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April 6, 2011

On the Beat

Sad Sox

by John Perrotto

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CLEVELAND—An 0-4 start would not be cause for huge concern for most franchises in most markets. However, the Red Sox are not a normal franchise, and Boston is not a normal market.

The Red Sox made the biggest player acquisitions of the winter, signing left fielder Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142 million contract as a free agent and sacrificing a significant chunk of their farm system to the Padres in a trade for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Adding the two stars was designed not only to get the Red Sox back to the postseason after they missed last season by finishing third in the American League East, but to propel them to their third World Series title in seven years.

Red So' fans, the most obsessive in the sport, expect no less. They have been figuring out ways to land World Series tickets at Fenway Park since before the ink dried on Crawford's contract.

Yet the Red Sox now stand 0-4 after losing to the Indians 3-1 on Tuesday night at Progressive Field. That came on the heels of getting swept in a three-game series by the Rangers in Arlington to open the season last weekend.

The Red Sox said all the right things following their latest loss, insisting there was no panic on their part. Still, the somberness inside the clubhouse following the game seemed to be an indication that the Red Sox are at least feeling a little of the burden from the great expectations placed upon them.

"We just need some kind of spark," Crawford said. "We haven't had that spark yet. I'm sure it will come but it hasn't been there. Once we get it, we'll be fine."

It is hard to believe that the Red Sox will not be just fine. They have no glaring weaknesses and have 158 games remaining to chase down the unbeaten Orioles in the AL East. Furthermore, the last team that won the World Series without at least one four-game losing streak during the season was the 1988 Dodgers. "I think we'll win at least one game somewhere along the line," Red Sox manager Terry Francona cracked.

In a more serious moment, though, Francona did admit that his team needs to guard against putting too much pressure on itself to finally break through with its first win. "We've just got to play the game the way we always play it and keep putting the work and preparation in that we normally do," he said. "If we do that, we'll start winning. Feeling sorry for ourselves isn't going to help anything. We all believe that we have the talent and work ethic to be a very good team."

Tuesday's loss was a frustrating one, though. Soft-tossing Josh Tomlin kept the Red Sox off balance by changing speeds and hitting his spots, holding them to one run and three hits in seven innings. Tony Sipp and Chris Perez finished with one scoreless inning each.

Asked if the lack of hits was the result of poor at-bats or Tomlin's skill, Francona replied, "It was a combination of both."

Meanwhile, the Indians had just five hits but were able to scratch out three runs against Josh Beckett in five innings on RBI singles by Orlando Cabrera and Jack Hannahan in the fourth and a sacrifice fly by Carlos Santana in the fifth. The Indians wore Beckett down in the third by forcing him to throw 35 pitches before he got out of the inning unscathed.

"There wasn't a lot of loud contact off Josh," Francona said.

Crawford also hasn't made a lot of loud contact in the early days of the season. He went 0-for-4 on Tuesday night and is 2-for-15 (.133) with no extra-base hits, one walk and six strikeouts. While it's hard to indict a hitter on the based on the extremely small sample of 16 plate appearances, Crawford is under the microscope after signing such a large contract.

Crawford's early struggles prompted Francona to drop him from third to seventh in the batting order on Sunday against the Rangers. Crawford responded by going 2-for-4. Francona then moved Crawford up to second on Tuesday night, but he took an oh-fer.

"I'm still anxious at the plate when I'm trying to get ready to hit," Crawford said. "I'm trying to relax, and I have relaxed a little bit. I could be a lot more comfortable than I am, though. I'm sure I will be fine as we keep getting into the season. Right now, though, I'm late on the fastball and ahead on the changeup. I’m getting caught in between. All I can do is keep putting my work in in the cage until I figure it out."

As a team, the Red Sox are just trying to figure out when they will no longer have the dubious distinction of being one of three major-league teams without a victory, along with the Astros and Rays.

"The wins are going to come, because we've got too much talent here," Crawford said. "I do think we need a win pretty soon, though, just to settle everything down a little bit."

Once that first win comes, Beckett says plenty more will follow, and the Red Sox will be the team that BP's Baseball Odds Report gave the best chance of reaching the postseason when the season began.

"There's too much history here," Beckett said. "We have too many guys who know how to win. There is no way that we won't win."

---

Rumors and Rumblings: Padres right-hander Mat Latos (shoulder) is expected to be activated from the disabled list early next week. … The Diamondbacks plan to use Juan Miranda as their primary first baseman, with veterans Russell Branyan and Xavier Nady getting spot starts. … The Angels have become so frustrated with left-hander Scott Kazmir that they are considering the idea of releasing him and eating the remaining $14 million on his contract. … The Pirates are not wedded to a straight platoon in right field, and Matt Diaz may end getting more at-bats than a normal right-handed hitter in that situation, particularly if Garrett Jones struggles. … Rockies left fielder Carlos Gonzalez says his goal for the season is to become  a member of the 40-40 club. … One of two right-handers, John Ely or Tim Redding, will be called up from Triple-A Albuquerque to pitch Sunday when the Dodgers need a fifth starter for the first time. … Those who were at the Rogers Centre for the Blue Jays' season-opening series with the Twins last weekend said the atmosphere hadn't been better in the building since Toronto won its last World Series in 1993.

---

Scouts' views:

Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus: "He looks a little stronger this year, and he's hitting the ball with more authority. He's never going to be a power hitter but he's changed his approach. Instead of just always being content to slap at pitches, he's actually turning on some balls."

Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton: "I know he's reclaimed his closer's job, but I still don't trust him. He gives up too many walks and too many home runs for my taste, especially for a closer."

Yankees right-hander Joba Chamberlain: "He's starting to look more like the kid we saw come up from the minor leagues in 2007 and blow hitters away. He's throwing 97 mph again, and he doesn’t seem to be holding back anymore. He's really being aggressive in the strike zone."

White Sox left fielder Carlos Quentin: "He's swinging the bat like he did back in 2008 when he was one of the best right-handed hitters in the game. I know it's early and you can't get too excited about a handful of games, but he was red hot late in spring training, and he looks like he is poised for a really big season. He's really locked in."

Marlins right-hander Brian Sanches: "Like a lot of non-closing relievers, he doesn't get a lot of attention, but he's a good pitcher. You can use him as a setup man, a middle man, or a long man, and he'll consistently do a good job. He's very underrated."

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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