- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- The 2012 season for the Boston Red Sox has become a theatrical horror show of monumental proportions.
As the club continues to fall farther back from any sort of realistic chance of reaching the postseason, it seems more and more negativity surfaces that focuses too much on things that really don't matter. What should matter most is the production on the field, where the Red Sox haven't been able to pull it together on a consistent basis.
After a brutal 4-6 road trip, the Red Sox returned home on Tuesday and dropped the opener of a seven-game homestand to the Los Angeles Angels, 5-3, at Fenway Park. Boston has lost nine of its last 13 games.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said during a conference call on Monday that the organization would use the final six weeks of the regular season to attempt to fix some of the problems before the offseason begins.
"It's a great idea," Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said after Tuesday's loss."We're not winning and we need something to happen and it's nice to try to go in that direction."
The team fired pitching coach Bob McClure on Monday, with Cherington saying it was a performance-based decision. Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said Tuesday afternoon that given the situation, perhaps "a little different voice in the clubhouse would make a little difference."
Also on Monday, outfielder Carl Crawford was shut down for the remainder of the season; he will undergo Tommy John surgery on Thursday.
It seems every single day of this season something -- usually bad -- has cropped up on the Red Sox. The team is baffled by what has happened, both on and off the field.
"We need to play better collectively as a group," outfielder Cody Ross said. "It seems like we get chances and opportunities against a pitcher, but then we let him off the hook. I don't know if we're trying to do too much, but we have to play together."
No doubt there's been plenty of finger-pointing this season.
Team president Larry Lucchino recently described the media as "jaded" and "cynical," and the players, especially at this point of the season, probably feel the same way. But that's not a fair or accurate assessment. Still, everyone involved is drained by the ongoing soap opera.
The players are exhausted. They're exhausted mentally, physically and emotionally.
But that state of exhaustion occurs every season. The difference this year is the number of negative issues surrounding this team.
"I'm a very positive person," Ortiz said. "I agree with some of the things coming out in the media, but I don't agree with some others. This organization has a long history and I never disagree with the media criticizing us for our poor performance. I have zero problem with that.
"For me, personally, when my performance is poor and I hear people talking about it, I want to shut them up and the only way I can do that is put myself together. Those critics, sometimes even being negative, they are constructive in one way because it forces you to put yourself together to do things different to get better. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. It works for some people and it doesn't work for others."
Playing in a major market such as Boston, New York or Chicago is certainly not for everyone. Some players thrive in this type of atmosphere, while others shrivel like a grape. After a decade of being perennial contenders, winning two World Series titles along the way, the Red Sox are likely to be on the outside looking in for the third straight October. Everyone is feeling the wrath.
These Red Sox players care. They care about the game. They also understand when they are criticized for their performance on the field. When negativity -- whether it's created internally or externally -- continually creeps into the equation, it's hard to handle.
"Those are critics who refer to what you do on the field -- why you're not hustling, why you're not performing, why your velocity's down, why your bat speed is not there -- those types of things I agree [with]," Oritz said. "But when I see a person criticizing players for having a couple of beers, I mean, that's just trying to create controversy not related to what we're supposed to be doing here, so that I don't agree with.
"All of us, we're grown men and we all know what our responsibilities are. If you walk around here, you won't see anyone not ready to go. Everybody is ready to go at this point and that's what we care about.
"This team, like any other team, we have some years that are kind of tough, but in my opinion, there's still time to figure things out to make the following year better, and hopefully things get better next year because we can't play baseball like this."
That's not to say Ortiz and his teammates are giving up on the 2012 season.
"I don't see it that way," he said. "I think we still have chances to do some things this year. We've been extremely damaged by injuries this year. That kind of got this ballclub all over the place because there are a lot of people focused on different things than that, and that is major. Guarantee, if we don't have all those injuries at once, we would be in better shape -- no question."
The Red Sox aren't about to make excuses, but injuries have played a major factor for this team. There have been a total of 26 players (1,240 games missed) on the disabled list this season and that number could increase in the remaining six weeks of the season. When key players such as Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Ortiz, Ross, Ryan Sweeney and Clay Buchholz miss a good portion of the season, of course it will have a negative effect on things.
With Tuesday's loss to the Angels, the Red Sox are eight games out of the wild card with only 38 regular-season games remaining.
"Do you think that would have happened with our regular lineup out there? It gets a little more complicated with injuries than people know," Ortiz said.
Ortiz has missed a total of 33 games and the Red Sox are 13-20 without him in the lineup. The DH position has been awful for the Red Sox without Big Papi.
There have been a total of eight designated hitters since Ortiz went on the disabled list. Ross, Pedro Ciriaco, Saltalamacchia, Ryan Lavarnway, Daniel Nava, Ellsbury, Pedroia and Mauro Gomez all have served in that role.
In the DH position, that group has posted a .240 average and a .273 OBP, with no home runs and a .582 OPS that would rank last in the league, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
"When you've got me out for a month, a lot of guys are having a hard time playing my position," Ortiz said. "All of them come to me with questions. From the DH spot, our production has been poor, so that's something you need to add to that.
"Plus, all the (stuff) we've been dealing with all year, it's just a lot of things to cut you off from winning games, and we're only focusing on stupid things. So what doesn't break you, makes you."
Injuries aside, a lot of focus has been placed on the team's starting rotation, especially Jon Lester and Josh Beckett. And with good reason, given how poorly both pitched for the majority of this season, posting a combined 12-21 record.
"I think our pitching staff is a really good pitching staff," Saltalamacchia said. "Obviously, Jon and Josh haven't had the seasons they've wanted, but at the same time, I'll take those guys on the mound any day of the week. It's hard to imagine those guys not in our rotation."
No one is happy with the current state of the Red Sox. That's the landscape in Boston these days. It may not happen this season, or during the winter, but at some point it as to turn around.
"It's been such a negative season," one player said after Tuesday's loss, "something positive has to come out of it."
As losses pile up for the Red Sox, so do questions of how it all went so wrong.