There’s a scene in the film >As Good As It Gets in which Jack Nicholson storms out of his psychiatrist’s office, pausing momentarily in the waiting room to ask fellow patients, “What if this is as good as it gets?” As I watch the Red Sox’ 2014 season devolve into a game of chutes and ladders — one day looking like world beaters, the next day looking like their hands have been replaced with rubber chickens, I am forced to ask the same question.
We are now 58 games into the 2014 season–roughly one-third of the way through. The Red Sox’ record stands at 27-31, four games below .500. They have spent one day — yes, just one day — above .500, on April 3, when their record was 2-1. And at this point, they look like they may just keep hovering around .500 for the rest of the summer.
Their recent 10 game losing streak seemed to be the nail in the coffin. A spiral they just wouldn’t bounce back from. But then they went and got in a scrap with the Rays, won seven in a row, and seemed to have reversed course.
Then they showed up in Cleveland. And these last two losses underscore that, as currently consituted, this is a team that, at best, will continue to inhabit that middle ground between “really awesome” and “really f#$king awful.” They are not a terrible team, but they’re not exactly living up to post-championship season expectations. They are squarely, comfortably mediocre. Not one you’d bet on to do anything spectacular.
In other words, a .500 team.
The entire season so far has seemed a game of “one step forward, two steps back,” perfectly illustrated by the aforementioned streaks. They lost ten. They won seven. Now they’ve lost two in a row. They’ve got a series coming up with the Detroit Tigers, and my heart tells me they’ll be lucky to get out with one or two wins. We got some surprising power from the young ones, Xander Bogaerts and Brock Holt, which became the feel-good story of the Rays series. But then we welcomed Stephen Drew back and pulled everyone out of their regular positions and into new roles. And in the midst of all this back and forth, curious things are happening. Like our manager playing Alex Hassan over Daniel Nava in right field.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against .500 teams. I spent my formative years cheering on Calvin Pickering, Lee Tinsley, Dante Bichette and other players who failed to bring us across the finish line. I think the toughest hurdle is admitting that your team is, in fact, a .500 team. Capable of wining a few and losing a few, but doing neither spectacularly.
The 2013 Red Sox were great at winning. The 2012 Red Sox were really, really great at losing. So far, the 2014 Sox haven’t been able to do either of those things with as strong a sense of conviction.
Still, in a year in which the Yankees have paid a hell of a lot of money to be mediocre and the Jays still haven’t convinced me that they’re going to run away with this division, being a .500 team might be enough to make the playoffs. So perhaps being the “Middle Man” isn’t so bad after all.