference.com, during the expansion era eight teams have been at least five games under .500 in their first 12 games before recovering to make the postseason: the 1977 Yankees (3-8), 1977 Pirates (2-10), 1981 Astros (2-8), 1991 Twins (2-9), 2000 Giants (3-9), 2001 Athletics (2-10), 2002 Angels (3-8) and 2007 Phillies (3-9).
Of those teams the Angels, Twins and Yankees went on to win the World Series in those seasons.
Despite being in the throes of the kind of start that might have given predecessors sleepless nights, Cora said he’s yet to experience insomnia. Returning home to be around his family gave him a boost as a player and now as a manager.
“Everybody deals with adversity in different ways,” he said. “It’s not that I am glad that we are going through this, but I was wondering how I was going to react to something like this. I guess so far, so good.”