Picked by many to win the World Series in 2011, the Boston Red Sox have stumbled at the start of the season like a team still hibernating.
Boston Red Sox only hitting the sleep button
In a poll of 45 experts conducted by ESPN prior to the start of this season, every single person picked the Boston Red Sox to win their division, nearly all chose them as the American League champions and many predicted they would win their third World Series since 2004.
That is why so many people were scratching their heads after the Red Sox began with a 2-9 mark, their worst start since the Second World War.
As is often the case with slumping teams, the Red Sox seemed at odds with themselves. When they hit, they failed to pitch well. And on the rare occasions when they pitched well, they could not hit. In four of their first nine losses, they scored two runs or fewer. In the other five, they gave up eight or more runs.
The team, which added two superstars (Carl Crawford, the outfielder, and Adrian Gonzalez, the first baseman) in the off-season to an already talented nucleus, somehow resembled a collection of also-rans in the first two weeks.
Beyond the obvious (the lack of timely hitting and the inability of starting pitchers to keep them in games), the Red Sox were baffled by their early-season stumble.
After a humbling sweep in Cleveland, the Red Sox returned home and promptly beat the New York Yankees twice in three games, temporarily giving hope that they had righted themselves.
But they followed that by dropping two games in a row to the Tampa Bay Rays, the only team to get off to a worse start than the Red Sox themselves.
The Red Sox tried everything, from benching slumping players to shuffling the line-up.
None of it seemed to work.
"We know we're better than this,'' Terry Francona, the manager, said. "But we have to act like it and show it.''
That is the hard part.
The team could not produce a big hit when they needed one, as evidenced by their pitiful batting average (.192) with runners in scoring position.
Meanwhile, the starters had just three quality starts (six innings or more, three runs or fewer allowed) in the first 11 games. The Red Sox mostly shrugged off all the historical benchmarks (no team ever began the year 0-6, as they have, and went on to win the World Series) and rationalised that the season was a long one.
But in a region which dearly loves its baseball and set the highest of expectations for 2011, that sounded more like a threat than anything else.
The week in the MLB
Teams of the Week
• Cleveland Indians. Pegged for the bottom of the AL Central, the Indians began the season as expected with two consecutive losses. Then they swept the Red Sox at home and the Mariners on the road to post eight victories in a row and first place in the division.
• Colorado Rockies. The hottest team in the National League last week, ripping off five wins in six tries. And in their one defeat, at Pittsburgh, it took 14 innings for the Pirates to beat them.
Players of the Week
• Dan Haren, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. In the week, Haren made two starts and a relief appearance. He allowed just one run on five hits, including a masterful one-hitter against Cleveland.
• Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies. The All-Star, above, fuelled his team’s hot streak, hitting .333 (8-for-24) with four homers and nine RBI.
Dud of the Week
• Josh Hamilton. The 2010 American League MVP broke an arm after an awkward slide at the plate on Tuesday and will miss eight to 10 weeks.
Series of the Week
• Texas at New York, Friday-Sunday. The Rangers ended the Yankees’ quest to defend their 2009 World Series title by knocking the New Yorkers out in the AL Championship Series. This is the first rematch this season.
• San Francisco at Colorado, Monday-Wednesday. The Giants, the defending World Series champions, are off to a bit of a slow start at a game under .500 after 11 games, and have some catching up to do with the Rockies, who are holding down first place in the NL West with a 7-2 record.