Can the Red Sox learn lessons from the 2014 hangover?


OAKLAND -- It's the magical concoction every World Series-winning team has tried to capture. But as these Red Sox are finding out duplicating the magic that allowed for October euphoria six months later isn't an easy feat.

"I think it’s a fine line in rest and actually being prepared and what that formula is I don’t know," said former Red Sox catcher David Ross, a member of the 2013 World Series-winning team.

The path the Red Sox took this time -- bringing back relatively the same group while making sure that extra month of baseball the season before is factored into the workload -- hasn't initially worked. Blame the schedule. Blame the expectations. Blame the level of opposition. Whatever it is, they are 2-6.

But this isn't a new phenomenon. Take the 2014 Red Sox, for example.

After the first eight games of that season, the defending world champs were 3-5 and found themselves 5-9 a week after that. The turnover from the World Series included the loss of Ryan Dempster, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Now the team was depending on the emergence of Jackie Bradley Jr., and Xander Bogaerts with help from newcomers Grady Sizemore and A.J. Pierzynski. And then there was the expectation that players like Jonny Gomes, Daniel Nava and Clay Buchholz might break out of their limited expectations to emerge into something else.

Comparing to this round of adversity, it's certainly not apples to apples. But there are undeniably some similarities that might hit home.

"In spring training we discussed not taking anything for granted, teaching and talking about it," said then-bench coach Torey Lovullo. "We wanted to continue to do the same things we did in the past spring training with the same intent. I think we were a little bit concerned playing an extra month of baseball so we were taking it easier early on some of the key pieces making sure they were healthy for the start of the season.

"We might have been a tiny bit lethargic, but there were also some personnel changes. We were missing some key guys we were getting used to playing without. One was Jacoby Ellsbury, who was a catalyst for us in ’13. We were still getting used to all the new normals and because of the protection of the key players who played the extra month of baseball, then missing a couple of key pieces it took us a while to get things kick-started.

"One thing that stood out to me was that the guys who we counted on, their stuff didn’t come out as hot when we first saw them in spring training. But it was all to be expected."

In that case, a good chunk of the starting staff was actually solid its first three times through the rotation, with Jon Lester, John Lackey and Jake Peavy all doing their part. Buchholz and Felix Doubront, however, resembled some of the uneasiness the current Red Sox have seen on this current road trip.

"I don’t think April was a great month," Lovullo recalled. "We had a great April in ’13 that set the tone for the rest of the season. I don’t remember that being the case ’14. The pitchers probably weren’t as sharp to start that year as the year before.

"I feel like we should have perhaps allowed some of the players to assume the same roles they had in ’13 instead of projecting they would have better years on top of what they had in ’13. An example for me was Daniel Nava. He and Jonny Gomes had a tremendous year and because of that year, we thought they would be able to step into an everyday type of role. They had some opportunities and it didn’t work out the same way. We probably projected them a little differently after the tremendous year they had. We thought they were ready to take off and have a huge year. But I think we needed to remember it was a two-man group. They had a great year in left field together, not individually. We might have projected certain things on certain guys that weren’t accurate.

"It’s important to remember that once something has been defined and been defined as good you don’t need to change it. You should continue to embrace what it is and continue to allow them to perform inside of that expectation."

Another piece of the puzzle that pitch counts and lineup alignment can't make up for is the reality that comes with April baseball compared to what the team left behind in October.

"We had a lot of distractions and repeating is hard," Ross said. "Being on two World Series teams, that second year finding that energy on a Wednesday day game early in the year when the last thing you remember is 50,000 people screaming, for me it’s hard to find that motivation and energy that takes your game to the next level that you had in October. It’s hard to duplicate that at the beginning of the year. It’s a combination for me of a lot of different things. And you’re told by the organization to rest and take your time. I think it’s difficult to get off to a good start."

The 2014 Red Sox never were able to right their ship, pulling themselves over .500 for one day (May 14) before spending the rest of the season with more losses than wins. Everything about it was a far cry was what transpired just a season before. That's the way it felt then, and through eight games it's the same dilemma these World Series winner are experiencing.