The problem with being a fan is the entire concept of being a fan. To be a fan, an honest, genuine fan (and not a bandwagoneer or pink-hatter) means to be a fanatic, which Merriam Webster defines as “Marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion”. This means there are no days off, no giving up (even when common sense demands it), no tuning the season out. As fans, we are in it for the long haul just as much as players, and in some cases even more. Throughout my various fan experiences, this has proved to be more than a worthwhile experience with the 2004 Boston Red Sox and 2007 New York Giants providing two of happiest moments in my life.
However, not all experiences are that grand for fans, they can’t be. Each season, there can be only one champion, and a handful of contenders, and that is the rub for fans of several teams in the American League right now. For myself and my fellow Red Sox fans, it leaves us in fairly unfamiliar territory. We’re in a position that technically still makes us ‘contenders’, as the Sox find themselves ‘only’ 5 1/2 games out of the second wild card spot, but no one feels overly confident about our chances. I continue to look at the team and fully expect that if key players can get on the field at the same time, they still have a solid run in them. I believe they can play they can play .700 ball the rest of the way if they can get healthy, and if guys perform up to expectations.
It’s not totally blind faith. There are places where the Red Sox do well, if you look at the raw numbers. They trail only the Texas Rangers in total runs scored in the big leagues (578-573, with the Yankees coming in 3rd with 566) through yesterday’s action. They’re tied for 4th in the AL with a .267 team average, they lead the big leagues with 408 extra base hits, and their .763 OPS is tied for 5th best in MLB (3rd best in the AL.) Offense they’ve had plenty enough of, regardless of how many injuries they have sustained to the lineup. The single biggest problem they have had on offense has been their consistency, as was evidenced with this past weekend’s series against the Indians. They managed only 7 total runs (6 earned) in the first 3 games of the series before putting up 14 on Sunday. While it’s great that they were able to get the bats going in a big way on Sunday, it still only counts as one win. If they’re unable to score more consistently, than they’re going to remain nothing more than a .500 team.
Their offensive inconsistencies have been nothing when compared to their pitching, and in particular their starting pitching. The three guys who were expected to carry the load for the Red Sox coming in to the 2012 season were Jon Lester, Clay Buccholz, and Josh Beckett. I noted a few weeks ago that Beckett’s performance has been nothing more than middling throughout his career in even-numbered years, but as poor as he has pitched previously, nothing could have prepared me for what he has delivered in 2012. If he had simply provided the Sox with his usual .500 pitching to go along with his 4.5ish ERA, the Sox would find themselves two or three games higher in the standings, which could literally be the difference between October baseball and heading home early. Despite Lester’s gem of a performance against the Indians on Sunday, his 2012 campaign rates as a far larger disappointment than Beckett’s, as he had been a model of consistency.
Through 2011, Lester was 76-34 (.691) with a sub 3.50 ERA. He had thrown a no-hitter and he had beat cancer. There didn’t seem to be anything he couldn’t do, which makes his performance this season all the more perplexing. Buccholz has proven to be the most dependable of the three, although his has been a tale of two separate seasons. Through his first 6 starts of the season, he gave up at least 5 ERs each time out. Since May 11th, he has notched 10 quality starts in 14 starts with 2 complete games and one shutout to boot. Unfortunately for Red Sox Nation, he can only take the hill once every 5 days.
If Lester doesn’t turn in more performances like he did Sunday, and if Beckett can’t find his way back to at least average, the Sox are likely to continue down the same path they are currently on. Frustrating their fan base by not playing well enough to seriously contend, but not playing so poorly that they fall completely out of the playoff.
This leaves fans in a quandary, unable to disconnect from the season for fear of missing something extraordinary, but having to suffer through mostly bush-league play. It’s something I discussed with a few friends over the weekend, and our conclusion was that while it would almost be preferable for the Sox to completely tank so that we could eliminate the uncertainty of the season, it’s not what anyone really wants. We want our team to win, always, but even if they don’t, we’ll still be there rooting for them, and dying with them. We’re fans. It’s what we do.
Have you ever bailed on a favorite team during a current season? Do you regret it?
Let me know: